"Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you," said Jesus to the possessed man from whom He expelled the "legion" of demons in the gospel read on the 6th Sunday of Luke in the Eastern Christian Church (Lk. 8: 39). This phase is seldom singled out for commentary. But God gifts to his people is the reason the Jews and Christians gave offerings back to God.
This is passť in the modern world. Why? We are not really Christians anymore. Instead, we are secular Americans. Christ does not exist in the center of our homes, secular values do. Parents have broken their wedding vows. Parents have not educated themselves or their children in "faith and fear of God." We take our lives, our gifts, and our talents for granted. Even when we say we are thankful our words are often meaningless.
Take this quiz: 1) What is your home sports team latest score -- or the rating of your favorite athlete, or top movie, hit song? 2) What Saint is the church celebrating today? My experience as a parish priest says that most would get an A+ on the first question and an F on the second.
In the Old Testament we read that Jews were to give out of their produce, that is, what the Lord had provided for them. We give to God because God has given to us. In Genesis we read: "And it came to pass after many days, that Cain offered, of the fruits of the earth, gifts to the Lord. Abel also offered of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat: and the Lord had respect to Abel, and to his offerings." (4:3-4) In Mosaic law, a holocaust, ( from the Greek: holos -- "whole", and kaustos -- "burnt") suggests an offering consumed by fire. The Hebrew terms: holah, literally: "that which goes up", either to the altar to be sacrificed, or to heaven in the sacrificial flame; and Kalil. These offerings were regarded as the highest, the most complete, outward expression of man's reverence to God.
The beloved disciple of Jesus, St John the evangelist writes, "Let us therefore love God: because God first hath loved us." (1 Jn. 4:19.) In the Acts of the Apostles we read:
And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles and in the communication of the breaking of bread and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul. Many wonders also and signs were done by the apostles in Jerusalem: and there was great fervor in all. And all they that believed were together and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold and divided them to all, according as every one had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart: Praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved" (Acts 2:42-47).
And again in Acts we read:
And the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul. Neither did any one say that aught of the things which he possessed was his own: but all things were common unto them. ...And laid it down before the feet of the apostles. And distribution was made to every one, according as he had need (Acts 4:34-37).
Does this describe you [or me]? Do we see the gifts God has given to us? Do we want to give back? Is Jesus the Center of our homes? Are our homes domestic churches? The existence of a "home church" dates from apostolic times comes to us from the writings of St. Paul. In his instruction to the Romans (16:3-5) he says: "Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, ... greet also the church in their house." And to the Corinthians (16:19) he says: "The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. "
Ideally, a true Orthodox Christian Domestic Church in the 21st Century should look like [but not limited to] something like this this: Jesus Christ is at it's center or hub. Husbands, and wives, as such, and as fathers and mothers, should be the leaders of the "church at home" in Christ's name. They should bless one another and their children, bless the food which is partaken, give thanksgiving for all that God has provided, (house, furnishings), thank God for health and talents, and lead by the sanctity of their conduct as well as their words.
The Feasts of the Church should be remembered by the prayers (Troparia and Kontakia, special feast prayers in the Eastern Church) as well as the Epistle and or Gospel of the day. This could be done for example at the family evening meal. The leaders of the "domestic church" should be able to give a Christian perspective on all events family members encounter, be it news, or situations engaged by one another.
Daily scripture should be read and commented on. Daily prayers, at least at morning and evening should be part of the domestic church activities. All family members should take part in these prayers and readings. Following the Sign of Cross made by the Father and/or Mother, each family member may take a turn reading a line from the prayers, scripture or reading texts of the day. The "leaders" of the domestic church should also be theologians and educators of themselves and their children by their knowledge and practice.
What is really the center of many Orthodox Christian homes? The center would include some or most of the following: the latest TV program, football or baseball score or statistic; knowledge of the latest fashion trend; details of the lives of the newest and most popular rock groups; the latest gossip about celebrities and friends. Oh yes, maybe Christ but if He is there at all He is not at the center or hub. He is in the "Christ compartment." Maybe one hour or so on Sunday or worse, or at an obligatory family event such as a wedding or funeral.
What do our homes look like? If we get a gift do we give thanks by giving back? When eating meals, do we put something aside for the poor? Is Christ, the hub, the center of our universe?
Think of this answer in real terms. Do a mental imagery exercise: We are living in the Holy Land in the middle of Our Lord's ministry and we hear He is going to preach on a nearby hill. Do we have another engagement? ...what choice do we make? Today we church but we also have soccer practice. What choice do we make? What do we do? The answer will tell us if we have the right to call ourselves Christian.
Living boldly in Christ is passť. We will not stand up for Him. We will not have Christ at the center of our personal life and family home. We will not give to support His Church but we continue to call ourselves Christian out of self love proving to be hypocrites.
However, it need not be this way. We can adopt the "mind of Christ." Christian education begins with the parents, ends with children and the fruit is our sanctification; giving to God and His people in thanksgiving from the joy and love in our hearts. If the iron curtain and the Berlin Wall can come down almost overnight, then we too can turn ourselves and our homes from it's secular center, to a Christ center. First and foremost we would know the "saint" and the "score" would have its place.
V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist, Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, (www.antiochian.org/counseling-ministries) and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion. Fr. George is Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.