I can remember the moment clearly. My husband and I watched, slightly nervous, as our priest took our son from his godfather’s arms. My firstborn began to howl immediately–a howl which was silenced as he was plunged into the water not just once, but three times. Baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Our son sputtered with a slightly shocked expression on his face, and that same shocked feeling resonated in my soul.
I was a mother. An Orthodox mother. My husband and I, under the guidance of our spiritual father and with the help of our son’s godparents, were responsible for raising this child in a Faith that we ourselves were just beginning to understand.
Lord have mercy.
Every day in the eight years since that day, this remains my prayer: Lord have mercy. Have mercy on my children. Have mercy on our family. Grant mercy to me, your unworthy servant, as I seek to serve you as a wife and a mother.
If this is your prayer as well, and if you are wanting to raise your infants in the Church, here are a few ideas and tips gained from not only my experience but the wisdom of many mothers and spiritual fathers.
Creating an Orthodox Home for Your Baby: Tips for Parents
1. Have Your Infant Baptized
Obviously, this is by far the most important thing that you as a parent can do for your infant. Speak to your priest in order to find out all the details and learn what is entailed at your parish. You will also want to take your time in selecting godparents for the child, so that you can choose people who will pray for and guide your child spiritually throughout life.
2. Take Them to Receive the Eucharist
The importance of take your child to receive the Eucharist on a regular basis simply cannot be overstated. In the Orthodox Church, a baptized child is fully part of the Church and receives the Body and Blood of Christ along with the rest of the parish. The Eucharist is spiritual nourishment for your baby and works within them in ways that are beyond our ability to comprehend.
3. Bring the Baby to Church
I know, I know. It is REALLY hard to bring a baby to Church. There are feeding and napping schedule to consider, diapers to change, and, let’s face it, even just getting out the door can be hard to do early in the morning. But, it is worth it. When a child grows up in the Church and is accustomed to being in church each week, the Church and the Faith become part of life.
A much-loved mother of older children in my parish often tells me that she wishes she had brought her children to church when they were younger. However, because it was difficult, they didn’t start going until the children were in elementary school. By that time it was even more difficult because the children didn’t know how to behave, were resistant, and just had a hard time adjusting. (Though, they are both lovely young adults who are involve in their parishes now. So, don’t give up or become discouraged if your older children resist going to Church!)
4. Pray for Them
Pray daily for your children. This could be simple, short prayers throughout the day such as, “Lord have mercy on my son. Keep him safe and help him to love You.” When you have more time, you can also pray the Akathist to the Mother of God Nurturer of Children, which is a heartfelt, beautiful prayer of a mother.
5. Pray with Them
You can also bring your baby in to your family prayer time. Some of my sweetest memories of my oldest son’s first months are of family prayer times together in our small icon corner in our tiny apartment. My husband and I stood side-by-side, holding our newborn, praying the Morning Prayers or Evening Prayers together each day. Now as we have more children (3) and they are older (8, 5, and 3), it can be harder and a lot more chaotic. So, savor those quiet moments together!
6. Fill the Nursery with Icons
Many young couples spend hours planning the perfect nursery. They agonize over every piece that will fill it from the crib to the sheets, the paint color to the rocking chair in the corner. While you are designing a lovely nursery, don’t forget to add icons. You may want to include an icon of Christ and the Theotokos, an icon or two of your child’s patron saint, an icon of Christ blessing the children, and any other icons that have meaning to your family.
7. Have “Tummy Time” in the Icon Corner
Another super easy way to integrate the life of Faith into the home is to have “tummy time” in the icon corner. When putting your baby down for their daily dose of tummy time, why not place them in front of an icon or two so that they can look at (and perhaps venerate) the icons? I am always amazed at how much young children are drawn to icons. Perhaps God works in their souls in ways that we don’t understand whenever they see an icon of Christ or the saints.
8. Make an Icon Book
You can also make a little icon book very easily. Simply purchase a small photo album. Then fill the pages with paper or laminated icons. This is a wonderful first book and is great to bring along to Divine Liturgy on Sundays!
9. Create an Orthodox Children’s Library
In addition to your icon book, add other Orthodox children’s books to your child’s library. Some of my favorite board books for young ones are Goodnight Jesus by Angela Isaacs, What Do You See at Liturgy by Kristina Tartara, and Josiah and Julia Go to Church by Kelly Ramke Lardin.
10. Play Orthodox Music
With so much quality, streaming music available now, it is really simple to fill your home with the sounds of Orthodox church music. We often stream Ancient Faith Radio’s music throughout our day, and I just discovered the music of Eikona and am really loving it!
11. Sing Church Songs as Lullabies
One of my favorite times of each day is that sweet time right before bed, when I get to cuddle my little ones (even my eight-year-old will let me get in a few hugs before bedtime!). Singing lullabies has always been part of our bedtime ritual, and those lullabies come from the music of the Church. I have sung the Trisagion Hymn, the Hymn to the Theotokos, the Lord Have Mercy in various languages, O Taste and See, and O Give Thanks Unto the Lord to my children. But, whatever hymns that you know in whatever musical style that you know with whatever amount of musical ability that you have is wonderful!
12. Live a Faithful Life Before Them
Finally, most of these ideas won’t mean very much at all if you aren’t trying to live a faith life before your child. Model your faith, live out your salvation, be the image of Christ in your home. The rest will follow.
Lord have mercy on us all.
What would you add to this list?
Blueprints for the Little Church by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker
Following a Sacred Path: Raising Godly Children by Elizabeth White
The Ascetic Lives of Mothers by Annalisa Boyd
Parenting toward the Kingdom by Dr. Philip Mamalakis
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