Once, after a Saturday of the Souls service while we were all sitting around eating kollyva (wheat or rice cooked with honey and mixed with raisins, figs, nuts, sesame, etc. that is blessed in church on these Saturdays. The kollyva reminds us of the Lord’s words, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” John 12:24. The kollyva symbolizes the future resurrection of all the dead.), a priest told us of the practice in monasteries of having to do a certain number of prostrations for every grain that hits the floor, even accidentally. Then he added, “But don’t worry about the kids, kids are always doing prostrations,” as ours rolled around and did summersaults all over the church hall in between bites of kollyva.
“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. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.” Mark 10:13-16
As a parent and a Christian, it’s hard not to go through our days and activities without thinking about these verses in the Gospel of St. Mark. I think about them a lot lately.
We received Disney season passes this year as a Christmas present. This last trip my kids sang the Paschal hymns throughout the Magic Kingdom. Stephen said it was like they were going around sanctifying the whole place. That so much of Orthodoxy, he said he is finding, is about loving people (and loving kids especially) and if you can’t love them, then you are probably going to have trouble loving God too.
Then yesterday I found sidewalk chalk crosses all over the backyard. More reminders to seek God everywhere and always.
One of our favorite Orthodox children’s books right now is The Boy, a Kitchen, and His Cave by Catherine K. Contopoulos about the life of St. Euphrosynos the Cook. Just after the climax of the story where the abbot of the monastery has met Euphrosynos in paradise and received a branch of an apple tree, there is this:
That Dawn at matins, the Abbot brought the apple branch with him and excitedly described his vision of Euphrosynos to the other monks.
“Dear brothers, I prayed last night for answers following our great discussion. And The Lord has answered my prayers.”
“What could that peasant boy possibly teach us?” said one monk, with some indignation.
“Brother, that simple peasant boy who cooks our meals and cleans our kitchen lives his life in the true spirit of Christ. He is content with all that is before him. He sees plenty in everything, even when he has nothing. He appreciates all the small things of his day–how well his spoon ladles our soup, the sweetness of a carrot. And he praises The Lord at every turn!”
“Yes, it’s true,” said the monk who had slipped on Euphrosynos’ soapy water. “Even when he spilled water from his bucket and made a mess, he thanked God for teaching him a new lesson. I was so annoyed with his carelessness, yet he was able to transform the mishap into a gift from above.”
“You see, brothers,” said the Abbot. “Our cook asks for nothing more than what is given to him. Everything in his life, each new day, is a chance to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven. Is this not what Jesus meant–that God’s Kingdom is in our midst on earth?”
“I am convinced,” continued the Abbot, “that God has blessed us by bringing Euphrosynos here to us. It is we who must learn from Euphrosynos, brothers! God’s love knows no distinction of rank. Who are we to decide what or who is holy in God’s eyes?”
I don’t want to say my kids are on a level with St. Euphrosynos, or that they are not because both would be a judgement I’m not fit to render. However, like St. Euphrosynos, they and so many other kids do remind me of this favorite quote that has been an e-mail signature of mine for some time now,
“We’re always frowning, always pouting; we don’t feel like singing or doing anything else. We should follow the example of the birds. They’re always joyful whereas we’re always bothered by something.”
— Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica
I want to be like my kids, the Paschal Troparion joyfully on my lips throughout my day, like Henry that sings the Vespers hymn Oh Gladsome Light to send himself to sleep, like Jillian singing The Angel Cried as she climbs a tree in some of our very best friends’ front yard, or telling me that the saints in icons look sad when she’s angry, or our boys that turn anything that jingles into a censor to bless our house and all the people in it several times a day, or a sweet two-year-old that says, “Mama, I picked a big clover for you: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”