Lent is a three-legged stool of Prayer, Fasting and Alms Giving. If you try to balance on only one leg, you are sure to fall. It is very common for people to make this mistake when it comes to fasting during Lent. We often get distracted by the foods we are or aren’t allowed to eat, and forget about the extra prayer services and opportunities for charity.
Take a moment to look at your church calendar. Does the service schedule seem impossible for you and your family? The standard service schedule for Lent includes: Compline on Mondays, Pre-sanctified Liturgy on Wednesdays, Akathist Fridays, Vespers on Saturdays and Liturgy on Sundays.
During Holy Week there are services every night. Holy Sunday, Monday and Tuesday have the Bridegroom Service. The sacrament of Holy Unction is on Holy Wednesday. Liturgy of the Last Supper and the Twelve Gospels are on Holy Thursday. On Friday there are the Royal Hours, Vespers (Taking Down from the Cross,) and the Lamentations are in the evening. There are two Liturgies on Holy Saturday. One is in the morning celebrating the women finding the empty tomb, and the other is in the evening, remembering the apostles confirmation. And then the week closes with the Agape Vespers on Sunday.
Although it might seem unmanageable to attend all the services, with a good plan in place, you and your family can find a balance this Lenten Season.
Know your limitations
Before we begin to understand what is best for our family, we have to know our limitations. It’s important to remember a few key factors towards everyone’s ability to arrive, participate and leave the same cool, calm and collective family you were when you left the house. Was everyone fed? Did everyone nap? Two of the most important questions you have to ask before any attempt to have a prayerful and successful church experience with a family of young children.
It doesn’t mean you can’t attend the service if they are hungry and tired. It’s just important to understand where everyone is coming from. Pack a few healthy snack for the car ride like bananas, peanut butter sandwiches, goldfish crackers.
Did they miss a nap? Grab a blanket and a stuffed animal to comfort toddlers. If they are comfortable, perhaps they can sleep on the pew lulled by the hymns and the censer.
I am not afraid of using bribery to set up a habit. It can be a short cartoon when you get home. Maybe even a favorite CD on the drive. The idea of an hour in a dark quiet place where you have to whisper all the time may seem like a total buzz kill to an otherwise active and productive day in a child’s world.
Perhaps a little light at the end of the tunnel can encourage your toddler-to-teen to hang in there just a while longer.
Pick a weekday that works with your family schedule
Can’t make all the services? Pick a day of the week that your family will devote to the Lenten services. Can your family commit Wednesday nights to attend Pre-sanctified service? Maybe Friday nights are easier and you can attend the Akathist. If all of the services seem unmanageable, perhaps dedicating the family to one of the evening service a week can help.
Prioritize the services.
Still think it’s impossible to attend all the services during Lent and Holy Week? With homework, afterschool activities and attention spans, it can be a challenge. All you need is a little planning so your family can experience a balanced Lenten Season.
How do you prioritize which services to attend? I would start with services where the sacraments are offered. Communion is offered Sundays, Wednesday evenings for pre-sanctified services, Holy Thursday morning, Holy Saturday morning , and Holy Saturday evening.
The healing service of Unction is offered Wednesday night. Some parishes offer it at two different times so it fits into everyone’s schedule.
There are three Bridegroom services on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights. If you can’t attend all three, then pick one.
Holy Thursday evening is a long and moving service where twelve Gospels passages are read recounting Christ’s Passion. At one point the icon of Christ on the cross is processed through the congregation and faithful approach to venerate and kiss His feet. You can plan to arrive on time and leave after the icon of Christ on the cross is processed.
Holy Friday afternoon is a touching service and one traditionally attended by children. It is the service where Christ is taken off the cross, wrapped in a white sheet and placed behind the altar as if in the tomb. It’s also a chance for the kids to crawl under the Kouvouklion, the wooden frame that will be decorated with fresh flowers and hold the Epitaphios icon, the icon of Jesus’ body.
On Friday night the faithful process around the church with candles and the Kouvouklion.
Many parishes have the young girls toss flowers remembering the myrrh-bearing women. If I had to choose, I would skip this one so everyone could be rested for the Saturday morning service where communion will be offered. Many families attend Friday night to receive the flower from the kouvouklion and kids are up too late to attend Saturday morning.
If you have little children and it really is difficult to attend all the service as a family, there is no reason you can’t take turns. You go and your spouse stays home. If your spouse works late or is traveling, you can switch with a friend. Keep the kids so they can go in then switch for the next evening.
Hire a sitter
Perhaps the issue isn’t the kids but that you need a prayerful evening to regroup. I often think of the pilots’s instructions to care for your oxygen mask before tending to others. When necessary, hire a sitter and attend the service in peace.
Bring a sleeping bag (but don’t set up camp)
But if the idea of having your kids miss the services is upsetting, especially the midnight Resurrection Liturgy, it’s perfectly fine for kids to fall asleep in the pews. We don’t want to bring so many things that we’ve set up camp. Flashlights, games, electronics are not appropriate. But a little book with an Orthodox theme with a reading lamp or a travel photo album of icons can be a quiet comfort to children as they sit quietly observing the sights, sounds, melodies and smells of the services.
Watch online services
In the absolute worst-case scenario, if you cannot make it to the services at all, live video streaming might be for you. Click the Worship tab at the top to see if there is a Live video streaming at a time that is convenient for you. Visit the page often, as our list of parishes with live stream video is growing.
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