In this pluralistic society there are many Orthodox individuals who’ve found themselves sharing their lives with non-Orthodox family members. Sometimes these families are not even practicing Christians, so the struggle to keep to the traditions and practices of the Orthodox Faith can be difficult. The lenten periods can be especially hard when the whole family is eating meat, eggs and dairy, while the Orthodox member is required by the Church to fast.
Even the blessing prayers before each meal can be awkward when other members of one’s household are not believers. There are also those Sunday mornings or feast days when other members of one’s family want to head for the beach, but you’ll be needing to attend the church’s Divine Liturgy. The difficulty of being true to one’s faith can be even more difficult if your family members hold to anti-religious sentiments.
I remember an uncle who was so hostile towards religion that he forbid my aunt and cousins to attend church. Although he was an extreme example, there are many Orthodox Christians who struggle to live their faith in an environment that is not conducive to the spiritual life. This hostility towards our Orthodox Christian faith can also even carry over into the workplace. A goodly number of employers do not let Orthodox Christians take time off for holy days, or even major feast days such as the Nativity of Christ.
When we are committed to Christ we must not allow others to keep us from practicing our faith. Although it is not necessary to be in their face about our beliefs, it is important that we remember the example of the early Christians. They were so committed to Christ that they willingly faced martyrdom rather than to deny their faith or compromise their Christian principles.
It has been my experience that many individuals who deny the importance of religion in their lives have, in reality, simply been turned off to religiosity. They’ve seen a form of Christianity that is disingenuous and have therefore discounted Christianity all together. Others see Christians as judgmental and self-righteous, and are therefore turned off to any religious expression.
What to do? First of all we must not hide our faith under any circumstances. This does not mean that we are preachy or self-righteous. A Christian who is grateful for their faith is also compassionate toward those who have no faith. Giving a loving witness to Christ while following the dictates of our Orthodox traditions is a good starting point.
If we are seated at the dinner table with unbelievers, it is important that we not be showy about our faith, but it is also important that we not hide the fact that we are Orthodox Christians. Making a simple sign of the cross over ourselves before we eat expresses not only our gratitude towards God for our food, but gives quiet witness to our willingness to truly live our lives in open love of our Savior. The Lord said if we deny Him before men, He will deny us before the Father. Keeping the traditions of our faith, staying true to the fast periods and making an effort to attend Liturgy on a weekly basis is absolutely necessary if we are to grow spiritually.
Most important, our dedication to our faith and a willingness to give witness to our love of Christ can have a huge impact on those around us. If our love of the Savior translates into love of family and neighbor, those around us will see that our God is real and our Orthodox faith is truly a way of life, one that actually transforms our nature. When people see that we are filled with joyous living and not judging others they in turn will want what we have. The Pearl of Great Price can be theirs as well!