A Feastday for Sucklings

Icon Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Sunday, April 5, 2015
Orthodox Palm Sunday

I will never forget one of my first experiences of worship in the Orthodox Church. It was a Syrian/Antiochian Orthodox Church in Sylvania, OH, and I thought I had come prepared for what I was about to experience. Had my Bible, my trusty notebook (that I still carry around to this day), and I was ready to drill the priest or anyone else who asked with a battery of biblical objections to what I presumed in advance would be idolatry. What I was not prepared for was an argument from a wordless two year old, toddling next to me in church. He was busy staring open-mouthed in wonder at a larger-than-life icon of St. Anthony the Great of the Desert. In a matter of seconds, I put my book away and decided that the two-year old was getting something that I was missing. For just as the babes and sucklings in today’s feast, his open mouth was already beginning to perfect the praise worthy of Almighty God.

children

Detail from Icon of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

I have been in churches most of my life. Prior to coming to the Orthodox Church, I had an intimate knowledge of not less than 15 different Christian traditions, and in all that experience I had never witnessed such reverent awe from a little child. These were the folks that were usually tucked safely away in some nursery waiting to reach the age of accountability when they could finally join the adults who were doing something important upstairs. But here was this two-year old who instead of tearing around the church and ripping up hymnals was teaching me the Kingdom of Heaven. And in my discovery of the Holy Orthodox Church, I was beginning to see many other things that were not only kid-friendly, but actually centered around children and their guileless innocence. The children in today’s feast were the stars of the show, as their pudgy arms grabbed every branch, twig, and tunic to use in ushering the Lord into Jerusalem. While the important pharisees plotted his arrest and eventual crucifixion, pure-hearted sucklings set a truer example of worship.

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A Newly Illumined Infant Receives Communion

When Jesus said, “Let the children come unto me and forbid them not,” he was not just talking about giving them a twaddle-filled children’s sermon and then sending them onto Sunday School. I think he was inviting them to be firstborn citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, made one with Him by their constant reception of His body and blood. A church that baptizes her infants but does not commune them until they reach some artificial accountability age not only misses the point of the Baptism, but starves her youngest and most vulnerable members of the medicine of immortality. Indeed, the grace of the Holy Spirit that has gathered us together wants not just adults, but especially children to proclaim:

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!

2 thoughts on “A Feastday for Sucklings

  1. Aaron,

    I could not agree more with what you have said here…in my own Roman Catholic tradition of the Latin-rite this indeed, as you know, is what happens…the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Chrismation (Confirmation) are delayed after Baptism until, as you say so truthfully, there is a delay until the child “reaches the age of accountability”. Your moving recollection of your experience of the toddler next to you at divine worship staring in open mouth wonder at the icon of Saint Anthony the Great of the Desert really touched my soul. You are so right in saying basically there is no age, whether child (or adult) when one does not need “the medicine of immortality”. Thank you for the inspiration of your writings.
    Praise and glory to Jesus Christ!

    In Christ’s love,
    Ron Reynolds

    • Ron,

      I am glad that this testimony touched you. I am sure there are good reasons historically and theologically substantiated for Rome’s practice, but I am glad we are agreed at least on this point. Glory to Jesus Christ who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings has perfected praise.

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