THE STRUGGLE FOR FAMILY LIFE (PART 2 OF 2)
(The following is a continuation of the article started in last month's issue of The Dawn. It originally appeared in the Summer 1998 issue of the Canadian Orthodox Messenger, published by the Archdiocese of Canada, Orthodox Church in America)
Where does this lead us in our Orthodox families? We need to begin by not treating each other, both in our families and in our parishes, as commodities. If we are honest we will readily admit that we have done so. People are like ikons: their value is found in who they are, NOT in what they do, how much they know, whom they know, how attractive they are, or how much they earn. And so we need to begin anew to treat each other with tender, patient, nurturing love, like delicate flowers and plants in a garden whose blossoms and fruit we want to encourage. Orthodoxy has always encouraged this, and there are many pious stories of persons who have treated the ugly, the diseased, the disadvantaged, the deformed, as beautiful flowers, as revelations of Christ.
We consider such persons as saints. Our famous hospitality too has roots in treating all humans without distinction as the ikons of Christ that they are. And this way of perceiving other people is also the source of our readiness to give alms, to be generous to the beggar on the street, and not to ask questions. It is the source of true care for the neighbour, wherever that neighbour may be, and regardless of how that neighbour acts.
Orthodox families need to be rooted in the love of Christ. This is their source of life and strength as they stand resisting the tide of materialism, of objectification of others, and of unbelief. This rooting in the love of Christ, this nurture, needs constant attention. It requires vigilance, because although it may be difficult enough for an adult to stand out as we do and must, it is by far more so for a child or youth, whose peers can be merciless in their attitudes and comments.
Parents must therefore make real efforts to lead by example and to help their children, through their own love for Christ and the saints, to find this same love, to find this same strength, to find this same reason for living. For everyone, this love of God is caught, not taught, although some teaching helps to inform, direct and refine it. This love is the all-encompassing characteristic of our relationship with Christ, just as it is that which develops our distinctive personalities and personal characteristics. This love gives strength to face every hardship, provides hope, overcomes temptation, overcomes sin, and lives in Christ’s freedom.
In our families some form of short, daily prayer is necessary, morning and evening, with as many together as possible, even if only for a very few minutes. Daily we should be reinforcing good Orthodox Christian habits: blessing food and thanking God for it; blessing the family on departing the house; pausing briefly before the ikons before traveling; blessing God on rising and retiring; and before beginning to work, to play, or to start any project. Daily we should be reading the Bible too, and taking at least one meal together.
These good habits reflect the fact that our Orthodox Christian faith touches every aspect of our lives, and that there is nothing we do, nowhere we go, without Christ, or without His blessing and His protection. It is in drawing on this blessing that we will have strength to endure the daily struggles. It is in drawing on this blessing that we will be able to grow. It is drawing on this blessing that we will be able to live and share Christ’s love.
This love develops and flourishes when we are spiritually vigilant. Parents teach their children vigilance by example. As both St. John Climacus and Starets Anthony of Optina have said, when we are observing the faults of others and talking and criticizing, we do the work of the devil. We have to watch out for enmity and judgment in ourselves, guarding against a critical spirit. “What are the sins of others to us,” the starets says, “when we are up to our ears in endless sins.” Citing the Psalter, he encourages us to ask God to set a guard before our mouth, to turn our hearts away from evil thoughts. And if we see a fault in another, we ought to pray.
Starets Anthony also gives some good advice, which I will summarize. When you rise and when you retire, let your first and last thoughts be to God. Greet Him. Bless yourself with the sign of the Cross. Many a Slav will say “Good morning, Bozhinka,” which means, “Good morning, dearest God.” Bow down literally and give thanks to God for everything. Get your heart and mind in gear, set on a good path, by asking God to help you do today what is best. Starets Anthony says that “no one shall complete the path to heaven, save he who begins every day well.” Try to keep a prayerful disposition, with actual prayer wherever possible through the day, and know that the Lord is with you, along with the heavenly host. Don’t let yourself fall into wasteful idleness. Pray. Read the Bible, or the lives of saints. Help someone. Try to watch your thoughts, and learn the positive aspects of silence. Beware of idle chatter, and try not to be excessive in laughing and most especially in derisive so-called humour. Don’t quarrel, don’t envy, be modest in eating. Be a servant of all. Remember the inevitability of death, and keep your heart to the Lord. Love His creatures, humans, all animals, everything. And finally, take each day as it is, one step at a time, putting everything in God’s hands, just as He taught us.
In the end, if we as persons and we as families are vigilant, if we are faithful, if we persevere, holding tight to the hand of Christ our Saviour, we will find that we, like the Apostle Peter, will not be overcome by the storms of temptations, but will sail safely in the ship of the Church into the safe harbour of heavenly joy.
From The Dawn
Publication of the Diocese of the South
Orthodox Church in America