Many people who have young children often hesitate to bring them along to church services. In Orthodox parishes we encourage you to bring them as often as possible! But we wouldn’t just leave you hanging without giving you some helpful tips. So, in this post, we’ll give you some advice on how to handle your little ones during services.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Bring them with you!
Christ desires our little ones in His presence. As He says, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 9:14). As Orthodox Christians and as parents, we have a duty to our Lord to bring our children to Him and allow them to experience His love in the divine services. Therefore, children should remain in the church throughout the service to learn about the Life of the Church and about the commandments of God. And it is our job to ensure they can learn unencumbered.
In many churches, children either miss the beginning or the end of services for their Sunday School lessons because children (supposedly) cannot last the entire service without getting “antsy”. Additionally, parents show up late for liturgy on purpose, so the children need not be in church as long. But true Orthodox parents should strive to be there for the entire service, and should request that Sunday School take place either before or after Liturgy. This way, the baptized youth in the Church can worship with the rest of us and become comfortable in their Father’s house.
Helping your children behave
Children need constant guidance to understand how to behave properly while in the church, during worship or otherwise. Here are some things to think about:
Children make noise. They coo, gurgle, babble, and talk. Most of the time these noises are perfectly harmless and don’t distract anyone. But sometimes they cry. If your child becomes fussy and starts to distract other worshipers, please remove them from the temple until they have calmed. Many churches have a cry room or nursery you can use if necessary. At St. John’s, our cry room is within the nave with a window facing the altar, so parents can still participate in the Liturgy with their child while in the room.
As an alternative to removing the child from church, you can walk around with them in the nave and show them around. This is a very good thing you can do with children between six to eighteen months old, and even those approaching three and four years old. So long as you do not go on or into the altar, you have absolute freedom to walk about the church with your child. Let them see, let them touch the icons and kiss them, let them encounter Christ. Remind your baptized child that Jesus lives inside her and loves her.
Orthodox Christians fast from midnight on to prepare for Holy Communion. Anyone who is baptized and capable of fasting (seven years or older), should fast prior to receiving. For younger children (6-18 months), parents can bring a snack. But as the children grow older, they should be weaned from snacks and breakfast prior to Communion.
If your child does eat a snack, try to choose snacks that don’t make much noise when being eaten. And please kindly clean up any crumbs.
Try to keep toys to an absolute minimum. If you do bring any, choose toys that won’t make noise when dropped on the floor. For example, a stuffed animal for the child to hold is fine. There are other ways you can keep the child occupied, like coloring in a biblical coloring book, walking around and showing them things in the church, or talking softly to them during Liturgy to explain what is happening.
While your children may resist these rules of behavior at first, you’ll find that they eventually accept them and begin to enjoy their time in church. Show them how much you love being in church, and they will come to feel the same way as they live and grow in the Faith.
Read More: Church Etiquette: The Ultimate Guide