Reinforcing Religious Education in Family Life

by Michelle Jannakos & Leslee Abud

Education and the Family

It is a commonly accepted principle that education, be it secular or religious, will be much more effective when there is active participation and reinforcement within the family. For religious education, the responsibility for this reinforcement should be expanded to everyone in the parish family. Especially in the case where parents are only marginally involved in the life of the Church, grandparents, other relatives and friends, and most importantly, godparents, can provide this essential influence in bringing children to God. In addition, we must remit ourselves to the Orthodox teaching that our children are fully-participating members in the life of the Church. From our baptism and chrismation, Orthodox children are not seen as "second class" or as "disruptions" in Church, but seen rather as Christ saw them: "Assuredly I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." (Mark 10:15)

For anyone concerned with helping our children learn the Orthodox Faith and remaining family within the Church, the question usually is: "We understand the importance of this all, but what can we do?" Unfortunately, there is no easy, fool-proof recipe that can be followed to guarantee results. However, by examining Holy Tradition, we can gain some insight into the role of the family.

In the Bible

From the Bible, we learn that Jewish family heritage and traditions were extremely important, and the ultimate example of this is the heritage and lineage of Jesus Christ Himself. The entire Old Testament is the story of the preparation of the family into which Christ was born. Their faithfulness and trust in God are virtues that our families must imitate and encourage. A good example of this legacy of the "family dynamic" is in the Old Testament book of Proverbs. Proverbs, though unfortunately overlooked as a "resource guide" by most modern families, is a highly valuable collection of sayings that have been used by parents in order to "train up the child in the way that he should go…" (Prov. 22:6)

A close look at Proverbs shows that the whole idea of religious instruction as a process in and of itself was foreign to the Old Testament mind. religious instruction was not something understood as an optional addition to a secular education - as it is today in our society. Rather the entire process of education itself was seen as something intrinsically divine because it dealt with all dimensions of life in an integral way:

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Prov. 1:7) Moreover, Proverbs deals not only with the subjects of faith and morality, it also embraces the practical aspects of life: marriage, business, and even politics. (See Prov. 11:1; 20:28)

The Fathers

St. John Chrysostom was probably the greatest family advocate within out patristic tradition. He emphasized the central role of the family in religious instruction and the establishment of correct priorities. "Let everything take second place to the care of our children, our bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Hom. 21 on Ephesians) Our entire way of life should reflect our beliefs and hopefully be molded into our children's lives also. "Generally, the children acquire the character of the parents, are formed in the mold of their parents' temperaments, love the same things that parents love, talk in the same fashion, and work for the same ends." (Hom. 20 on Ephesians)

The Holy Trinity: Model of the Family

Liturgically, the marriage service, which is the foundation of the family in the Orthodox Church, shows us that the family is truly a little church, and an icon of the Holy Trinity. The crowns, as those of the martyrs, convey the type of love that must be found in the family. It is not the love that is portrayed in the media, but the self-sacrificial, unifying love that exists between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is hierarchy and order, but without oppression, since all is accomplished through one's free will. Prayer is a necessary element of family life since it is "the prayer [of parents] which makes firm the foundations of houses." Here our goal should not be quantity, but quality and consistency. mealtimes and bedtime seem to be the most natural times for prayer as a family.

There is no substitute for participation in the Church's liturgical life for our children. It is extremely important that Church is not a "Sunday only" activity. The liturgical cycle should be expanded to include Vespers and Feast Days. Not only should the Feast be remembered, but also the preparation leading up to it, which often includes a fast. Of course, the ages of children will determine the degree of possible participation in Church services, but all ages will respond to the enthusiasm and interest of the adults around them.

With these things in mind, we have compiled a list (by no means exhaustive) of things to do as a family to reinforce what we do in Church. We need to remember that our children love to be challenged and learn by doing. Also bear in mind that we as adults have an awful lot to learn from our children.

Some Things to Do provides 37 activities your family may like to try, to help reinforce your home's "small Church".

This article is a summary of two presentations given at the Eastern Orthodox Catechetical Conference, August 1990.

© 1996 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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