I had a very interesting discussion with my priest this evening as we prepared to pray the Canon of St. Andrew. I'm still not sure what connected the two thoughts in my head, but we were discussing children in Church and I immediately likened it to the last episode of The Walking Dead (season 5, episode 11).
The discussion was along similar lines to a previous post I wrote about kids in the Divine Liturgy. We were discussing specifically what a blessing it is to have young children in the service, enjoying the liturgy, even making noise! Now, we do not obviously allow children to be unruly. Our parents will take children out if they become too bothersome, sometimes to comfort them, and sometimes, particularly with older children, to apply a little involuntary repentance. But on any given day in our parish, there will be children milling about, sometimes fidgeting, sometimes fussing, often times singing or saying the prayers in the liturgy. They will venerate icons and make the sign of the cross. Our Church looks most days like any other gathering of adults with children. It just so happens we are having a Church service instead of, say, watching a movie or eating at a restaurant or whatever.
I assume most readers are familiar with The Walking Dead, the now-infamous show about the dystopian zombie apocalypse. Several key themes work throughout the series and its five seasons, but one particular theme is this -- other people are more dangerous than the zombies themselves. The zombies are easy to deal with. I will spare the gory details, but they aren't very fast, and they can be easily dispatched. They don't think, plot, scheme or do any of the things people do. They lack any will for good or evil, or even self preservation. Other people, by contrast, will kill you and take your stuff, and they will act in their own self-interest while plotting against you without regard to your well being. This means that encounters with other groups of living humans is extremely dangerous. Combine that with the fact that the sorts of humans who tend to survive such an event are those who are ruthless, cunning and willing to do whatever it takes to live, including killing you, stealing your food, or even for a brief period resorting to cannibalism.
This brings us to episode 11, where our group of protagonists meet their fifth group of living humans. With the sole exception of the first group at Herschel's farm, and perhaps Father Gabriel (who (1) isn't a "group," and (2) has his own skeletons in the proverbial closet), each and every group they have run across has been hiding a horrible secret. The first was run by a psychopath who was keeping his now-zombiefied daughter alive and killing every rival group he could find while ruling with an iron fist. The second was comprised of the aforementioned cannibals. The third was a group at Grady Hospital in Atlanta who were essentially enslaving people they "saved" and who were dysfunctional in the extreme, and were also ruled with an iron fist. And now we have the as-yet unmet fifth group.
In this episode, the main character, Rick Grimes, mentioned something interesting. He noted that every time the group comes across another group, fortified behind gates, bars and walls, when they initially approach, there is nothing but silence. Rick's group hears nothing. And then they go inside the walls only to find danger, horror, and unspeakable acts of inhumanity. At the end of episode 11, the group rolls up to the gate of the newest community, and Rick hears children playing behind the walls. He takes his infant daughter in his arms, and says "ready?" The screen then fades to black.
We will find out what happens next week, but the interesting thing to me about this episode is that Rick associates silence with danger. Something is wrong, he figures, if people aren't behind the walls living their lives. And the sound he associates with this normalcy is children playing. If there aren't children playing, something is wrong. Such people are not to be trusted.
It got me thinking about how accurate that assessment is. And if we would view such a group of people with utmost suspicion to protect our life and possessions, if they were living in a supposed community without the sense of normalcy that children playing might imply, how much more should we view a community of Christians with the same suspicion if children are nowhere to be found? Or shuffled off to an alternate room so the adults can "enjoy" the service? Where children are out of sight and out of mind, is this really a group of Christians? Or something else? Shouldn't we protect our souls and the souls of our children with at least as much caution?
I remember when His Grace, Bishop Thomas, bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid-Atlantic, visited our parish. The first night he was there, he addressed the parish, and something he said has stuck with me ever since. He said that we should make our homes resemble the Church, because the Church is where we will spend eternity. He said we should have a family altar, and incense, and candles, and the Scriptures, and icons, and crosses in our homes. He said we should sing hymns, say the prayers of the Church, even pray the prayer offices. He reminded us that if we do not enjoy our time in Church, we will likely not enjoy our time in eternity. While he did not say so expressly, his words recalled the Book of Revelation, where if one pays close attention, one will read about many of the things we see in an average Orthodox Divine Liturgy, including the things I mention above -- candles, incense, the Word of God, the altar, the Saints, the Holy Angels and Archangels. And, if one wishes to ponder further, there will be children in heaven.
If they aren't in our services because we cannot concentrate, or because they are a distraction, or because we "enjoy" the service better without them, how do we ever plan to put up with them in eternity? Christians, please keep your kids in Church.