“Family: The little Church”

 According to the Gospel of Luke, on the fortieth day after the Nativity of Christ and after the days of lawful cleansing were completed, Mary, together with Joseph, came from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to the temple of God, bringing the forty-day-old baby Jesus. According to the Law of Moses, parents had to bring their first-borns (that is, first sons) to the temple for dedication to God on the fortieth day after birth. According to tradition, in gratitude they were supposed to offer a sacrifice to God. In fulfillment of this law, Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the Jerusalem Temple, and for the sacrifice, they brought two pigeon chicks.

The Slavonic word “SRETENIE” is translated into modern Russian as “meeting”. SRETENIE is the meeting of humanity, represented here by the Elder Simeon, with God.

Our Orthodox Youth Conference is closely tied to this holiday, and this Conference gives us an opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with God. If possible, we need to take a fresh look at our families, and look at them as a “small church”.

A family is a group of people, who are related, and are living together, based on marriage or consanguinity (The fact of being descended from the same ancestor). Family is a small group whose members are bound by mutual moral responsibility and mutual assistance. Legal documentation does not create a family. The family is based on the mutual love of husband and wife, and on the love of parents and children.

A family in the Christian understanding is a small “Little Church”, a single organism, whose members live and build their relationships on the basis of love.

The understanding of “sacrificial love” is the main tenet of building a true family. Such love, were instead of the world revolving around me, and understanding that it is not about me, but the ones I love, A family in which love is centered around a mutual desire for each other's salvation and help in this, and in which one for the other's sake constrains himself in everything, limits, or refuses something that he desires for himself — this is the meaning of Family as “the little Church”.

The Apostle Paul writes in his epistles: "as Christ is the head of the Church, so the husband is the head of the wife."

Elder Paisios said: "Let the husband learn to hear and obey God, and only then the wife will listen to her husband."

St. John Chrysostom says: “A husband and wife are like our hands and eyes. When the hands hurts, the eyes cry. When the eyes cry, their hands wipe away the tears). Saint John Chrysostom calls the Christian family a little church. It is clear that the church in this case does not mean a building, but the image of what the Apostle Paul wrote about: the Church is the body of Christ (Col. 1:24)

Like any family, it has its own traditional ways, such as: Customs (established, habitual forms of behavior), Traditions (passing from generation to generation), Rules (way of thinking, norms of behavior, habits) of a good and pious life, Order (established order during family affairs; so the Church has its own Customs, Traditions and Rules.

To create a family, you need two "I’s", and when children grow up in the family, not two, but three or four or five - each with his own passions, sinful inclinations, ego. In this situation, a person faces the greatest and most difficult task - to see his passions, his ego. This achievement of family life, with the right outlook and attentive attitude to what is happening in the soul, not only humbles a person, but also makes him forgiving, tolerant, and empathetic towards other family members, which brings real benefit to everyone, not only in this life, but also the eternal life.

Therefore, for a wise person, a family could become a real hospital for the soul, in which our spiritual and mental illnesses are revealed, and with a Christian attitude towards them, can truly heal. From a proud, self-praising, lazy person, a Christian gradually grows not by name, but by the state of his soul, who begins to see himself, his spiritual diseases, passions, and humbles himself before God - becomes a normal person. Without a family, it is more difficult to come to this state, especially when a person lives alone and no one pushed his passions to the brink. It is very easy for him to see himself as a completely good, decent person, a true Christian.

The family, with correct Christian views of itself, allows a person to see that he is all raw nerves: from whatever side you touch - pain. The family gives the person an accurate diagnosis. And then - to be treated or not - he must decide for himself. The family reveals our spiritual illnesses.

As we can see, the parallel is that the Church is a hospital for human souls, in which a spiritually damaged person receives healing. The Church calls on us to find ourselves anew, to change.

In many families, it is rare now to find complete understanding between parents. Often there is no common agreement, common understanding of life and the goal of raising children. How can we speak of a family as a “small church”? Is it possible in our time?

Especially in the light of the present time, when the concept of traditional family roles is ever changing. The wife, called by God to guard the hearth and raise children, plays the main role in the family, provides financially for the family, while the husband, sometimes lying on the couch, does the housework. And they have such excuses that everyone does what he can, but at the same time they forget that everyone must do what is given to him from the Lord and fulfill strictly his role assigned by God when creating a husband and wife.

Children, however, are always a lively crowd, organizing strikes, demanding something and needing something else.

We cannot force our children into heroic conflicts with the environment. We are called to understand the difficulties they face, we must sympathize with them when, by necessity, they keep silent, hide their beliefs in order to avoid conflict. But at the same time, we are called to develop in children an understanding of the main thing that they must hold onto. It is important to help the child understand: it is not necessary to talk about kindness- you have to be kind! You can hide a cross or an icon, but you can't make fun of them! You might not talk about Christ in school, but it is important to try to learn as much as possible about Him.

The Church was never synonymous with an easy life. In her history, the Church dealt with tragedy, temptation, downfalls, persecution, division. The Church was never a group of just virtuous people. Even the 12 Apostles, who were so close to Christ, were not sinless, let alone the traitor Judas. In a moment of fear, Apostle Peter denied his Teacher, saying that he doesn’t know Him. Other apostles argued among themselves about which of them was the first, and the apostle Thomas did not believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected. But it was these apostles who founded the Church of Christ on earth. Christ chose them not for virtue, intelligence or education, but for their willingness to give up everything, give up everything in order to follow Him, and the grace of the Holy Spirit made up for their shortcomings.

A family, even in the most difficult times, is a “small church” if there is even a spark of striving for good, for truth, for peace and love, in other words, for God; if there is at least one witness of the faith in her, her confessor. In the history of the Church, there have been cases when only one single saint defended the truth of Christian teaching. And in family life there are periods when only one person remains a witness and confessor of the Christian faith, the Christian attitude to life.

Love makes a person Godlike. A person who has love in him spiritually embraces all creatures and creation. But this already happens when a person overcomes sin and spiritually recovers. We must also understand that our relationship with God is not a relationship of a pure, sinless being with the Perfect God, this must be borne in mind, otherwise we can easily deviate into the false ecstatic joy born of selfishness. Our relationship with God can be likened to the relationship of children with their loving father, and the basis of this relationship should be a sense of repentance. Repentance is a person's feeling that he has violated the commandment of God, that by this he has distanced himself from God and lives contrary to the law of God.

When a person feels his distance from God, then he begins to pray to God in repentance, and this prayer is not only a person's request for mercy, but also about God's participation in his family life, about God's participation in his small church. Despite all our weaknesses and shortcomings, despite the fact that we believe that we are not progressing at all in the spiritual life, and even see that we are spiritually degraded, that even when we try, we do not see any result, we still remain in the limits of the Holy Church. This is because there is a certain mystical attraction that guides us, a certain mystical force that holds us back, despite the confrontation of our enemy and all the obstacles we meet in family relationships and at every step, we take towards God.

Archbishop Sophroniy.

February, 2021.