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Holding Space for Family

It’s 5:30 pm—almost dinner time in the home of the Chronos family. Mrs. Chronos has arrived home from work and frantically begins to pull something together for the evening meal. As she is chopping some onions, her 17-year-old son, Nicholas, breezes past the kitchen.

“Bye, Mom!”
“Wait, where are you going?”
“Soccer! Don’t you remember we have an extra practice tonight because of the championship this weekend?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot. See you later. Love you.”

Mrs. Chronos has mixed feelings about Nicholas’ involvement with soccer. She loves the values of recreation, teamwork, and discipline but is less than enthusiastic about how it impacts family time.

A few minutes later, through the front door comes Gracie, age 10, who was just dropped off by a friend’s mother.

“Hi, Sweetie! How was Megan’s?”
“We had fun. Mom, why can’t I have a TV in my room like Megan. It would be great. I wouldn’t have to bug you anymore, and I could just hang out in my room like Megan and I did today.”
“That’s all you did today at Megan’s, watch TV?”
“No, we played video games too.”

Mrs. Chronos groans—this kind of conversation is nothing new.

She then glances at her phone and notices a new text message from her husband.  “Have to stay back at work and will be late. I’ll grab dinner here. So sorry! Love you!” Mrs. Chronos’ heart sinks. Mr. Chronos’ job has been consuming him lately, and she misses his presence. After 25 years of marriage, their relationship is certainly grounded in mutual love, but she can’t remember the last time they enjoyed some time as a couple. Come to think of it, the times that the four members of Chronos family are all together seem to be decreasing.

This scenario plays out daily in homes across the country. When its occurrence is more of an exception than the rule, it’s not too concerning for family life. However when individual schedules fracture family unity with regular frequency, the concern is greater. The ‘busyness’ of life is pulling families further away from one another—further away from this vital connection. In his keynote address at the 2013 Family Ministry Conference, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios stated,

The demands of the modern life weaken the bonds between family members, between parents and children, between siblings, between grandparents and grandchildren… The net result is that family members spend more time with co-workers, with teammates, with paid caregivers, than with each other. The real work of parenting—which is to say, of developing character and life-skills in children—falls to coaches and teachers. The real joys of companionship are found in relationships outside of the home. Family life becomes a perfunctory routine rather than a fellowship of shared purpose.

The Joy of Companionship

God fashioned humanity so that it would exist through relationship.  After creating Adam, He declared, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). We were made by God to live in communion with one another.

Current studies on neuroscience show that we all need connections to thrive at every age—from cradle to grave. We all need to belong and be a valued member of a social/family structure. When people are significantly disconnected from others, there is a higher occurrence of depression and isolation which can adversely impact all aspects of daily function.

But what does real connection look like? In many ways technology has made us more connected than ever. Today, we have ways to stay connected to people under circumstances that would have been difficult just 10 years ago. We can Skype with grandparents that live far away. We can text a quick message of support to our spouse during a particularly trying day at work. These are particularly helpful ways of using technology to stay connected. However it is important that we avoid swapping connection through technology when face-to-face contact is viable—especially within the household. Deep relationships cannot be sustained through emojis!

Likewise, the internet has given us accessibility to many resources for learning more about the Church. We can listen to podcasts, chanting, and videos about any topic of the spiritual life we like. We can even watch services live as they are broadcast from various Orthodox parishes[1]. But true connection with Christ doesn’t happen online—it happens through encounters of prayer, repentance, and communion—living a life in His Church as a member of His family.

As Christians, our relationship with Christ forms the basis for all of our other relationships. In her book, Persons in Communion, Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald writes,

Human persons are meant to be in communion with other persons. Authentic human life requires relationships with others. A relationship with God cannot be separated from relationships with other persons. As human persons, we share a common origin in God’s creative love and we share a common goal in God’s transfiguring love. We are bound together in God and are by nature social persons. We are not meant to live our lives in isolation from others. Rather, we are meant to be in relationship with others.

God’s Transfiguring Love

God presents us with the perfect image for family in the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. United as one essence with unique individuals existing in perfect love with one another.  But somehow this image of family has been distorted greatly so that instead of abiding in the perfect love of the Trinity, we try to live with the distorted ideals held up by this world. If we allow ourselves to become seduced by the images we regularly see in conventional and social media, we lose perspective of how we are called to be in family. We become consumed with keeping up appearances. This is not God’s purpose for family. It is not the goal of family be perfect as the world would define it, but rather it exists to create communion where people are loved unconditionally and growing in grace for the purpose of their salvation.

Family relationships can be ‘messy’ and challenging—whether they are with our biological or Church family members. As exhausting as it can be, these difficulties need to be acknowledged and, in a sense, embraced as opportunities for spiritual growth. When we read the lives of the saints, we learn that many of them had difficult family lives and sometimes suffered blamelessly at the hands of fellow Church members. It is through these obstacles that they were transformed and—in the process—transformed others by their holy example. When we keep Christ in the front and center of our being, we are better able to see His will in our lives as well as our fellow family members. Mother Gavrilia is quoted in her biography as saying, “God is not interested in where you are or what you do…He is interested only in the quality and quantity of the love you give. Nothing else. Nothing else.”

The Love You Give

We should make time daily to engage one another eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart—monitoring our time in front of screens and carefully discerning the cyber world and its myriad of distorted images. Let’s thank God for whom we have in front of us in the present moment. We might create intentional rules for our families to spend time with one another and, short of unforeseen events, strive to keep that appointed time as sacred. The culture we live in—this is critical to realize—isn’t going to help us with this. We have to set these boundaries for ourselves as well as our families.

We need a revolution in our family life. We need to fire a shot heard round the world calling our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, to come together again and put aside the shackles of screen addictions and activities to make the church in the home. –His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America


[1] These broadcasts are meant to be an aid to those homebound and not as a substitute for physical attendance.

Melissa is the Associate Director of the Center for Family Care of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese where she has worked since 2001. Prior to her work at the Archdiocese Melissa worked for 10 years as a development specialist for an Early Intervention Program which worked with families with children from age birth to three who had special needs. She received her BA from Sacramento State University in California in child development with an emphasis in family education and an additional 2 years of studies for a credential in early childhood special education. Melissa and her husband, George, live in Tarpon Springs, Florida with their son, Nomikos. They have one son, Nomikos. Her passion is to teach about spiritual development and how we can live our faith daily in our homes and lives.

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