by Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada

(The following article originally appeared in the Summer 1998 issue of the Canadian Orthodox Messenger, published by the Archdiocese of Canada, Orthodox Church in America.)


Family life has been given considerable attention by the news media recently. Indeed so-called "family values" even become part of many political platforms. This summer the family will be the major consideration at our Archdiocesan Assembly in Winnipeg, Manitoba from July 7 to 10. The parish has an important role to play in the strengthening and supporting of the Orthodox Christian family, and our deliberations in Winnipeg should help us focus our attention on this role and offer ideas about how such support can be given and built up.

Like most of the social ills of our day, the problem of the decay of the family will not be solved by simple education, advertising, programmes, or legislation, although these can be constructive elements. As has always been the case, recovery will be found in the hearts of those who comprise the family itself. Repentance is the watch-word.

The societal environment of our Orthodox families is anything but supportive. Actively corrosive is perhaps the better term. If one pays too much attention to this corrosive environment, he or she might be swallowed up by a storm of temptation, might become depressed, or might even give up hope. It takes prayer, determination, discipline, and even something akin to missionary attitude to live in a constructive, positive, loving, life-giving way as an Orthodox family.

With the above caution in mind, however, I want to consider this corrosive societal environment we live in, an environment which is truly a storm of temptation. It is an environment which has forgotten or rejected God and which, like communism, is preoccupied with base materialism. Material success we are prodded towards every day by almost every element of our life: at work, at school, on radio, television, internet, in newspapers, magazines, and by our neighbours. Making money, wielding power, getting the better of the other — these are the main motives driving daily life. Competition is a close relative. Deceit is actively encouraged. Striving to get the most for the least, and at best something for nothing, people trample each other. Material demands have made us technological slaves, and the cost of living has so risen with the pursuit of comfort that few families now escape the fact of both parents' working. Parents and children alike find themselves labouring under the heavy burdens of daily demands, and there is general fatigue and malaise. Families fragment, and most people are lonely. Storms of temptations.

The core of our modern materialistic environment insists that we humans are the greatest, that we are the best, that we are the smartest, that we can accomplish everything. We convince ourselves that we can do anything, that each of us is the captain of his own soul, the pilot of her own destiny. We think we are in control. We think that if things get unmanageable, all we need to do is find a new programme, or to manipulate things just in the right way, and we will be totally in control again. Thus we sail on the storms of temptations blindfolded.

In society in general there is a parallel escapism which seeks to ease the strain and the pain of sailing the boat of denial. The present phenomenon of each person in a family having his or her own room in which to be isolated, even insulated, from the family is a symptom. Some seek solace in television or other forms of audio-visual entertainment; some travel; some flee to phantasy in one form or another; some crave consolation in some sort of sensuality. Others take an alternate route of escape by living in a make-believe way, trying to reconstruct life in another place, in another century, in another culture, and here in Canada, often enough even in a city. Too many go further: numbing the pain of life in alcohol and/or drugs. Adults and children alike are strongly pressed by peers to conform to this rat-race. Storms of temptation constantly toss the leaking ship of denial about.

If we honestly hope to begin making a change in our lives and in that of our families, we first must refuse to blame anyone else for what has gone wrong, and take up our own responsibility. In doing so, in "getting a grip," the very first step, even before taking responsibility, is the necessary call to the Lord for help. We are not, in fact, in control of everything in our lives, and we alone cannot do or make everything. We need help from God.

When we call on the Lord, we begin to recognize how we have been taken in by the assorted lies about what is necessary in life. It is at this pivotal point, this turning point — this point of repentance — that we can begin to turn the tide which has been pushing us, or dragging us, or hurling us about. We are not the captains of our own souls, the pilots of our destinies. All of our lives are interconnected, and what each one of us does and is, affects everything and everyone everywhere. Once we have seen through the lies of materialism, acquisitiveness, and consumerism, we can begin to acknowledge that we don't actually need everything we are told is a necessity, that we could live quite happily with much less, that we don't have to be driven by perpetual acquisition, that we are indeed not in any way "born to shop."

Once we arrive at this awareness, we begin to admit that because we have fallen into such insatiable acquisitiveness, we have contributed to the mistreatment of human beings and of the ecology of the world, and that we have, worse, thereby actively removed food from the table of the hungry everywhere in order to maintain our demands. This kind of awareness is particularly important, not only because it is true, but because it can help us always to ask the question, "do I really need this?"

This awareness is the foundation — the root of repentance — of a change toward a better direction for personal, family and parish living.

(Continued. In next month's Dawn His Grace speaks about practical, daily things to do and keep in mind while striving to live a Christian life.)

From The Dawn
Publication of the Diocese of the South
Orthodox Church in America
August 1998