…he looked it, the young man standing in church four Sundays ago, up there in Jordanville. Very Russian-looking, short blond hair, slight build, looking very solemn and serious — with three children clustered around him, two little girls about 7 or 8, and a little boy about 3. In the more conservative ROCOR churches, men stand on the right-hand side of the church, and women stand on the left, and usually, the children stand with the women, so this young man was all the more noticeable with his three little children clustered around him, each little girl holding a hand, and the little boy smack up against his front. And they just stood there, from about the Gospel onwards.
Now, because Jordanville is a hierarchical seat, services there take a long time. A Sunday Liturgy can take three hours. People wander in and out throughout; you get to a point where you need a “seventh-inning stretch,” as my Church Slavonic instructor once put it, so you drift outside and sit for awhile, get some fresh air, then wander back in and find a place to stand. Not this family. They just stayed put the whole time, and let me tell you, those kids didn’t move an inch. Yet there was no question of the affection between father and children; he let them do pretty much anything they liked with his hands, and when one of the little girls let go, his son (looked just like him!) promptly picked up the hand and put it on top of his head.
Then, just before Communion, the dad leaned down and whispered to one of the girls, who nodded, and then he took off, leaving the three children behind. I saw them craning their necks to watch him go, and wondered what that was all about. A few minutes he reappeared–with an infant in his arms. And shepherded the three other children up for Communion, along with the infant.
This guy has four children.
I saw him for all the Sundays I was in Jordanville. The second Sunday, the kids stayed with him, and I was interested to see his method of “discipline”: When the little boy put his hands into his pockets, the dad just reached down and gently removed the hands, then put them at the boy’s side. And they stayed there. The third Sunday, I saw the same children, but this time with a sweet-looking young woman who actually let them sit down on one of the stools placed around the cathedral. It was amusing to note that they were actually a little wigglier with her around! At Communion time, dad reappeared–apparently, this time he had “infant duty”–and after Communion, those kids just moved to his side and stayed there, although mom was still in church.
When church let out, those kids reverted to being kids–not that they were remotely whiney, but just racing around all over the place, blowing off steam–and the parents just stood there talking, with the dad swinging the infant back and forth in its car seat, chatting easily with his wife and smiling. He certainly didn’t come across as some kind of disciplinarian fanatic, but somehow, he had gotten across to his kids how to behave in church, and they did.
I couldn’t help contrasting their behavior with the American kids I know, who are so rambunctious and make their presence such an ordeal for everyone around them–not necessarily at Liturgy, more like in the public sphere (like grocery stores), but even at church, kids raised by American parents are much more disruptive than these kids were. What is it about Russian parents and children? I mean, these weren’t the only kids in church, but the only thing that made them noticeable was their father, who really did look about 20 years old. The other kids in church were just as well-behaved. As my husband said (he was there for the third Sunday, and I pointed out the family), they knew that church was a special place, and that they were supposed to have “church manners.”
I wish I knew how Russians do it. And I wish they’d share the secret with today’s parents.
Update, 2010: I found out last year that this man teaches Church History to the seminarians. His wife was the Summer School’s cook last year. Their names are Sergei and Nadezhda.
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