By Very Rev. Fr. Joseph C. Joseph Corepiscopa
A typical family consists of a father, mother, and children. This is the picture that comes to our mind when we hear the word 'family'. In some countries, there are close-knit extended families where two or three generations live in the same household. In this situation, there are grandparents, parents, children, uncles, aunts, and their children, live together as one happy family for decades. When a family lives together harmoniously, it creates a heavenly atmosphere in the home. Unfortunately, sometimes these are not happy families, which results in a disaster in the home and ultimately creates hell on earth. Through their attitudes and actions, each member of the family possesses the power to create an atmosphere for an ideal family (heaven) or they are capable of making it a miserable life on earth.
A Christian view of the family
God established family on earth, and it is the fundamental foundation of God's creation. He created everything in the world including the first two members of the first family. When one examines the Bible, when God created Adam he did not have an ideal partner, even though at the time other than man every creation had a partner. After seeing Adam’s loneliness and lack of a companion, God created an ideal partner for Adam from his own bone and flesh, a woman (taken out of man) Genesis 2:21-22. As the head of the first family, Adam, received his partner in a special way. He viewed Eve as a part of himself. "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh" (Genesis 2:23). He loved her more than any thing in the world. Adam and Eve shared a kind, committed, true love towards one another.
When building a home, one starts with a strong foundation to withstand against various calamities. In the same respect, individuals who begin a family must concentrate on building a strong foundation for the family. If the family has a strong foundation, it will endure against any obstacles, trials, or sorrows, which occurs throughout a family’s life. A strong, loving family can eliminate the loneliness and sadness experienced by people. The love, caring, and sharing of each member in the family wipes away the negative emotional feelings and provides a support system from its members. Family is the backbone of a person’s life, which encompasses the enrichment of each individual physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Selecting a partner for building a family
Finding an ideal partner for life is the base and steppingstone of a good Christian family. Husbands and wifes should be of the opposite sex, the way in which God created them, male and female (Genesis 1:28, Matthew 19:4, Mark 10: 6,8). In order to sustain a supportive Christian family, it is imperative that partners possess intrinsic values rather than physical or material values. Essential qualities include: the fear of God, love, kindness, humbleness, compassion, forgiveness, openness to one other, trust, and commitment to strengthen the family. These qualities may not be visible in the first sight of a person, such as one’s social status and physical appearance. It is important to know each other's personality and values before making the lifelong commitment of marriage. Finding a compatible partner that is willing to commit, communicate, and compromise is the initial step in striving to keep a healthy family.
Marriage is a significant event in a family. Marriage is not a relationship with two persons, but the uniting of two families. Usually, the two people joining together in marriage are born and reared in two varying family environments. For that reason, they have different lifestyles, opinions, and priorities developed within them through their individual families. Through open communication, the two people can get to know each other (each others likes and dislikes). In time, the couple will be able to find out if they can compromise on important family issues and to find a common ground for them to lay the first stone to build a family between them. If the two people are unable to share similar opinions and values then a stable positive family atmosphere is not created. If two people take the decision together that they cannot be together, then they should not get married. For this reason, it is not advisable to find a life partner and have a wedding overnight (finding a partner today, having the engagement tomorrow, and the wedding the following day, which is often typical of the weddings in Kerala, India). The time spent together will be invaluable in determining if the individuals will make a good spouse. The meaning of a husband and wife means the couple should remain one whether through happy times or sad, through sorrows or smiles. The couple must realize that marriage is for a lifetime not for only days, months or years. “The two shall become one flesh. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself, and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Ephesians 5:31).
In the Bible, when the patriarch Abraham looked for a wife for his son Isaac, he sent his trustworthy servant to his distant family (kindred) to search for a kind and loving woman. The characteristics that Rebecca displayed towards the servant were genuine love and concern for mankind (she gives water to the servant of Abraham and his camels). The kindness and love expressed by Rebecca were the two qualities that made her an ideal match for Isaac (Genesis 24:2-67). An important lesson one can learn from Abraham's actions is the way in which he sought a partner for his son. In an effort to find his son a partner in life, Abraham concentrated on the qualities and values of the woman and he looked to a respectable family background from his daughter-in-law. A person that comes out of a good family will bring their family's heritage and values with them. The type of relationship an individual shares with their own family mirrors the qualities that the person will bring to the new family. For this reason, it is crucial for the two families to get to know one another, understand one another, and come to terms with one another. The families from either side should understand the significance and appreciate the symbol of marriage.
A majority of the parents from India give importance to the physical appearance, (size, color, beauty) financial status (how much they can spend for the wedding or pay as a dowry), and educational status (doctors, engineers), when seeking alliances for their children. Not only do the parents hold these feelings, but also some of the young men and women. The significant values such as religion, culture, heritage, personality, and morality are overlooked for what appears to be of more importance such as money and other materialistic things. A partner from the same religion, nationality, and ethnic background often provides a better environment for a happy family. Rather than concentrating on finding a person that shares similar beliefs and attitudes people generally set such qualities aside for monetary symbols and social status. In finding an ideal mate, one should never forget the key qualities that make the framework of a kind, loving, admirable, and respectable individual.
Importance of a Marriage Sacrament in a Christian Family
In modern society a good number of people refer to marriage as the exchange of legal document, the Marriage License. In the western world, it is common for couples to live together like husband and wife before an official marriage ceremony. Note: In the orthodox faith and beliefs, a domestic partnership without the sacrament of marriage is not an acceptable lifestyle, and is not acknowledged as a family. If a family is based only on a legal document and can be revoked by another piece of legal document (divorce papers) then it is not the ground to which a family should be based. Approximately forty three percent of first marriages in the United States end in divorce. The reason for this problem is because these individuals approach the concept of family in a different way. They build a family on a poor foundation that is unable to withstand against the issues and problems that a family endures. Often the problem with the family includes; the husband and wife do not get along, the parents’ relationship with the children is nonexistent, or often one family member becomes selfish and forgets the good of the family. In order for a family to live as a holy institution, the husband and wife’s relationship must be pure, sacred, and blessed by God. If the husband and wife’s relationship is holy and pure then they have the ability to position the rock to build their family where it will not shake or crumble.
An Orthodox Christian wedding ceremony is a sacrament, and it is performed in the presence of God. In the presence of God, blessings from our Lord Jesus Christ are showered upon the bridegroom and bride during the ceremony of marriage with the work of the Holy Spirit. This signifies the relationship in the family, inseparable like the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christ should always be the center of a Christian family. During the marriage a priest or a bishop should perform the wedding in a church because it is a sacrament. The priest or bishop stands as a representative of God to join man and woman together just as God Himself did with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
The church views the relationship between husband and wife as the relationship of Jesus Christ and his bride, the church. He loved the church with all his heart and shed His last drop of blood for her on the cross of Calvary. The bond between a husband and wife must be inseparable, and they should continue to be one until their death. God is the one that joined the two together; no human should attempt to break that link. ”God made them male and female for this reason man leave his father and mother and be joined with his wife. The two shall become one flesh, so they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (Mark 10:6-9).
Responsibilities of Husband and Wife
In the Bible, Saint Paul and Saint Peter described the responsibilities of a husband and a wife (Ephesians 5: 22-33 and 1 Peter 3: 1-7). The main theme described in these bible verses is how to express love, trust, and respect to a husband and wife. Love, trust, and respect are the pillars that embrace the union of two people. Love must be expressed, trust must be earned, and respect must be shown to each other. Another vital element of a strong marriage is sacrifice. There are circumstances throughout life in which family members have to sacrifice things they love for the happiness, betterment, peace, and safety of other members of the family. Love is giving, not taking; this is applicable for both husband and wife.
Sharing and praise have a significant place in family life. A husband and wife must be able to share the burdens of the family such as taking care of the children, and other chores of the house. Often in our culture one individual is placed in charge of the household duties and child rearing which results in resentment and disagreement. When more than one person carries the load and responsibilities of the household, it makes it easier for both the husband and wife. Both individuals should praise one another as well as their children for their accomplishments. Often praising is a rare term in the Malayalee community. This attitude must change in order to help each other as well as to set an example for the children to learn and apply in their own life. Every one likes to hear words of praise (you look nice, good job, your cooking is excellent) so it should be used accordingly. A good married life is a blessing and gift of God; couples have the obligation to keep it for a lifetime.
Sex and Birth of Children
For the continuation of His creation, God made every one of His creations in the form of male and female. This reveals the secret of God’s intentions. In order for procreation, a male and female must join together to create a new life on earth. Sex is the gift of God, given to humans to continue the creation of life on earth (Geneses 1:28). It is not wrong to have a healthy sexual relationship with one’s life partner. In a Christian family sex is only allowed for married couples, and it should be pure and for the creation of a new life. God's intention of sex is for reproduction of a new generation and this responsibility is given to husbands and wives through their family lives. According to our faith, beliefs, and traditions, it is not permissible to have pre-marital or extramarital sex, these actions are considered as adultery and a sin. Sex should be the fulfillment of a married couple's life. Through the expression of love, the couple is able to bring new life to the world as a gift of God. Saint Paul gave the following advice to married couples. “Let the husband render unto the wife her due; and likewise also the wife unto her husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband; and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency (1 Corinthians 7: 3-5).
The children born of a good relationship are blessings from God. In the Bible, many references are made that children are the gift from God (Psalms 127: 3-5, 128: 3). Adam said at the birth of Cain "I have gotten a man from the Lord" (Genesis 4:1) and Jacob said to his brother Esau "the children whom God hath graciously given thy servant" (Genesis 33: 5). The birth of a child brings joy and happiness to the parents. "Children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers" (Proverbs 17:6).
We see many instances in the bible where individuals prayed to conceive a child. Among these people include Abraham and Sara, Hannah, the mother of Samuel, and Zachariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. In the olden days, people believed that if a married couple did not have children it was believed to be a disgrace for their family, to the society, and a curse from God. If the parents are God fearing, share a strong relationship, and practice a loving family life, the children born of them will be acceptable citizens of heaven and earth. "If the root is holy, so are the branches " (Romans 11:16). For this reason, husbands and wives must lead a prayerful family life and set an example for their children.
Children are the gift of God and they are also a part of the family. Parents have the responsibility to nurture the children in an appropriate manner, to help them become good citizens of this world and the kingdom of heaven. It is not an easy task of rearing children, the sacrifice and commitment is phenomenal. All parents will agree parenting is a twenty-four hour job. The majority of parents struggle and strive to enrich their children's physical and educational needs, but fall short in the area of spiritual development of their children. A father and mother should be prepared emotionally and spiritually to bring forth a child into the world and into their family. From the time of conception a children's learning process begins. They can feel the joy or sadness of their mother and are filled with Holy Spirit in their mother's womb. In the Bible, when Elizabeth heard the greeting from Mary, the baby, John the Baptist, was filled with the Holy Spirit and leaped in her womb (Luke 1:41).
Saint Augustan explains in his autobiography that his mother painted a picture of Jesus Christ's crucifixion into his heart while she breast-fed him during his childhood. Her commitment to God influenced him to convert to Christianity later in life. That influence and spiritual change enabled him to become a bishop and upon his death the church elevated him as a saint. The spiritual life of a child begins from parents and family members who are the preliminary teachers. Parents must lead their children in the path of Christianity, which entails from the child's infancy to adulthood; teaching prayers, taking the children to church, allowing the child to attend Sunday school, and other events according to the faith and beliefs of the parents. Through the growth and development of the children, they must become stronger spiritually and parents are accountable for this duty (Luke 1:80, 2:40). "Train the children in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). Parents love your children, they are precious treasures and they are born from your love. Discipline them appropriately, but do not abuse them. “Parents do not provoke your children to wrath, bring them up in discipline and fear of God” (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21).
The mind of a child is similar to a white sheet of paper. The mind can be filled with good and righteous thoughts or bad and evil ideas. It is crucial to observe the children and maintain within them clean hearts. Family is the primary learning center. The children begin to learn the early lessons of their life from their parents, siblings, and members of the family. Parents must try their best to control and provide good and appropriate information to their children in their early stages of learning. Censoring the activities of the children is absolutely necessary at times but do not let it get controlling. Small children have a tendency to imitate what they see and hear. A child is never born bad; their surroundings will create in them a good or evil spirit. Just as a gardener plants a seed, nurtures it, and lets it grow into a beautiful tree that stands alone, so is the life of a child. When children are young parents can influence, motivate, and encourage the children to choose the right choices in life. As they move away from the parents and begin their own families, the values and beliefs presented and shared to them over a lifetime will shine through and influence their decisions. If parents are unsuccessful in rearing the children, they have failed in their parental duties.
Duties of Children in the Family
In the family children have responsibilities. Children should express Christian qualities such as love, obedience, fear God, and sacrifice. Saint Paul described love in his epistle to the Corinthians (1Corinthians 13:1-13). God is love, as He loves all his children, we must love each other. In today's world, it is difficult to find or see acts of love. It is a sad reality that there is a lack of love within families, churches, and schools, which are sanctuaries that children are supposed to be loved and learn the value of love. Children must also remember that, fathers and mothers are the visible God and it is the children’s responsibility to love, honor, and obey them. “Children obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with thee, and you may live long on the earth" (Ephesians 6: 1-3 Colossians 3: 20). Isaac is an excellent example of obedience in the Old Testament. Even though he knew that Abraham going to sacrifice him to God, Isaac obeyed his father Abraham. Abraham's faith and Isaac's obedience saved Isaac from the sacrificial death. From this story one learns the important lesson that obedience is better than sacrifice.
Children must remember to love your family members, and show love towards others. God is the creator and we are His children. It is our responsibility to love and fear God, our heavenly father. "The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, depart from the snares of death. The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom, (Proverbs 14:27, 15:33) behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom (Job 28:28). Children must learn to live a life of love and obedience. The children that accept these responsibilities and live according to the law of God will attain blessings on earth and achieve the kingdom of heaven.
The power of family prayer
Family prayer plays an integral part in family life. It is the chain that links the members of the family together with God. This day in age, families are not giving much significance for family prayer. Families’ focus and set priorities for material things, such as television shows, movies, soap operas, and leisure activities. It is difficult for families to find time for church, God, and family prayer. Often this is the main reason for a lack of direction within the family and other problems. Children in these families are not given the proper parental guidance. In some families parents give more value to money rather than valuable time spent with the children. About fifty years ago, the majority of Christian families in Kerala, India, had family prayers. These families were of medium or lower income families. Even when they did not have enough money for proper clothing or food, they found time for family prayers. In the evenings, all members of the family would come together, read the bible, sing songs, and pray. The majority of children in those families that practiced family prayers have been successful throughout their lives. Family prayer is a powerful tool that can be used to overcome any obstacles or tribulation life presents. Prayer comforts, guides, and strengthens. By practicing prayer as a family, the members can come together to worship God. In the Bible Jesus says if two or three people come together in my name I will be in the midst of them" and "if two or more request anything in my name, my father will grant the request" if the request is appropriate for them. If the father, mother, and children come together to pray, God will be in their family and their prayers will be answered. In order to instill a holy institution within a home, each individual must proclaim as Joshua did, "For me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).
It is important to understand the special roles of each family member within the family unit. Whether it is the father, mother, or children, each individual is a valuable link to the larger chain. When family members share love, happiness, sorrows, and sacrifice for the betterment of others in the family it builds a holy institution within the home. To maintain the family as a holy institution, every person in the family must work together in the presence of God. Without the presence of God in the family circle, temptation will arise, as it did in the first family on earth with Adam and Eve. When family members live harmoniously in a peaceful, supportive, loving atmosphere a holy institution of God will be created.
I hope and pray this article will be of help to the children, youth, and parents to provide insight and answers to assist in creating a holy institution within the family.
May God Bless You.
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