Kids look so sweet stepping out onto the ambo! How they try to do everything right, how tightly they hold candles! But few people know that a few minutes ago they laughed at the altar and prevented the priest from concentrating on prayer. How beautiful little girls in the choir! In neat coverings they sing “Lord, have mercy!” – and everyone is moved, not suspecting that the little ones have problems with discipline, and the regent teaches them not only chants, but also elementary rules of behavior in the temple.
So what should we do? Do not let the children go further than half a meter from the mother’s hem in church – or involve them in obedience? If the second – then how to do it?
The sooner the better
I believe that children should definitely be involved in church obedience. It is very important that they perceive the world through the prism of church life. We are accustoming them to discipline, we are entrusting some household duties, this is normal. Therefore, at church, a child should not be an idle observer. Indeed, if this is not instilled into him in childhood, then later on he will look at the Church as something existing by itself, which has nothing to do with him. He will not see himself as part of it. One needs to form a sense of belonging at the age when a child enters the Church, that is, the sooner the better. But for this it is necessary that a triple alliance be formed: father superior – parents – child.
Is it easy for a child to be at the altar?
For example, altar obedience. A priest can invite a child there in very young age. This happens for some reasons he knows – or else parents want to admire how their child comes out to the parishioners in a beautiful sticharion. However, altar obedience is a hard, debilitating work, which is not about carrying a candle beautifully. It requires constant tension, attention. So if you attract small children to it, then all things should be considered seriously. One needs to see how a child behaves at the altar – because he can stand during the first service like a stone, and during the second one as well, but then he gets used to it, relaxes and starts to misbehave.
Not a priest, but an adult mentor
It is important that there is continuity of generations in the altar. The presence of adult altars there is extremely necessary. It is also important that they understand the service and lead a Christian lifestyle — fast, pray — and not get there just for being friends of a priest or just being good people. I believe that you need to choose a mentor for the youngest from adult altar servers. This must be a person who has skills of an educator. You can entrust him with one or two kids, whom he will look after, whom he will lead.
It is not enough just to put a child, to hand him a censer – and let him light it. Someone should instruct him. The priest, of course, will do this, but during the service he is busy, and after that he can leave for religious rites. An altar server stays, does everything that we don’t see: cleans, cares for supplies and vestments. Recently we have celebrated Easter: everyone went to celebrate and partake of the midnight feast, and an altar server stayed for an hour and a half more, to clean everything up and prepare for the next service.
You need to understand that priests are different, and not everyone will understand what is best for your child. If any misunderstanding arises, we must talk about it. That is why the union of a priest, parents and a child is important. If we talk about altar obedience, I believe that adults are better suited for it. Children can be engaged there only when a stuff of adult altar servers is formed. It is impossible to assign something that not every adult can put up with on a fragile child. From adult altar servers, you need to choose those who are able to foster continuity, have kindness and pedagogical talent.
We have an altar server with dual degrees, one of which is a pedagogical one, he is a teacher at school. It is easy for him to communicate with children, he is responsive and compassionate. Only after his appearance I began to consider the possibility of inviting children to the altar. I am a priest, I serve, and I have no time to bring up a small person who daydreams or just wants to sleep. It is necessary to have a lot of patience, so as not to shout at missing out altar server, but for a child this is a trauma! He came to where, in theory, they love him – and suddenly they shout. Therefore, we need an adult who will help in such a situation.
Questions to parents
One more issue: parents. Why did they bring a child to the altar or to the choir? Are they ready for this – will they be able to support him at home when he needs to go to school or wants to go out with friends? Will they be able to stay after the service and wait for him? Are you ready to bring a child to the service early? And is a child ready for the obedience they offer? Can he combine church obedience with school and other activities?
How can a child help at church?
A parish is a large family where everyone has their rights and responsibilities. As we engage children in housekeeping, we also need to engage them in helping at church. Some simple things can be done even by little kids: wipe the icons, remove garbage or dust somewhere, older boys can bring water for mopping. It’s great when they participate in the preparation for the feasts, help to change the vestments of the temple, decorate the festive icon, put things in order on the commemoratiom service table, give out the antidoron. You can entrust them to read a prayer request during commemoratiom service, to call for helping outside: water the flowers, sweep the path.
This can be difficult in parishes where there are a lot of children, but you should try to teach them how to do it. It seems to me that all members of the parish should participate in helping the church. It is important to convey to them that they form the next composition of the parish, which after them will take care of the church, will bring the light of Christ to people, and preserve piety. Children should get used to taking care of their church – and see this care from adults.
Things to consider when choosing a type of obedience at church for a child
When choosing obedience, it is important to consider peculiar properties of the character and temperament of a child. If he is restless, cannot sit still, constantly turns and makes noise, then it will be difficult for him to be at the altar, but he can be attracted to work outside. To understand whether this or that obedience is suitable for a child, one must give him a probation period. This will help to avoid a lot of mistakes.
In general, it all depends on what kind of lifestyle a family leads, what priorities they have. I have four children. We have built life in accordance with the life of the Church. For all of us, the first place is serving God, and then family, personal life, education, and everything else. While at home you can not to finish some work, you can not do this at church. The children took this naturally, helped us, so church obedience is part of their life. I didn’t read morality to them, didn’t instruct them — we just were at church every weekend, and they were with us.
Church obedience is not slavery
I think the task of parents is to be attentive to their children. Do not be indifferent and remember that they are responsible for their upbringing. Not priests, not teachers, not the state, but they are. Parents should not idealize the priest. In matters of communication with children, special approaches are needed, a certain time is needed – and a priest is always lacking of time. If a child wants to go to the altar or to the choir, you need to talk to a priest. It is necessary to discuss different situations, so that later it will be easier for both priest and a child.
One must understand that church obedience is not slavery. This is the joy of serving the Lord. If you stop seeing joy in your child’s eyes, then something is clearly not okay. It may not be there in the morning, because it’s difficult to get up, you want to eat or it’s cold outside, but after the Divine Liturgy, joy must be ther for sure, because you participated in this great work, you won, you are with Christ. This joy will bring you here to church again. If there is no joy, you must speak with a priest and with those with whom your child communicates. But first of all, you need to talk with God and the Mother of God, to open everything to them. And also – to be active participants in the life of the church, and not just spectators of worship. It is important to have knowledge of why everything is arranged in the Church this way, and not otherwise, why we worship in this way and not otherwise. Crisis comes from misunderstanding, but if you know why you are doing something, the joy of being comes. And this joy should be conveyed to our children.