Rev. Dr. Alexander Goussetis
Director, Center for Family Care of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese
The family is a microcosm of the entire Church, a most sacred place where relationships with one another are cultivated in the love of Jesus Christ. –Archbishop Demetrios, Geron of America
While parish priests, religious educators, and youth workers share in the responsibility of bringing our children closer to Christ and the Church, the primary responsibility rests within the “home church.” Countless studies reveal that the single most important factor in the religious development of a child is the example set by parents. The attentiveness that parents regularly provide for their children to excel in academics, sports, and the arts—building a home environment where Jesus Christ is the primary focus requires even greater diligence. Families must cultivate the basic teachings and practices of the Orthodox Christian faith among themselves; that is, the ethos of an hour-and-a-half Divine Liturgy must be reinforced in the many hours spent at home. The primary context for the working out of our salvation as husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters is within our families.
The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together…When harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends, and relatives praise the result. Great benefits, both of families and states, are thus produced. When it is otherwise, however, everything is thrown into confusion and turned upside-down. –St John Chrysostom
The Orthodox Christian home is meant to foster a prophetic witness to the Kingdom of God. It is from the home that persons are called to grow in the phronema (mindframe) of the faith. The Center for Family Care creates resources to strengthen marriages and families, both as households and parishes. Digital support such as podcasts, webinars, blogs/reflections, video series, and other media provide concrete and easy-to-use materials for families to grow in the faith. A recent Facebook posting offered this feedback: “These materials inspire me beyond words! I hope they will continue because it appears that we have just begun scratching the surface of discovering the reasons why our system of passing on the faith is not successful.”
Family ministry is something we are beginning to see more and more in our Archdiocese. Parishes are hosting family nights, parent retreats, marriage enrichment workshops, mom’s mornings, and a variety of other activities that would fall under this umbrella. The staff of the Center for Family Care travel extensively around the country, connecting the faith to the people and training parish leaders. But ministry to families is much more than just hosting programs and retreats. Its ultimate purpose is to connect the Church with the home. It focuses on equipping families with the means to apply the teachings and practices of the Orthodox Faith into every dimension of their lives. It is for every member of our Church family!
When we see our parish as a family, we extend family ministry beyond the demographic of parents and children and engage the entire life cycle. Recently, a parish hosted a family night for parents and children. On the day of the event, a woman in her 80s who doesn’t have children or grandchildren asked if she could attend. The parish, of course, welcomed her. Instead of staying home alone that evening, she was able to watch children play, help with crafts, join the adult program, and break bread with her fellow parish members. Her night ended with feelings of joy and a sense that she truly belonged to a family. She not only benefited from being there—the children and parents benefited from interacting with her. This is what family ministry does—it brings all the children of God together.