This Sunday, the (New Calendar) Sunday of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, marks the fifteenth anniversary of our family’s first visit to an Orthodox church. I had made a few tentative forays before then, but on that Sunday my wife, our seven-year-old son and I first set foot in the Church as a family. This was St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Lawrence, MA.
Up until that moment our family had belonged to a protestant denomination that took the rejection of church decoration as an article of faith. There wasn’t even a cross on the wall of our meeting-house. The transition from the mandatory starkness of traditional Quaker worship to the richness of the Divine Liturgy in a well-appointed Orthodox temple was startling.
If you know anything about seven-year-old boys, you know that they’re invariably into monsters. And here, right in church, was a large painting of a dragon being slain with a spear! I imagined a voice in my son’s head saying “Now this is more like it.” When he had finished feasting his eyes on the icon of St. George, there was plenty more to hold his attention, including a large iconographic mural that circled the wall of the sanctuary and gave a history of the world from the creation to the last judgment. This was Christian education made visible.
It took us a while longer to make the move to Orthodoxy and to find our own beloved parish, but I think the die was cast on that day. In the years since then I hope that our understanding of, and reverence for, icons has deepened, but I still remember that first response with gratitude, and remember the words that Christ spoke to all of us: “Unless ye become as little children…”