Be Like Children

Children do not experience time the way adults do. They are completely whole, interconnected, and in the present.

Renowned Russian Orthodox priest Alexander Schmemann delivered the following Radio Liberty address to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Originally published in "Sermons and Conversations," it is reprinted from the recent essay collection Tradition Alive with permission of Rowman and Littlefield.

"Be like children" (Mt 18:3)--what can this mean? Is not our whole civilization focused on the task of turningchildren into adults, of making them as smart, as analytical, and as prosaic beings as we ourselves are? And are not all our discussions and arguments directed precisely at the adults for whom childhood is simply atime of development, of preparation, a time precisely for overcoming any childishness in oneself?

And yet, "Be like children," says Christ, and also: "Do not hinder the childrento come unto me" (Mt 19:14). And if this is said, then there isno reason to be ashamed of the unquestionable childlikeness that is connectedwith religion itself, and to every religious experience. It is not accidental that the first thing we see as we enter a church is the image of a child, the image of a young mother holding a child in her arms; and this is precisely what is most important in Christ--the Church is concerned with the fact that we should not forget this first and most important revelation of the divine in the world. For the same Church further affirms that Christ is God, Wisdom, Mind, Truth. But all of thisis first of all revealed in the image of this child; it is precisely this revelation that is thekey to everything else in religion.

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What can they mean, these words: "Be likechildren"? Certainly these words cannot refer to some kind of artificialsimplification, the denial of growing, of education, of having the experience of growth, of development--that is, all of which we call in childhood the preparation for life, the mental,emotional, and physical maturation. In the Gospel itself it is said about Christ that he "grew in wisdom" (Lk 2:40).

In addition, "Be like children" in no way signifies some sort of infantilism; it is not a supremacy of childhood over adulthood; it does not mean that in order to receive religion or religious experience one has to become a simpleton, or more crudely, an idiot. This is the understanding of religion byits opponents. They reduce it to fairy tales, to little stories and riddles, which only children or adult children--undeveloped people--can accept.

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