“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (1) This is the core of an Orthodox understanding of a Christian Family. For all Christians were Orthodox before the separation caused by the actions of men. So too are all our children born Orthodox, separated only from the church by the inactions of men.
The Holy Father John Cassian wrote “A family, and its members, is like a circle surrounding our Lord Jesus Christ, with each member as a dot around the center. The closer the dots, the closer the circle is with Jesus Christ. The farther apart the dots are from each other, the further they are from the center (God).” Do our daily activities draw us closer together to Christ or further apart from Christ?
Teaching are children to be an active member of the church must be not by word of mouth, but by deed on our part. Do we drop them off then depart to go do something else? A child learns more from our actions than they do from our words. By attending church functions, activities and liturgies with our children, they will learn the value and the need for the church in their daily life. A child by nature wants to be with their parent. When they attend church without the presence of the parent, the child is distracted from attending the liturgy fully, as they wonder where their parent is. Forcing them to go to church while we do not is a form of hypocrisy.
God said to Noah, “Come into the ark,” (2) not “Go into the ark.” As Noah’s father, God wanted Noah, his righteous son, to know that He was with Noah in the ark – as one family. The Holy Fathers tell us that the church is our ark and that there is no salvation outside of the ark. So too should we say to our children “Come into the church with me.” Noah went with his children into the ark. So should we go with our children to church.
Early exposure to church, the hymns, the incense, communion, and the feasts, sets the roots for growth through the church. So even if many years from now our children become drawn into the world fully and part from the church, the memories deeply rooted within them will, by God’s grace at a time of His choosing, spring forth and bring them back to church. The memory they see of our love for the church, the Bible, the communion, the praying and the involvement, will remain within them. These seeds will grow within them. Daily application of good habits will not go away easily.
“Indeed there are many members, yet one body.” (3) Our membership with this oneness with Jesus Christ is predicated on us attending the church as a whole. Do we see a man attending church, yet leaving his arms at home? Absurd. Then too should a parent bring the household as a whole. And do not ever give up on the struggle to unite the household with God. By the incessant prayers of the mother of a sinful and wayward child, was her child saved and we were given Saint Augustine.
Our house should also show a Christian life through the presence of a cross, an icon, a picture of Jesus or of the Holy Family. Better yet, having an altar in the house reminds the children that not only is there a church, but their house is a house of God. Let the children grow up around these images of Christianity. Let these examples of our holy faith be also a pictorial memory for the children as well.
Being an active member in Christ’s family includes participation in fasting as a whole. When we fast, do we avoid certain foods, yet continue non-Christian activities that draw us away from Christ? Then what value does fasting produce? When we fast, we fast as a whole body – not just from food but from all desire. If we believe this to be true, then we should fast as whole body as a family as well. Fasting together as a family brings them together through God’s will. It reminds them that we are one family and one body with God. What value is it to fast and let the children eat whatever they want? This separates them from the involvement of the church and God’s will. This lends them to think they are above the fasting, above the practices of the church. Then what value will they place on the other aspects of church life, such as prayer, confession, and abstinence from desires of the flesh?
God commanded Adam, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” (4) and Eve later describes this tree as “in the midst” (5) in a meaning in plain site, in front of their view making it tempting even more so. Their struggle to avoid this tree is a form of fasting, and was intended to teach them to retain control over desire. For Eve desired the fruit of this tree and gave into this desire, gave up her control, gave up her fasting thus the consequences. Fasting is a practice of focusing us on God not food, not desire, to reinforce our struggle to strengthen our resolve to be with God. Would not you want your children to do this as well? Let them start with something small. Like candy, or video games. Let them choose the thing they will give up. Thus their participation becomes voluntary and not forced upon them.
John Chrysostom says “The purpose of the house is to produce champions for Christ.” When an engaged couple would come to St. John for his blessing, he would ask, “Can you give birth to a Saint?” This would be the blessing, the challenge, and the suffering. A new couple is going to build a small church within their new family. The husband, the father, is the priest and head of the household. The wife, the mother, is the church. This is the family unit through Christ. We have to encourage our family to stand before God, to reinforce the value of a Christian life and to remember that God is in their life.
Our bad habits will be reflected in our children.
Glory be to God, Amen.
(1) Joshua 24:14-18
(2) Genesis 7:1
(3) 1Corinthians 12:20
(4) Genesis 2:16-17
(5) Genesis 3:3