There’s a child in your arms, or perhaps in front of you, a squirmy little person accompanying you to receive the Eucharist. With each step you draw closer to the Priest and now the moment has arrived. The spoon draws closer and…
People are sometimes surprised at the communing of infants and young children in an Orthodox church but it’s something we encourage and hope develops into a lifelong positive spiritual encounter. Yet people sometimes wonder what do with their child when the time comes to receive the Holy Gifts. As a Priest of a decade plus I have some ideas.
The first is that you, as a parent, be a regular communicant yourself. More than anything else your children will learn, not from your words, but your actions. If they see you receiving the Eucharist often they will become comfortable with the same. The youngest, especially, need to be assured that everything is “okay” and you can do this by taking the Eucharist often, and when they are with you, before they do so they know what to do and how to do it.
Never force a child to receive the Eucharist. I have seen parents tilt a crying child back and force their mouths open and every time that happens I cringe. That sends a terrible message about what the Eucharist is and, quite frankly, who God is and the trauma can be difficult for a child to shake. I know you want your child to comply and I know you want to child to receive the blessing of the Eucharist. Force, though, never helps.
You don’t have to lift the child up under the arms so I can reach them. I am more than happy to bend down and let them take the Holy Gifts standing up. If you have an infant, of course, you can hold them in your arms but toddlers are perfectly welcome to “toddle” up and I will go to meet them. In fact one of my great joys is to bend down to meet a child where they are with the Eucharist. It’s good for me, and them, spiritually. Me to reach to them and for them to stand as a person in their own right.
Don’t be embarrassed about crying, whiny, or wiggly babies. That’s what they do and I’m not bothered by it in the least. I will adjust to them and do my best. If they really don’t want to receive, for whatever reason, I will bless them and we can both move on. The vast majority of the people in the church won’t care about babies and their noises and if someone complains I can talk to them privately later. You don’t have to have a perfect kid to come up front, and you don’t have top be perfect either because I certainly am not.
Finally, always bring your children to church for any service. The seeds you plant in these days will bear fruit well into eternity. It’s okay if they’re being kids sometimes. It can’t always be helped. Do your best and know that our doors are always open to you and your children every time the church is open.