An excerpt from "Conversations with Children," by Sister Magdelen of the Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, United Kingdom.
THE HEART, THE SPIRITUAL CENTRE OF A PERSON
'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all they mind' (Luke 10:27). Christ put the heart first in His Commandment. The heart is the most personal component of a human being. Our brains and our minds reflect in their way the state of our heart; as the Lord said, thoughts proceed out of the heart (Matt. 15:19, Mark 7:21). 'Our ideas, our philosophical systems, our cosmologies, our world views, are nothing else but the history of our hearts.'* As we develop spiritually, our intellect no longer remains separated, exiled in the brain. Mind and heart are united in a re-integrated person.
The heart is cleansed and awakened by grace and by life according to the Gospel; that is why so many of our contemporaries are only aware of the heart's physical functions. Sometimes they acknowledge also its emotional facet, though in the case of the emotions many consider the term 'heart' to be symbolic or metaphorical. Those who follow a Christian path will discover that the heart is the meeting place between the real 'I', the human hypostasis, and the living God. The pure in heart see God there. Knowledge of Him originates there. The cultivation of the heart is a task beyond any secular educational system. Intellectual ability is now deemed the criterion of knowledge. Because we are spiritually frozen we do not recognize a thought until it has taken a cerebral form. In reality, moral and spiritual judgments are decided in the heart.
Child to a spiritual father: 'What shall I do about [personal problem]?' Elder: 'I think you should decide about that yourself'. Child: 'But I can't' Elder: 'That's because you tried to decide here [hand on forehead] rather than here [hand on heart].'
Obviously this was a personal answer. But the fact that it was given to a child is significant. It also shows us that in Christian life, deciding by the heart does not mean being guided by the emotions rather than by reason. Neither does it mean that feelings are superior to thinking. Nor do we deny the value of reasoning. Deciding by our heart means opening the core of one's being to God's enlightenment, and letting the effect of that prayer colour our decision-making.
In the spiritual education of children, our first concern is not to train their wills, but to attract grace by our life and prayer to their environment, and to let each child's heart become attached to grace. Theological discussion with children is a very small proportion of Christian education. Prayer that God will touch them with grace is a permanent dimension of all our dealings with children, even when they are not with us.
Protopresbyter George Metallinos, recalling the holy Elder Porphyrios: 'He told me that I must deal with one of my children by praying a lot more. He specifically said to me about that child, "Whatever you would say to that child, say it to God. Kneel before God and through the grace of God, your words will be conveyed to your child." About my other child, he said to me: " He listens, but he easily forgets. Therefore, again you will kneel and you will ask for God's grace, so that your fatherly words will fall upon good soil and will be able to bear fruit."**
*Fr. Theokletos Dionysiatis, "Between Heaven and Earth [in Greek], (Athens, 1955), p. 130.
**Klitos Ionnidis, "Elder Porphyrios, Testimonies and Experiences," (Athens: Convent of the Transfiguration, 1997), p. 77.