Source: Orthodox Family Life
First, let me preamble the following comments with the observation that the Church is both a large, supportive family with our Lord as the Paterfamilias (the all-powerful Father), and a spiritual hospital. In our primary culture, this is an abusive metaphor: we’re trying to ‘feel good’ about ourselves, but the Church teaches that creation has not been right since the Fall in Paradise, and indeed, we have the sense that something is unnatural and broken each time we go to a funeral. The natural world is fallen, so our purpose is to return to Paradise. We lost Paradise through the ancestral sin of disobedience of eating of the fruit of the Tree, but we can regain Paradise through the obedience of eating of the Fruit of the Tree (Christ). We gather together at Divine Liturgy to do so.
But many of us are affected by the primary culture, which sees Church as merely a nice, moral break from the primary life of economic and pleasurable pursuits. So in a way, we’re expected to be minimalists – but our faith teaches that our whole life must be in Christ. How do we do this, in a world that is inclined otherwise? The healing is both in the Mystery of Holy Communion and in the increasing of the ‘family and village’ ministries. The family and village ministries both test and guide, encourage and exhort us to a change in lifestyle. In our modern world, we’re tragically disassociated from many of our most talented ministers – there is nothing more profoundly spiritual, and more teaching to a child than the old babas and dedes: they have the soft, refined edge and acute empathic skills that age and experience has earned them, and mother and father alone still haven’t acquired, and couldn’t even fake. As much as possible, we need to increase our adoptions of one another as family members – for the devil which seeks to divide us has successfully taught the primary culture that the isolated, nuclear family is the ideal. Spiritually, it is death. To combat that, we need to begin, little by little to appreciate and bond with our parish families. “One Christian is no Christian,” is a spiritual prophecy.
I hope that these random words may help your family discuss ways in which you can include more and more of the richer extensions of family life. And please do share your ideas with me – I’m learning, too. In truth, I can only hope to offer some basic guidance, and even that is written from a heart full of an admixture of grief, envy, and hope – for I live in the modern age, in a non-Orthodox culture, and am too loosely joined to a parish that consists primarily of commuters or families with excessive worldly burdens, and we are all missing the traditional enrichment ‘spirit guides’ of Orthodoxy – extended family members, fellow parishioners, and a whole Orthodox culture. Yesterday, someone shared a homesickness for her time in the Orthodox ‘old country’ where Orthodoxy was lived and breathed. I identified strongly with her, having spent a few short months in an Orthodox country. The very language, when one said hello, good-bye, thank you, please, was imbued with Orthodoxy. Reactions to joy and grief were Orthodox. Roadside icon stands marked the spot where beloved died, icons met you in every store. Loving endearments for the saints and the Theotokos were on the lips of everyone. Likewise, no one was isolated. For Americans used to independence and autonomy, and not understanding the relational qualities of being Christian, this could be intrusive and meddlesome. But this was embrace, loving relationships… concerned, exhortive, encouraging, interested, and… family. If you were Orthodox, you were family. And as family, they took you in as theirs – what you did right or wrong, what you needed, how you could help. You belonged. It was like living in the icon of the Body of Christ, the Church – nothing is cut off or dying or isolated in that! It was life, and it is life-supporting.
That is what the old-world culture provides, that is the ministry of the villagers and the extended family members. That is what we miss in growing up in a non-Orthodox country. That is what we need to add to the life in our churches. That is the purpose of enrichment. And I state that it is not at all optional, if we’re to really live.
What we have in our modern times, in non-Orthodox cultures, is an anti-icon of Church. We’re encouraged to be isolated, independent, and autonomous. As Orthodox there is an added hardship to going from glory to glory. Usually we live far from the church. Any Church services we can attend are limited to the weekend, some even only one service on a weekend. The central focus of our life, the church is so far away we can’t hear the bells. How, in this tension, can we grow from glory to glory? Enrichment.
What Do You Mean by “Enrichment”?
It does sound very much like yet another gimmick, an extra, or an embellishment – like something fancy or optional, but I’ve come to an awareness that this is none of that, but vital, life-important nutrients. The services and prayers universal to every tradition and every country, Orthodox or not, can go a long way to raising Christians. But what if the language of the service is incomprehensible to the Christian? Does it fail? No. In Russia and Greece, the language of the services are often not comprehensible to the faithful (in Russian, Greek, and North African villages, no one speaks and rarely do they understand Slavonic, Church Greek, or Geez), so how could it possibly have raised Christians at all? Because the culture was imbued with Orthodoxy. The mothers blessed their bellies and then their infants with the sign of the Cross, the saints were invoked at every joy and every grief, and every spiritual struggle – be it for patience or for loneliness… . In our modern times, we are more and more able to hear the services in our own language, but this has not yet touched our lives and therefore our hearts – we have intellectual knowledge of the faith, but to take it to the next step – the heart (the cardia), it needs those enriching details that make it so.
How Can This Happen?
We have the dogma, the rituals, and the accouterments of the faith, and yet we live in a fallen world that places pressures and exertions on the Church and Christians in various ways – whether it be the holocausts of political or economic terrorists, or the assaults of demons. We become spiritually depleted and lose spiritual health. We are at risk for despair or loss of faith. Enrichment is a kind of fortification that restores health and strengthens our spiritual immune system against further Life-threatening assaults.
For a crude historical and probably not completely appropriate parallel, beriberi was a devastating physical condition that was nearly wiped out overnight by the enrichment of the flour that was made into the bread (adding just a tiny amount of vitamins), which fed the weakened populace. It did not change the bread, just added ‘enrichment.’ In the case of beriberi, the grain itself was stressed by over-processing – not unlike life in our modern times – which made it improbable if not impossible for many people, save those of ‘good stock,’ to sustain good physical health. This made for a tragic devastation of many children and adults. When that which was missing or needed was added to the food, nearly overnight there was a physical miracle of healing.
It seems likewise to our spiritually-depleted and immature conditions as Orthodox. Orphaned as we are from Orthodox countries, highly processed in a strenuous and non-Orthodox lifestyle, we are suffering from the acute strains and assaults of life under spiritual suffocation. As young babes in Christ, unaccustomed to the whole grain of tradition, we are missing that something not extra, but vital.
Enrichment is like that magic, small and timely addition of the ingredients missing or overlooked, which will initiate the miracle of healing in our daily lives.
Enrichment begins by permitting – as we are able and become accustomed – Orthodoxy more and more into the rest of our days. This is a very difficult task, because we have a tension in many of our parishes. Either the immigrants who came here from the old country demurred to the primary culture in humility or assimilation, and little is left of the treasures they remembered; or there is an over-aggression to assert a kind of spiritual boot-camp that contrives a whole lot of overlay that can become not Orthodox culture, but cultic – as if the very language of the service was as incomprehensible and out of context. Most of us experience variations of these attempts to live Orthodoxy. The work in our parishes and dioceses is the work of the pastors and bishops who address the larger body. But in our homes, and from our homes, we can do a lot to give and receive enrichment that will vivify and effect healing.
It Begins with Love
There is an amazing alchemy in the combination of dirt, worms, bacteria, water, air, and sunlight, that will eventually grow a flower, a bush, or a tree. Seemingly, totally unrelated materials work synergistically together to sprout a living plant. The key ingredient seems a livable balance of all these materials… and the benevolent sun. In our families, children know love by our own love for them. A child is born into a family with parents, at the very least. Likewise a new believer is baptized into the Christian family, and blessed with godparents. One Christian is truly no Christian, and the Church does not leave us alone. But too often we take too little responsibility for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Intend to love one another. Being Orthodox in a non-Orthodox country, we have missed the ‘family’ aspect of community life. Be like real brothers and sisters, grandmas and grandpas, in faith – the ministers of those other days between Liturgies. When we accept our place as real brothers and sisters by Water (Baptism) and Blood and Body (Holy Communion), we cannot escape our responsibility to and for one another. And out of the intentional love and relationship with one another, the family spiritual sense, allows us to help ‘enrich’ what is needed – be it a scolding, a tear, a festival gathering, a little quiet, or a bit of sweet.
The Little Things Mean
In our homes, loving gestures, thoughtful events, and serious intentions can be applied as needed. Likewise, spiritual enrichment cannot really be codified, because we are all different, but is an art form that comes out of love for one another – far different from the effect of force motivated by a fear for one another. Like I confessed at the beginning, this article is not a cookbook or how-to guide; I would not have the audacity to write one. It can only suggest a tone for guidance.
Begin with the Basics & Grow from There
Realizing that we are part of the Church and a parish family, the “extended family” relationship takes time and contact to cultivate. We must be equally as discerning and deliberate in increasing this aspect of spiritual life. Here is a basic “adopt a parish” program:
Increase your participation in the weekly services offered at your parish, in gradual steps:
Enrich your family’s daily prayer life, again in steps:
You’re beginning well, making Church life central, increasing your relationship with the faithful, adding to the personal spiritual life on days between liturgies, magnifying the fasting and festal seasons and reasons. As you begin in your own self, and in your family, and extend your ‘family’ to truly include your spiritual father, your godparents, and more and more of the faithful. God will bless these efforts and this enrichment will help make living stones in your family and parish life. It will truly effect a miraculous healing in your life, and spiritual growth from glory to glory.
A Caution on Enrichment ‘Guides’
Enrichment shouldn’t be contrived, forced, or applied inappropriately for our spiritual age or present abilities, for too much nourishment, like too many vitamins, can be toxic. More is not necessarily better, and no-where is the warning for physician’s advice more appropriate than in the spiritual life. Basic to every effort is the advice of our spiritual physicians – and with that, I render all these words just conversation and say, take away only this: talk this over with your spiritual father. Whatever you need, whatever you wish to try, discuss it in context of who you are, what you and your family may be able to sustain without burning out or becoming resentful, and under his guidance, chart a prescribed course of monitored spiritual treatment.
Grow in love, and do write and share your experiences and ideas. If my comments have warmed your faith even a little more, please keep me and my little family in your prayers, and add us to your ‘family.’ Do write.
M. Photini Henderson
c/o Holy Transfiguration Church
1936 S. Summit Avenue
Sioux Falls, SD 57106
Phone: (605) 362-0224