As I’ve mentioned before, our entire family is exploring Eastern Orthodoxy together through 2008. So you may be interested in how my children are processing their experiences.
First, St. Peters has several families with children. Our kids began making friends fairly quickly. As much as their spiritual development is a priority for Debbie and me, we knew it had to happen in the context of good friendships. I believe most, if not all, of the kids have grown up Orthodox in that church since it converted en masse from being a Four Square church to Orthodoxy about twelve years ago. So we’ve been thrilled that our kids have been embraced by the youth. It was a blast watching our kids playing and hanging out together with new friends at the Pascha Party at the park on Sunday.
Also, if you’re not familiar with Orthodoxy, all of the children join the adults for all of the services. That’s because Orthodox children, even young babies, are part of the parish and receive the Eucharist every Sunday. If there is a Sunday school program at an Orthodox Church, it is supplementary and usually held after Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. In fact, all of the children participate in the full life of the Church. (It was very moving to watch over 20 children bowing before and venerating the cross simultaneously during many of the Holy Week services.)
Debbie and I were concerned about how our kids would fit in as we joined St. Peters. While our kids have made friends fairly easily at past Protestant churches, they had attended their own “age-appropriate” programs during the adult worship service. So, how would our kids deal with the lengthy Orthodox services? How would they process things that were different from the Protestant experiences like venerating the icons, chanting, crossing themselves, kissing the priest’s hand and other differences? Would these differences hinder them from making friends with the Orthodox children?
Well, after four months at St. Peters, it seems like we had nothing to be concerned about. As I mentioned above, our kids began making friends very quickly. And each, in his or her own time, has taken to Orthodox practice and theology (at their level of understanding) like a duck to water. Practices and points of theology that have been serious issues of internal wrestling for Debbie and me were virtually nothing for the kids.
For example, our older kids immediately understood the logic and theology behind venerating the icons. They understand that Jesus conquered death and so those who have passed on are still alive and desire to intercede for the salvation of God’s people on earth. My kids love the story of the saints. And it thrills me that they find the lives of those who have lived for Christ hundreds of years ago as interesting and relevant to their own salvation and relationship with Christ.
Also, all four of my kids loved Holy Week and Pascha. We took them out of school on Friday so that they could experience everything during their first Pascha. It seemed like we virtually lived at the Church for three days, a lot of that time spent standing in services. And all four of them kept telling us how great the experience was.
After we got some sleep following the Pascha service, I asked my kids to write down a few things that they like and dislike about Orthodoxy. Here’s what they said:
Christopher (8 yrs old) said he likes the Orthodox Church because, “They share stuff. They are very nice. They tell the truth. They are very holy. We give respect (he’s speaking of the various acts of veneration to the icons, cross, Gospel and priest). And it’s fun to hang out with them.” The only thing he didn’t like was the fact that it’s hard to understand the chanting.
Danielle (10 yrs old) said she likes the Orthodox Church “Because the people are nice and the priest is sometimes funny in his sermon. I also like the chanting and incense.” Her only dislike, “The only bad thing is sometimes the service goes too late.”
Catherine (13 yrs old) said she like the Orthodox Church for these reasons, “I love how they study the saints and not just read them out of the Bible. I also love how they reenact Palm Sunday and the hanging and taking down of Christ [from the cross]. And I like how they all fast the same thing.” Her only dislike was “I don’t like how long we have to stand. But if we keep going there [to St Peters], it will become easier.”
Michael (16 yrs old) said “I like the Orthodox Church because the people are all nice. I enjoy Fr. Patrick and how he is able to be funny while preaching. I also enjoy the fact that there is more respect. Today, most Christian churches have loud ‘rock bands’ playing worship songs while at the Orthodox Church, they do chanting that is calmer and more respectful.”
Michael is very much like me. He observes and processes things quietly and internally. On Sunday after all the Pascha events, he said, “Dad, this weekend was amazing.” That simple statement spoke volumes.
All four of my kids are eager to become Orthodox. However, Debbie and I want to wait at least another couple of months before we seriously consider the idea of our family becoming catechumens. This probably will be one of the most important decisions of our family’s life, so we don’t want to make an emotional decision. It will be the first time that our family will choose a church home together and not joining one because it was dad’s next pastoral job.