We were blessed to be invited to Great Vespers at a Russian Orthodox church last evening. We were actually enjoying the good food at the church fair, when Don struck up a conversation with the deacon, and he invited us to stay for the service. It was just beautiful. Of course, the church was decorated with icons in the Orthodox tradition, and there were real lit candles and incense. The music was subtly glorious, with the priest and deacon chanting the prayers, and a small but well-practiced choir singing the responses in polyphony.
But my favorite part was just before the service began. A twenty-something dad walked in with his daughter. Both were dressed casually for the church fair, and the little girl had her face painted with a rainbow across her cheek. I heard the father whisper, "It's time for church now." The little girl, perhaps 4 years old, ran excitedly from icon to icon at the front of the church, and waited with barely controlled patience for her father to pick her up so she could kiss each one in turn. He then took her to a side icon so she could light a candle. She was delighted with this ritual, which she obviously knew by heart. And she stood, joined by her mother and sister, for the 45 minutes of vespers, without too much handling by her parents. She knew what was expected, and was comfortable in her reverence.
From their website: Children -- we don't have a nursery during the services because we believe it is appropriate and beneficial for children to be in the services as much as possible. It may take a few visits, but young children can learn to settle down, and it's surprising how much even toddlers absorb.
As we left, her father spoke with us briefly in the vestibule, recognizing that we were strangers in the church, and welcomed us, entreating us to return another time. Perhaps we will, at least for Vespers.