Monday, April 23, 2012

altar boy

So, Ian's an altar boy. In our parish, they can start at age nine. He wasn't interested when I initially asked him about it, but after his friend David told him how great it is, he changed his mind. Since his birthday was coming up anyway, they decided to start him during Holy Week. The original plan was to begin with the Unction service on Wednesday, but he got sick early in the week, and it seemed too soon to throw him into something new. We skipped that opportunity and started him instead on Holy Saturday.

I think he likes it. Since that first time, he's asked before every service if he was serving in the altar again. He wasn't actually scheduled until next month, but we did manage to get him a walk-on this week. They don't really do formal substitutions. If someone doesn't show up (on time), they just grab someone to fill in. Since he wanted to serve, we made sure to arrive early yesterday, and it paid off. For some reason, they finished Matins 15 minutes ahead of schedule, so in the scramble to make sure everything was ready to go for the Liturgy, I asked if they could use one more, and they took him.

I'm sure the thrill will wear off eventually, but it's nice for now. I figured he'd do better with some kind of responsibility to keep him occupied during the services, and just getting him and Jenna apart helps everyone. Once Ian settles into a routine, I'll see if I can get her to stand with the choir again. She was into it for a while, since several of the girls stand back there, but she might feel better about it if I can be in closer proximity.

Anyway, Holy Saturday. I don't think most people know what to do with it. Sure, there's Good Friday, when Jesus died on the cross, and of course Easter, when he rose from the dead. But the Gospels don't really spend much time on that day in between. It was the Sabbath, and his disciples rested as they were supposed to. As far as that goes, in one sense we can say that Jesus rested as well. He had completed his work of suffering and dying--really, he had completed his earthly life. By all appearances, he was resting. But we also think of this time as quite active. His soul was in Hades, preaching victory to "the spirits in prison."

In current Orthodox practice, the observance of Holy Saturday actually begins Friday night with the Lamentations service. But even as depressing as that sounds, it contains a great deal of hope in what will soon follow. By the time we get to Holy Saturday itself, the Liturgy is actually attached to Vespers, which really makes it the end of Holy Saturday and the beginning of Easter. So there's a great deal about salvation and victory, which culminates before the Gospel reading, as the altar party processes around the nave and the priest throws bay leaves.

Holy Saturday is also the Traditional day for baptisms. Catechumens would sometimes spend years preparing for baptism. The home stretch was Lent, with forty days of training and spiritual preparation. During Holy Week, they would finally learn about communion. It was actually kind of unusual that we didn't have any baptisms on Holy Saturday this year, but we sing "As many of you as have been baptized . . . " in any case. Guess it was a good day to "baptize" Ian into his new role in the altar.

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