Michelle looked like any one of the many volunteers who had come down to offer a week of their time in building homes for those impacted by hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. But, she seemed a little too comfortable in the July Louisiana heat as she effortlessly bounded up and down the ladder hoisting construction materials to the roof of St. Tammany Parish with members of the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) volunteer team. In fact, she was not a member of the volunteer team, but became its inspiration that week.
Michelle is a 43-year-old single mother with two young sons who experienced the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. Her voice broke as she thought aloud about the reality of owning a home. “The idea of having my own home for personal security, for personal investment, for my two growing sons – plus one that is affordable and can withstand a Category 5 hurricane – is something I never thought possible.” Michelle was there, inspiring and working with the volunteer team, putting in the 80 hours of sweat equity as a requisite for owning her own home.
Michelle, and thousands like her throughout the world, whose lives have been torn apart by man-made and natural disasters depend on our philanthropy and on charitable organizations such as IOCC. The tenets of our faith embodied in our liturgical worship form the foundation of Church life and the "church of the home"—kat’ oikon ekklesia—and challenge us to live out our Orthodox Christian faith in the "liturgy after the liturgy." Our participation in, and support of works of charity, is a natural extension of the liturgy of the church of the home and taking that liturgy to the streets.
Living the Liturgy after the Liturgy
St. John Chrysostom writes, “Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Then do not disdain him when you see him in rags. After having honored Him in the church with silken vestments, do not leave Him to die of cold outside for lack of clothing. For it is the same Jesus who says ‘this is my body’ and who says, ‘I was hungry and you did not feed me.”
The beauty and glory of our worship, which inspired the Kievan emissaries after they visited Agia Sophia and convinced St. Vladimir to adopt Orthodoxy as the religion of his empire, is not confined only to glorious edifices, transcendent icons, or angelically chanted Byzantine Liturgies, but is also manifest through the glorious ministry—diakonia—to the “least of our brethren” who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned.
The grace of God transmitted to us through the Holy Sacraments of the Church, and lived out sacramentally in our families in the church of the home, extends beyond our homes through the incarnation of our Lord’s admonition to care for those in need as if we were ministering to Christ Himself. The movement in the liturgy after the liturgy is from the Holy Altars of our churches to the altars of our church of the home, to the altar who is our hurting brother and sister.
Love of God and Love of Neighbor
As we endeavor to create and maintain the church of the home, the Church has given us many aids. We have our daily rhythms of prayer, Bible reading, readings about the Saints, feasts, and fasts. We have our icon corners and the smell of incense that permeates our homes. And, we might have liturgical music playing from our stereos. But the most important hallmark of our Christian faith, and the foundation of our church of the home, is love. It is by love that our Christianity is visible to the world.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus clearly demonstrates the preeminence of love when He instructs: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
The love to which Christ refers is an active love. It is not some romantic notion, but a Divine movement from God to the world. The Love poured out by He who is Love is extended to all, and we respond to it by being God’s hands of service and the pencils being used to write His love letters.
Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Clapsis, professor of Dogmatics and former dean at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology says:
“Our unity and communion with God is […] sustained, nourished, and actualized in history by three distinct but equally important and inseparable sacramental ways: hearing and proclaiming God’s Word; the celebration of the Holy Eucharist; and a life of active compassion and care towards the poor and the needy.”
Making God Real in our Church of the Home
One of our biggest struggles in creating and nurturing Christian families is to take all we learn in our faith and make it real.
Our children most often don’t do what we say; They do what they see. Children can help by giving alms to support victims of disasters with money they save. As a family we can volunteer at the local soup kitchen or nursing home and create birthday cards for kids living in shelters. We can also attend fun events like 5K walks that support acts of charity and help change peoples’ lives.
IOCC gives us additional opportunities to model Christian virtues in our homes. Our families can join together in making school kits for kids in other parts of the world who can’t afford basic supplies like pencils and paper. We can read the IOCC’s My Orthodox Prayer Journal nightly with our children to educate them about the plight of other children throughout the world. Our families can even volunteer in places like the Gulf Coast in helping to rebuild homes. (See Resources and Activities for Families.)
Too often God can seem distant. The troubles of the world depicted on our television screens can seem unreal – like a video game. We might feel bad, or pity for the scenes depicted, but it doesn’t touch our personal lives. Participation in works of charity makes it real. As we read in I John 3:18: “Let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” These words of our Lord come alive when we translate our Orthodoxy (correct belief) into Orthopraxy (correct action).
Our challenge as Orthodox Christian families is to live out our faith in a way that transforms the world. When we do that we will hear these welcoming words from our Lord: “Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry.., I was thirsty.., I was a stranger.., I was naked.., I was sick.., I was in prison…” (Matthew 25:34-36) and you ministered unto me.
Founded in 1992, International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is the official humanitarian aid agency of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA). In the spirit of Christ’s love, IOCC offers emergency relief and development programs to those in need worldwide, without discrimination, and strengthens the capacity of the Orthodox Church to so respond. Ithas implemented over $330 million in relief and development programs in 33 countries around the world. For more information about the work of IOCC please visit www.iocc.org or call 1-877-803-IOCC.