Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
On several threads and topics lately we have been relatively discussing the future of our Orthodox Church. Sometimes we are talking about converts issues, other times matters for cradle Orthodox. Today during Divine Liturgy while praying, I had an epiphany. Unfortunately I had been temporarily preoccupied with the behavior of my neighbor in the pew. A woman was standing there next to me with her three young sons. I know her, she is my age, and she is faithfully in attendance almost every Sunday, usually with at least 2 of her 3 kids in tow. Her youngest is an infant around 4 months, her oldest a young boy of about 5 years old, and a little one in between who is 3. Now, as many parents in churches, from Protestant to Orthodox to in between all over the world every Sunday, she let her older sons play video games on her iPad. I understand this is a polite tactic to keep her children occupied so that they do not become a bother to other nearby parishioners. I know she is very busy and quite literally has her hands full with so many children while having to more directly hold and care for the infant. I feel her, for real. Kids grow up playing in the Church. When I was a little boy at the Baptist Church, we were allowed to play quietly with toys during the service. I can relate to the experience. Further, as an adult, I know how hard it can be to mind for children, especially young ones in multiples. HOWEVER that being said, we've lived on this earth for 250,000 years give or take a hundred thousand, and been a part of the Orthodox Church for going on 2000 years now, and more or less we've all survived just fine without distracting electronic gadgets and gimmicks.
Something my priest mentioned at a committee meeting last week really touched my heart. The story my priest told me was about a bishop who had always taught that the Liturgy was made for children. The icons, the candles, the incense, the chanting, the singing, the priests in their vestments, the people all nestled in their prayer shawls, the instruments, the architecture, the entire ambiance is traditionally inspiring and captivating for small children. I can vouch for this, I have known several small children who love to get caught up in the Liturgy. My own nieces, nephews, and god-children who are converts and cradles alike are generally very enthralled in the entirety of the Liturgy. These do not need iPods. They are taught by our parents, our families, our parish to enjoy the Liturgy. There will be plenty of time to play afterwards. We have 6 and half days a week for other things, the Liturgy is a priority.
Children are literal sponges, they absorb by observation all of human culture, the fullness of the human experience. They learn how to be a human by watching other humans, and in the Liturgy they learn how to be Christian, and how to worship. Even myself as a convert, learned so much simply by watching other people during Liturgy. We learn from each other, as apparently many cradles in my parish tell me they too are often inspired to worship more deeply and thankfully by my presence there as a sincere and active convert. I am always humbled and flattered by my parish. However, if the small children are no longer watching the Liturgy, watching the people together in worship, how will they learn? So many of us, cradles and converts, have learned to be Orthodox by being an observant part of an Orthodox community. If our children are not watching, what can we expect? I am not angry, hostile, or trying to condemn those parents who let their children play video games in the Church. However, I am just realizing it is a self-defeating exercise. These children will not adore the Church if they feel disconnected. If they spend ages 3-8 playing video games instead of being absorbed in the worship experience, how will they ever prioritize worship in their future lives as older children and then as young adults? I can't blame video games for all our problems with a fleeing generation from Orthodox, but I think we should all set this example to make digital screens in the Orthodox Church the taboo we should all expect them. We have to trust our children, and have Faith in our God while being willing to make that extra work to mind the children more carefully while also teaching and explaining what is going on at Liturgy, that these will find God themselves in the Church, the same way we all did, by trying our best to pay attention rather then be distracted.
Let us pray sternly about these crucial matters.