If you are a regular reader of this website, you already know about Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine. Briefly, for those unfamiliar with him: Irvine was a longtime Episcopal priest who was defrocked by his bishop — unjustly, so he said. St. Tikhon agreed, and, in 1905, Tikhon ordained Irvine to the Orthodox priesthood. He put Irvine in charge of “English work,” and Irvine spent the rest of his days as a zealous proponent of the use of English in American Orthodox worship. St. Raphael recognized the value of Irvine’s work, and he soon commissioned Irvine to write English-language articles in Al-Kalimat (The Word, the official magazine of Raphael’s Syrian Mission). Today, I am reprinting one of those articles, which was probably written in 1907. In it, Irvine speaks with great boldness to the Syrian parents in America, exhorting them to bring up their children in the Orthodox faith and send them to Orthodox Sunday Schools. Reading this article, it is easy to see why Irvine was such a polarizing figure. It also provides a glimpse into the challenges facing people like Irvine and St. Raphael, as they tried to preserve the Syrian people in the Orthodox faith.
I write to night specially to the Holy Orthodox Parents of the United States. I address you personally as if I sat with you in your homes surrounded by your children and I plead with you to hearken unto my words.
And first I ask you: Do you teach your children to pray, to believe and to obey?
You answer me that “such work appertains unto the Church.”
There was a time when parents taught their children to pray. I do not mean just to lisp off a few petitions with the Lord’s Prayer to Almighty God but to hold daily communion with God. To meditate upon His attributes, to come to Him with cares. To tell Him the heart aches. To ask his forgiveness, – His help and His guidance.
There was a time also when parents taught their children the Creed and explained to them the meaning of the Articles therein.
There was a time when they taught their children how to obey not only at home but the Officers of the State and those of the Holy Church who are higher than the State.
But there came a time when parents became careless in these respects and the result was that, the Church had to open Sunday Schools.
The Sunday School is without any doubt, one of the most blessed and useful institutions of the Church of God today. It takes the place of negligent, ignorant and God-forgetting parents. It is one of the merciful provisions of the Church of God to teach and feed the Lambs of Jesus Christ’s Fold who are left neglected by thoughtless, sinful and rebellious parents.
I am using very, very strong language, but if I could use stronger so as to pierce the consciences of parents I would be willing to do so at any risk.
In the Holy Orthodox Church all parents are married according to the law of God. You are not joint parties to a secular contract to be severed at the will of either or both. You are united “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part”. And you are married to “increase, replenish and multiply the earth”. You are therefore responsible for both the mental, spiritual and physical training of your children. God Almighty will hold you eternally responsible for the loss of one soul you have brought into this sinful world. You cannot cast your children off like the cuckoo or the ostrich. You are bound before God and man to see that your offspring are brought up in the love and fear of God and respectful toward the Civil Authorities as well as toward their parents – the father and mother who have brought them into this sinful world. And without a shadow of doubt it is your duty to teach them to love and respect God’s Holy
Church in which alone they have a promise of Eternal Life through Jesus Christ our Lord and only God.
Now the priests of God’s Church who are the stewards of His mysteries have, because of the neglect of parents to thoroughly instruct their children, adopted the method of instruction known as Sunday School Teaching. When the Church speaks she ought to be heard. She studies every age and knows its needs. She knows what is the best method of being assured that her children are well instructed in a knowledge of God. Thus it is that she demands, as a loving duty on your part, to send your children to Sunday School.
Well, you say that you like to take them visiting or to the Park or some where else on Sunday afternoon. You cannot, you say, take them during the week, for it would be taking you away from your business. Strange excuse! You do not want to rob yourself out of a Dollar but you do not care whether you rob God out of the souls of your children for whom He shed His Precious Blood upon the Cross.
You make it a point to send them to Day School, so that they may not lose a mark but come out with high earthly honors, yet you do not consider the fact that their souls may go down to the darkest abyss of Hell because you have taught them to dishonor God’s Sabbath and neglect His Holy Church.
Oh, foolish parent, who hath bewitched you! What demon is it which has blinded your eyes, dulled your understanding and filled you with unnatural love for your children? Do you think that love only means the satisfying of the eye, the ear, the palate and the body? Alas, these are the last to be thought of. I do not say that you must not make your children happy and take good care of them. Far from this. They ought to be treasured as jewels. But Oh, remember the words:
Tis not the whole of life to live
Nor all of death to die.
Yes, and those other words;
“I have another life to live without which life
This life is incomplete.”
The Holy Church has both lives in view. But she impresses the needs of preparation for the next world’s life, for
As man lives so shall he die:
And as he dies so shall he be
All through the years of Eternity.
But we will take it for granted that you send your children to Sunday School and that they are much pleased with the reception and instruction which they receive there. Which Sunday School is it? You belong to the Holy Orthodox Eastern Catholic Church? “Yes,” you say. Well then do you think that if your children go to a Roman Catholic, Protestant Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Maronite, Lutheran, Congregational or what other Religious Body you thus may select that they are instructed in the Doctrine,
Discipline and Worship of the Church to which you belong? Why you are wild to think so. If you want your children to grow up in your Faith, the Faith of the Holy Martyrs of the first eight Centuries you will never have them do so unless they are sent to their own Sunday School.
Now please understand me. I am not saying one word against those great churches. They are all trying to lead people to God their own way. May the Holy Sprit guide them aright. But I am sure if I were a minister of any one of those churches, I would teach them all about the church to which I belonged, and not one word about any other. I am perfectly honest in this. I would not throw stones at other churches, but I would take mighty good care to help make my Sunday School children love my Church.
You must remember, that your duty lies in this direction, namely to send your children to your own Sunday School. If you are away from the care of a Priest, just club together as Orthodox Catholics and form a Sunday School.
Encourage the children. Do everything for them which will enable them to see that you love both their souls and bodies.
As I will have something further to say unto you on this matter of Sunday Schools I will now close.
Praying to God to guide you aright,
Ingram N.W. Irvine.