Unfortunately, too many Christians treat their faith like a job. On Sunday morning, they come to church for about an hour or so. Then they go back home and ignore God until the following week. It’s no wonder so many young people have fallen into the abyss of atheism. They see the hypocrisy in those who profess to love God, but devote the absolute minimum amount of time to Him. They see it, and they turn their backs on it. As Orthodox Christians, we must remember that our Lord calls us to raise our children in the Orthodox Faith (Deuteronomy 6:3-7) and keep it alive. Orthodoxy is a way of life, not a religion. As such, it requires total devotion from the believer.
In this post, we list some things Orthodox parents can do to keep the Faith alive at home. This is by no means an exhaustive list. We’ve simply given you a few suggestions to get you thinking!
1. Read the Bible together
What better way to keep the Orthodox Faith alive in your home than to read Holy Scripture as a family? After all, the Bible* is God’s Word, and has the unique ability to speak to the soul of every human being. It speaks with absolute authority, and contains within it the teachings of God on morality, sexuality, humility, and so many other things your children rely on you to teach them.
Suggestion: Set aside time in the evening when the family is together – perhaps after dinner. Find a place to sit together before an icon of Christ. Then read the Epistle and Gospel passages for that day and discuss together what Christ is saying to you.
*Be sure you read from the Orthodox Study Bible, or an equivalent translation (New King James). Other versions of the Bible used in Catholic and Protestant scholarship contain fewer books, which were removed after the Great Schism and Reformation, respectively.
2. Create an Icon Shelf/Corner
Traditionally, Orthodox homes have an icon corner or an icon shelf, where the family gathers to pray. Icons serve as windows into Heaven, and visually remind us of our Faith in Christ.
Suggestion: Select a corner or wall in your home (preferably one facing East) to use for prayer. Try to acquire icons of Christ, the Theotokos, the patron saint of your family, and the patron saints (or feasts) of each family member. That way, each person sees their patron on the wall during prayer. You could also have icons of the patron saints in each of the bedrooms, for the children to say prayers before sleep.
3. Pray together
Prayer is an integral part of Orthodox Christian life. In fact, it is probably the most important (and sadly, most neglected) part. What better way to teach our children how important it is to pray than to pray together as a family as often as we can?
Suggestion: Pray with the family before and after meals when you are together. And at least once a week, try to say Evening Prayers together in front of your icons. If you have a hand-held incense burner, you can also teach the children to properly light incense for prayer. Maybe, every once in a while, you can also try to turn your prayers into actions.
4. Teach your children how to prepare for Confession
When we sin, we separate ourselves from God. The Orthodox Christian should confess his/her sins to God everyday. We should also periodically confess in the presence of the priest. Through the sacrament of Confession, we receive God’s forgiveness of our sins and His Grace, an opportunity to try again. When we confess our sins together, we show our children how to keep the Orthodox faith alive.
Suggestion: Include a prayer for forgiveness of sins in your family prayer rule, and encourage an atmosphere of openness. Children should never be afraid to admit their sins to God. Perhaps allow them to confess one or two sins aloud during prayer to help prepare them for Confession. Check with your priest as to how frequently you and your family should go to Confession. And when you do go, read the prayers of preparation together. There is nothing more beautiful than a Christian family seeking repentance together.
5. Fast as well as you can
Children learn best by watching others, especially their parents. The Orthodox Church places great emphasis on fasting, so much so that we end up fasting nearly one-third of the year! Fasting helps us strengthen ourselves against temptations like gluttony, pride, and lust. Just as Christ fasted, so too, must we. We deny ourselves something that we can then share with someone who needs it more than we do.
Suggestion: Choose one day a week to have simple meals without meat or animal products. Save the money you would have spent on fancier foods and make a collection for the world’s hungry. You can donate the fund to the Church at the end of the year. As the children grow older, perhaps you can manage two nights per week, in accordance with the fasting rules set by the Church.
6. Adopt a shut-in
Another lovely way for parents to keep the Orthodox Faith alive within their family is to adopt a shut-in. This allows both parents and children to make real the love of Christ for those who are lonely and neglected. Visiting a shut-in helps show children the value of their presence, the happiness and joy they bring to another person simply by showing them they care.
Suggestion: Check with your priest to see if he knows of a shut-in who does not have family to visit him/her. Have a picture of this person in your home (perhaps in your icon corner), so you can include him/her in your family prayers. Coordinate a visit at least once a month, and try to make special visits during holiday seasons like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Pascha. The parents and children could also work together to create small gift baskets for these occasions.
7. Celebrate Baptisms
On the day of our Baptism, Christ adopts us as His children, cleansing us of all sin and allowing us to partake in the life of His Church. It is our spiritual birthday. What day could be more important? Celebrating baptisms helps us remember who we are, and whose we are.
Suggestion: Keep a calendar of the dates you, your spouse, and your children are/were baptized. On each of these birthdays, bake a cake, cupcakes, or some other favorite dessert, and sing “Happy Birthday.” Invite godparents/sponsors to join in the celebration with you!
8. Discuss the Sermon on the drive home
The drive home from church is the perfect time to discuss the priest’s sermon with your children. Making sure children understand the message of Scripture is key to their growth as Orthodox Christians.
Suggestion: Ask your children to explain the sermon in their own words, and ask more questions as they go along. You can also ask them about what they learned in Sunday School. Another fun thing you can try: condense the sermon into one short sentence, and then stick it on the refrigerator. This way, the family sees it every time they pass by. They can reflect on the Gospel message throughout the week!
9. Teach your children to tithe
God owns everything in this world. We ourselves belong to God. And as Christians, we must be good stewards of the gifts he has given us, and use them (and ourselves) the way God wants us to. Tithing is one way we can give back that which God gave to us, by financially supporting the Church. Be careful what impression you set as a parent when you give a child only one dollar for the offering at church, but fifteen when he/she wants to go to the movies.
Suggestion: If you give your children an allowance, have a special envelope set aside into which they place their tithe. Then have the children bring the money to Liturgy and offer it themselves. This gives them a sense of “ownership” in their actions, and sets an example they will likely follow well into adulthood.
As Christians, we must keep the Faith alive in our homes, teaching our children how to live a truly Christian life. Because if we do not teach them, secular society will instead.
What are some other ways Orthodox parents can keep the Faith alive at home? We’d like to hear what others are doing – please share your thoughts in the comments!