Monday, 28 June 2010

Let the children come to me... with incense


HT Byzantine, Texas, from Ad Orientem

I am visiting the family back in upstate New York for a little bit and today went off to the 9:30 AM divine liturgy at one of the eight(!) local Orthodox parishes that are within a convenient drive of my father's house. The liturgy was reasonably well attended for midsummer and was unremarkable until the time came for the last major censing by the deacon. The priest was at the altar with the doors open when suddenly a small boy, not more than four or five years old, broke loose from his parents and ran up towards the altar and... charged right through the doors and started tugging on the priests vestments.

I can now relate that the sudden and simultaneous intake of breath on the part of a couple of hundred people creates a very distinctive sound. But the silence that followed was almost painful. The parents... visibly horrified seemed not sure of whether or not to rush up and add to the chaos in the sanctuary. This was coupled with a deep silence from everyone else frantically trying to avert their eyes from what was at the least surely going to prove a terrible embarrassment if not a major catastrophe.

Then in a few seconds the crisis was ended. The priest looked over his shoulder and after a moment of visible (and understandable) shock, smiled and I thought he was going to laugh. With a quick motion of his hand he called over the deacon who had been in the process of censing and calmly relieved the deacon of his censor. He then bent over and handed the censor to the little boy, showing him how to hold it and swing it, and then directed him to finish censing the iconostasis and assorted icon stands.

Off went the overjoyed little boy, with the deacon hot on his trail, happily censing everything that looked even remotely like an icon. OK OK he almost knocked over a candle stand but the deacon saved the day. After he was done the deacon relieved him of the censor and quietly guided the happiest child in the city back to his parents.

I have no idea how many church canons or liturgical rubrics were violated today. But I can tell you that there was not a dry eye in the church.


I can relate, having grabbed one of my boys by the ankle as he crawled onto the sanctuary heading for the altar...