Exodus from Orthodoxy, Part II: The Three Big Challenges of Young Adulthood

Note: This is the second of the three-part series Exodus from Orthodoxy. Click here for Part I. Click here to receive a free PDF copy of the complete report.

If you’ve ever listened to Pop Culture Coffee Hour, you know that Christian and I have learned a lot from the work of philosophers like Charles Taylor and James K.A. Smith.

Specifically, we’ve found their explanation of the nature of our “secular age” to be incredibly enlightening, and it’s had a lot of influence on our ministry work.

(If you’d like a crash course on what they’ve written, check out this video.)

The analysis of thinkers like Taylor and Smith, and our own conversations with thousands of people across the Church, have led us to focus on three big challenges that young people face today.

These are three challenges that complicate life and, when left unchecked, can lead people further away from the Church.

• Doubt

• Loneliness

• Uncertainty

The Challenge of Doubt

Doubt has become a staple of the modern religious experience. Trapped as we are in what Taylor calls the “cross-pressure” between faith and doubt, all of us experience doubt in some form. People who try to identify as believers are tempted by unbelief, but it works the other way as well:

People who try to identify as non-believers are tempted by belief. 

I’ve spoken before about my struggles with doubt, and I’ve yet to meet a Christian who hasn’t had their own version of this story. What’s more, I’d be lying if I said that my doubts live firmly in the past; rather, doubt is perennially present.

And not just for me or for other believers, but even for those who don’t believe: the difference is that they doubt their unbelief

Consider Apple co-founder Steve Jobs who, despite not believing in God or the afterlife, was especially tempted by belief in the divine in the final months of his life. Or consider the opening line of Julian Barnes’ novel Nothing to Be Frightened Of: “I don't believe in God, but I miss Him.”

To quote James K.A. Smith, “The doubter’s doubt is belief.” 

We all live in the cross-pressure between faith and doubt.

Of course, as a ministry worker who’s trying to help young people know Christ, I’m primarily concerned about the doubt that leads people away from belief.

These kinds of doubts have deep roots in contemporary culture. For a variety of reasons (which we briefly summarize here), we live in a world where people rely on the power of science and technology, rather than God, to make the world whole.

We are firmly grounded in a world that makes sense in purely physical and non-spiritual terms.

In our contemporary age, for example, it is no longer God who heals the sick; it is medicine. The sun is no longer a god that gives life to the world; it is a ball of gas burning millions of miles away.

Because, in short, the world has become flat and purely material; merely immanent, with no room for spiritual realities or God’s Providence. The presence of the divine is no longer assumed to be a basic fact about the cosmos, but is an idea relegated to temples and cathedrals where the devout can pay homage to spirits in the privacy of their own minds.

We’ve reached a point where God, in a sense, is no longer loose in the world. He is just an idea that has been flattened along with everything else.

With this flattening of the world, creation has become unhinged from the Creator; the cosmos which He made and ordered is no longer based in supernatural realities, but rather it has become a merely natural universe which makes perfect sense without God.

So why does this matter for the Church?

Because I can’t help but wonder if our ministry work makes perfect sense without God, too.

And I can’t help but wonder whether our ministry work is unintentionally feeding the doubt that leads people away from Christ because we, too, have bought into the myth of a flattened universe where God is, at best, a good idea.

Rather than seeing the Church as the real yet mystical presence of Christ’s own Body on earth, I can’t help but wonder whether our ministry is “institutionalizing” young people, teaching them that the Church is a mere human organization that leads programs and activities that make perfect sense without God.

To the extent that God fits in with our model of ministry, I can’t help but wonder if we see Him more as an idea we need to agree with rather than a person we need to encounter

I wonder if we have flattened what the Church actually is.

I can’t help but wonder whether young people find it so easy to fall away from the Church because we’ve made the lived experience of Christianity flat and empty, a collection of activities and programs that don’t ever lead to an encounter with the living God, a God who would surprise us with His presence and shatter the possibility of the empty, purely physical universe that we all (including those of us who lead ministry) take for granted.

Doubt, riding on the coattails of immanence, has become a staple of the modern religious experience, something that we in the Church unintentionally fuel. We have cut ourselves off from Christ’s Body and therefore from one another as members of His Body, and all this makes for a very cold, isolated, and lonely existence.

The Challenge of Loneliness

But this isolation isn’t just in our heads, the intellectual byproduct of an amorphous (and uncertain) religious landscape. It’s a very real thing that affects our sense of self and community.

The health insurer Cigna recently conducted a study of 200,000 adults which revealed that loneliness is far more than a problem; it’s an epidemic.

Here’s some of what they found:

• 46% of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone.

• 43% of Americans say they sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they are isolated from others.

• 20% report that they rarely or never feel close to people.

• Only 18% say they feel like they have people in their lives they can talk to.

• 53% of Americans report having meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis (things like having an extended conversation with a friend, spending quality time with family, etc.).

Perhaps most surprising for our purposes, the study found that Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) are the loneliest generation of all.

So why does this matter for the Church?

Because so much of what we call “ministry” centers on programs and activities, and people defend this ministry model by arguing that it at least brings people together in the Church.

But I can’t help but wonder whether it isn’t a real coming together; that this isn’t real Christian fellowship, where two or more are gathered in the Lord’s name.

I can’t help but wonder whether our ministry programs and events are doing a far better job of helping people pass the time than make the most of the time: offering diversions and entertainment rather than facilitating honest and vulnerable encounters with God first (and with one another second).

I can’t help but wonder whether this is why so many coffee hours are so full of small talk and so empty of genuine communion, which is why so many young adults report feeling so alone in even the most crowded social hall. 

Loneliness has become a chronic modern problem, something that is exacerbated by the way we do ministry. And the more young people feel adrift and on their own, the more they feel uncertain about what their lives are actually for.

The Challenge of Uncertainty

In my experience, one of the biggest challenge that young people face is a deep uncertainty about their lives

I don’t mean this in the big-picture sense of doubt or cosmic questions about whether or not God is real. 

I mean something far more down-to-earth.

Very real questions like “Who am I? Why am I here? What is my lifetime for?” bubble to the surface when all divine presence is pushed aside or dismissed altogether. When we forget the God in whose image we are created, we forget ourselves, resulting in deep existential uncertainty.

This uncertainty can manifest in relatively small ways, where a young person doesn’t quite know how (or why) to fast or pray. And it can manifest in larger ways, where a young person doesn’t know what to look for in a potential spouse or what kind of career (much less a vocation) to pursue.

So why does this matter for the Church?

Because many ministry activities are great at enticing young people to show up, and people defend this model by arguing that our primary goal should be to keep kids “in Church,” even if that means prioritizing cultural and athletic activities over “spiritual” pursuits.

But I can’t help but wonder whether our ministry efforts are designed for young people to remain passive recipients of “ministry” rather than become active participants in the life of the Church. As we’ve already noted above, these activities make people more a part of a “group” than members of Christ’s very Body.

I can’t help but wonder whether this is why Christianity is becoming more an abstract thing we believe and less a concrete way of life.

Perhaps this is why it’s easier to identify as Christians because of our religious upbringing, rather than actually be Christians through engaging an ancient set of practices that bring us into deeper and truer communion with the living God.

I can’t help but wonder whether the less we emphasize lived and embodied practices, the more young people’s lives and hearts are open to the formative practices that lead them further away from Christ and His Church.

What exactly are these practices?

We’ll explore them in Part III.

Key Takeaways

• We can't minister to people in our "secular age" unless we first understand the major challenge people face today

• In our “secular age," the key challenges that people face (especially young people) are those of doubt, loneliness, and uncertainty

• Our ministry work may actually be feeding the doubts the lead people away from Christ and his Church

• Our ministry work may actually be feeding the loneliness that leads people away from each other in the Church

• Our ministry work may actually be feeding the uncertainty that leaves people unprepeares to live as Christians in the world

***

Note: This is the second of the three-part series Exodus from OrthodoxyClick here to receive a free PDF copy of the complete report.

***

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM. He and his Team are working on a new ministry training course, Effective Christian Ministry, which will help Church workers develop a Christ-centered vision for ministry and implement it with the core practices of formative and transformational ministry. 

Exodus from Orthodoxy, Part I: Are Young Adults Leaving the Church (and What Can We Do About It)?

Note: This is the first of the three-part series Exodus from Orthodoxy. Click here to receive a free PDF copy of the complete report.

I’m sure you know one.

A person who grew up Orthodox and no longer identifies as Orthodox.

In fact, I’m confident you know far more than just one.

Most of the people I grew up with fall into this category.

And, if we don’t change the way we do ministry, we’ll see far more young people fall away from the Church in the years ahead.

So what can we do?

This is a big question, so it’s something we’ll explore over the next 3 posts.

A Young Adult’s Story

First, meet Catherine.

Catherine is a young adult who I met a few years ago. She’s what we often call “cradle Orthodox.” She grew up in the Church. She was raised within the Church. 

In fact, she was probably more active in the Church than most people I know. And yet, today, she’s struggling to identify as Orthodox.

So what happened?

When she was a kid, Catherine was involved in everything. She attended youth group and Sunday School. She was a member of the parish dance troupe and on the roster of several parish sports teams. She was at the parish more evenings than she wasn’t.

And all that changed when she graduated high school...

Catherine went from being involved in everything to being involved in nothing. After a few years of being completely estranged from the Church, I met her as she was deciding whether she could come back.

She was looking for a new young adult group to join, something to take the place of her old youth group. 

And I realized that this pursuit reflected a deep problem in Catherine’s life, a problem that stems from the way we’ve been doing ministry.

You see, Catherine wasn’t really looking to reconnect with the Church, the mystical Body of Christ. She was looking to join a new group.

Why is that troubling?

Because Catherine was looking to join yet another group for one simple reason: she never felt like she was truly a member of the Church.

In fact, being a part of the Church wasn’t even on her radar.

How Big is the Problem?

In the United States, a nationwide study by the Barna Group found that about 60% of young Christians fall away from the tradition that raised them. 

While we lack similar data focused specifically on the Orthodox Church, the numbers that we do have aren’t encouraging...

In 2010, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops conducted the first ever census of Orthodox Christians in the United States. I actually participated in this project, and contacted every parish in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

The census found that there were 799,400 Orthodox Christians in the USA.

In the early part of the twentieth century, the Christian Herald newspaper used to publish population data for various Christian groups in the United States. The last time they included the Orthodox Church in such a study was in 1947, when they reported that there were 702,273 Orthodox Christians in the United States.

If we accept these numbers, that means that the population of the Orthodox Church in the US rose 14% over about six decades.

Not too bad, right?

Unfortunately, in the same period, the total US population more than doubled

And based on what I’ve seen growing up in the Church, and conversations I’ve had with Orthodox Christians across the country, none of this is surprising.

After all, about 90% of the young people I grew up with have fallen away from the Church. 

I know this is anecdotal, but it’s unfortunately not surprising, nor is it unique. In fact, when I share this number, people tend to report that they’ve experienced similar loss in their own communities.

While the Orthodox Church may not be able to quantify the problem as precisely as the Barna Group did, the little data that we do have seems to reinforce the experience of so many ministry leaders: young people are falling away from the Church at an unsustainable rate.

But Exodus Isn’t the Complete Story

While we need to be honest about just how widespread this problem of disengagement has become, we can also be reassured that it’s not the whole story. Many parishes in the United States welcome new converts to the Church every year. 

According to most reports, a significant portion of this group (maybe even the majority) are young adults. 

And this actually fits with some of the data that the Pew Research Center has discovered: namely, that the Orthodox Church tends to skew younger than other Christian groups in the United States.

I’ve personally corresponded with, and met in person, dozens of these young adults in the last few years. When I lead young adult events across the country, a significant number of self-identified converts are always in attendance

And these converts include teenagers as well. In fact, while leading a retreat, I recently met a high school senior who is in the process of entering the Church. And I’ve heard from people even younger than that who, after watching the videos Y2AM produces and experiencing the beauty of the Divine Liturgy, took the incredible step of becoming Orthodox Christians.

So, while a substantial number of young people are falling away from the Church, an impressive number are entering at the same time.

Why?

Why Some Leave (and Others Join)

The National Study of Youth and Religion suggests that there are three factors that contribute to a young person’s decision to remain connected to the faith tradition that raised them. 

These factors are whether:

1. the faith was practiced at home;

2. the young person knew someone outside the family who practiced the faith seriously; and

3. the young person had a spiritual experience that brought them closer to God.

As Seraphim Danckaert summarized this: “One could therefore say that a person is most likely to retain Christian faith throughout adult life if he or she had three meaningful and healthy relationships in their early to mid teenage years: one with faithful Christian parents, one with a faithful Christian mentor outside of the family, and one with God Himself.”

So these factors at least help us understand why young people who grew up in the Church fall away.

But they also help us understand why young people enter the Church.

I’ve certainly seen this in the young adult converts that I’ve met or corresponded with. In my experience, they all point to: (1) the influence of someone who took the Faith seriously, and (2) a religious experience

Sometimes this is the influence of a friend, sometimes this is the influence of a clergyman, and sometimes this is the influence of a favorite author or podcaster who helped bring them into the Church.

As far as religious experiences, this can be anything from a visit to a monastery or a first experience of the Divine Liturgy. 

Whatever shape they take, these relationships and experiences help lead people into the loving embrace of the Church. 

They help counteract the challenges that have come to define young adulthood today.

What exactly are these challenges?

We’ll explore them in Part II.

Key Takeaways

• The Orthodox Church is having trouble forming a new generation of faithful Christians

• But exodus isn't the whole story: many young adults (and even teenagers) are entering the Church

• Why some people leave the Church, and why others enter, are two sides of the same coin

• The more we understand what's actually happening, the better we can ministry to the young people in our care

***

Note: This is the first of the three-part series Exodus from OrthodoxyClick here to receive a free PDF copy of the complete report.

***

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM. He and his Team are working on a new ministry training course, Effective Christian Ministry, which will help Church workers develop a Christ-centered vision for ministry and implement it with the core practices of formative and transformational ministry. 

 

KIOSK CONVENIENCE INCREASES STEWARDSHIP

Is a donation kiosk right for your parish? In a recent study of church giving conducted between 2015 and 2017, the traditional methods of donating (cash and check) are declining whereas electronic giving (online, credit/debit card, via bank transfer) is on the rise. The study indicates that the availability of electronic giving extends the opportunity to donate to your church to occasional attendees and those who are absent.

St. Katherine’s Greek Orthodox Church in Falls Church, VA decided electronic giving was right for its parish when it placed an encased iPad (pictured below) in the narthex of its church and began taking donations via credit card in April 2017.

The parish did its homework and learned that the kiosk could be integrated with Parish Data Software (PDS), a program used by a many parishes across the Archdiocese. “I was apprehensive at first,” said Parish Council past president Jim Stoucker, “but once I saw some of our older parishioners using it, I knew we made a good decision.”

Electronic giving has been on the rise across all age groups since 2015. Consider:

• 66 – 74 years of age: Prefer a debit or credit card for donations

• 55 – 65 years of age: Prefer electronic transfers from bank accounts

• 45 – 54 years of age: Prefer making payment via a computer or tablet

• 35 – 44 years of age: Prefer a debit or credit card for donations

• 25 – 34 years of age: Prefer to use a smart phone app for donations

The common element to all of the age groups listed above? Their donations in support of your church are made electronically. And 75 percent of Millennials (a coveted age group by all religious denominations) prefer e-giving.

At St. Katherine’s, young parishioners were early adopters. The millennial generation does not carry cash (or write checks), opting to pay with a debit or credit card. “In fact, we know that some young people are staying away from church altogether because of this,” said Fr. Jim Kordaris, Archdiocesan Director of Stewardship, Outreach and Evangelism.

St. Katherine’s teamed up with Vanco Payment Solutions to integrate the kiosk into its accounting system and the parish website as well, which mirrors and expands the capabilities of the kiosk for people who wish to donate online.

“There are one or two people who receive notifications when a donation is sent through our website and I was one of them,” said Stoucker. “I made a donation after 11 PM on New Year’s Eve 2017 and then got eight more notification emails later that night. I believe our parish is receiving donations we would have otherwise not gotten because of the kiosk and our online giving capabilities.”

Vanco provides detailed reports as the parish defines them (on a weekly or monthly basis) so it understands what donations are being made for stewardship, weekly collection trays, candles and more.

When a parishioner makes a donation for the collection tray, for example, he or she is given a receipt to place in the tray as it is passed - the same for a stewardship donation – or for a candle donation at the candle stand.

“I had one parishioner wag her finger in my face and tell me I was worse than the money changers Christ through out of the temple. And that’s okay,” added Stoucker. “The praise has been effusive. People like the convenience of the kiosk and I recommend it to other parishes without reservation.”

With Vanco, one of many companies that can provide this service, there is the cost to purchase the iPad and receipt-printing base, a monthly maintenance fee and a per transaction fee (similar to fees incurred for festival credit card charges). But parishioners have the option to offset those fees along with their donation – and often do, according to Stoucker.

“We have had inquiries about our kiosk from parishes across the country,” concluded Stoucker. “I tell the other parishes, ‘Yes, we are getting more contributions but, more importantly, we are making it easier for stewards to give and support our church.’”

If your parish is interested in learning more, please contact Effie Marie Smith, Senior Manager of the Orthodox Software Initiative of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (212-774-0273 or emsmith@goarch.org). Effie has worked with St. Katherine’s as the parish went through the process of integrating the donation kiosk into its website and PDS system.

Click HERE To view a video with Fr Kosta and Jim from St Katherine's in Falls Church explaining their process of adopting e-giving for their parish. The video is hosted by Stacey Stathulis of the Deparment and opens with some background from Effie Marie Smith who heads up the Parish Software Initiative of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

 

4 Organizations that are Changing the Face of Ministry

A Church worker recently sent me a fascinating message.

I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

He told me about his experience leading a young adult retreat for the first time since he graduated seminary a few years ago. While he’s done this kind of work before, something about the experience was different.

Something in the Church is changing.

“It's hard to articulate,” he wrote. “But they talk about faith like they've grappled with it before. They talk about God like they know Him.”

He contrasted it with the atmosphere he’s seen in many parishes across the Church and with the environment he remembers from the last time he led such a retreat.

“I started noticing this stuff in my work at the parish, but something really clicked in my head during the retreat: I realized that I pretty much never hear shallow, abstract catch-phrases anymore. There’s depth here. Depth like I haven’t seen before.”

He closed with a word of encouragement:

“You need to know that what Y2AM is doing is working.”

Glory to God.

Glory to God because all of this is God’s work. 

Glory to God that the seeds we’ve been planting over the past five years have begun to bear fruit. 

And, glory to God because we’re not the only ones working in His vineyard. We haven’t been the only ones planting seeds.

That’s why I want to take a moment to identify four organizations that are changing the face of ministry through the faithful proclamation of the Gospel.

These organizations are helping the Church refocus on Christ and His Kingdom, cultivating deep, authentic faith in countless people around the world.

1. Ancient Faith Radio

I first discovered AFR around the time I enrolled at seminary. Though I grew up in the Church, I spent many years disconnected from it. And, even as I reconnected, it still took some time to really let an Orthodox ethos sink into my heart.

The words of towering figures like Fr. Tom Hopko and Kevin Allen were instrumental in this process. In Fr. Hopko, I heard compelling and dynamic explanations of the Gospel that resonated deeply in my heart. In Mr. Allen, I saw the model of a principled and Christ-centered engagement with the wider world.

This work, and all the work on AFR, is a testament to the leadership of AFR’s remarkable co-founders, John and Tonya Maddex. The Maddex family are friends of mine, and I have incredible respect for them and their irreplaceable contribution to the Church.

With John and Tonya at the helm, AFR has developed a team of faithful and innovative people that are committed to preaching the Good News with sober joy. They’re providing the Church with a remarkable platform for a host of incredible people, who are all tirelessly preaching God’s Word, people like 

In particular, AFR has featured the work of a host of incredible people, all tirelessly preaching God's Word: people like Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Nicole Roccas, Fr. Barnabas Powell, Fr. Stephen Freeman, Dn. Michael Hyatt, etc. 

(There are far too many wonderful contributors to list them all.)

As a seminarian, AFR inspired me to share the Gospel in a way that was clear, compelling, and faithful. And when I started working for the Church, AFR offered unwavering support of the videos and podcast series we produced.

I’ll be blunt: I’m not sure there would be a Y2AM without AFR.  

Ancient Faith Radio has helped untold thousands of people, both cradle and convert, know Jesus Christ in the Orthodox Church. And I’m grateful to them for their work.

2. The Office of Vocation and Ministry

I first heard about the OVM when I arrived at seminary. They’re responsible for the flagship CrossRoad Institute, a summer program that has been helping high school juniors and seniors discern God’s call for almost two decades. 

I’ve been blessed to know dozens of CrossRoad alumni, all of whom credit the program as having unlocked an experience of the Church and changed their lives in the light of Christ. Their joy and love of the Lord continues to inspire me.

And the OVM is doing even more for young adults with The Telos Project, a five-year exploration of how Orthodox Christians in their twenties engage in the Church. While others are repeating old clichés or perpetuating outdated (and often unhelpful) models of ministry, the OVM is approaching young adults with genuine curiosity.

This work is a testament to the leadership of Ann Bezzerides, who has built a team of thoughtful and committed people that are approaching the deep questions of ministry with faith and hope. Ann is a friend and mentor, someone I really look up to, and I’ve learned so much from her over the years.

The OVM has equipped hundreds of young adults with the tools they need to be faithful Orthodox Christians in a complex and changing world. And I’m grateful to them for their work.

3. Youth Equipped to Serve (FOCUS North America)

I first heard about YES a few years ago through Christian Gonzalez, who has led YES Trips in years past. We were developing the service component of our monthly BeeTreats, and Christian suggested we reach out to YES.

YES is a ministry of FOCUS North America, an incredible organization that is stepping up to the call of the Gospel by providing action-oriented and sustainable solutions to poverty in communities across the United States. 

While YES leads a variety of programs and events, perhaps nothing they do is as impactful as their YES Trips, which guide young people in a weekend of exposure to and engagement with the poverty in their own city. These experiences prepare and empower youth to live as servant-leaders in all aspects of their lives.

This work is a testament to the leadership of Katrina Bitar, who has built a team of passionate and selfless young adults that generously give of themselves and help others do the same. Katrina is a friend with a good heart and powerful vision of philanthropy, something we tried to capture in the episode of Be the Bee we made together together. 

4. Orthodox Christian Fellowship

I first heard about OCF when I was in college.  At the time, my relationship with the Church was pretty weak, so I didn’t spend any time with my college chapter. It was only later, when I was in seminary, that I began to really appreciate everything OCF was doing for young adults.

I’ve been blessed to participate in a Real Break trip and speak at College Conference multiple times. I’ve spoken at the Summer Leadership Institute and gotten to know several of the outstanding leaders that make up the Student Leadership Board. Every time I see OCF in action is a blessing; College Conference in particular has been a highlight of my year every time I’ve attended.

Over the years, thousands of college students have had their faith in Christ nourished and deepened by the Kingdom-oriented vision of OCF. 

And this work is a testament to Donna Levas and Christina Andresen, the talented and dedicated staff of OCF. In the past few years they’ve expanded programs like Real Break, refined SLI into a world class leadership training experience, and helped prepare so many young adults to be Christ-centered leaders in both the Church and their chosen fields. Donna and Christina are my friends, and their tireless service to the students in their care is a daily inspiration for me. 

Conclusion

These are just four of the incredible organizations that are changing the face of ministry for the better. I hope you’ll pray for them and their staff as they continue pointing people to Christ and giving them the tools to live intentionally as faithful Orthodox Christians. 

And I hope you’ll support their work however you can.

 

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.

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BONUS: Y2AM is working on a brand new ministry training course, which will be available soon. In the meantime, subscribe to our newsletter to hear the latest about the course. And check out a keynote address Steve recently delivered for more of Y2AM's vision for ministry.

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A Delightful Surprise

Presvytera Kerry Pappas

I recently had the opportunity to spend a week at the Convent of the Annunciation in Ormylia, a monastery of over 100 nuns in northern Greece. My purpose was to retreat: to be refreshed and renewed in Christ through entering the daily rhythm of monastic life (prayer, worship, work, rest, fellowship). However, God had more in store for this visit. I did return home refreshed and renewed, but to my delight and surprise, I also learned a lot about family life, things I wish I had been more aware of when our children were young.

Monastic communities are like families. Each has a “mother” or “father” or both. At Ormylia, the mother is the abbess, Gerontissa Nikodimi, and the spiritual father is the abbot of Simonopetra, Geronta Eliseos, who visits Ormylia regularly. Together with the sisters, they constitute a monastic “family,” with the sisters being in obedience to the Gerontissa on a daily basis.  This “obedience” is both similar to and different from the obedience a child has to his/her mother or father.  We will explore this relationship and the practice of obedience in a future blog.

I learned many lessons from this family of nuns, most importantly that the primary function of the family is to recognize and honor Christ, who is always in our midst, in every nook and cranny of family life. In our busy world we tend to compartmentalize our lives into work, school, Christ/Church, finances, recreation, health, family life, and other activities.  We tend to think of Christ as being “out there somewhere,” rather than living in each of us and in our midst through virtue of our baptism when we “became clothed in/put on Christ.”
However, as I learned at Ormylia, if we are truly living in Christ, we acknowledge and honor Him in everything we say and do.  Particularly in family life, we recognize and acknowledge Christ in all of our interactions with one another.  The nuns acknowledge Christ by the way they greet one another in passing throughout the day, saying warmly and lovingly, “Evlogite,” and respond with,  “O Theos”; that is, “Bless,”  “The Lord blesses.”

How can we more intentionally recognize Christ in our midst in every nook and cranny of  family life?

We will explore this intentionality in the series of blogs to follow, which will include reflections and activities for family life.

Let’s begin with a family meeting.  Whether or not you have children. and no matter their ages if you do, after beginning with prayer, sit in a comfortable space in your home and discuss the following question:  How do we honor/acknowledge Christ in our home every day?   You may need to modify this question for age appropriateness.  So for younger children, you might ask:  How do we remember Jesus in our house every day? Then make a list and post it somewhere in your home, adding to it as you become more intentional.  This list can be in the form of a poster you make together, with various icons of the major feast days honoring Christ pasted to it . . . or whatever you think of as a family.

 

Next Up: Prayer in Family Life. . .

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