An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
My attention was again diverted. This time to the little reddish haired girl who was standing beside the table (our bier during the paschal season) that holds the relics of St. Nicholas, St. Paul, and of the True Cross. It was not particularly uncommon for my children to take a break from their version of the work of the Liturgy in order to visit this nearby location and once there to mechanically kiss the icons holding the relics or the crucifix shaped reliquary holding the cross. But this time seemed a little different in that she was gazing very intently at the crucifix and so I decided this might be a teaching opportunity.
I leaned down to whisper in her ear, "Inside that cross is a tiny piece of the real cross that Jesus died on."
She nodded. I do not know if she really recalled that to be the case or if she was processing this new information. But either way I stepped back and watched.
She began to run her finger along the outer edge of the cross, tracing the vertical and horizontal bars. It seemed to me that her gaze intensified and it distinctly reminded me of the look someone might give the cherished picture of a distanced loved one. Then, uncharacteristically she very slowly and very deliberately pressed her lips to the feet of Jesus and kissed. She pulled away and looked again (longingly?) at the crucifix and then sprang to my side – no doubt to later interrupt my participation in some less enlightening way. In any event, she did it all with an amazing sense of exaggerated drama.
Behind the name of this 5 year old there are no letters to indicate an advanced degree in theology or philosophy. On her bookshelf at home you will find no thick books written by great theologians gathering dust in the "already read" section. Truly there is precious little to persuade or teach her that such an act is idolatry (as considered by some Christians) or that such an act is a necessary component of the Christian faith. Of course one may argue that being raised Orthodox indoctrinated her to the latter, but I have my doubts. I think she was acting in accord with pure, natural, and wholesome instinct. That which is truly precious, truly Holy, truly good, and truly important: you kiss it.
Our senses are innate and thus even in the womb we want to taste, feel, see, hear, and smell. These same senses become to us the means by which we express ourselves and truly the way in which we are able, at all, to relate to the world and to those in it. The "earthiness" of the Orthodox faith is so appealing to me – I am reminded of that wonderful scene in The Brothers Karamazov when Alyosha attempts to embrace the earth.
I think all Orthodox parents would agree that it was/is not difficult to show our children how to express their faith through kisses, bowing, kneeling, prostrating, crossing oneself, and touching the floor. Or that the smell of incense, the taste and feel of the Eucharist and Holy Water/Oil, the visual cues found in the Icons and the smoke are essential portions of Christian worship...it just seems to comes naturally to them. The "intelligent" arguments of the theologians will come upon them later when they become "sophisticated", "educated", and they leave the world of mystery behind. I pray they reject it and maintain the "touchy/feely" faith of a child.
I'm with you--I think there's something innate going on there.
Our little girl learned to kiss a couple of months ago. She kisses mommy (a lot), and daddy (not as often, but he's "scratchy"), icons, blessing crosses, etc. Some would criticize, "Well, she clearly doesn't know what she's doing. She doesn't really know she's kissing an icon." Hmmm. that's probably true. On the other hand, she does kiss what she loves. And she loves what mommy and daddy love.
I've even caught her prostrating herself and kissing the floor. The only place I can imagine that came from is from Church, when we prostrate at the epiclesis. She must think that since our faces are near the floor, we're kissing it. Which ain't a bad idea, come to think of it. Would the epiclesis make the very ground we're prostrated on holy?
Maybe little Sofie has something to teach us as we teach her.