Families Working Out Their Salvation
by Rev. Fr. Nicholas Hadzellis
The “modern family” consumes television’s family programming. The father’s role is only for comic relief, as no one really takes him seriously. The mother appears in a constant state of nagging and the children are the real stars of the program. They are hip and grounded in this modern society. Some shows even go so far as to have the children play the role of the responsible, level-headed ones in touch with reality, teaching the lesson to their parents.
However, the Church teaches us a different story about family, marriage and raising children for all times. It teaches us that salvation can be found through family. Salvation is not a singular act in our life, but part of our relationship with God. In Philippians 2:13, St. Paul writes “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Through His grace we work on drawing ourselves closer to Him that we may be blameless, children of God, holding on to the Word of life (Christ himself).
But how often do we speak in terms of salvation, for ourselves let alone for our spouse and our children? The common Orthodox response is or should be "I was saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved." We understand that through baptism, we receive forgiveness of sin and ultimately a new life in Jesus Christ. That is our one time act of being saved. We also know, as Christ has promised, that He prepares a place for us in paradise. It is the “being saved” part that links the former with the latter, the process of working out our salvation, daily and through our marriage and family.
Marriage and Family as Salvation
To understand “being saved” in the context of marriage and family, we must change the way we see these relationships. Many times, marriage is simply explained as two people living together as two independent individuals with children. They draw a distinction between each other, what is “yours” and what is “mine.” St. John Chrysostom says that there is no relationship between human beings so close as that of husband and wife, if they are united, as they ought to be. God made man from the dust of the earth, and woman from man, that we might know that we are made of each other, for each other. There should be no distinction between “yours” and “mine” because it is “ours” together. Together the parents make the family, and it is together that they make their decisions about the family. The parents have to be on the same team, of one mind consciously working out their salvation together.
Within the Orthodox Church, marriage is a mystery, a sacrament and blessing from God, rather than a joint venture or legal contract. When the bride and groom are of this mind, working out their salvation through their marital bond, we see marriages become stronger. With stronger marriages, our families are healthier and more sustainable, physically and spiritually. We see families working out their salvation together by seeking first the Kingdom of God.
In the Orthodox rite of Marriage, we come before God truly and faithfully to seek His blessings. We wear the ring on our right hand, because it is by the right hand of God we are brought together. We pray that, like Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, Moses and the Red Sea, and the Prodigal Son, God is present with us, that God blesses us, and it is through the ring that we bear witness to His blessings. Then we receive our stefana, our crowns for the royalty of our new kingdom, the kingdom of our family home. We also receive the crowns as a type of martyrdom to our self-centered selves. We change our personal pronouns from I, me, mine to we, us, ours. We are joined together as one, so it is no longer I, but We. Ultimately we belong to the other for the benefit of the other and of the family.
Saint John Chrysostom writes, “The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together. That is why men will take up arms and even sacrifice their lives for the sake of this love. Because when harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends and relatives praise the result. Great benefits, both for family and state, are thus produced.” This is the mystery of marriage, and the fruit of marriage is the family.
Parents are the Primary Example of Marriage
We are given examples as to how to live a Christian life by the Gospel and the lives of the saints. We are called to follow Christ and we commit ourselves to Him daily. This will lay the foundation for our children. Our own example will be the framework in which our children will work out their salvation. As parents we are the primary example of marriage, relationships and Christian living. When we embrace the Orthodox teaching of marriage our children will learn the love of their parents, but also the love a husband has for his wife, the love a wife has for her husband, and the love they share for God. We will lay the foundation that they will build upon.
There are many Orthodox practices (ascesis) that we can teach our children, such as prosforo making, confession and being good stewards of the church. One of the most important disciplines we can instill is to pray with our children as a family. They can be active participants by reading the prayers or singing hymns with us. We should also allow our children to hear our own personal prayers, so they may learn that prayer is something we do as Orthodox Christians, children and adults alike.
When we fast, we need to teach our children to fast in an age appropriate way. As they get older their fasting rule can get stricter. We can teach them the seasons of fasting and feasting, but we should also share with them our struggles and the benefits of keeping the fast.
We can also invite our children to help us with our works of charity. If age permits, they should help physically by serving with us in a soup kitchen or they can help financially by contributing to a charity we support (e.g. IOCC, OCF, OCMC, etc.). Above all, it is important that we teach them about charity by being charitable.
Our children will learn by seeing, hearing and doing. If we start while they are young, they will grow up knowing this is what we do, how we pray, how we fast, and how we give. They will learn this is how we work out our salvation. So in contrast to what we often see on television, we create an Orthodox Christian family, working out our salvation together by seeking the Kingdom of God. We seek the Kingdom of God by loving the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind'; and, we love our neighbor—our family and others—as ourselves.
Fr. Nicholas Hadzellis is an associate priest at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Houston, Texas and is the OCF Regional Chaplain of the South. Fr. Nicholas graduated from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2007 where he received a Master's of Divinity and he is a 2002 graduate of Oklahoma City University School of Law where he received a Juris Doctor. He is married to Presvytera Shyla and together they have three children.