Five-peat. That’s the term coined by the Chicago area media to describe the Bulls fifth championship. In Chicagoland, kids know a lot about the Chicago Bulls and looooove Michael Jordan. They admire his smooth expertise on the basketball court and suave disposition off the court. There is, however, a division as to whether or not the peculiarities of Dennis Rodman merit praise or condemnation. While some see Rodman as both an athlete and rugged individualist, others view him as a lost soul who’s gradually losing his ability to rebound. Whatever one may think of Jordan and Rodman it is important to realize that our children are in a society and in the midst of a peer group that forces them to think about these two men. Our children are bombarded through the media and their peers to have to deal, to some extent, with the lives of these two men.
Imagine for a minute, if the Virgin Mary received as much media attention as did the Bulls stars. What if our children were in an environment where they were constantly bombarded with images of the Virgin Mary? They would be forced to deal with her. They would have to develop an opinion about her and decide if she would be a role model to them. The saints are the stars of our church, and the Armenian Apostolic Church has no shortage of these stars. In fact our church has thousands of saints that can serve as positive role models for our youth.
The reasons why, by and large, the saints of our church do not serve the function of being positive role models for our children are two-fold. The first reason is that our children are not in an environment where the saints are regularly and positively presented to them. In order for our children to cling to the lives of the saints they need to be in an environment where they are surrounded by discussion and enthusiasm about the saints; where the lives of the saints are seen as important and those who embrace these lives are accepted and commended for doing so. Such an environment would allow our children to choose saints as positive role models without fearing the rejection of an unsupportive peer group. Towards this end, church youth programming needs be peppered with hagiographies, and peer groups need to be established within the church to support this non-worldly way of thinking.
Second, in order to have the possibility to create the aforementioned environment, all faithful of the church need to become familiar with the lives of at least some of the saints. Only through becoming knowledgeable of the lives of the saints can we have the capacity to present these saints as important role models for our children. When is the last time you made a reference to the life of a saint in the presence of a child? It is the sacred responsibility of every Christian to represent the saintly tradition of our church to our youth.
The challenge to become personally educated in the lives of the saints, and participating in a program designed to present these lives in an attractive manner to our youth may at first seem daunting. Yet familiarity with, and personal love for the lives of the saints make transmitting a love for the saints much easier. There is a variety of resource material on the lives of the saints available from the Diocesan Bookstore. Or one can simply open the Bible to learn about the lives of any one of the church’s over 200 Biblical saints. The goal of reading the lives of the saints is to come to understand their way of thinking and acting so that we might be inspired and learn from their lives. In order for the lives of the saints to become real for us, the reading of their lives needs to be done in a particular way.
Interactive and prayerful reading is the key to making the lives of the saints meaningful to us, and subsequently meaningful to our children. Following is a reading of the ‘Song of Mary’ as found in Luke with some suggestions for interactive prayerful reading. The words of Mary are in bold.
(Luke 1:46-55 ) And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. Does my soul magnify the Lord? When people look at me do I make the Divine presence more visible to them? Mary considers it great that God regards her as being worthy to carry the Messiah. Do I rejoice that my heavenly Father has seen fit to send his son to die for me? For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. Mary was committed to following God and leading a life of holiness. Do I share this commitment? What great things has the Lord done for me? If asked, could I offer someone a number of specific examples of how the Lord has done great things for me? And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. Do I fear God? Do I understand the power he has over my eternal soul? How has God been merciful to me? He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. Mary understood how God worked in the history of Israel. She knew his demonstrations of strength and how he had acted against those who were proud and mighty. Have I studied how the Lord has worked through history as recorded in the Bible? Do I seek out the exaltation of men or am I content to humbly serve the Lord? Am I hungry for spiritual gifts, or do I seek to satisfy my hunger through material possessions? He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever." Mary held the Old Testament Patriarchs as her ‘fathers’. Do I recognize that the promise God fulfilled for me in Jesus, began with his promise to Abraham? God keeps his promises from generation to generation. Can I keep my promises to him and live in holiness as did Mary?
Prayerfully meditating on the lives of the saints leads to personal spiritual growth. When we recognize the important role the saints play in our own spiritual development the desire to share the lives of the saints with our children naturally follows. Do you want to insure that the children in your parish have positive role models? If you do, do not leave their decision of what role models to choose up to what the media presents them with, lest our children be stuck with choosing between Dennis Rodman, Roberto Allomar or Mike Tyson. Instead why not attractively present to your children the lives of the saints as viable role model alternatives so that they might be inspired by church sanctioned role models; for the good of their spiritual development and for the greater honor of glory of God.