It’s all too easy to separate our lives into “Church stuff” and “worldly stuff”, into “Church friends” and “school friends”, into “we can talk about God here but not there.” This inclination towards compartmentalizing life in our modern age can lead us to think that we only learn about our faith at church, sort of like how we only learn about math when we’re at school. We go to church to pray, we go to church to learn during the sermon. But what about when we go home?
According to Saint John Chrysostom, the home is a “little church.” It’s where we continue to encounter Christ by seeking Him through prayer and study and where we struggle to acquire the virtues of the Christian life. By bringing our experience of the Church into the home, we more fully recognize and appreciate what it means to be the Church when we gather during the Liturgy.
Here are some things we can all do to make our home a little church.
One of the results of living in a secular world is that we tend to see the spiritual life as the job description of “professional Christians.” It’s for the monks, nuns, and priests to read the Bible all the time, to pray for the world, and to sit and talk about God and the saints. Interestingly enough, that must have been a common thought even during the life of St John Chrysostom, because this is how he talked about reading the Bible: "Do not say, 'Bible reading is for monks; am I turning my child into a monk?' No! It isn't for them to be a monk. Make them into a Christian! Why are you afraid of something so good? It is necessary for everyone to know Scriptural teachings, and this is especially true for children.”
St John also spoke about how a husband and wife should discuss scripture and the prayers that they heard during the Liturgy when they get home. He encouraged his parishioners to read Scripture and to discuss it amongst themselves. This shows us that studying God’s Word and encountering Christ through prayer isn’t reserved for seminarians; this is the way of life of every Orthodox Christian.
With the recent canonization of Mother Teresa by the Roman Catholic Church, the world is a buzz with her life’s work of serving the poor and marginalized of Kolkata, India. We hear all that she did for the poor and the sick and assume there’s nothing really that we can do. We figure it best to leave it to holy people like Mother Teresa, Mother Gavrilia, or Saint Maria Skobtsova to do this ministry.
But again, Saint John Chrysostom has something to say about the ministry that each one of us has in relation to the poor. He goes as far as to call it our special priesthood! “Consider to whom you are giving drink, and tremble. Consider, you have become a priest of Christ, giving with your own hand, not [Christ’s] flesh but bread, and not [His] blood, but a cup of cold water.” The service that we have is so important because it is Christ Himself whom we serve. “This altar [in the church] is but a stone by nature, but it becomes holy because it receives Christ’s Body; but that one [the poor man] is holy because it is itself Christ’s Body. So that this beside which you, the layman, stand, is more awesome than that.”
So one way that we can make our home a little church is to practice hospitality and serve our neighbor throughout the week. This might mean giving some dignity to the homeless man you pass on your way to work, or inviting a friend over for dinner when you’d rather just relax. And when we try to see Christ in everyone around us, eventually we realize that our encounter with Him doesn’t stop at the Chalice.
Both Saint Paul and Saint John Chrysostom call us to encourage and correct one another: in short, to be an authentic community.
“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another”(Hebrews 10:24-25). “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Since the Church is a family, our gathering should be an opportunity both to be encouraged and at times to be challenged.
Saint John Chrysostom says that this role of encouraging church attendance applies to everyone in the family. “Let them incite and urge one another to the assembly here—the father his son, the son his father, the husbands their wives, and the wives their husbands." Friends too need to encourage one another, and to be brought back onto the right path when we see them veering away from the Church.
No one likes to feel like they’re being told what to do, or to feel judged. That’s why it’s important that we speak from our own experience and from a place of love rather than judgment. Knowing when to speak up takes discernment and prayer; we should always pray about a situation before bringing our concerns to a friend. Sometimes our friends can see things in our lives that we don’t see clearly on our own. It also helps if we trust our friends and are open to their advice. Then even our friendships will help us bring the Church into our home.
When we remember to encourage, and even to correct one another, we’re remembering that we don’t stop being the Church when the Liturgy is finished. When we serve the poor or practice hospitality, we’re reminded that Jesus Christ cannot be contained by the walls of our sanctuaries. And when we pray, study scripture, and discuss the spiritual life at home, we see that the spiritual life isn’t reserved for Sunday.
What keeps you from discussing your faith outside of Sundays? Do you struggle with serving the poor or giving money to those in need? Do you have good mentors and friends whom you trust to keep you on track?
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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.