The beginning of January, the first month of the civil calendar, is a traditional time in our society when countless people take something of an inventory of their lives, resolving to implement changes in the hope of bringing about the desired effect. Most of us are probably familiar with some of the more popular New Year’s resolutions—ones such as exercising more, eating healthier, quitting smoking, putting money matters in order, taking up a hobby, and traveling more. While the scope of this article won’t cover the statistical evidence of the success/failures of these endeavors, there is something encouraging about the optimism that inspires them.
In this spirit, what might an Orthodox Christian household resolve in order to grow in their faith? The Orthodox Christian home should reflect an image that is compatible with what it encounters within the walls of the church. The more the life of the Church is communicated outside of the church building’s walls, the more natural it will come across to your family. If our children find Orthodox Christian practices in the home strange, it might be due to our having made Sunday worship an infrequent, isolated event—one compartmentalized from the rest of our lives. Regular liturgical participation in the parish and consistent faith practices at home are not disparate elements. Both are necessary for genuine spiritual advancement.
Between the busy nature of work and school schedules that occupy a significant portion of a family’s time, here are some potential resolutions. As you begin, keep your goals modest. Lead by example and be patient with the children in your care. Consult with your parish priest or spiritual father for further guidance.
Prioritizing Sunday as the Anchor of Your Family’s Week
The Divine Liturgy is the primary worship service in the life of the Orthodox Church. It is where the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior is offered for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Simply put, attending the Divine Liturgy as a family should be a priority. The Lord’s Day isn’t merely the day we go to church, it is the primary day we become the Church—the people of God.
The parents of a family should model prayer for their children, reflecting its indispensability in the lives of Christians. Mornings, evenings, and meals are great times to start. Prayers needn’t be excessively long; they should, however, be focused, frequent and consistent. If you don’t have a home iconostasis, take some time to create one. Iconography in the home communicates your family’s identity as Orthodox Christians. Family prayer will also foster personal prayer as each member matures in faith.
Studying the Bible
Relative to prayer is studying the Bible—which teaches, strengthens, and shapes Orthodox Christians. Expert biblical knowledge is not necessary—just a firm commitment to grow closer to God through familiarization with Holy Scripture. Try to find time during the week where the family can gather to preview the coming Sunday’s epistle and gospel readings. When you encounter challenging portions that require explanation, talk to your priest for further guidance.
Talking About God and His Church at Home
Having conversations about God and His Church at home help to make religious matters tangible in our lives. Meal times at the family table provide valuable opportunities for spiritual conversations. Parents can pose questions such as: “What can we thank God for today?” “Can we remember to pray for your friend’s sick grandmother?” “Why do you think we kiss our icons?” These topics can stimulate edifying discussions—beneficial to adults and youths alike.
Active Participation in Your Parish
If your family isn’t involved in the ministries of your local parish, consider ones that are appropriate. Young people can enroll in church school and youth programs. Boys may have an interest to be altar servers. Likewise, adults can look into Bible studies, Ladies Philoptochos Society, and men’s groups. Service on parish council, church school staff, and as a youth adviser might be options, as well. Make your parish an extension of your family household—build Orthodox Christian community and get to know others.
Fasting as a Family
If abstaining from certain foods on fast days isn’t practiced in the household, parents may want to discuss how this spiritual benefit might be initiated. Fasting is an aid given to us by the Church to keep our bodies and our minds focused more upon God at certain points on the Church calendar. The strictness of the fast depends upon the physical condition and spiritual development of an individual. What is sufficient for one person may not be for another. Talk to your priest for further guidance.
Practicing Generosity as a Family
Assess your family’s finances and determine if you’re offering a fair amount of stewardship to your parish and other worthy efforts. Ministries and parish facilities require funding. Remember, too, that charity goes well beyond financial donations. Seek opportunities to volunteer time and talent for people and causes in need. Generosity takes many shapes and sizes, but is all blessed when done for the glory of God’s. The earlier children learn to be cheerful givers, the better!
Participating in Other Services and Sacraments
Look for opportunities to attend services outside of the Divine Liturgy on Sunday as your family schedule permits—Vespers for feast days or Holy Unction, for example. When invited to a Baptism or Marriage, be there to pray for and with those persons. And while not a family activity, encourage participation in the Sacrament of Confession for those of appropriate age. Confession allows us to examine our consciences and openly confess our sins so they are forgiven. Talk to your priest for further guidance.
Family dynamics are complex! Personalities can clash, living spaces can get crowded, and, along the way, feelings can be hurt. It’s so important for family members to ask for forgiveness when an offense is committed. A significant part of our Orthodox Christian journey is acknowledging our shortcomings and admitting when we’re at fault. There is no better place to practice forgiveness than within your home. Again, parents should especially model this as a loving example for their children.
Take Advantage of Technology as a Family
Set goarch.org as your Internet browser’s homepage. In a short time, you’ll find scripture readings, commemorated saints, and feasts for that day. This site is an excellent resource for learning more about various aspects of our Orthodox Christian faith. The ‘Daily Readings’ app also delivers the aforementioned daily content to your smartphone or tablet for convenient access. Don’t for get to check out family.goarch.org to find resources specifically tailored for the different phases of family life.
These suggestions are offered as tools to lead our families to Christ and His Holy Church. Anything worthwhile is usually achieved with persistence—and how much more so when the task is cultivating our relationship with God! As we nurture our spiritual development we are nurturing our relationship as a family—supporting one another in faith, hope and love!
George Tsongranis works as a Special Project Coordinator for the Center for Family Care of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. He holds his Master of Divinity from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.