Children are never too young to be brought to Church for services.
The sooner we introduce them to the Church, her services, and
her wisdom, the sooner we begin the process of "becoming"
an Orthodox Christian. In order for Orthodoxy to make sense, our
children need to experience all that the Church offers.
Make it part of this year's Lenten commitment to attend more
services, or attend more often. When Holy Week comes, block out
all other activities. Make it a point to attend every service
you can with your children. Be creative so that you can keep little
ones directed and occupied. Locate service books for children
who can read. Explain what's going to happen. Talk about what
Holy Week and Pascha were like when you were growing up.
To help us with this task, Ann-Marie shares from her own experience
Ways to Share Great Lent and Pascha with Your Child
by Ann Marie Gidus-Mercera
Take your child to Church!
Whenever a service is scheduled, plan to attend. Services like
The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete may be physically tiring with
the many prostrations, but don't think your child can't be a part
of them. In my own parish, which is filled with pre-schoolers,
the children do a great job of making prostrations right along
with the adults. Many of the children will join in as "Have
mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me" is sung. This experience
is good for our children! If they see their parents attending
services, they get the message that attending Church is important.
If we bring our children to Church with us (both young and old),
they get the message that their presence in Church is important.
The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is especially good for teaching
our children that we worship with our entire bodies.
Explain the service that your family will be attending.
Notice that the word "family" is used in the first sentence.
Now is a good time to stress that the entire family should
be attending services. My husband can't make it home from work
in time for all of us to get to services together, but he always
meets us at Church. This tells our children that Church is important
enough for Daddy to meet us there. As children get older, homework
and after-school activities may tempt them (and us!) to skip Church
services. Don't let it! First of all, if we give in, then what
we're really telling them is that worldly affairs are more important
than spiritual affairs. By allowing our children to miss Church,
we make it extremely easy for them to fall away as teenagers or
Last of all, if we allow our older children to miss Church, we
are telling our younger children that Church is not important
when they get to be big sister or big brother's age. Enforcing
Church attendance by the entire family is no easy task. In fact,
enforcing it may be one of the hardest jobs you encounter. Sticking
to your rule will be even tougher. It's a choice we must make
as Orthodox parents. Maybe, it makes our task easier if we ask
ourselves, "What would God want us to do?" The answer
Prepare your child for Lent.
[Editor's Note: great sources for readings and color sheets are
A Way of Life (see below), or use the gospel readings listed
in your parish calendar or bulletin]. The weeks prior to Lent
help us take on the right frame of mind for entering Lent. Let
them do the same for your child. Read the stories and let your
child color [or draw] the pictures prior to attending the Sunday
services. You may want to read the story again on Saturday evening,
or let your child take the color sheet to Church. A simple reminder
Sunday morning concerning what the service and gospel reading
will contain can be enough. Pre-schoolers have the ability to
remember even the briefest of comments (even when it's something
we DON'T want them to remember!) Keep your explanation simple
and BRIEF in order to hold his/her attention. [Editor's Note:
As your children get older, your explanations can get more involved.]
Don't try to go into a long and draw-out explanation or s/he will
lose interest. If s/he has questions or comments, answer them
Don't feel mountains have to be moved the day Lent begins,
or even during Lent.
It might be a quiet, even uneventful day. That's okay! Nothing
magical needs to happen. We must only be ready to give our hearts
to Christ, and we should gladly hand them over in an effort to
be a good example to our children. This is our greatest task as
Orthodox Christian parents.
A Brief Explanation of Lenten and Holy Week Services
Use this section to help familiarize your child with the services
s/he will be attending. A few minutes spent talking about them
during the day, or in the car on the way to Church, is sufficient
for the young child. Help get him/her interested in the services
by asking questions about what s/he will see, hear or do.
- The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts. Tell your
child that this service is part Vespers (like the services we
attend on Saturday evenings) and part Liturgy (like the service
we attend Sunday mornings.)
- The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. This service is celebrated
several times during Great Lent, and gets it title from St. Andrew,
a Jerusalem monk who lived during the seventh and eighth centuries,
and became archbishop of Crete. The service is a poem that tells
the story of the Old and New Testaments, and become our "spiritual
lament" that our sins have separated us from God. Between
each verse of the poem, we sing the following refrain as we prostrate:
"Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me." Your child
will identify this service with the numerous prostrations made
during the service. Tell your child everyone will bow down to
God "many, many times." Ask him/her to try to listen
to the hymns sung and see if s/he recognizes any stories from
[Editor's Note: A section of the poem is chanted within the context
of compline during the first four days of the first week of Lent,
and the entire poem within the context of Matins on the fifth
Thursday of Lent. It is more commonly done in the Slavic parishes.
If your parish does not offer the Canon of St. Andrew, consider
attending the service at a sister Orthodox parish that offers
- The Bridegroom Service. "Behold the Bridegroom
comes in the middle of the night. Blessed is the servant He shall
find awake. But he who is found negligent shall be judged unworthy.
Be careful, my soul, and fall not into a deep sleep..." is
the hymn we sing at this service celebrated on [Palm Sunday evening,
in the Greek tradition], Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday. In this
hymn from Scripture, in which Christ is the Bridegroom and we
are the servant, we are warned to be ready for Christ's coming
by preparing our souls.
- Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Thursday. This service is
most significant because we remember the first Holy Communion
which took place at the Last Supper. Tell your children that the
first Holy Communion occurred at this Passover feast when Jesus
Christ gave bread and wine to His Apostles and told them to "do
this in remembrance of me."
- Reading of the Passion Gospels. During this service
of Holy Thursday, we hear the entire account of Christ's Passion.
The reading is taken from all four gospels in order to include
every detail, and is divided into twelve parts. Prepare your child
for the lengthy service by explaining two significant events attributed
to Holy Thursday your child can relate to: The Last Supper and
Judas' betrayal. At the service, ask your child to watch as each
candle is lit before each reading. If old enough, s/he can try
to count the candles after each lighting.
- Entombment. Great and Holy Friday is the most somber
day of Holy Week; thus, the Entombment service helps us express
our sorrow over Christ's death on the cross. We see a "tomb"
where an oversized icon (the "winding sheet") of Christ
lays, beautifully adorned with flowers. We prostrate before the
winding sheet and venerate it. The service contains hymns of lamentation
and sorrow for both Christ's death and our own sins.
- Matins and Paschal Liturgy. When we come to Church
late Saturday evening, the Church is very quiet and dark. The
only light comes from the flickering candles. We leave the Church
and walk around it three times (the procession) singing a beautiful
hymn that tells us Christ has risen from the dead. Each person
carries a small, lighted candle. The Gospel is read at the Church
entrance; then [in some traditions] the priest pounds on the door
three times. It is opened, and when we return inside, the Church
is full of light! Candles are glowing everywhere. The priest's
white vestments seem to glow! The tomb of Jesus is gone. The Church
seems bigger and brighter. We sing loudly and with great excitement
many times: "Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down
death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life."
This is the happiest service of the year and we are glad to be
part of it!
[Editor's Note: I would like to add the following to the list
of services offered during lent and Holy Week:
- Akathist to the Theotokos is made up of twenty-four
stanzas in the form of an alphabetic acrostic, alpha through omega,
offered within a compline service. In the Greek tradition, the
stanzas are divided into four parts, with each being read on the
first four Fridays of Great Lent. On the fifth Friday the entire
twenty-four stanzas are recited. The stanzas tell us of the Annunciation,
Mary's visit to Elizabeth, Joseph's doubt and his dream, the Nativity
of our Lord, the flight into Egypt, the blessing of St. Simeon,
the new life centering on Heaven, God's presence on earth and
in heaven, the angels' amazement, and more about the Virgin Mary's
role. We are reminded that the Theotokos intercedes for us.
- Holy Unction. Many of our Orthodox parishes offer the
sacrament of Unction on Holy Wednesday evening. Unction is offered
for the healing of both physical and spiritual illness, including
the forgiveness of sins. The service consists of seven prayers,
seven epistle and seven gospel readings. The priest will also
call on the "healing" saints to join us in our prayers.
Tell your children that Jesus continues to heal people just as
He did in the Gospels. Suggest they listen for the names of the
Reprinted from A Way of Life: Introducing Your Child to
the Orthodox Faith, a Religious Education Pre-School Program
for Parents, by Ann Marie Gidus-Mercera. Copies available from
Light & Life Publishing $15.95 $4.50 SH, 612-925-3888.]
A Way of Life contains many, many other ways to help parents
teach the Orthodox faith to their preschooler at home. We thank
Ann-Marie for granting permission to reprint this section.
© 1997 by Orthodox Family Life and the original
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