When my husband and I became Eastern Orthodox seven years ago, I knew I had come home. However, I wasn’t sure how to make my own home reflect my new faith. This series–”So I’m Orthodox, Now What?”–is based on the questions I asked myself in the first few years after our chrismation: How could I make our home a “Little Church”? How could I instruct my children in a faith that I myself was only beginning to explore? After some experimentation, conversations with older and wiser Orthodox mothers, readings, and instruction from spiritual fathers, I have found ways to create an Orthodox home. I hope that this series can provide encouragement and practical ideas for new converts and a forum for more seasoned Orthodox families to share their practices.
Holy Week is one of the major reasons that I became Eastern Orthodox. Before, I had always felt that Holy Week should be more. More solemn. More reflective. More communal. More joyous. Just more. When I experienced my first Holy Week in an Orthodox Church, I saw and experienced that more. And I was home.
Now that I have three children, however, Holy Week can be a little different. It is still incredibly solemn and joyous, but it can also be stressful. I long to approach the week with fear and trembling–knowing that I am encountering the cosmic mystery. But I can find myself distracted as I chase my toddler, trying to catch him before he reaches the altar.
As I share these tips, then, know that I am seeking to apply them to myself first. No one mother has it all together–and God certainly knows that I don’t.
Children During Holy Week: Tips for Parents
1. Plan Ahead for Meals
There are so many services during Holy Week, that planning meals for the children (or the whole family if there is no Communion or fasting that day) can be tough. Stock up on peanut butter and jelly, hummus and carrots, spaghetti, or any other quick and easy meal. If you are feeling really ambitious, plan a crockpot meal or two (maybe a big pot of soup that will last several meals) that can cook during the day and be served quickly before you head to Church.
2. Prepare Children for the Service
Each service during Holy Week is filled with rich symbolism and beauty. Help your children see that beauty by taking a few minutes to prepare them before you go to Church. If you are at home with your children, you may want to try these Holy Week Activities that I shared last week.
If you, like me, work outside the home, it can seem daunting to even manage to get the kids ready, fed, in the car, and to church on time. In that case, talk with your children about the meaning of the service during the car ride. You can also read the Gospel and Old Testament/ Epistle readings for that day on the way.
3. Keep it Simple
There are many traditions that surround Holy Week. Right now you may be overwhelmed by the idea of trying to dye eggs, make pysanky, figure out how to make Cheese Pascha, pack a Pascha basket, buy clothes for the kids, and the list goes on.
These are all traditions with a little “t”. They can be meaningful, but they are not the essence of Holy Week.
Make priorities for your family. Choose one or two things that are important to you, and do them joyfully. For example, we enjoy dyeing eggs together for our Pascha basket. And, our children definitely enjoy cracking them together at the feast!
However, we don’t bring a lot of other things with us in our basket. For the past few years we’ve brought barbeque sandwiches (from a restaurant!), a couple of wedges of nice cheese, crackers, and a bottle of wine. That’s it. It has really simplified things for us on Holy Saturday, which leaves time to attend the services and maintain a quiet, reflective home.
4. Make Sleep a Priority
Here is my holy week equation:
Tired kids = Cranky kids = Stressed mom = Joyless Holy Week
Making sleep a priority may look different for different families. Those who homeschool or have a flexible schedule can make sure that kids get naps/ rest time during the day. Other families who live close to their church may take the children for part of each service, leaving in time for bedtime.
When our children were very little, my husband and I decided to take the children to some, but not all, of the services. We went as a family to Holy Unction, Holy Friday, and Pascha. My husband and I then split the other services and attended those alone. He served at the altar for a few services, and I chanted and sang in the choir at others. As our children are getting older, we are reevaluating our system. For now, though, it works for us. This brings me to my next point…
5. Find Your Balance
If you asked ten different Orthodox mothers how they handle Holy Week and children, you will get ten different answers. Some take their children to every service and expect them to be fully awake and participate. Others bring the children and let them sleep on the floor. Some hire babysitters and go to services without them. Others, like me, go to some services as a family and some alone.
Your approach may be determined by your cultural background, the practice in your local parish, your parenting style, and your particular family situation. And, that’s ok.
Talk with your priest and seek his advice. Speak to your godmother or sponsor and find out how she handled the situation. Discuss it with your spouse and come to an agreement.
Most importantly, make sure that you do not judge, shame, or envy another mother because of her choices. As Christ said, “Who are you to judge another man’s servant?” And during Holy Week especially, we should be fasting from sin in preparation for the joyous Resurrection.
As we enter into this Holy Week, may you journey with Christ through his Triumphant Entry, Suffering, Death,and Resurrection. May you and your family have a blessed Holy Week.
What tips would you add for helping Children During Holy Week?