Yesterday was Clean Monday. A day of new beginnings. A day of ‘canons and kisses’ in our house as I am about to explain! A time when we cleanse our homes and pantries of food items and give them to the needy, a day and a week in which we eat little, to nothing, to remind ourselves of the fullness of life that we are about the receive during this Holy season. Clean Monday is the beginning of the great and epic struggle of Holy Lent, a declaration of war upon our passions, sins and flesh, a clear calling to repentance and prayer and charity, things we do all year-long, but more diligently now during Lent. Clean Monday is a strict day of prayer and fasting, a day in which one eats very little, in order that we might begin to train and focus our minds and energies on what matters most, which is the ‘eating’, partaking of God’s word, and the teachings of the Church. Last night our family ate oatmeal, with some simple nuts, a smidge of brown sugar and a few pieces of fruit. It was amazingly refreshing, filling, and satisfying. Less truly is more. None of us felt hungry, and the kitchen and dishes were a snap to clean, leaving us plenty of time to pray.
We then lit the candles at our Family Altar (all Orthodox homes have an Icon corner/altar that faces East) and began to pray. We prayed the Trisagion (Thrice Holy) prayer together, and then our 5th Grade Son Matthew said, “Dad, wait, we need to have incense for the prayer”, and so our son, an altar boy at Holy Cross, did for us what he does every Sunday during Liturgy – he lit the charcoal, added the fragrant incense and helped us lift our prayers to heaven in the rising of the sweet-smelling smoke of prayer, thanks, and adoration to God. On the first three nights of this week, the Orthodox Church prays the Great Canon of St. Andrew, and that is what we came together to do.
But the best part of our evening prayer, was watching our 16 month old son, John, continue in his growth and maturation in faith. “What growth in faith could a 16 month old possibly have, you ask?” Profound growth I would reply, for John is learning the faith by watching, listening and participating in the liturgical life of the Church. John crosses himself and makes the sign of the cross like we do when we pray and worship, when we bow before the Icons of Christ and His holy Mother Mary and reverence them, John bows (in fact many more times than we do!) when we commune at the Holy Altar at the Eucharist at Divine Liturgy, John receives the Body and Blood of his Savior for his healing and salvation, and when, (like we did last night and all through Lent) prostrate fully on our faces before our God during the Lenten Prayer of St. Efrem – John was right with us on the carpet, worshipping his God. He was not laughing, he was not looking for us to notice him, he was not “goofing around” playing to an audience. John was praying to His God, and our God.
This is the faith of our Fathers, this is our Orthodox faith, this is the Faith of the Universe, handed down generation to generation in the Apostolic Holy Tradition this is John’s faith – for in living the Orthodox way, our children, even our infants know God, worship God, and sense and understand the Holy, Sacred and the Divine. John kisses the icon of Christ, of Mary, of St. John the Baptist – because he knows that as he loves and kisses the Icon, his love and affection go directly to the person the Icon represents – ultimately Christ Our Lord. He understands what we are doing, what he is doing, he reverences the Icon of Jesus, and to him (and to us) he is kissing Jesus Himself. The children get it. It’s adults that struggle understanding this simple truth of the incarnation.
Then the best part.
John walks around the room, and he kisses me, and Mary, and the rest of our children. John even kisses our dog… for John knows the deepest truth of the Church, the most profound theology available to mankind, the truth that even theologians forget about – John knows that in kissing me, and you, and everyone – he in fact is reverencing Christ, the icon of the Trinity who resides in us all. “For whatever you do to the least… you do to Me…”
“Love one another as I have loved you.”