Presvytera Vassi Makris Haros is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Art, Architecture & Planning and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. She is the owner, designer and photographer of V’s Cardbox, In Service and Love. a greeting card company featuring cards with an Orthodox voice. She strongly feels that experiencing the Orthodox Faith through the church’s cyclical calendar of feasts and fasts is a gift that is too often overlooked.
You might have heard that there are two kinds of prayer: Corporate Prayer and Personal Prayer. Corporate Prayer is when we are in services together, as in Vespers, Liturgy, Paraklesis…where two or more are gathered praying for the same things. Private Prayer is when you are alone in your “closet”, praying for personal things. The Orthodox Faith teaches that healthy souls need both, a time to pray privately and a time to pray corporately. A time to work on our intimate relationship with God and a time to live in the reality that we were created to live in a community and are not alone in our spiritual struggles and joys. When we only participate in one or the other…or worse, neither…it’s like skipping “leg day” at the gym. We find ourselves unbalanced. And when we skip the gym altogether, we are out of shape and unhealthy.
All are welcome… sort of.
Many of our young families are struggling to find support in Church when it comes to Corporate Prayer. Parents, single and paired, are stressed, rushing to bring their families to church and then after getting settled, are told to leave. Well, not really leave, but go to a separate room until services are over because the children were too much of a distraction for the adults.
It’s frustrating, lonely, demoralizing, exhausting but worse, leaves parents unbalanced. The very people who need to be in church praying — repenting and working on their salvation so that they might be better caregivers to the impressionable souls in their homes — are left feeling uncomfortable and unwelcomed. And too often, they give up on ever attending church as a family until the kids are older. Eventually, they forget to come back, having established other Sunday habits that are more welcoming.
Why are families with children isolated during the services?
Most complaints are that the children are a distraction. For example, a cry for attention, a small giggle, or an experiment in the way sound echoes from the church’s dome is too distracting for the adults in the pews. Have you ever really paid attention to an Orthodox service? There is movement on the soleia and behind the altar. There is constant singing from the choir and the priest. There is even fire, smoke, and bells throughout the experience. How does anyone expect a child to sit still within all the commotion?
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Corinthians 13.
While the child’s behavior reflects their age-appropriate response to being in church, I’d like to challenge the adults in the room. Is our behavior age-appropriate — age-appropriate being the operative word.
Is our attention span age-appropriate?
After a week of multi-tasking, working while the radio or TV is on in the background, or with other co-workers and customers, are we truly unable to pay attention to a 15- or 30-minute sermon, or do we have the attention of a five-year-old?
Have we made an age-appropriate offering?
What did we offer that morning in church? The children offer their voices, their giggles, their struggles, and their love. Do we sit in the pews with the same joy and desire to be interactive in the Liturgical experience, or do we feel obligated to be in church and find ourselves in the pews with a chip on our shoulder?
Is our participation age-appropriate?
Are we following along in the service, bowing our head when instructed to bow and lifting our hearts when it is time to give thanks? Or are we in our own thoughts, unaware of the activity around us? Or worse, looking at the other people in church and at what they are wearing and noticing when they arrived?
Have we made age-appropriate preparations to receive the gifts?
A child wakes up, gets dressed, has a light breakfast and then comes to church to receive communion. An adult prepares to receive communion. We fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. We confess our sins. We look deep into our hearts and work on those things that need to change. We approach the Chalice with an empty stomach and with “the fear of God, with faith and with love.”
Do we have age-appropriate manners?
Did you remember to say please and thank you? The Holy Spirit isn’t obligated to come to change the gifts of bread and wine to the body and blood of Christ. This is a gift. Are we old enough to remember to say please and thank you without being reminded?
It’s not all about you.
Many of us want to have a deep and meaningful experience during the services. We look forward to sitting in the pew and bringing our needs before God. Although most prayer services have a prayer or two for this, the time to sit quietly in prayer or meditation isn’t during the Corporate Prayer services. What you are looking for sounds more like Personal Prayer. If this is what you need, go to church early and pray before the service starts or offer these prayers at home. The services of the Church are for everyone and the whole Church needs to be present for them to be authentic.
It’s important to always act your age.
Children need to be in church with their parents. Parents need to be in church with their children. It’s the best way we know to have a balanced spiritual life because we are a Church who understands the importance of Corporate Prayer and Private Prayer. All I ask is that before we look at the fussy child or experimental toddler with the expectation that they act his or her age, I hope that we are doing a better job acting our own age.
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