How Orthodox Care for Babies
by Andrea Elizabeth
[edited to include the homily and an explanation of my title. I have also made the homily one of my “Pages” in the header.]
Please read about John’s relationship with Baby Jamie and his family here, and then read what several of us believe to be the best sermon we’ve ever heard: The homily at Jamie’s funeral, which explains how the Orthodox see infants as people capable of a relationship with God, and thus able to fully commune with Him in the Sacraments.
Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us that in order to see the Kingdom of God, we have to become like little children, for the Kingdom is theirs. If you’ve been able to listen to the hymns we’ve been singing today for Jamie, it’s clear that as a little child, he is truly in a blessed place, and in a blessed state, right now. As one innocent and undefiled, as soon as his precious little soul left his body, he was instantly in the paradise of the Kingdom of Heaven with Jesus and all the choirs of angels and all the saints. We have had to wait in our sorrow for this day, to lay his body to rest. But he has not been waiting. He has already been dwelling in glory – the glory of being in the presence of our sweetest Jesus in paradise. We might wonder what it means to go to paradise as a baby. Does he stay a baby forever? How does that affect the way he knows God? We usually associate knowledge with maturity, and wisdom with age. Yet the Psalmist says that God makes the infants wise. We think that to know God we’ve got to be able to read, and think, to systematize our well reasoned beliefs, and speak with sophistication. Jamie is a little child. These things were not yet part of his life. We mourn all that he didn’t get to do, to see, to say, to know. But we cannot mourn about whether he knew or now knows the Living God. That much is certain. We baptized him at St. Barbara’s, and he was chrismated, receiving the Holy Spirit, and he received every Sunday the Holy Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood, not because we thought that someday he might know Jesus Christ. We did those things because Jamie belonged to Jesus already, and already he knew God in an ineffable way, in a manner too deep for words. Our relationship with God doesn’t depend on the age or development of our brain. It depends on Him, our God, who formed us in the womb, Who knows and loves us perfectly, and Who knows the mysterious and painful path each of us must take. Jamie was just beginning to walk. But what is walking when in an instant he races to paradise – what is running when he can fly in the blessed realm. Jamie wasn’t speaking full words and sentences. But what is speech, when the language of the Kingdom is silence? What is knowledge, and thoughts, and feelings, when in stillness he gazes beyond time into the Face of the Ancient of Days, and beholds in His eyes a perfect communion of love, and in an instant he knows and understands all that really matters. He dwells now with the God Who Is. Our God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And in Christ the veil separating us is much thinner than we would believe.
If we find ourselves asking why this happened, then we must face the only real answer God gives us: His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, hanging on the cross, despised and rejected of men, giving His life for the Life of the world. God never explains away our pain, our sorrow, our suffering. He never dismisses them with “reasons”. He enters into our pain and suffering, and bids us follow. Deny yourself, and take up your cross, and follow me. This is the mysterious life of the Christian. This is the Way that seems foolish to the world. What we seek now, in this life, is not the end of our mourning. We should mourn. What we seek is the transformation of our mourning by the Grace of His Cross, where sorrow and joy coexist in us as they did in His Holy Mother, our Theotokos and Panagia, who in silent weeping watched her own son die that we may live – who let Him go His own painful route, so that He could do what He was sent by His Father to do. Our task after this shocking and tragic accident is to live each day by grace, to seek the face of our Lord in and through our suffering, for that is the only place He will be found. And to come to that place, at the foot of His cross, and in the bright and never ending Light of His resurrection, where the radiance of His joy and peace wells up through our sorrow singing Alleluia, and in humility and love we know that all is well.
To see the Kingdom of God, we must become children. Jamie is not less in the Kingdom of Heaven for being a child – he is infinitely more. We will miss him. We will mourn him. Let us also take comfort that, in him, as one pure and innocent, we have a new intercessor in the heavenly places, one who took each one of us whose faces, and voices, and touch he knew, kept in his heart and mind, to his God and our God; to the God who is with him, and the God Who is with us.
-Homily for James’ “Jamie” funeral. Delivered by Fr. John Mikita
on March 9, 2009 at St. John of Damascus Orthodox Church (Tyler, Texas)