The Christian Family: Some Beginning Reflections

Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian

Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord and Our Only True God and Savior Jesus Christ,

By Dr. John L. Boojamra [Source: Orthodox Church in America]

Decline of Family Life

At the same time that we Christians affirm the absolute centrality of the family to the Christian nurture of children, we are experiencing a general decline of family life (note, I did not say a decline of marriage) and those elements in Western society which have traditionally been supportive to the family. It will no doubt strike a familiar note when I say that the Christian family is under attack. Anyone - politician, child expert, or school board member - can gain a hearing for any hare-brained scheme by just referring to the "restoration" or the "salvation" of the family. "The family" has become a battle cry for both liberal and conservative.

It is true that the family structure and the very notion of permanent relationships seems to be giving way to a world of rapid social and moral change -- sexual promiscuity, free love, easy divorce, communal experimentation, (albeit not as common as in the 1960's and 1970's), and in general what can be characterized as "future shock." The failure of much of family life, the failure of husbands and wives to adequately meet each other's needs without exploitation, is part and parcel of the failure of the family to provide its younger members with a Christian milieu in which to grow. Both are functions of the much more fundamental failure to agree on common goal of the family unit and the subsequent failure to direct its efforts and orient its attitudes towards that goal...

The Church's Understanding of Family Life

"...In the face of this social and religious disruption of the family, we must affirm that the Church has always taken the family seriously and has concerned itself with the quality of family life, seeking to influence it along very distinct lines...the emphasis on the family as a social structure is based on the understanding that Christian life grows and is worked out not in a vacuum but in concrete human situations...the Church which is itself the type of all communities, understands communal relationships as fundamental to all human life and the quality of communal life as fundamental to the quality of the spiritual and moral growth within the structure...

"...The New Testament emphasizes that it is the love of neighbor which is the pattern of our love for God. Saint John (I John 4) writes that if we say we have love for God, but do not love for people with whom we come into contact every day, we are simply liars. Man is man, and Christian man is Christian man when he is in relationship to other men and to God. This is fundamental to any understanding of Orthodox Christian moral and spiritual development, including the nurture within the family...

Family Life as Seen in Monasticism

"...Now let us look at a more limited and formal structure before affirming the same principles for the family. Monastacism will allow us to see this a little more objectively since more of us are directly involved with it. In the Church's history there have been two types of monasticism: the "loner" or the eremetic variety is probably the earliest, dating from the very first centuries of the Church, and the communal type in which men and women live together in a structured relationship of worship, work, and service. The latter pattern has become the norm in the Orthodox Church. Allowing for the special vocation of the hermit, the Church has canonized the communal life as the type most suitable to the nature of men and to the formation of the Christian life. In a real sense, it is as Saint Basil the Great said, "If I live alone, whose feet can I wash?"

The family, like the monastic community, has been endorsed by the Church as a style of life generally conducive to the creation of an environment in which Christian growth can most fruitfully take place. It is again an affirmation that the Christian faith and the Christian life cannot grow, or be lived, or be communicated in a vacuum, because it cannot exist in a vacuum. It is in the family that the child, as it were, will "catch" or learn Christianity as it is actually lived. He will not absorb abstraction, he will absorb life; in a real sense we cannot teach Christianity, we must rather be Christianity. The parents are in Augustine's conception the sign through which the child begins to form his first ideas of God as good, accepting, and forgiving. In the family the child will hopefully learn forgiveness and love, not because he is told about them but because he sees them and experiences them. He will learn of the essential goodness of sex not from those well-intentioned sex education courses, but from the family where sex as an overall and total relationship between a man and a woman has its natural and authentic home and where it is associated with mutual joy and self-giving in and out of the bed.

The family as a structure is, then, a learning situation and in that sense it serves essentially the same function as the monastic community. The two styles of life are not antithetical. We likewise, must avoid the temptation so prevalent in fundamentalist writings, to see parents as "the perfect models" of Christian virtue. Like all people, parents are sinners and their parenthood exempts them from no human frailties...

"...Responsibility is distributed within the family community. Many people consider religion and religious instruction as the exclusive responsibility of the mother; it is somehow interpreted as woman's work. This is a serious error and a mistake for the healthy development not only of the child's spiritual life, but of his emotional life as well. Very often in the American situation the child sees his father infrequently and comes to rely almost totally on his mother for the satisfaction of emotional and spiritual needs. We must, from a specifically Christian motivation, begin to think in terms of rebalancing or redistribution of familiar responsibilities in a more flexible manner. The father's role in the Christian family and Christian education is a complimentary one and Christian education necessitates a close cooperation between parents in the growth of the child's faith-life.

"Seeing" the Christian Life

It is not, I believe, sentimental to claim that the child, at any age, will learn nothing but cynicism unless he sees the Christian life, which he learns about in the church school, alive and well in his own home. We cannot expect any authentic Christian education without the family. We have realized that church schools and text books, no matter how adequately they conform to the needs of the students and the needs of the material, are by their very nature inadequate to the development of the Christian faith-life in our children.

There can be no better place for Christian maturation for both adults and children than in the Christian family community. This is perhaps especially true in educating our children in for a mature relationship of Christian love in establishing a new community. It is here, in the family, that the child will see and learn those elements which make for the foundation of a creative Christian community in marriage, which is indeed, the very image of the relationship of Christ to His Church. (Ephesians 5:32-33).

[Dr. John L. Boojamra is Chairman of the Department of Christian Education for the Antiochian Archdiocese and Director of the Orthodox Christian Education Commission. He teaches Christian Education at Saint Vladimir's Seminary.]

Take from the OCA Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries.


Please note: To imitate God's love, or philanthropia, is to "practice being God," as Saint Clement of Alexandria formulated it. The imitator of God's philanthropia lives the very life of God. Orthodox Christian spirituality, as expressed in the liturgical divine services, teaches that God is not distant, abstract, remote, or unapproachable, but that He is the Father Who is agape (love). "And the more one loves God, the more one enters within God," as Saint Clement writes.

No man or woman can or has the authority to distort "the image" ("icon") of God in man. When unbelievers attempt to change or to distort His image in themselves commit blasphemy against God. They are at risk of losing communion with God as well as His grace. Also, we must remember that "the human soul longs for God and finds no contentment, peace, joy, or certainty apart from Him.

No one has the power to improve of what our Divine Creator has created from the very beginning. Everything God made, including man, is very good because God is good. God formed Adam's body "out of dust from the ground". The "breath of life" is the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life. God breathed the breath of life into man's body, and he became 'a living soul.' Therefore, Adam was a living soul because he possessed a body, a soul, and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

The so called "new genders" invented today by our contemporary secular world and society is an attempt to usurp the authority and creative power of the Almighty God as the only Creator. Furthermore, God created, according to the Holy Scripture, "male and female he made them" (Genesis 1:27).  There are only two genders! It is, therefore, sinful and evil for one to believe that man is greater than God and can change nature as though it needs improvement. We know that sin is a free choice of man's will, and it is contrary both to God's nature and human nature. We, as Orthodox Christians, must always be obedient to God's Law and Commandments.

We are now witnessing man's apostasy from God throughout the world. When someone questioned an elder of the Church on why the world is in such a chaos and turmoil, he replied, that as long as mankind chooses not to believe in Him, to defy Him, to rebel and to reject God's existence, conditions will continue to deteriorate. Mankind is tragically on the path of self-destruction and annihilation.

More than ever before, Christians especially, need to pray for God's mercy and forgiveness. Only God can save us from disaster and death.





"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Creator,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George