THE FAMILY IS WHERE WE ALL BEGAN OUR LIVES-where we first experience ourselves in relationship to other human beings and to God. It is there within the family structure that we learned how to eat, how to love, how to laugh, how to play, how to talk, how to walk, how to work together, etc. It is also within our family unit that our religious consciousness was quickened, we became aware of our spiritual soul telling us to do good and avoid evil. We came to believe and love God and to talk with Him through prayer, as well as, to learn the most important vocabulary in any language-that being, the religious one which contains such words as God, Jesus, Christ, Theotokos, Saints, etc., as well as going to Church together. Thus, the family has come to be known as the basic unit of society. It is this institution that takes weak, helpless human beings and converts them, little by little, into civilized persons. So much so, that the family is not only the basic unit of our society, but is also the future of the world.
Today, however, the family is being threatened. This basic human institution is in trouble. The rapid social changes, which have affected society and culture, have likewise undermined the family as an institution whose destruction could signal the downfall of our society. The institution of the family was willed by God, as is evidenced in the very act of creation (Genesis 1:1-2), "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." Marriage and the family are ordained by Christ Himself, for His first miracle was performed at the Marriage in Cana where He changed the water to wine, having bestowed His blessing upon those joined in Holy Matrimony.
The basis for a viable Orthodox Family
is the relationship of one another with
Jesus Christ wherein truly each member
of the family can say, "it is no longer
I who live, but Christ who lives in me."
|(Ephesians 5:20-33) "Brethren: giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, bur nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
In keeping with God's plan (Matthew 19:5-6) "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." In these times, when many forces and agencies (as in the U.S. Supreme court) seek to undermine and destroy the family unit, the Christian community has the sacred responsibility of guarding, protecting, 'and enforcing this basic unit, which is the foundation-stone of society. In order to do this, we must be ready to study and understand fully the social and cultural situations in which the family finds itself. The unchangeableness
|of the message that, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8) will require the services of all as we bear witness thereto, for Christianity is a movement into the world and not a movement away from it, as is evidenced by Christ coming into the world.
As we look at the American family today, we see that it is beset by the ever increasing divorce rate. Marriage and remarriage rates continue to decline. Pre-marital and extramarital relations are on the rise. The traditional role of the family, i.e., husband, wife, and children, continue to decline. Instead we see people living by themselves or with others with whom they have no kinship. There is a breakdown in the family structure. More and more women are in the workforce and placing the home as a second priority. As a consequence, and at the same time, it should be noted that the birthrate in the U.S.A. is continually dropping and families are getting smaller as opposed to the surplus population growth in the underdeveloped nations of the world.
In the American scene, whether one is married or not, there is an ever-growing tendency for the individual to maximize his or her own personal happiness in "doing one's own thing," which is not the Christian way. People lavish money on material objects, pleasures, and travel, constantly in search of excitement or in fulfilling one's fantasy.
Other negative factors to be observed in the American family are the lack of respect for the authority of parents by their children, the failure of imparting the basic moral and social values to the young, the pressures of peer groups on teenagers, the serious consideration of abortion by some, and the general acceptance of contraceptives as a viable and respected way of avoiding childbirth by those who are unmarried. Another factor that has a negative impact on the family are the press and television.
George F. Will in his article, "This Bank Deserves to Fail," which appeared in the July 22, 1982 issue of the "Washington Post" observes that "The founders of a 'sperm bank' for smarties want to take some surprises out of life by planning procreation. - But surprise! The first baby born with that bank's help was born to a mother, who like her current husband, served a prison term for fraud and lost custody of two children by a previous marriage after allegations of child abuse." The sperm bank is another manifestation of the 'quality of life ethic,' which is opposed to the 'sanctity of life ethic.' The supreme Court, which rationalized its 1973 abortion decision in favor of infanticide is of great, devastating consequence."
These symptoms are an expression of the abuse of the principle of freedom, ignoring God's plan for marriage and family, so as to serve one's selfish, well-pleasing desires.
The American family has experienced cultural shifts, as well as that from a strong church-centered family life to a more fragmented secular life, that is, life organized apart from God as if God did not exist. These are, unfortunately, the signs of the time.
Having viewed the dismal status of today's American family, let us now go back in time - to God's plan for marriage and the family. As we know, God created man in His own image and likeness out of love. He created man out of love, because "God is love." (John 1:4-8) What unites god and mankind is love. By the same token, what unites a man and a woman into the state of Holy Matrimony is love. As a further expression of God's love for mankind, in the fullness of time, He allowed His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to assume a human nature. "God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) God's love was fully revealed in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. A product of the mutual love of both the husband and wife is children who are a gift from God. As such, they become the family of God.
The Christian family being cognizant of what it is, must fulfill its mission in becoming what it is - a community of love. This community of love is that of a husband and wife, as well as, that of parents and children. Only when love is the chief characteristic of the family can it have life, grow and witness its "reason for being." The family has the responsibility to protect, share, and witness this love to others. Parents are qualified spokesmen of the Christian family by virtue of the Divine Grace, which was imparted upon them by the Holy Spirit when they were joined together in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. As a consequence of this Divine Grace, the celebrant evokes upon them a blessing, "God blessed them and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it"'. (Genesis 1:28)
The Prophetic role of the family
is expressed by the knowledge
of the Orthodox Faith and
Also, noted from (Genesis 2:23) are Adam's words, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." This new relationship between a man and a woman in the Judeo Christian context requires that it be similar to Christ for the Church.
The love of a man for his wife as the Mother of their children and love for the children, per se, is an expression of fulfilling one's fatherhood. Our society has for far too long reduced his status to that of a "bread-winner." Now, that the mothers have entered the workforce, his unique role in the family as a role model and educator of the young must be manifested more viably. A father has a very important mission to fulfill and he should not shirk this responsibility due to social or cultural mores.
The love between a husband and a wife must be exclusive and unique, constantly growing in every way. God through the celebrant Bishop or Priest at the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony confers positions of great dignity upon a man and a woman. The man becomes a husband-a king; the woman becomes a wife-a queen. Mutual respect and esteem for the dignity of one another should always be honored. Conjugal loves presupposes and requires that a man have a profound respect for the equal dignity of his wife. St. Ambrose of the second century wrote, "You are not her master, but her husband; she was not given to you to be your slave, but your wife (Hexaemeron V, 7,19). Yes, and equal dignity and responsibility of women with men. A husband is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family. In fulfilling his responsibilities, he promotes unity, harmony and stability within the family, and the living example of a committed Christian.
As regards God's order for the wife, the biblical source ought to be (Ephesians 5:21-24) "submitting to one another in the fear of God. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything."
In (Colossians 3:18), what basic areas does the Apostle Paul cite for a wife's obedience to her husband? "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord."
Also, in (I Peter 3:1-4) what is a wife's best tactic toward a husband who has no interest in spiritual things? "Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your adornment be merely outward-arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel-rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
In (Proverbs 31:10-21) we read what rewards a faithful wife can hope to receive.
Does the submissive role of the wife prohibit her from holding, voicing, strong opinions? At what point should a wife differ to the judgment of her husband? Is there a limit to a wife's obedience to her husband? What are some probable effects on children when the husband/wife roles are confused and reversed? What can a wife do if her husband will not assume leadership in the home?
Who Can Find A Virtuous Wife?
For her worth is for above rubies.
The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
And willingly works with her hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
She brings her food from afar.
She also rises while it is yet night,
And provides food for her household,
And a portion to her maidservants.
She considers a field and buys it;
From her profits she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength,
And strengthens her arms.
She perceives that her merchandise is good,
And her lamp does not go out by night.
She stretches out her hand to the distaff,
And her hand holds the spindle.
She extends her hand to the poor,
Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household,
For all her household is clothed with scarlet.
She makes tapestry for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is kown in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies sashes for the merchants.
Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not et the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
"Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all."
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.
God's order for children, are enumerated in (Ephesians 6:1-3) "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: "that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth." What specific promise is made to the obedient child? What is the basis for a father's authority over his child, according to Proverbs 23:22? Also, what would you say to a child who says, "Why should I respect and obey my father, when he is mean, unfair, wicked, etc.? In Proverbs 4:1-27, what basic reason does the father give for the son to obey him? Like Jesus, children are to grow "in wisdom and in stature, and in- favor with God and Man." (Luke 2:52)
The Christian family is at the heart of the church's mission to the world. Ferdinand Klostermann, regarding the role of parents wrote: "It is only because of the faith of its own family that a child can be baptized at all. The child's faith is an off-shoot of the faith of the parents, and it is their faith which is to nourish the newborn faith until it grows and reaches maturity. If the family does not fulfill this charge, either because faith is lacking or because of indolence and laxity, then the faith of the child will normally fail to mature into a truly personal faith and will remain instead in an infantile state only to be rejected later or gradually to disappear. The religious attitude and practice of young people is influenced by the family far beyond their early school years, far more than by companions or even one's work milieu."
Westerhoof, in his book "Will Our Children Have Faith?" in distinguishing religion from faith observes that, "You can teach about religion, but you cannot teach people faith. For many today, Christian religion as taught in our Church Schools stands between them and God."
Fr. Andrew Greely in his book: The New Agenda 1975, pg. 242, states, "An analysis of the parochial school data by my colleague William McCready leaves no doubt at all that the most important predictor of religious performances of children is the religious behavior of their parents (and particularly their fathers) and the quality of the relationship between their mothers and fathers..." The study, "Religion and American Youth." By Potvin, Hoge and Nelson concludes, "Nonetheless there appears to be no substitute for a religious home environment and for religious instruction if adolescents are to remain committed to their religious heritage." (pg.21) Michael Novak in his article on the family which appeared in "Harper's Magazine," likewise concludes that "The family is a stronger agency of educational success than the school."
In retrospect, let us look at what constituted a good Greek Orthodox family some 25 years ago:
1. It had both parents.
2. Both parents were Greek Orthodox.
3. There were 3 or more children.
4. Mom was at home.
5. This was a Parish-centered family deriving its educational, athletic, social and spiritual life from the Parish.
6. There was regular church attendance on Sundays.
7. There was fruitful attendance at the Catechism School and Greek Language School.
8. There was much parent-child contact.
9. Parents had strict control over influences of their children.
10. There was a slower pace of life.
11. The ultimate judgement of this family was the religious outcome of the children.
12. Family was the protective agency against outside adversities and value systems which endangered this institution.
Whereas, todav's Greek Orthodox family has the following characteristics:
1. It might have 2 parents.
2. In slightly more than half of today's, Greek Orthodox families both parents are Orthodox.
3. There are fewer children.
4. Mom will work outside the home sometimes during the child-rearing years.
5. The Catechism School continues to have greater attendance than the Greek Language School.
6. There are many more activities to engage in outside the Parish.
7. Peer pressure oftentimes replaces parents' authority.
8. Parents and children experience a growing feeling of boredom, apathy, and emptiness.
Parents have little control over influences on children today. Although parents remain the primary influence, peer pressure takes over after the age of 12 and television remains the second most pervasive child shaper today.
10. The ultimate judgment of today's Greek Orthodox family is their career accomplishments.
However, I do not want to leave you with the impression that the Orthodox family is no longer able to utilize its spiritual and religious resources, so as to confront and combat the current trends which seek to undermine and bring about the breakdown of the family. The Orthodox family not only has spiritual resources at its disposal, but, must witness and evangelize and share them with other families, as it has been done in the past.
The Orthodox family as every family is God's family, for we are all created in the image and likeness of God. We are all brothers and sisters of our heavenly Father who is God. As a family, we are members of the Kingdom of God, which St. Paul says in Romans 14:17, "for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." You cannot create this peace and joy. But you can discover it and experience it in your spouse, your parents, your children, your brothers and sisters. Here we see the priestly and kingly mission of the Ecclesia in its fullest dimension.
This oneness in love as family being lived, as a consequence is witnessing both in word and deed the Orthodox faith believed by all its members, as St. Vincent of Lerins states "ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est" -"What has been good believed everywhere, always and by all." Witnessing and evangelizing one's faith begins at home. By praying together, by reading Holy Scriptures and the Church Fathers together, by living the sacramental life together, -this sharing of these religious experiences and practices achieves communication on all levels within the family. The prophetic role of the family is expressed by the sharing of knowledge of the Orthodox Faith, and witnessing it.
The extended family is the Parish family by striving for unity of faith in love and concord, as it becomes a sanctified community. The sanctified community becomes visible as it engages together in a dialogue with God through prayer and love, through Holy Communion and living our Orthodox Faith according to His commandments. The sanctified community is a community of service to God and to others as is required by us by Jesus Christ Who gave us the "commandment of love." The Parish family must bear witness Of its oneness-unity truly as an Ecclesia, one body made up of many parts. Unless people can see that the Parish family is one body in love with Jesus Christ, and with one another, the Orthodox Faith will not be credible to them as a viable life-style. Although the Church is one, "we have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions." (Romans 12:4)
In conclusion, the basis for a viable Orthodox family is the relationship of one another with Jesus Christ - wherein truly each member of the family can say, "it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." (Galatians 2:20). We know that God loves families based on the biblical account of Noah and his family (Genesis 7: 1) as well as, the jailer of Phillippi who was saved. (Acts 16:31). Small children can enter into a spiritual experience with Christ, for Jesus said, ''Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3), and "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matthew 18:6).
Only if we as individuals and as families commit ourselves in love to Jesus Christ will we be spiritually enriched and will be able to have a religious impact on our society, so that a spiritual transfiguration, a theosis of the entire world will come to pass wherein the nations of the world will live in peace, love and harmony. God bless you, one and all!
His Eminence Bishop John of Amorion was the first American born bishop in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. He was ordained to the diaconate in 1955, and later became the first Bishop of the Atlanta Diocese and served there for 9 more years in that role. He has also served as president of the St. Photios Shrine. Bishop Amorion is now retired and lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
(Posting date 25 May 2006)
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