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Children in Church

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  • byakimov@csc.com.au
    PASTORAL COMMENT Children in Church by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky Every Christian mother considers it one of her primary obligations to teach her child
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 3, 2003

      Children in Church

      by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky

      Every Christian mother considers it one of her primary obligations to teach
      her child prayer as soon as his consciousness begins to awaken prayer that
      is simple and easy for him to understand. His soul must be accustomed to
      the warm and fervent experience of prayer at home, by his cradle, for his
      neighbors, his family. The child's evening prayer calms and softens his
      soul, he experiences the sweetness of prayer with his little heart and
      catches the first scent of sacred feelings.

      It is harder for a child to take in the atmosphere which prevails in
      church. At first he just observes. He sees people concentrating and rites
      he does not as yet understand and hears incomprehensible words. However,
      the very solemnity and festivity of the church have an uplifting effect on
      him. When a two year-old child wants to take part in church, to sing, speak
      or make prostrations?in this we can see his uplifted state of soul, with
      which he is involuntarily infected. We say this from simple observation.

      But there is also something higher than our sense perceptions. Christ is
      invisibly present in church and He sees the child, blesses him, and
      receives him into the atmosphere of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Grace
      envelopes him as a warm wind wafts over a blade of grass in a field,
      helping it to grow up slowly and gradually, to put down roots and develop.
      And so the mother hastens to bring her child to Christ, to His grace,
      regardless even of whether he has any understanding at all of this contact
      with the gift of grace. This especially concerns the Eucharist, the very
      closest union with Christ. The mother brings her infant to this mystery
      while he is still a baby lying in her arms. Is the mother right?

      "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, for of such is the kingdom of
      God." Can you really say with certainty that there and then in the fields
      of Palestine these children had already understood Christ's teaching, had
      been sitting at the Teacher's feet and listening to His preaching? Do not
      say this, for the Evangelist himself remarks that "they brought unto Him
      also infants, that He would touch them: but when His disciples saw it, they
      rebuked them". In bringing their little ones, the mothers' purpose was
      simply that His hands should touch the children, and not that He should
      teach them divine knowledge.

      Allowing children to have contact with spiritual grace is one of the first,
      basic concerns of a Christian who thinks about his children, and the task
      of Christian society, which is concerned about its youth. Here is the door
      to a correct Orthodox Christian upbringing. Enlightenment, compunction and
      joy, as they awaken in the infant's growing consciousness are an external
      indicator of the fact that the little Christian is feeling warmth from the
      divine source in himself. And even if he does not feel it, the invisible
      action of God's grace does not stop; only we do not see it, just as we do
      not see the effect of the sun on our own health instantly and at once. In
      Russian literature we have such apt examples of the disposition of
      children's souls during preparation for confession and communion, after
      confession and after communion of the Holy Mysteries.

      Nevertheless, how often it is forgotten that herein lies the key to
      organizing religious education. How often, on seeing the inadequacy of
      religious education, we pick up the programs and re-work them, lay the
      blame on the textbooks and the teachers?and forget about the importance of
      the church and the influence of the services; certainly we do not always
      ask ourselves the question: "But did the children go to church?"

      As the child grows tip, he should enter more deeply into the life, of the
      Church. The child's mind, the youth's mind must be enlightened by the
      church services, learn from them, become immersed in them; the church
      should give him knowledge of God.

      This matter is more complex. The task of religious 'education will be
      fulfilled only when we teach our children to love church.

      When we, the adults, organize church services, make arrangements for them,
      shorten or lengthen the order of service and so on, we are accommodating
      ourselves to our own concepts and needs, or simply convenience, understood
      in adult terms. But in so far as the concepts, needs and spiritual
      strivings of children are not taken into account, the surroundings are
      often not conducive towards making children love church. This is
      nevertheless one of the most important means of religious education: let
      the children come to love the church, so that they may always attend church
      with a pleasant feeling and receive spiritual nourishment from it. And
      since parents often cannot help here, if only because not, infrequently
      they are irreligious themselves, we are often compelled, when we think
      about our Orthodox children, to place this work into the hands of the
      community, the hands of the school, the hands of the Church.

      Just as we are not afraid of destroying a devotion to learning and books,
      or love for our national literature and history by making our children come
      running to class at the sound of a bell and sit at desks, and by immersing
      them in an atmosphere of strict discipline and compulsion; so also, one
      might think, we would have no reason to be afraid of using a certain amount
      of compulsion in the matter of attending church, whether it be part of
      school regime or an expression of self-discipline on the part of youth
      organizations?both those that are connected with school and those that are
      not. But certainly, if this remains just compulsion, and to such an extent
      that it creates a psychological repulsion in the young people?this will
      show that the aim has not been attained, that the method has proved to be
      inadequate and the compulsion in vain. Let the child brought by our will
      express a desire to remain there through his own will. Then you will have
      justified your action.

      And again we say: it is not only natural, psychological effects that take
      place in children's souls in church, but the action of grace. Our whole
      concern should be that the soul of the baby, child or youth should not be
      closed to holy impressions, but should be freely opened: and then it will
      no longer need effort, force or any other form of self-compulsion; it will
      be nourished freely and easily and joyfully.

      There is one thing that must not be forgotten: human nature requires at
      least a minimal degree of active participation. In church this can take the
      form either of reading, or of singing, or of decorating and cleaning the
      church, or of some other activity, even if it is only indirectly connected
      with the services.

      The indisputable importance of the church and of communal church services
      for the religious upbringing of children constitutes one of the arguments
      in favour of the Orthodox understanding of the mystery of baptism: that is
      to say, an argument in favor of baptizing children at a very young age, as
      we do in the Orthodox Church. Baptism is the door through which one enters
      the Church of Christ. One who is not baptized?which means he is not a
      member of Christ's family?has no right to participate in the life of this
      family, in its spiritual gatherings and in its table?the Lord's table. Thus
      our children would be deprived of the right to be with us in church, to
      receive the blessing in the name of the Holy Trinity, to communicate the
      Body and Blood of Christ. And however we may influence them in our family
      at home, however much we might teach them the Gospel, we would be depriving
      them of the direct action of heavenly grace, and at best we would arouse a
      thirst for faith in them?but we would still be keeping them far from the
      heavenly light and warmth, which comes down, regardless of our human
      efforts, in the mysteries, in all the services, in holy prayers. How
      grossly mistaken are those religions which recognize only adult baptism!

      The holy maidens Faith, Hope and Charity, and the holy young bride
      Perpetua, who became martyrs, are witnesses to the fact that adolescence is
      an age prepared even for the highest active participation in Christ's
      Church. The baby in his mother's arms in church who cried out, "Ambrose for
      bishop!", and by his exclamation determined the choice of the renowned
      Ambrose of Milan for the episcopal cathedra?this baby is a defender of
      children's rights to an active participation in Christ's Church.

      And so let us take some trouble over our children: first let us give them
      the chance to take more part in church?and in a wider and more elevated
      form than just giving the censer to the priest; and secondly, let us adapt
      ourselves somewhat to our children when praying together with them.

      Let the children be conscious that they are members of Christ's family.

      Let the children come to love church!

      *Taken from Orthodox Life, Vol. 27, No. 3 (May June 1977), pp. 29-33. A
      related article worth reading is "The Challenges of Orthodox Youth Ministry
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