Azadouhee Azadian’s 3 year old child Miameed recently was hospitalized at Palos Community Hospital for extreme malnutrition despite the plentiful presence of healthy food in her house. While expressing regret over the illness of her child Mrs. Azadian explained, “I believe in freedom. Children should not be forced to do things they do not want to do. For this reason I let Miameed decide what she wanted to eat. She decided all she wanted was candy. That was her free choice, and I am glad I did not impose my will upon her to make her eat a healthier diet.” When asked if she educated her child as to the basics of sound nutrition Mrs. Azadian replied, “I have my own beliefs as to what makes a body healthy - but those are simply my personal beliefs. I don’t want to impose them on my children lest I influence their freedom to decide for themselves dietary matters.” When asked if he agreed with his wife’s position, Eenchvore’, Azadouhee’s husband replied, “Whatever my wife says is fine with me.
This interviewer visited briefly with Miameed in the intensive care unit. Seeing her depleted state this interviewer asked Miameed if there was anything he could do for her. While it was difficult for her to speak she did finally manage to muster up just enough strength to respond, “May I have some more candy?”
While one may find the actions of the fictitious Mr. and Mrs. Azadian odd, their method of raising children is not all that uncommon. While parents do not do what the Azadians do regarding the physical nourishment of their children, many do deprive their children of vital spiritual nourishment in the name of freedom.
As Armenian Orthodox Apostolic Christians we believe that spiritual food is at least as important as physical food. Unless a person is nourished spiritually they will not grow up in a healthy manner. They will be little more than animals. God however calls us to something great. By virtue of our baptism we believe that we have been adopted as children of the heavenly Father, and he desires to feed us spiritually. For this reason he calls his faithful to the church. The purpose of Sunday Badarak is, simply stated, to be fed by God. Reception of Holy Communion and education in church doctrine is as essential to each Christian as is milk to a newborn. Our Lord says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; (Jn 6:53 ).
As parents we have a responsibility to bring our children to the Lord each Sunday and not to hinder their coming by not attending church. Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven."(Mt 19:14). The keeping of the Sabbath is both one of the 10 commandments as well as a deeply rooted Armenian tradition. It is our responsibility as parents to facilitate our children’s spiritual growth by bringing them to Sunday School and to church.
Unfortunately, many parents today express a belief that raising a child to believe in Jesus is unjustly influencing the child’s freedom. Yet parents do not let their children decide the bulk of their own diets, nor their behavior. Rather, a certain amount of parent direction and rules are necessary to raising healthy children. Just as we ‘impose’ dietary and behavioral expectations on our children, so too we have a responsibility to give them Christian direction. The Book of Proverbs states, Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov 22:6 ) The spiritual training of our children is not merely a Christian prerogative or luxury, but a command of our Savior. Someone full of love for God would surely seek to instill this same love in their own children. Jesus teaches us "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Mat 22:37) A person loving God in this way would surely come to receive his son, God’s greatest gift to us, regularly.
If a parent does not teach a child to love the Lord by his or her actions, he is setting a bad example and leading a child into sin. If a parent does not honor the Sabbath he is leading a child into sin. To those who would, by their laissez-faire attitude, deprive their children of strong Christian role models and direction, our Lord says, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. (Luke 17:2 )
While many parents cite a desire to respect their children’s individuality and freedom as the reason they do not bring their children to church, some parents use this reason as an excuse to avoid dealing with their own ambivalence toward the Christian faith. If as a parent you feel unsure about Christianity I encourage you to bring your questions and your family to church so that together you might face essential faith issues. Even the agnostic parent has a responsibility to continue his or her search for the Truth, and to model this active search to their children.
The actions of Mr. and Mrs. Azadian, mentioned at the beginning of this article, were foolish. They had a responsibility to see that their child ate well. Just as we prepare and guide out children’s diet, so too we must be involved in their spiritual diet. Bringing children to church provides them with essential spiritual nourishment. As we approach the beginning of this year’s Sunday School let us each vow to attend church regularly as a family and to see to our children’s essential spiritual nourishment.