Six Ideas from the Lives of Wonderful Families

Originally appeared at:

It finally happened: my book “The Life of Remarkable Families: Six Real Stories” was finally published by the publishing house of the Pskov-Pechersk Monastery, “Free Wanderer”. Still warm, it just arrived from the printing house. I have already talked about this in detail and at length about what this project is, why I needed it myself, and why these stories might be needed by others.

As I have emphasized more than once, in the book I tried to minimize any analysis, did not talk about my impressions, did not draw conclusions. That way, the reader can see each story of a wonderful family in his own way and draw his own conclusions.

But now, meeting the newborn book, I will try to talk about my personal attitude towards the plots and characters. To do this, I will select one small impression from each story, and using this example I will show what these distant stories can inspire, and how they can become recipes for building a family life, proven by experience and time.

From the first story — How to get married properly

Saint Gregory of Nyssa, the younger brother of the great teacher Saint Basil the Great, talks about his parents:

“Our mother... in her youth bloomed with such physical beauty that the rumor about her prompted many to seek her hand. The threat arose that if she did not unite with someone of her own free will, she would have to endure some unwanted insult, because those distraught by her beauty were already ready to kidnap her. For this reason, having chosen a man known and respected for his impeccable behavior, she found in him the defender of her life...”[1].

This was the beginning of the marriage that Basil the Great called “perfect” and “excellent.” This was the beginning of a family that gave the world a whole host of great saints.

The recipe here is time-tested: a happy home, good children, a strong family — all this begins with the choice of a spouse. The idea is to marry a person whom you not only love, but definitely respect and trust as your protector... Then very many things are included all at once. In particular, respect for the husband is included, the very thing that obviously makes the husband the head of the wife, the very thing that, in turn, provokes children’s respect for their parents, the very thing that makes the authority of the husband and father organic and unobtrusive.

When I myself was a girl, I had the opportunity to closely observe families in which husbands and wives, hitherto non-believers, tried to build a “real Orthodox family.” And how often, how obviously these were relationships of painful strain, turning ourselves inside out! As a girl, I paid more attention to the position of women, I saw how wives break themselves, forcing themselves to obey their husbands. Such things were said out loud in front of me, and everything was very obvious. It has often become obvious to me that in this case the woman actually does not respect her husband at all, treats him like a nonentity, and cannot bring herself to rely on him for anything. On the other hand, I saw that in good families no one has to talk about obedience. Relationships are built on mutual respect. And the unconditional authority of the husband in the family is the same, and is a natural one.

For myself, I concluded: you need to marry a person whom you not only love, but truly respect and honor. And he needs to be a person to whom you can completely entrust yourself and your future children. If you fall backwards, then you know for sure, the person standing behind you is willing to die himself, but he will save and protect everything that is dear to you. I see a similar attitude, a similar formula in the history of the family of St. Basil the Elder and St. Emily. This is a recipe for our daughters, for those who want to start a family: marry someone you respect and who is respected by people significant to you; take notice of impeccable behavior (Vladyka Alexy Frolov said: “Before marriage, look at your husband’s behavior with your eyes wide open, and after marriage, look at it through your fingers”), in a potential husband, not only look for a loved one, not only a friend, but also a protector...

From the second story — Pampering your husband, pampering your wife

Ekaterina Mikhailovna Khomyakova in one of her letters says about her husband: “we need to pamper Alexey and let him hunt”[2]. In the attitude of the mother of the Khomyakov family towards her husband, this desire to “pamper her husband” is obvious, respect even for his “weaknesses”, attention to every little thing that gives pleasure to her husband. Ekaterina rescued drafts of her husband’s poems from trash bins and carefully kept drafts of her husband’s poems; she turned out to be not only a beloved woman for Alexei Stepanovich Khomyakov, but a friend, assistant, and a real “fan” who inspired him to new achievements.

Alexey Stepanovich Khomyakov treated his wife in a similar way. As their eldest daughter recalled, it was her father who “spoiled” her mother, enthusiastically and openly admiring her: her character, intelligence, abilities, beauty, and taste. He loved to give his wife jewelry and lace and admired her dresses. He did not hesitate to openly express these feelings both in front of friends and in communication with his wife. In his letters, Alexey calls Ekaterina his “dear, wonderful friend,” “my dear, my joy,” and in the English manner, "Kitty". Describing his family of friends, Alexey Stepanovich writes to his wife:

“I saw in them a shadow of our happiness; how sweet and comforting it is, but I feel that it is still far away, far from ours. If you were here, how much fun I would have! Now I was either on my feet or on horseback, and I kept thinking: Kitty has never been here before, I haven’t seen this yet... You know, I was so sad to part with you that I almost cried... I feel so good about you and you spin before my eyes, to the point that sometimes, having come to my senses, I laugh, because I feel that I was moving my lips in an imaginary conversation with you... I walked from room to room, was in our bedroom, and quickly left there... Being apart is very sour "[3].

The idea, the recipe, is to talk to your spouse about your feelings. Don’t be afraid to express your love and admire your spouse. For some reason, some people are sure that this is how you can “spoil” your husband or wife. But here it’s just like a task — to pamper your spouse! Try to do something nice for your spouse, in small things and also in the big picture. And be sure to speak words that are kind, affectionate, and gentle.

Another idea is to respect not only the “opinion” and “beliefs” of your spouse, but to cherish the quirks and habits dear to his heart (as long as these beliefs and habits do not directly contradict the Divine commandments). Even if something seems useless and silly, simply allow and accept it. Do not be mercifully condescending to the weaknesses of a man or a woman, but accept with joy — with love — the large and small customs of your loved one, your beloved.

From the third story — Spend time one-on-one with your child

The idea that I will talk about in this paragraph is a cross-cutting idea for many stories of “wonderful families”; these stories are described with interesting details in the history of the Royal Martyrs. But now let’s look at this topic using the example of the Sikorsky family, in which there were five children.

In the history of this family, a plot arises several times in which the father, together with one of his children, goes for a walk after work, or he takes the child with him on some trip. We read about this in the texts of the father, teacher, psychiatrist, and psychologist Ivan Alekseevich Sikorsky, and in the memoirs of his son, aircraft designer Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky.

About walks. Ivan Alekseevich worked very, very hard — he treated patients, was engaged in scientific work, and his whole day was tightly scheduled. But he tried to take breaks from work — sometimes he went for a walk in the garden. And he either did gardening work or communicated with his children, often with just one child. For example, speak with 4-5 year old children, ask the children something, listen to their stories about something, draw the kids’ attention to some important topics...

About trips. Sometimes Ivan Alekseevich Sikorsky went on vacation with his child. For example, when Igor was 11 years old, his father took him on vacation to Germany. The great aircraft designer said:

“My interest in various branches of natural science, especially mechanics and astronomy, arose mainly as a result of long conversations that my father and I had while walking through the picturesque hills of the German Tyrol in the summer of 1900. My craving for astronomy, which began then, has remained with me forever”[4].

About work. In the history of the Sikorsky family, and in the stories of many other wonderful families, there is another similar, cross-cutting plot — when parents take their child with them to “work”: to a medical office, to a scientific laboratory, to a lecture. This is how a child gets to know his parents. This is how he sees the passion and service of his parent, and at the same time the work, care, and service of people in general. Sometimes – but not always – such exposure to the parents’ passion truly “infects” the child. And, again and again, it is an opportunity for parent and child to communicate with each other.

The recipes here are as follows: when there are several children in a family, it is good sometimes to communicate with one person, and not with all of them “in a crowd.” To do this, it is good to periodically invite one of your children with you — for a walk, on some kind of trip. Definitely, it is very important to cultivate communication with all the children, with the whole family. But such trips are also important — just the two of you. Sometimes I take one child with me on a long, traffic-filled trip to Moscow, especially a teenager. These trips, when a parent and a child who is no longer a child are together willy-nilly, allow us to have the most difficult and most important conversations. Often this format inadvertently encourages the child to talk a lot about himself. Such trips bring together, educate... both the child and the parent. And if at least once a year you have the opportunity to take your child with you to work, this is a precious opportunity that is very useful to take advantage of.

It doesn't necessarily happen every day, nor does it necessarily happen according to any schedule. Even walks may not be every day. Special, important trips may happen about once a year. And this occasional, unforced communication has a huge effect!

For the Sikorskys, “personal time” was not at all a dance around the child: it was live communication, interesting for both the child and the parent. In all the stories of wonderful families with whom I worked, in such “personal time” and “trips somewhere alone with a parent”, there is no attitude suggesting that “parents forgot about themselves and devoted themselves to children.” Sometimes parents listened to their children, sometimes it was a dialogue and a conversation, and sometimes parents told their children about their faith, their worldview, their childhood, and their work. “Wonderful” parents were attentive to their children and wanted to hear them, but they did not make this an “hour of child dominance.”

From the fourth story — Does each child in the family have a separate room?

In the stories of wonderful families, not only those included in my book, you can see an interesting point: conventionally children did not have their own rooms until adulthood — even when the family owned a huge home with many rooms. Even in imperial families there was no attempt to provide each child with a separate room.

Emperor Nikolai Alexandrovich himself spent his entire childhood and adolescence sleeping in the same room with his brother George, and for quite a long time he also slept with his teacher’s son. All “zones” of their apartments were also common: in addition to the common bedroom, there was a common playroom and a common classroom[5]. The daughters of Emperor Nicholas II lived in pairs: Olga and Tatiana in some rooms, Maria and Anastasia in others. The girls had one bedroom for two, also for two - one boudoir, one classroom. This situation persisted until the arrest: that is, until that time, the adult (girls reached adulthood at 16 years old) free daughters of the Russian Emperor, who clearly had no problems with living space, did not have their own bedrooms. She specifically listed the presence of common playrooms, classrooms, and boudoirs: this once again emphasizes the free opportunity to allocate each child a separate room and shows the principle of zoning space according to the purpose of the room, and not according to the “owner.” Moreover, adult children, even those who were not married, received not only their own bedroom, but also their own apartments, so the idea of ​​“never having anything personal” is not involved here either.

An idea, a conclusion, a recipe — the layout of a home and the organization of living space can promote communication and connect family members with each other. It can help them to not live separately, but together. To learn from the very beginning of life, from childhood, to tolerate another person, to give in to him, to relate oneself to another person. And at the same time - to live, grow, develop as a person in communication with another person, learn to communicate - as fully as possible, truly close. A separate life divides; a common life unites. There are certainly plenty of problems in common life, but the resolution of these problems, provided there is a generally healthy, loving atmosphere in the family, in itself has a huge educational effect.

Having studied this topic from the point of view of psychology and pedagogy, having analyzed the experience of many real families, I adopted a similar approach. At first, I simply comprehended my childhood experience of living among a large number of brothers and sisters in a small apartment and simply came to terms with the conditions in which my own family lived unwittingly: my fifth baby was born when we lived in a two-room apartment. For many years, my husband and I built our own house; it was our own project, developed taking into account the pedagogical effect of zoning the living space. In particular, we planned shared bedrooms for the children - and our older children have already grown up in this community.

In no way do I want to say that living “in cramped conditions” with ten children in a city one-room apartment is normal and healthy. But when it is possible to live spaciously and freely, common spaces with private spaces allocated within them form a family and truly socialize children. In this case, when adult children separate from the parental family, if they can and want to get their own room and leave the parental home, they will go out into individual life, already formed in the community.

From the fifth story — Children teach children

After the revolution, Archpriest/New-Martyr St. John Artobolevsky was dismissed from his post as a professor. The family of this priest was evicted from a government apartment into one room, all family members were deprived of cards by which food was distributed, and they ate whatever they could grow in a small patch of garden. In order to support a family of four children, the mother went to work as an accountant. The son of Father John, academician of the USSR Academy of Sciences I.I. Artobolevsky recalled:

“Already in 1919, we were actually starving. We ate frozen potatoes, baked cakes from potato peels, ate dandelion roots... We children were so hungry that we were forced to take on various temporary jobs, which were paid for in food... In schools there were a lot of underachieving children, and I was hired to work with them for payment in kind. I liked tutoring. Obviously, in those years I began to develop as a teacher, because... all my students were very “difficult”, and I had to independently look for various ways of pedagogically approaching them. I have always been very proud that with my work I was able to help our family"[6].

Here is an interesting, also cross-cutting idea for many biographies of scientists, as well as for many pedagogical concepts: when a child acts as a teacher of other children, he already becomes a teacher himself, even if this child is only ten years old. On the other hand, such pedagogical activity of the child allows him to understand the topic or subject being explained much better. A well-known effect: if you want to understand something, explain it to someone else. And here is the recipe: one of the ways to interest a child in learning is to invite this child to work with younger children. One of the ways to organize home schooling is to offer, at least periodically, for the elder children to study with the younger ones. Support a situation where the eldest son, a student, explains physics to his eighth-grader brother. When a fifth-grader asks his dad for help with a math problem, ask the tenth-grader to explain this solution to his younger sister. Invite a third grader to tell preschoolers about the upcoming church holiday...

From the sixth story — Faith and hope inside the apocalypse

The Russian Empire is one of the greatest world powers. Priest Nikolai Bogolyubov has a doctorate in theology, serves as rector of the church at the Kiev Imperial University of St. Vladimir, and teaches at this university. He has a confident stability, and a secure career. Nearby are excellent gymnasiums for our sons and clear prospects for the future. And now [with the Bolshevik revolution] — all this is collapsing: the country simply no longer exists, people are being shot in the streets, including priests they know, they are simply being killed. It is impossible to serve, and it is impossible to teach, for the gymnasiums are closed. Having left some personal belongings in the care of an acquaintance — and the acquaintance later deceived them and did not return them — the Bogolyubov family, with two schoolchildren and a newborn baby in their arms, moved to a distant Ukrainian village to escape hunger.

The story is scary in its ordinariness. Having studied many memories left by people of that era, I see that people often perceived all this as a real Apocalypse. And who can say that that time was not apocalyptic?... Everyone behaved very differently, and it is almost impossible to correctly say how it should have been. It’s difficult to say how parents should have behaved with their children: these situations were too different and too complex[7]

And so, for the Bogolyubovs, the familiar world collapsed, and the apocalypse was in the yard. The family of the professor and archpriest lives in poverty, the father of the family is seriously ill, and at the same time he is forced to do hard physical work in order to feed his family. Under these conditions, Father Nikolai, who had yet to undergo interrogations and imprisonment, is actively and attentively engaged in educating his children. And he teaches them some... nonsense: Greek, Latin, and French. And when I saw the older boy’s ability in mathematics, he, never a mathematician, began to study mathematical analysis with the child. Then the family managed to return to Kiev - no longer to a nice apartment at the university, but to a small corner of a dilapidated house, no longer to the position of a university teacher, but to the place of a parish priest. And in this situation, Father Nikolai continued to work with the children, spending his last funds on paying teachers for his boys. As a result, as we know, these children grew into academic scientists: a Soviet mathematician and theoretical physicist, the founder of scientific schools in nonlinear mechanics and theoretical physics; also a mathematician, mechanic, and historian of science; and the last son is an outstanding Iranian linguist. They are people on whose shoulders Russian science and industry grew, and Russian culture was preserved.

Here for me is the idea of ​​living in resilient hope, even within a personal or public “apocalypse.” The idea is to take care of your children, even when there are “no prospects.” Pass on values ​​and culture to your children, even when “everything is useless.” Continue any business that you can and know how to do, even when you feel like giving up. Maintain, in the ugliest chaos, the rhythm of life of that value system (faith, culture, education) that is truly valuable to you. This is how people like confessor Archpriest Nikolai Bogolyubov not only preserved the faith, not only passed on the faith to his children — and this is already an immeasurably great accomplishment! — but these people additionally passed on genuine education, upbringing, and culture to future generations.

The recipe is to always believe and always hope, including counting on the successful, fruitful, high-quality work of our children for the benefit of their neighbors, for the benefit of society. Globally speaking, in this approach... it’s not even that important what actually lies ahead. Here, the holy Emperor Nicholas II, being arrested along with his family, continued to teach his children — he himself undertook to teach them history and geography, and his holy wife taught the children the Law of God and languages[8]They prayed, read the Holy Scriptures, and the holy fathers — in the first place was aspiration towards God, towards eternity; but until their martyrdom, the holy parents continued to engage with their children in this study, which seemed to be unnecessary either in this world or in the next.

For me, all this shows not only the “helpful” idea of ​​“sticking to a calming, familiar rhythm,” but first of all, that same hope, the absence of despondency, and readiness for a variety of scenarios. There is an understanding here — real life will be in the Kingdom of Heaven, and there is even a readiness to accept martyrdom. Both in the Royal Family and in other wonderful families, faith and life with God are obviously and vividly in a dominant position. But there is no suggestion that “earthly service is no longer necessary and is thus unimportant.” There is a task — to prepare your children, to prepare yourself for eternity, but necessarily, at the same time, also to prepare for earthly service to your neighbors, the people of God.

[1] Gregory of Nyssa , saint. Message about the life of Saint Macrina. M., 2002. P. 17.

[2] Khomyakova M.A. Memories of A.S. Khomyakov // Khomyakov collection. T.I. Tomsk, 1998. P. 173.

[3] Grabbe G. , prot. The Church and its teaching in life // Collected Works. T.II. Montreal, 1970. pp. 38–39.

[4] Sikorsky I.I. The story of the Winged-s. The autobiography of Igor I. Sikorsky. London, 1939 P.21

[5] See 25. Zimin I.V. Children's world of imperial residences. Life of monarchs and their environment. Daily life of the Russian Imperial Court. M., 2013. P. 153.

[6]  Artobolevsky I.I. Life and Science: Memoirs. M., 2005. P. 42, also see p. 35.

[7]  Sometimes families ran away in all respects “from the world and everything worldly”; they were quite happy that their children were deprived of the opportunity to study in new, godless schools, where everything “beautiful, pure was spat upon and ridiculed.” About this, for example, in a wonderful, sincere book, a precious testimony of confessors of the faith: Give thanks in everything: the story of the family of a repressed priest. M., 2017. P.31.

[8] And about the Bogolyubovs, and about the family of the Royal Martyrs, and in general all the theses that are not confirmed in the text of the article - about all this in detail and with references to primary sources, see my book: Saprykina  A.A.  The lives of wonderful families: six real stories. M., 2022.

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