by Dn. Mark Oleynik
As we draw near to Pascha, our journey becomes more intense and our anticipation of the Great and Saving Night grows. The anticipation is particularly acute in children and parents should be prepared to take advantage of their curiosity. Below are some notes and tips to assist parents in guiding their children during the Paschal weekend (April 28-May 1).
Matins of Holy Friday (Thursday, 7 p.m.)
This service features the reading of the 12 Passion Gospels. The first gospel relates Christ’s discourse with His disciples at the Last Supper, the next ten gospels relate the Lord’s sufferings, and the last gospel describes His burial and the sealing of the tomb. These readings provide the narrative for the events that take place while the accompanying hymns sung throughout the service clarify and give deeper meaning to the text. Between the fifth and sixth gospels there is a solemn procession with the large wooden cross from the sanctuary into the center of the nave. We find additional clarity when visible actions are added to the gospels and hymns.
- This is a lengthy service so give your children advance notice (so you can limit the number of times the question of “how much longer?” is asked.)
- Focus your children on how the text advances the events or provides additional detail in each subsequent lesson. If possible, read these gospels with your children prior to the service.
- As always, everyone should stand or kneel during the gospel readings.
- Explain to your children that although Matins is a morning service, this service is “anticipated” and is celebrated on Thursday evening.
Royal Hours (Friday, 10 a.m.)
There is no liturgy on Holy Friday since the Divine Liturgy is always a celebration of communion with the Risen Lord. We do however read the Royal Hours on Friday morning. This service takes its name from the fact that it used to be officially attended by the Emperor and his court in Constantinople.
- If you cannot attend, you can teach your children the significance of each of the hours: First—when Christ was led into the Praetorium (i.e., the palace of the governor) before Pilate (~7 a.m.). Third—when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles on Pentecost and Christ was condemned by Pilate (~9 a.m.). Sixth—when Christ was released to the Jews, condemned, and nailed to the Cross (~12 noon). Ninth—when He died on the Cross (~3 p.m.).
- This is the strictest fast day of the year. Help your child as much as possible to refrain from eating other than minimally.
Unnailing Vespers (Friday, 4 p.m.)
At Vespers on Holy Friday, the shroud (a large icon depicting Christ lying in the tomb) is lifted by the priest from the altar table and then carried in procession out of the altar to the specially prepared tomb in the middle of the church.
- The service’s structure is like Saturday Vespers so children should be able to recognize most parts.
- The Gospel reading tells the story of the Christ dying on the cross. Don’t be afraid to discuss with your children (of all ages) that Christ really died and this is the story of how He died.
- The most moving and solemn part is the carrying of the shroud to the special tomb. Children quickly understand this movement just as the children understood Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
- You can show your child that the same words (“The Noble Joseph…“) sung during the carrying of the shroud are embroidered on the edge of shroud.
- Ask your child what Joseph of Arimathea (i.e., the “Noble Joseph”) may have been thinking as he carried the lifeless Body of our Lord to the tomb.
Lamentations (Friday, 7 p.m.)
During Matins of Holy Saturday, the tone and theme gradually changes from lamentation to victory over death. We stand before the tomb—but it is revealed to us as the life-giving tomb. The shroud is carried in a procession around the church while all the people (including children) carry lighted candles and sing “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal have mercy on us…” Upon returning to the entrance of the church we walk under the shroud reminding us that we must pass through death to the Resurrection. While the church is softly illuminated with the faithful’s candles, we hear the Ezekiel’s dry bones prophecy and words of Pascha: “Let God arise…” As the day ends, we are left with a sense of anticipation.
- Children love processions and they like to hold candles—here they can do both. Tell them they are a very important part of the service.
- Ask them (especially older children) to listen to the music for “changes” (tone, rhythm, etc.), what they were, when they happened, and what was being sung at the time. Teens and preteens listen to a lot of music with their iPods: get them “into” the music and how the Church uses it to help us.
- As you drive home, discuss how we are dependent on light (car lights, street lights, etc.) and how we could not function without it. Use this as a transition to discussing the light of Christ.
Vesperal Divine Liturgy (Saturday, 10 a.m.)
Saturday is called the “Blessed Sabbath.” For the Jews, this was a day of rest, but for us it is when Christ worked and our sorrow is transformed into joy. During Vespers, there are 15 Old Testament readings! After these readings, and during “Arise, O Lord” (which is sung in place of the “Alleluia” verses), the dark (purple) clerical vestments are exchanged for bright (white) ones. The votives and coverings and are also changed at this time—this is an exciting moment for kids. The “light” of Resurrection is really made visible to us as the Liturgy of St. Basil continues in this joyful light.
- On your way to church talk with your child about what they have experienced in the Church during the past few days. Certainly, they will remind you how long the services have been but you may be surprised by other things they may have noticed.
- Perhaps you can dress your child in white/light colored clothes and have them wear a dark sweater or jacket as a top layer. During the changing of the vestments, have them remove the top layer.
- Tell your children that catechumens were originally baptized and received into the Church during the Old Testament readings. (Later in the day, some of our Holy Trinity catechumens will be received into the Church as well.)
Great and Holy Pascha (Sunday, 12 a.m.)
Finally, we arrive at the Paschal night: the most joyous celebration in the Orthodox Church. After the shroud is carried into the altar and placed on the altar table, the Church is dark. As midnight approaches, the clergy begin to sing, “Thy Resurrection, O Christ our Savior, the angels in heaven sing…” Suddenly, the priest exits the Sanctuary with a lighted candle and by this candle all the people light theirs—one by one. We go in procession around the church until we arrive at the closed doors of entrance to the church. It is now that we hear for the first time “Christ is Risen!” After the doors are opened, everyone enters into a fully lit church where there is no darkness and we celebrate Matins and the Divine Liturgy in the middle of the night.
- Although it may be difficult, try to get your child to rest or take a nap on Saturday. Every kid wants to stay up late…this is their big chance!
- Dress your child warmly and perhaps bring a blanket to wrap them in to keep the chill away.
- Younger children will probably fall asleep at some point—this is to be expected. They will still probably remember many things about the night.
- “Gently” rouse your child for communion several minutes before they will receive the Body and Blood.
- Teach your children the Paschal greeting (Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!) in different languages. They will like to respond out loud to these greetings—especially in church.
Although the services are somewhat longer than usual, you can/should bring your children and prepare them to participate. Please be considerate and aware of your children’s whereabouts, actions, movements, etc., at all times during the services so those around you can also fully experience the joy of the Feast.