One of my son’s favorite books to have read at bedtime is a book called The Littlest Altar Boy by Jenny Oehlman. It’s a wonderful and unique children’s book that shows how an altar boy serves behind the altar. It is simple and yet personal. The main character, the littlest altar boy, doesn’t have robes that properly fit him. All the robes are too big. He is nervous about tripping in front of the entire congregation. He gets distracted, especially when his sister makes funny faces. He is preoccupied with his personal worries of dropping the candle or upsetting grumpy Mr. Papadopoulos. His wild imagination brilliantly interweaves old testament stories like Noah and the Great Flood, or Moses and the burning bush. In one silly yet symbolic image, we see the little boy fidgeting in his sticharion. He is fighting the itch of the collar, and his excess sweat makes him worry that he will flood the whole church out! That’s when he thinks about Noah arriving in the ark to save the church goers. In another scene, our little hero is carrying his heavy candle during the Great Entrance, and he is afraid of accidentally setting the hair of the server in front of him on fire, making him look like the burning bush. True disaster strikes as the robe which is still too big for him, gets caught on his feet and he trips, nearly dropping his candle! But thanks to Mr. Papadopoulos (who really isn’t all that grumpy) the day is saved!
I love reading this book to my son. As the newest altar server at my church, I can relate to the imagined struggles that this child has. I oftentimes have no clue about what I am doing, or when to head out with my candle. I haven’t worried about dropping it, but the large processional icon of the resurrection is a different story. On more than one occasion I’ve been afraid of dropping it. Other times I just stare into the image of Christ conquering Hades and reflect on what His resurrection means to me.
I have also struggled with my own sticharion. I may not be a little boy, but I do have a size problem. I’m too round. I guess you could call me the biggest altar boy? The extra spare tire around my waist from my trucker days, does me no good when putting on my robes. The selection of extra large robes is very slim, and if another big guy is serving then it can truly difficult to find something that fits. Usually I wear the largest robe. It fits around my waist without issue, and gives me plenty of moving room. However it does end at just above my feet. And like the littlest altar boy, I too have struggled with tripping over my own robes. One time I was climbing the marble steps and about to enter the deacon’s door, when I accidentally tripped over my robe. I nearly had my own vacation as I took a trip over my feet. Luckily I was able to catch myself before needing to perform a somersault in front of Father George.
Sometimes when I have nothing else to do while serving, I find myself just staring into the eyes of the panagia. The Theotokos, beautifully represented in this large icon above the altar, always brings me in towards her. It gives me peace and hope. Sometimes I’ll be moved and might shed a tear or two, before turning away and focusing my attention back on Father George. It’s not difficult to feel the awesome power of the heavenly hosts that surround us. And when Father George lifts up the chalice and the Holy Spirit descends, all I can do is bow down in uttermost reverence. I am so thankful to be a servant, serving my church, and my God.
The littlest altar boy struggles with being new and his fear of making mistakes. I have those fears too. I try to compensate by asking questions and watching everything that the other servers do, but I am still nervous about making mistakes… or not being good enough. I was an altar server when I was a boy at my old catholic church. In fact I was a really good one. My wife even jokingly says “I was the bestest evah!!” Putting my humility (or lack thereof) aside, I realize now that it doesn’t matter, especially when the traditions are completely different. I just started serving behind the altar four weeks ago. And in less than 6 days I will be made a subdeacon. Talk about being thrown into the deep end. I feel like I just started my swim lessons, and now I’m being asked to be a lifeguard. May it be blessed.
It’s now almost 11pm. I have work in the morning, and nine new fresh faced students to instruct. They rely on me, and the other trainers to help them learn the ropes of truck driving. I know it’s not easy to be thrown into a new situation and rely on someone else for support. I feel the responsibility on me every day when I take students out on the road and let them navigate around the cars and other obstacles. Behind the altar I too rely on the other servers to help me learn, so that I can best serve the Lord. They don’t let me down either. I am so thankful to Rob, Subdeacon Paisios, Father George, Deacon Steven, and Deacon Dennis. I also appreciate my uncle who has stepped in to help provide for training for me, and of course my own Deacon Dad.
I pray that while I am the biggest altar server, that I can provide a service to my church and to my Lord. I pray that when His Grace, Bishop Anthony arrives on sunday the 13th, I can perform my duties correctly. And when during that service, I am tonsured as Subdeacon Ioannikios, I pray that I will be the man deserving of that title.
Until then my friends, I guess I’ll just continue being the Orthodox Trucker.
– Orthodox Trucker
Me and my Dad: Deacon John, on my first day as an Acolyte (altar server)