No, love, you may not wield that Church candle like a lightsaber…or grab a fistful of blessed bread with your sweaty little hand…or pinch your sister in the Communion line…or crawl under my skirt…or use your outside voice…
I know this must be shocking to hear (ha ha), but my kids aren’t exactly known for their quiet, timid ways. We got us some spit fires, Troy and I – all four of them love hard, fight hard, play hard, laugh loud, and sing even louder. They’re hands – on learners, stimulated by sights, sounds and smells. This has made the Orthodox Church services we attend as a family, yes, a very beautiful sensory experience but sometimes crazy hard as well, especially when they were tiny and wont to wander, shriek and touch, touch, touch.
I’ve spent many a Divine Liturgy over the last decade or so redirecting behaviors not appropriate for Sunday mornings. And I’ve been reduced to tears of exhaustion and frustration by the enormity of the work (Because it is work, raising children in the Church – difficult, demanding, humbling, too often under appreciated, good and holy work) involved in fostering both a love and respect for the ancient and unearthly sacraments and Traditions of the Church. And yet I’ve also been profoundly blessed, usually when I least expect it, by a taste of Heaven itself upon hearing my children’s voices alongside those in the choir, or watching them tenderly kiss the cross, serve behind the altar, receive the Eucharist.
Showing up with my kids every Sunday, even on the Sundays we arrive grumpy and flustered, wordlessly cements in them (at least I pray it does) an understanding of our family’s priorities – if we’re consistent at home with our prayers and love for God and neighbor, that is. “But some of those services are so loooong,” my kids have most definitely complained, and yet I’ve noticed, ever so subtly, how their attention span in Church has lengthened over the years, as has their capacity for stillness. They’ve been stretched and challenged as I’ve been stretched and challenged, and being stretched and challenged is imperative for growth.
Writer, mother and Orthodox convert, Kelly Ramke Lardin, author of Conciliar Press’s newest children’s book, Josiah and Julia Go to Church, certainly understands the ups and downs of attending Divine Liturgy with young children. With this board book aimed at toddlers, pre-schoolers and even early grade schoolers, Larkin has provided a helpful resource for her fellow Orthodox Christian parents introducing their sons and daughters to Church etiquette. In it, siblings Josiah and Julia cross themselves, venerate icons, light candles, read prayer books, etc. all the while being praised for their correct behavior, and gently reminded of how to behave correctly when they make mistakes. It is sweetly illustrated by Sheena Hisiro and positive in its approach to educating little ones about the dos and don’ts of participating in an Orthodox service.
What I personally appreciate about this book is how it reminds adults to keep the childish behaviors of their children in perspective. This “a little too noisy, too figety, too messy, too sleepy” season will pass. I promise. Soon enough you’ll make it all the way to the Lord’s Prayer before it suddenly dawns on you, “Hey! We didn’t have to leave the service once this morning!” Yes, indeed, our days of uninterrupted worship are just around the corner. For now, however, we offer back to Christ as a sacrifice of thanksgiving the effort required to train up in the way they should go the imperfect yet most beloved children in our care.
Click HERE to purchase Josiah and Julia Go to Church for either yourself, your parish or as a gift!