The Domestic Church: Incubator for a Life of Righteousness
Prior to electricity and central heating, most families gathered in parlors, spending evenings with reading, sewing, and family conversations. The notion that everyone would retreat to bedrooms, kitchens, or dens, separating themselves from other family members, was unthinkable. The communal nature of the family was natural. I can remember, as a child (this really dates me), sitting together with my brother and my parents, listening to radio dramas. Before the coming of television, families would gather for evenings in the living room, where children would play with Lincoln Logs or enjoy board games with their parents.
Evenings spent together as family are important, for these moments not only build a bond between parents and their children, but serve as important times in which to share family values. The old saying that “a family that prayers together, stays together” is a truism that is often forgotten. I remember, as a boy of six, a Catholic family living next to us who had a small family chapel, complete with altar, statues, and candles. Every evening they would all gather in that little chapel to pray the rosary. As a protestant boy, I remember wishing we had a chapel as well.
Family meals are also important times for building strong moral and spiritual foundations in children. Sitting around the dinner table is a great time for parents to develop strong bonds of trust with their children. Dinner is a perfect time for talking to your children about their friends or school activities, or recounting the homily from the Sunday Liturgy. Family members dispersing throughout the house for the evening can end up functioning as autonomous entities, and family bonds are unlikely to develop in a healthy manner.
The Domestic Church, which is such an important element of the Orthodox Christian tradition, cannot be developed in a family where meals, prayers, and social life are all spent in separate parts of the house. Parents, in their capacity as shepherds and nurturers, have the God-given responsibility to make sure the home is an incubator for a life of righteousness, where the Orthodox Faith can take root. It is in such households that these children, in turn, learn how to be good parents to their own future children.
As St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Hebrews: “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…” (Heb. 10:24–25).
—With love in Christ, Abbot Tryphon, All-Merciful Saviour Monastery, Vashon Island, Washington