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 prostrationsin 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
"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 teachersand
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
organizationsboth 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 peoplethis 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 baptizedwhich
means he is not a member of Christ's familyhas no right to participate in the life
of this family, in its spiritual gatherings and in its tablethe 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 thembut 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 cathedrathis 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 churchand 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!
From Orthodox Life, Vol. 27, No. 3 (May June 1977), pp.