My husband and I recently took our kids on an impromptu camping trip. We thrive off of being outdoors and enjoy our time together outside immensely so when the opportunity arose for some family time, we jumped at it! Lately, my husband and sons have been trying various methods of building primitive campfires - trying to resist the ease of simply pulling out the box of matches. Little did we realize, this would be a catalyst for a lengthy discussion between us during our little nature adventure.
As I'm watching my husband use a magnesium and flint stick to try and start our campfire, watching spark after spark not ignite the tinder bundle, I made the comment that it's quite obvious that we get the twenty second edited version of starting a fire on tv.
We got to talking about it. It's one thing to read about the various methods of starting a fire or even to watch others doing it. It's quite another to be able to do it yourself. There are so many variables and techniques in play which take a good bit of experience and knowledge in order to take a spark and turn it into a roaring flame. It's the different between being a passive participant and an active participant. It's the difference between using one or two of your senses and using all of them.
Once the tinder bundle started to burn, I watched as my husband needed to tend and nurture his small flame until it ignited the twigs our sons had gathered from on the ground. He sat watching and tending it until flames eventually caught the larger logs on fire. It's only once the larger logs are burning that you have something lasting. You have something of strength that can not only ignite other logs but also can be used for warmth and nourishment. Without that care and commitment towards his initial tiny spark, the fire would have quickly died out and be nothing more than a impressive spark.
As we're talking, we both catch site of our icon of Christ resting against the base of the trunk of the Black Walnut tree shading our campsite. My husband immediately continues our conversation, "That icon is also a spark, calling us to live our faith through commitment and nurture of our prayer life."
We can adorn the walls of our home with as many icons as we wish. We can even learn about how icons are written and learn to read them as well...but the thing is, unless we add the kindling of prayer, unless we nurture our prayer life, tending it and committing ourselves to growing our relationship with God, the icon is nothing more than a spark in our home that we neglected to fan into a roaring flame.
Oh yes, we do of course have regular educational programs, we have church schools for children and classes for adults. People ask us for such programs and they faithfully attend them. They read books and even become more active in the life of the Church. But the problem is, they're not converted. There is always that invisible line, a very thin line, which is drawn between activity and commitment. The most active Christians in our parishes may not be the most committed. There is a point at which even the seemingly dedicated and active persons hesitate - they hesitate, not because they do not know what to think or what to do, but because they know and do not want to commit themselves fully and totally to the life of Christ. - Constance Tarasar, "Orthodox Perspectives in Religious Education Curricula"
These are such sobering thoughts for us as parents. It further drives home the point made by Fr. Michael Oleska, "...That means that religious education starts with the way we live more than with anything else" in his presentation, The Confluence of Church and Culture. It is about the journey, the process by which we teach our children, that they learn to embrace Orthodoxy as adults.