by St. Nectarios of Aegina
The upbringing of children must begin during infancy. This is necessary in order to direct the child’s powers of the soul—as soon as they begin to emerge—toward good, virtue, and truth, while simultaneously distancing them from evil, indecency, and falsehood.
This age is the secure foundation upon which a child’s moral and intellectual understanding will be erected. Thus, Fokilidis says:
“It is necessary to teach someone to do good work while he is still a child,”
because man sets out from childhood, as from a starting block, to run the race of life.
St.Basil the Great affirms:
“It is necessary for the soul to be guided right from the very beginning toward every virtuous exercise, while it is still soft and moldable as wax; so that, as a child begins to speak and to acquire discernment, there exists a road comprised of the elemental concepts and devout etiquette that were initially imparted, giving him the ability to speak good and useful things and inspiring him to acquire a proper moral conduct.”
Who will not agree that the first impressions during childhood remain permanently ingrained and unforgettable? Who doubts that various influences during early youth become so deeply imprinted upon a child’s tender soul, that they continue to exist vividly throughout the duration of his life?
Nature has appointed parents, but especially mothers, to be instructors during this early stage of life. Hence, it is necessary for us to suitably teach and diligently raise virtuous women, on account of their supreme calling to become teachers; for they will serve as the images and examples that their own children will follow. A child mimics either the virtues or bad habits of his mother—even her voice and manners, even her ethos and conduct to such an extent, that one can very appropriately liken children to phonographic records that initially register sound, and then play it back as it was originally voiced, in the identical pitch, the same quality, and with the same accent and emphasis.
Each glance, every word, every gesture, and every action of a mother becomes the glance, word, expression, gesture, and action of her child. Hence, Asterios notes:
“one child speaks exactly like his mother, another bears a striking resemblance to her personality, while yet another takes on his birth giver’s manner and conduct.”
By being in the constant presence of her child and through her repeated counsels, a mother profoundly affects the soul and character of her child, and she first provides him with the initial impetus toward virtue.