There are two kinds of instruction books. One kind is to get the reader to put the book down and DO whatever it is they’re trying to learn as quickly as possible. The other kind is to teach not only how to do whatever it is–build a bookcase, sew a garment, knit a sweater or pour a concrete patio–but to explain the reasons and logic and philosophy behind the doing. Both have their place, and both are valuable kinds of books.
When Jane Meyer of Ancient Faith Publishing and the artist Megan Elizabeth Gilbert teamed up to produce the new Child’s Guide to the Liturgy, they wanted the reader to be drawn toward the altar, to encounter Christ in the Eucharist. Their point wasn’t to explain the liturgy as much as to anchor and orient someone in the high points of the service. The text through the entire book is minimal and is predominantly quotes from the service, the Bible, and the Fathers about the Liturgy and our encounter with it.
The book is broken up into four major parts – Preparing for Liturgy, the Divine Liturgy itself, a brief explanation of the twelve major feasts of the year, and “Words to Know” – two glossaries at the end of the book, one that illustrates the specific terms, and another that uses text to define the words.
The big problem with the book? Megan’s illustrations are so gorgeous it’s hard to tear your eyes away from them, and focus on the service! She’s done a wonderful job illustrating each step along the way to the Liturgy, showing some of the major events in the service itself and in the glossary. She used a multi-media form, incorporating fabric in the illustrations. The colours are bright and fresh, and the incorporation of the textiles adds a depth and richness to the simple illustrations.
The art in the book is spare and simple. Simple in the sense of focused and direct, with little to no extraneous detail. They are placed on the page without background, so that instead of showing a nave filled with people, and walls, windows, and icons as well as the focus of the illustration, you see only those elements that are central to that part of the service, drawing attention to what is important at that moment.
On the four-page spread for the Great Entrance, for example, the first left-hand page is text: “We who mystically represent the Cherubim”. The illustration on the facing page is of the fans the subdeacons carry in the procession, which show a representation of the cherubim. It serves to draw the child’s attention both to the fans the acolytes carry, and to the fact that the words of the hymn are not just poetic – we are surrounded by crowds of angels and saints all through the service, we are part of the Church Triumphant, and the Eucharist, the central event of the Liturgy is outside time and space. The next page is “That we may receive the King of all” and the illustration on its facing page is simply the figures of the procession, again isolated on a plain white background.
The illustration style is perfect for what the book intends to do, which is to set out a kind of “road map” to the Liturgy. Readers will recognize both the words, when they hear them, and the illustrations when they see them enacted in their church on Sundays. Additionally, the spare illustrations can form a jumping off point for teaching – kids can ask about the depiction of the Cherubim and Seraphim on the fans, or why the deacon seems to be walking backwards, or exactly what those funny triangles on the Prosphora page mean and how they’re made.
Despite the lack of frills and complicated designs to distract from the point of the passage and event that is being highlighted, there are details that delight and illuminate all the way through the book. The illustrations show the diversity of the people of God – there are people of every race worshiping in this book. One of my favourite illustrations is the hymns of the day and the patron saints: the congregation is joined by the saints. Mary of Egypt is embracing a little girl, while Peter the Aleut stands with his hands on his namesake’s shoulders. Moses the Black cradles an infant in a blue and white polka-dotted onesie, and John the Baptist holds the hands of a toddler. Even the Theotokos holds a little girl on her hip on this amazingly evocative page.
The book is sized for smaller hands, so that readers can hold the book easily, and refer to it during the service as well as at other times. And while it’s titled “A Child’s Guide,” it can teach more than children, and could be used as an introduction for visitors or adults unfamiliar with the services and terminology of the church.
If you’re looking for a gift for one of the children in your life, or for an interested adult, this would be a marvelous choice, and it would grace not only any bookshelf it happened to call home, but coffee tables, desks and churchy spaces too.
A CHILD’S GUIDE TO THE DIVINE LITURGY
Illustrated by Megan Elizabeth Gilbert
Published by Ancient Faith Publishers ISBN 978-1-936270-17-0
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