Daily Family Prayer


"The family that prays together stays together"
This cliché is a cliché for a reason: because it is true. The primary way to fight the dissolution of your family from divorce or the estrangement of your children is for the father, mother, and children to pray together every day.

The family is a Church
Just as each Orthodox parish is a complete Church, the Body of Christ, with all the fullness of Divine Grace and the gifts of salvation, so every Orthodox family is a Church in miniature, in which we work out our salvation in faith, prayer, and charity. Since the family is a domestic Church, it needs to perform the primary action of the Church, which is prayer, to truly be itself, to be a family in the sense which God intended.

The sacred atmosphere of the Orthodox home
Every Orthodox home is a domestic Church temple. Just as our parish church should feel like home, so should our home feel like a church, that is, should possess the sacred, quiet, orderly, and cheerful character of Orthodoxy itself. This is accomplished through disciplined control of noise sources (TV, etc.), through a disciplined family routine, through daily prayer, and through specific physical arrangements and efforts: having a family ikonostasio, or icon/prayer corner, where there are holy icons in a place of honor, a constantly burning kandili (oil lamp), and our prayer and service books and the Holy Scriptures. Just as the father should cense (livanizi) the house every day and teach his sons to share this responsibility (see "My Orthodox Notebook" #17), so should the mother teach her daughters to care for the cleanliness and arrangement of the ikonostasio, and for the daily cleaning and lighting of the kandili.

What prayers should we do?
For most contemporary families, the time when they will probably be together on most days is in the evening before bed. In the very recent past, most pious Greek families read the Mikron Apodeipnon (Small Compline) as well as the Hairetismous tis Theotokou (the Salutations or Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God) every evening before retiring. The Compline as well as the Salutations are found in all the standard Greek prayer-books, as well as in the English translation published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery ("the blue prayer-book"). Both are available from our bookstore at St. Spyridon.

What if we are all together at a different time?
Use the Morning Prayers in the Prayer book, or read the Paraclesis or Hairetismoi. The important thing is to find a time, get together, and pray, daily and faithfully.

How do we actually do the prayers?
Everyone should gather before the holy icons and stand quietly (or sit, depending on age, health, etc.). The head of the family begins with the Sign of the Cross or "through the prayers of the Holy Fathers…" (di efhon ton Ayion Pateron…) and O Heavenly King (Vasilef Ouranie…), and then he or another family member can continue with the rest of the "Trisagion Prayers" and continue with the Small Compline. Family members can take turns reading, or one can read while the others listen, depending on who is comfortable reading. What is important is that we get together and do it!

Toward the end of prayers, family members should ask forgiveness of each other (see "My Orthodox Notebook" #15), so that no day ever passes without everyone forgiving even the slightest sin of thought, attitude, disagreement, or slip of the tongue that goes on in family life. This way, the little seeds of the "weeds" of resentment are uprooted immediately and never become big problems. Also, the head of the family (in the absence of the father, the mother; in the absence of the mother, the oldest son, etc.) should bless everyone with the Sign of the Cross before retiring, and the children should kiss their parents' hands (see "My Orthodox Notebook" #13). 

Typical objections:

"I would rather pray alone"
This is not an "either/or" situation; it is "both/and." We need to pray individually; we need to pray together. For example, family members can pray alone in the morning, and then together in the evening. We need both.

" We pray together when we go to Church, not at home."
First, all Christian history refutes this: Christian families have always prayed together at home, until very recently. Second, when we go to Church, we are going to worship with the other members of our greater and extended family, the parish. Just as we don't ask the school to do the parenting we should be doing at home, so we don't ask the priest and parish to create the spiritual family unity we should be creating at home. 

Traditionally, when Orthodox families go to Church, they actually do not stand or sit all together; this practice is a modern, Protestant/American thing. The boys stand on the right side of the Church with their father, or serve in the altar (iero) or stand at the chanter stand (psaltirio). The girls stand on the left side of the Church with their mother and the other women in the parish, the sisters of their extended Church family. At the parish temple, the parish Church prays as a group; at home, the family Church prays as a group; it's that simple.

May the Merciful Lord and His Most Pure Mother guide us to daily family prayer, for our salvation and that of our children!