CHILDREN IN CHURCH
We all know the gospel story of Christ and the children: Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them: "Let the little children come to Me and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:13-15). Christ's disciples forbade parents with children to come near Him, fearing that the children will somehow disturb the Lord. They thought, as many of us do today, that children and infants are not able to assimilate spiritual things. How did Christ react to this? He became indignant. He was greatly displeased. We know that the meek and longsuffering Christ became indignant only when truth was suppressed by delusion, for instance: the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the desecration of the temple by the money-changers etc. And the truth is certainly that which the Lord Himself teaches us: of such is the kingdom of God. And embracing the children, He placed His hands on them and blessed them. Take note when reading this short segment from the Gospel, that the children were brought to Christ, they were too young to even be led to Him, let alone come to Him by themselves. The message to Christians is clear: bring your Children to Christ, bring them to Church, baptize them, have them commune the Holy Mysteries, bring them in your arms while they are still infants, that they might with their simple five senses assimilate the beauty of the Father's House: the holiness of the icons, the piety of the chanting, the sweet smell of incense, the taste of the prosphora, the prayerful silence of the congregation and the presence of familiar faces all gathered in communal prayer. Even the youngest children instinctively strive towards God and are more receptive than adults to goodness and Divine grace. We must nurture in them the feeling that they are in their Father's House. That feeling will not be conceived within them of its own accord, if we do not guide them to it, if we do not bring them to Church.
Much is expected of Orthodox parents and a Christian upbringing of children is an ascetic podvig of its own kind. Part of the Christian upbringing is also teaching your child how to behave in Church. If a child quietly moves through the Church, or if a baby "sings" occasionally, it certainly does not disrupt the services, but is a part of the general atmosphere of the Church as a large family. Naturally, if there is a real disruption, such as loud crying or talking, the parent will, according to his or her own discretion, take the child out of the church or react appropriately. The easiest and most natural way to teach a child how to behave in church is by bringing them to all services, to stay with them from the beginning to the end and to teach them by our own example. We must behave in a Christian way and follow all of the Church's commandments not only during services, but also at every moment of our lives and in every place.
No man can serve two masters and our inconsistency will certainly confuse our children and sooner or later have a negative impact on them, if in Church we behave as "pious Christians" and elsewhere as "people of this world."
And so, again: bring your children to church. No Christian is indifferent to the scene presented by a crowd of children all waiting in line to receive the Holy Mysteries: some are quiet, some unruly, some are carried in their parents' arms, some take their first tottering steps towards the Holy Cup, having barely learned how to make the sign of the Cross and pronounce the sweet name of our Lord, while in the older ones one can already discern an adult Christian. But on each and every one of those angelic faces one can see, without exception, pure childlike joy, complete trust and staunch faith in the Divine grace they are about to receive. If it should happen, later in life, that their faith weakens, and they fall away from God and the Church due to many temptations and the immorality of today's world, God will not abandon them, as He never abandons a person who carries deep within him the seeds of goodness. When something frightening befalls them, and they begin to recognize their own limitations and helplessness, as they reflect on the purpose of life, long forgotten memories of their Father's House will re-awaken in them and the grace of God will once again touch their souls to take them back to the right Path, the only one which leads to salvation.