How Do We Live “The Church at Home”?

Fr Bassam Nassif | 14 April 2020

Christians are going through difficult times on account of the spread of the pandemic, which is preventing the faithful from participating in prayers at church, especially during this season rich in daily prayers.

This Holy Week, are we content to listen to prayers transmitted over social media such as Facebook? How can we really experience these prayers, when we are forbidden for health reasons from really participating?

In times of hardship, persecution and sicknesses as well as in times of ease, health and peace, the voice of Saint John Chrysostom is heard, calling to Christians: “Let your home be a church!” How can our home be a church? What did Saint John Chrysostom mean?

There is no general prescription for all homes on this topic. Every home has its distinct quality, in terms of location and inhabitants.. But there are broad guidelines for living out the church at home and if we follow them, we will experience Christian life in its profundity… So what are they?

It should first be pointed out that the purpose of the Christian life is to acquire the Holy Spirit and to live in Christ. For example, the purpose of educating our children is not limited to their becoming people of good standing in society, polite and cultured… Our purpose as Christians is for our children to be projects of holiness, filled with the Holy Spirit and love for God and humankind. We should also mention that the Church is not limited to the building of stone, but rather it is the Body of Christ and we are members of this body. In this way the family is a little church, the body of Christ. So where do we begin in setting up the church at home?

First of all, the Christian’s life is centered around prayer and this is something he learns at home. I remember how my grandmother would pray the prayers upon waking and the psalms of matins by memory as she stood in front of an icon that my grandfather brought back from his pilgrimage to the Church of the Resurrection as a blessing for the family. So the matter is first of all arranged by dedicating one of the corners of the house where icons are hung of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Mother of God Mary and the patron saints of the home and the parish. The father, mother and children arrange this space that is special for the family together. It is the home altar before which we stand and pray as a family, as one family gathered together in the real presence of the Lord! How is that? The Lord Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). The Lord Jesus is present and blesses us and He blesses our home, our family, our street, our village and our country… The power of the grace of the Holy Spirit, whom we invite to dwell within us, immerses us in these blessed moments when we come together to pray.

Second, what do we pray? If we take the prayers for Holy Week, we see that digital copies are available for us and we can pray from them. There is no single recipe for everyone, but quality is the foundation, along with the children’s participating in reading and prostrations and the reading of the Gospel, led by the father with the support of the mother and help of the children, placing before us a lit candle and fragrant incense, love for the Lord and His saints. The parish priest can indicate passages for the family to read or to chant together… But the most important thing is for the parents not to impose participating in prayer on the children, but rather to be a model for them to gradually imitate. This requires patience, effort and persuasion through calm dialogue, like many things in education in general. Reading the lives of saints to children can help them to understand the importance of prayer in their life, so that they may become shining lights for the Lord.

Third, when should we pray? During these days, there must be a special time dedicated to prayer in the life of the family, a time that the family chooses and is appropriate to their daily schedule. There is no doubt that the choice of a time for prayer is not easy. The Church’s experience emphasizes becoming accustomed to a rhythm of prayer. That is, for everyone to dedicate a specific time every day to prayer, just like there is a time for gathering around the table for a meal or for watching a favorite program on television. It is a time when we set aside every earthly care, whether listening to music or watching television or using the phone,  in order to be completely devoted to the Lord.

Fourth, one learns constant prayer in the home. How? When the father faces a stumbling-block in his work, he looks to the Lord, thanks Him and seeks His help, saying: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy.” And when the mother gets tired of housework and teaching the children, she looks to an icon of Our Lady, draws inspiration from her tenderness and grace and sighs: “Most Holy Mother of God, help me.”

Fifth, prayer should be accompanied by living out the Lord’s commandments and self-examination. A person should return to himself, be alone with himself, and not permit anger to take control if he has a disagreement with his wife or children. With the Lord’s help, he can spread peace in the home. Saint Porphyrios the Seer warned about mothers and fathers bickering every day or week in front of their children. Dealing with everyday differences and not letting them turn into profound disagreements, by relying on one’s spiritual father and self-reflection,  is the most important spiritual lesson for children. The children absorb how to live the Gospel through how their mother and father behaving with each other in a Christian manner. An attitude of mutual forgiveness and a spirituality of humility spread the aroma of joy through every corner of the home.

In this way, we will grow together in love of Christ and build in the home a little church that gives glory to God!

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