The New Testament and Spiritual Work with Children
Editor Vladimir Antonov
Translated from Russian by Anton Teplyy
This is the chapter from the book
"Spiritual Work with Children"
"New Atlanteans", Lakefield, 2008
© Antonov V.V., 2008
“A sower went out to sow, and while he was sowing, some of the seeds fell down near a road and were trampled down, and the birds of the sky pecked them, some fell down on a stone and came up, but withered, because there was no moisture; some fell down among thorns, and thorns grew and choked them; and others fell down on good soil, and when they came up, they gave a hundredfold harvest” (Luke 8:5-8).
Jesus Christ narrated this parable to His disciples and explained it by revealing the deep meaning of the images of the seed, the sower and the soil. “The seed is the word of God; and the seeds which fell down near the road are essence about listeners to whom devil comes afterwards and takes away the word from their hearts, for they will not come to believe and will not be saved; and the seeds which fell down to stone are about those who when hear the word, accept it with glad, but do not have a root, have ephemeral belief, and in the time of temptation fall away; and the seeds which fell down among thorns are about those who listen the word, but go away, choked by cares, riches and pleasures of this world, and give not any fruit; and the seeds which fell down on good soil are about those who have heard the word and kept it in a kind and clean heart giving fruit in patience.” (Luke 8:11-15).
What can we say about the future life of the children with whom we have a contact? Will they be able to choose with benefit for themselves the truth in the flow of information and events around?
If the good soil was prepared, if in childhood one got rich versatile information about the world around us, if at the same time the foundation of ethics was laid, then one’s spiritual Path will be less winding. And if the adults are sincerely interested in the happy future of the children, thinking not about financial success, but about the surest progress on the spiritual Path, predetermined by God, then relationships between them and their children should be built according to the Divine rules which were given to humanity through Jesus Christ.
Work with children in the groups of psychic self-regulation can be enriched with the themes from the New Testament. This agrees very well with the basic principles set forth in the article of V.V. Antonov The Basic Principles of Teaching Psychic Self-regulation to Children and Adolescents.
In the life of Jesus Christ, in His deeds, speeches, and parables there are answers to many questions which arise during one’s life. Many aspects of one’s relationships with the material world, with other people, and with God are reflected in the Gospels. It is important that an instructor find what is necessary now taking into account the age of the child, outward circumstances, the deepness of relationships with the child, and give the appropriate information in the most suitable form.
By the example of the life of Jesus Christ can be realized the principle mentioned in the article of V.V. Antonov: “Directed ethical work… should lay in students the basics of ethics”.
One more principle mentioned in the same article: “In work, stress should be put on broadening of outlook, wide informing of the students in order to help them to choose their course of life when they become mature”.
By using Gospels, it is possible to diversify information given to children.
But it is essential that all information be presented according to the children’s age and, when possible, with taking into account the individual peculiarities of each child for the sake of achieving the most intensive and harmonious development of a person.
While working with children, it is necessary to remember that all information should be given unobtrusively. If the children do not perceive what is presented to them, then one should try to understand the cause: either the information is given in a too complicated form or the current relationships between the children and the instructor do not allow to communicate on the level of spiritual openness which is implied by the given information, and so on.
A failure during work with children should be interpreted as a good reason for bringing to harmony the ethical, intellectual, and psychoenergetic aspects of the development of the instructor himself.
Let us examine peculiarities noticed during work with groups of children of different ages.
Children of age from 4 to 6 do not concern about from where this or that life principle is taken. They just experience the emotional background around them and behave accordingly to it. If it is love, which accepts the child as he is, then the child “soaks up” this love into himself. This allows the instructor to unfold the child’s abilities and creates the favorable rate of development. If, on the other hand, the child does not receive love, but even more if negative emotions are directed towards him, then he suffers, becomes reserved, or on the contrary, begins to behave glaringly.
We can conclude from the aforesaid that when we work with children of 4-6 years old, we should first of all create the atmosphere of love, the atmosphere of equal and calm attitude towards all children in the group independently of their merits and demerits.
At this age, children easily accept the idea of unity with all surrounding world, perceiving even lifeless things as living beings, giving them characters and habits. Therefore, the basics of ecological education are perceived by them as something self-evident: “it is painful to a tree if we crack its branches”, “a flower does not want to be picked” — all this is very understandable to small children, and one needs only to stress this.
The children of age 4-6 also understand very well that in every human being there is the Divine Love, which can light up both the life of the man himself and the life of all that surrounds him.
The meaning of the Divine Love can be described to children with the help of the image of a living sun which resides in each of us. Small children imagine well inside their chests the sun which gives to all its tender light. Children like very much shining and giving this light. Variants may be very different: shine from a chest, pour out this love and light from eyes, with help of smiles, shine with hands, fingers, with one’s whole being.
While narrating fairytales, stories one may use various fine metaphors, expressions found in the Gospels. For example, the comparison of good people with trees yielding good fruit.
Children from 7 to 10 have already accumulated some life experience. By this age certain relationships with the surrounding world have been formed already. At that if a child grew in the atmosphere of love, attended such children groups, he will be well and openly inclined towards the perception of ethical principles which can be understood at the age of 7-10.
If, on the other hand, a child grew against the background of the domination of negative emotions, by this age he may have built a “protection” against this world, which cannot satisfy his natural necessity of being loved.
Manifestations of this “protection” can be various. These are — tiredness, lack of interest towards surroundings, defiant behavior (“hypercompensation” of an inferiority complex), and so on.
Such children consequently provoke other adult people to negative emotions. And this proves to such children that they are “bad”, what causes even more strengthening of the “protection” from the people around, who do not want to evaluate children’s inner essence. In this way, the permanent forcing of tension between children and adults occurs. Among some people this happens to a lesser degree, among others — to a greater.
During work in the groups of psychic self-regulation, it is important to sever such a chain: “protection” — “reaction of adults” — “protection”… In each child one has to find something good, special, and help to uncover this from under the protective mask.
Sometimes it is enough to let a child once express his opinion, to pay attention to his words, and “constraints” fall off, and the “mask” is thrown away as unneeded.
If a child feels that he has a possibility to show his worthiness socially, that the fact of his existence is interesting to other people, then interest in getting new information from adults appears. It is possible to use parables and stories from the Gospels in order to lay in the child the foundations of ethics, along with information broadening his outlook.
The life of an adolescent group goes according to certain laws. Among the children conflicts often occur. If one, instead of smoothing such situations, tries to help children to gain the understanding of their relationships, using evangelical stories and parables, then it is possible to change their “scale of values”, to make them more ethical, kind, and honest.
By the age of 11-14, adolescents get questions to which they have not found answers yet. Adolescents already have a set of the ways of behavior; they know various nuances of human relationships; their relation towards themselves have already formed; and the desire for knowing the principles of the world have appeared. They make attempts to solve arising problems on the base of the knowledge they have. Work in groups may help to sort the accumulated knowledge, to get new information, to detach the truth from false.
The use of themes from the New Testament may help to sort out the incoming information, to learn controlling oneself, to withstand difficult stages of life, which appear inevitably during one’s life.
At lessons with adolescents, communication should be built in the form of a dialog. It is important to give a possibility to express his/her opinion to each adolescent. This can help every member of the group to gain self-confidence, to learn respecting other’s opinions. For that it is necessary to master such qualities as patience and tolerance.
Each lesson should be analyzed by the instructor in order to understand the state and needs of all members of the group. Providing that, the next pieces of information will be given in the most suitable form and have the meaning most important at the present moment.
The themes for discussions and meditations can be various. For instance, the theme of love: “Love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37), “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39).
Particularly, it is possible to raise such questions: “Why should we fulfill these commandments?”, “Who is my neighbor?”
It is also useful to narrate the parable of Jesus about a merciful Samaritan: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him up, and went off, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, but when he saw the injured man he passed by on the other side. So too a Levite, when he came up to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan who was traveling came to where the injured man was, and when he saw him, he felt compassion for him. He went up to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever else you spend, I will repay you when I come back this way.” (Luke 10:25-37). So, neighbor is not that who, for example, has the same nationality as you, but is every kind man.
Hence, it is possible to extend this idea: ALL people are brothers and sisters because God loves ALL, and everyone has the Divine Light inside, God’s Spirit which lives in us.
At once it is possible to conduct the meditation of seeking the source of this Divine Light in the chest. The chest, the “home” of this Light, is closed initially, blocked by the “heaps” of insults, by the “stones” of envy, flooded with heavy, sticky, and bad mood. Let us try to shovel down the “heaps”, cleanse the passage to the “home”, give an outlet to the Divine Light of love. Let us feel how the windows of our “home” are opening and fresh air is entering inside; our inner Light is kindling stronger; it is difficult for it to find room in the chest and it pours out to all surroundings: to the friends, to the trees, to the flowers, to the birds, into ambient space, giving to all peace, joy, and love.
Let us remember some person which was unpleasant to us in something until this moment. Let us see that he has the same Light in his chest, but it is still blocked. Feel sorry for him/her and send him the small ray of our love. Let us love this person as he is, because God gives to everyone a possibility to become better, cleaner.
To this theme of meditation the question of the apostle Peter to Jesus and the answer of Jesus are appropriate: “How many times should I forgive my brother who sins against me? Until seven times?” “I do not tell you “until seven times”, but until seventy times seven” (Matt 18:21-22).
One should always bring the Golden Rule in the life of the group. “…Whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them” (Matt 7:12).
This Rule can help to solve occurring conflict situations and to choose this or that decision.
The Golden Rule may also become the theme of a particular lesson.
As an illustration, one may use the story about a king and a servant from the Gospel of Matthew. A king, being moved with compassion, forgave to his servant the debt, but the servant did not forgive the debt to his follow-servant and cast him into prison, forgetting in what situation he just was.
One may discuss this story and give different examples from his own life. It is possible to express thought that sometimes it is very difficult to forgive and understand. For that — efforts and work on oneself are needed, but not anger, condemnation, and striving for changing others.
Only through self-analysis, through efforts to change oneself does the development of souls go. The gaining of the soul’s qualities comes from the work on oneself, which should not be put off, because in the future new tasks will appear which need to be solved as well.
In discussions on spiritual subjects it is useful to give examples from the lives of adolescents. In order for adolescents to become interested in narrating about their faults, one should explain that all our problems are a school for us. Sometimes we cannot realize what is good and what is bad until we face with it. And if we now, at lesson, share our faults, without the fear of being condemned, then we get benefit from such communication. First, by narrating about our bad deed, we take off this weight by repentance. Second, the life experience accumulated by us may help our friends to find correct decisions in the similar situations.
So that adolescents do not get the desire to condemn others during such discussions and during other circumstances, one may talk about: “Whether we have a right to condemn others?”
We all go through our lives falling, stumbling, and making wrong deeds. This can be illustrated by the story from the Gospel. Once a “sinful” woman was brought to Jesus in order for Jesus to condemn her. But Jesus told people who brought her and demanded that she be prosecuted by a court, “Who among you is without a sin, let him throw the first stone at her” (John 8:7). Soon, around Jesus and the woman there was no man. The stone was not thrown. So, let us before raising a hand or opening a mouth to condemn, think about whether we have a right for that? Whether we are blameless? Take the place of that man which we want to hit whether by a word or a thought. Would we like that the same will be done to us? It is usually difficult to do all this, because we commonly be in anger in such moments. Hence, one may switch to discussion about the essence of anger, about its manifestations.
Evil can never be exterminated by evil. Evil gives birth only to even more evil. Only love can cleanse one from evil. As an example, we can consider the story about Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, who was turned to righteous life.
A tax collector Zacchaeus lived in the town Jericho. He offended people robbing them, taking from them more taxes than the law prescribed. But Jesus, when He came to this town, did not even condemn Zacchaeus, but wanted to stay in his house. Such unusual behavior of Jesus changed Zacchaeus in a split second. The love of Jesus led Zacchaeus to repentance (Luke 19:1-10).
It is possible to conduct the following meditation: let us recall some situation when we condemned somebody. Replay this situation and imagine that God looks at our anger, at our spite and laughs at us being angry— in many cases we are clumsy just as that man whom we are angry with. Let us try to understand this man, send him the rays of our love emanated from our spiritual hearts.
One may also discuss the nature of evil. Usually one does wrong, evil deeds because he perceives outward things incorrectly. From his point of view, he performs deeds for the welfare. One may narrate the story about Saul who was, by his religious beliefs, the worst enemy of Christians, but having recovered his sight, understood and accepted the Teachings of Jesus Christ and with the same vigor began to preach Christianity (Acts 7:58, 8:3, 9:1-28).
One more theme: “It is easy to love people who love you”. The best example of love towards all is the behavior of Jesus in the last hours of his life on the Earth. Jesus healed the servant of chief priest to whom one of the apostles cut off an ear during the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane. Jesus loved and felt sorry for people who crucified His body because they “do not know what they are doing”.
The new aspect of human relationships may reveal to us a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector: “God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice in the week. I give tithes of all that I get”, the Pharisee said. But the tax collector, standing far away, would not even lift up as his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:10-14). Which of these two people estimated his spiritual qualities more honestly?
One may offer such theme: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). Talking about that, let us try to answer questions: “What does it mean “humbles himself”?”, “In what he will be exalted?”
If adolescents are ready to perceive deep spiritual truths, one may develop the theme: “What benefit is it to a man if he gains the entire world but does harm to his soul?”
Our bodies can be compared to automobiles in which we perform the travel called “life”. The way we lived on the Earth predetermines the place for us after the death of the body. Let us narrate the parable about a rich man and Lazarus. A rich man had all material comforts in his earthly life. He enjoyed this and did not think about spiritual. Lazarus, on the other hand, was poor, lived in poverty, but led a righteous life. When they left their physical bodies, the rich man found oneself in hell, but Lazarus was taken to paradise. “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue! For I am in anguish in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Son, remember that you, in your lifetime, received your good things, and Lazarus, in like manner, bad things. But now here he is comforted and you are in anguish” (Luke 16:19-31).
This may be naturally followed by a discussion about what is hell and what is paradise, about the structure of multidimensional universe, and about the place of God-the-Creator in it.
To the theme pointed above, it will be appropriate to narrate the parable about a foolish rich man who spent all his strength, gathering and saving material boons. Having had gathered tangible wealth, he anticipated a long life full of pleasures from using his riches, but God said to him, “You foolish one, tonight your soul is required of you. The things which you have prepared — whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20). “Beware! Keep yourselves from covetousness, for a man's life doesn't consist of the abundance of the things which he possesses” (Luke 12:15). “Don't lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matt 6:19). Here Jesus stated that only the results of our spiritual work are really ours, that only these results stay with us forever. Material acquisitions, in contrast, are temporary. One may have good things, be dressed well, enjoy various material boons — all this is good and necessary for supporting the physical body in a good shape, but this should not become the purpose of life, should not be put into the head of a corner.
Two nice themes may be taken from the story about Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Jesus asked some water from a Samaritan woman, a woman of slightly different nationality. This woman was surprised that Jesus, a Jew, did not disdain to ask her, contrary to other Jews. Jesus did not demonstrate by His behavior that she is “lower” than He is. Having had drunk some water, He said: “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14).
First of all, here is a theme about the equality of people in the face of God, about inadmissibility of arrogance. To this theme one may add the story about Apostle Philip who converted into Christianity a grandee from Ethiopia. (Acts 8:26-39).
The second theme, which follows from the story about Jesus and the Samaritan woman, is the Divine knowledge, which we can drink and give to drink to others. And love towards people, about which Jesus said, is the precondition for understanding the Divinity.
“Be careful that you do not do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. The hypocrites… have already received their reward” (Matt 6:1; 5), “When you make a dinner or a supper, do not call your friends, nor your brothers, nor your kinsmen, nor rich neighbors, or perhaps they might also return the favor, and pay you back. But when you make a feast, ask the poor, the maimed, the lame, or the blind; and you will be blessed, because they do not have the resources to repay you. For you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14).
How should we understand this? Literally? Or is it a grotesque stressing of the meaning which we should attribute to relations between people? A good deed can be done for receiving praise, and then this is not the true good, but a good provoked by the expectation of a reward for this. This can be seen very well with small children: some of them refuse to fulfill a request for the promised reward. They feel that love needs not to be rewarded materially. But we often teach children to do something for a material reward, forming a wrong scale of values in them.
Very often one performs deeds about which he regrets afterwards: betrayal, false evidence, violation of a promise. Later, the pain of remorse comes, regret about what was done. In some such cases you know that you act wrong, but something prevents you from doing right. For example, one says one thing, another insists on something else, and then confidence in your own rightfulness is lost in the flow of other’s opinions.
It is important to learn to be firm in your decisions — whether small or big. The feeling of herd often overcomes us. In a company we often do that which we never could do by ourselves. The summit, the most impressive example of the factor of a herd was the persecution of Jesus Christ. “Crucify, crucify Him!” — yells crowd to Pilot, asking for blood of the One Who brought them His Love, Who healed them…
What can help us to strengthen confidence in ourselves, in our abilities? Here one can use the story about Jesus walking on the sea. Apostle Peter said then to Jesus: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the waters. He said, “Come!” Peter went down from the boat, and walked on the waters to come to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was strong, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt 14:28-31).
One can talk about the work on the perfection of the soul — that it is hard, but this is the work worthy of efforts: “Enter in by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter in by it. How narrow is the gate, and restricted is the way that leads to life! Few are those who find it.” (Matt 7:13-14).
“For they all gave out of their abundance, but she, out of her poverty, gave all that she had to live on.” (Mark 12:44). This story about two lepta of a poor widow may serve as the beginning of the conversation about how we think about deeds of other people. Often near us live people whose contribution to work or to something else is unnoticeable and insignificant, but it is done with one's last bit of strength and with full self-giving. And such impulses in people one should notice, appreciate, and keep as the precious gifts.
And one more great theme: “There is nothing from outside of the man, that going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man.” (Mark 7:15). No one of even the most disgusting acts of other people can verily defile; only his own bad deeds and emotions, coming from man, defile him.
In conclusion, I want to say the following. This article presented the principle of the interpretation of the New Testament themes and some themes for the discussions and meditations. Everyone who conducts lessons in children groups may select from the New Testament material which is needed in particular cases and give it in the most suitable form.
But it is important to remember that some principles given in the Gospels are understandable only for the people of the sufficiently high level of the spiritual perfection. And one should not give such complicated principles to children because it may cause damage to their development.
For example, “…whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt 5:39). But “turning of the other cheek” can be an act following from one’s strength or from one’s weakness; only the first will be correct .
What concerns warriors, they should have the qualities about which John the Baptist said: “Who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise. Extort no more than that which is appointed you. Extort from no one by violence, neither accuse anyone wrongfully. Be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:11-14).
Or, for instance, the story about Martha and Mary: Mary sat near Jesus’ feet, listening carefully each word of Jesus, but not helping to her sister about housekeeping. When Martha asked Jesus to send her sister to help her, Jesus answered: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42). But in order to become like Mary one should first learn how to keep house, should develop in oneself the qualities of a householder. One should become like Mary not because of laziness and inability, but having known the work on the material plane, having ceased to be afraid of any work. (In detail you can read about the qualities of a warrior and a householder in the article of V.V. Antonov The Laws of Spiritual Development).
Working with children, acquainting them with outer world, broadening their outlook, giving them the fundamentals of morality, we lay the foundations of ethics on which they will build their spiritual temples when become mature.
From the aforesaid it follows that in children we should develop habits of work, cultivate an active position in life. If it so, then afterwards on this well prepared soil a good fruit from the Divine Word can grow.