The Lord says to His disciples: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14) It is incumbent therefore for both parents and our entire parish to not only welcome children into the Lord’s house, but to do so eagerly with great care for their spiritual growth and upbringing. The following guidelines, compiled and modified over the years with input from all parties (clergy, parents, other adults, and children), allow us to work together in oneness of mind and with a shared plan to nurture the development of our children and ensure that they are fully integrated into our common parish life. The raising of children in Church is a communal task, not just the responsibility of parents, and when we work together, we will see “How good it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1)
Traditionally, Orthodox churches are divided into separate spaces (the Altar, the Nave, the Narthex, and the Porch), each with their own purpose and function. Our chapel likewise has separate spaces, which provide us with a helpful way to guide our children in their spiritual development, with each space having its own privileges and responsibilities fitting to the worship of God.
The Altar / Choir
Children who desire to serve in the altar or chant/sing in the choir should be encouraged to do so. We want to help our youth to develop their God-given talents in service to the Church and their incorporation in the Liturgy is one of the primary ways we can do this. With these privileges come responsibilities which will be communicated by the priest and choir director.
The ideal place for our children to worship is in the sanctuary, the main area of the church, where they can see and participate better in the service. This is a great privilege both for children and adults alike and comes with the following responsibilities:
- Children should be dressed in age appropriate “church clothes”. Children over the age of seven should follow the general dress code guidelines for adults (for example: sneakers/crocks/flip-flops should not be worn; boys should not wear shorts and girls should dress modestly).
- Children in the sanctuary should learn to focus on the worship service, venerate icons, light candles, make the sign of the cross and bows, sing with the people, follow in their prayer books, listen to the sermon, sit and stand at the appropriate times, or read a children’s book about the Lord. No one in the sanctuary (including adults) should talk, make noise or cause a commotion which distracts from the prayerful atmosphere, especially during important parts of the service or the sermon.
- Although toys, food, and arts and crafts are not permitted in the sanctuary, if needed, very small children may bring a single teddy bear or doll, but only if it is small and quiet (if it makes noise when dropped it should not be brought to church). If other items are needed, there are other spaces in the church to accommodate these things.
- If a child struggles to remain quiet, still, and focused on the service in the sanctuary (and this is to be expected for little children during lengthy services), the child may be temporarily brought to the loft, quiet room, or even outside.
The back of the church has an elevated loft area which can be helpful for children to see and participate in the service while not in the sanctuary. While the loft is a slightly more relaxed section it is still part of the church and therefore distractions should be kept to a minimum. Food and toys are not permitted but coloring books and crayons may be used quietly when the church is not full and if a peaceful atmosphere is preserved.
The Quiet Room
Although children may be brought outside of the church, when necessary, the chapel also has a quiet room in the loft with a large glass window which can be used when a child is having difficulty quietly participating in the service. Food and items such as coloring books and crayons are permitted in this space but should be cleaned up following each service. The door to the quiet room should be closed when necessary.
Nothing pleasing to God can be accomplished without good will and a humble disposition towards one another. Our children look up to their elders and not only listen to their words and follow their behavior but also take on their spiritual dispositions. This provides us with both an opportunity and a responsibility to show them what it is like to be genuine disciples of Christ and children of God – a united community.
As our children grow in the Faith, we too must grow in spiritual maturity. As our children are more fully integrated into the life of the Church, we too must choose unity over divisiveness, peacefulness over irritability, common obedience over prideful self-will. All of this requires consistent attention and patience, and these virtues are not easily acquired though they are necessary for any important undertaking. There will be times when our children struggle and there will be times when we struggle as adults. Let us be patient with one another, always seeking not our own but what is for the good of the other and to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:24)
Should you have any questions, concerns, thoughts, or ideas, please do not hesitate to speak with Fr. John.
Christ the Savior Orthodox Church
10315 Carey Road
Berlin, MD 21811