Marriage and the Christian Home
by Fr. Michael B. Henning
The example of harmoniousness of the household has been given
for Christians by St. John Chrysostom.
Consider Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and the three
hundred and eighteen born in his house (Gen. 14:14). How the
whole house was harmoniously knit together, how the whole was
full of piety and fulfilled the Apostolic injunction. She
also "reverenced her husband;" for hear her own
words, "It hath not yet happened unto me even until now,
and my lord is old also" (Gen 18:12). And he again so
loved her, that in all things he obeyed her commands. And the
young child was virtuous and the servants born in the house,
they too were so excellent that they refused not even to
hazard their lives with their master; they delayed not, nor
asked the reason. Nay, one of them, the chief, was so
admirable, that he was even entrusted with the marriage of
the only-begotten child, and with a journey into a foreign
country (Gen. 24:1-67). For just as with a general when his
soldiery also is well organized, the enemy has no quarter to
attack; so, I say, is it also here: when husband and wife and
children and servants are all interested in the same things,
great is the harmony of the house. Since where this is not
the case, the whole is oftentimes overthrown and broken up by
one bad servant; and that single one will often mar and
utterly destroy the whole. 
The house and its adornments must be concordant with the
Christian's desire for spiritual development and eternal
salvation. The home and personal adornment should be
unpretentious and unostentatious. Let the house be handsome, but
do not let "... what is handsome degenerate into
The home should be adorned so that an air of soberness rather
than perfume is inhaled. The good consequences accruing from this
for both husband and wife are, at least, three. First, the wife
will not be grieved if any of her furnishings or beautifications
are stolen, destroyed, or reclaimed by their several owners.
Secondly, the husband will neither be anxious for the security
of their accumulated treasures nor angered by their loss.
Thirdly, the husband and wife will not take pleasure in these
material possessions  and therefore can concern
themselves with spiritual matters.
Luxuries, money are worse than ordinary dust and dirt,
because they sully the soul; ordinary dust only sullies the
body, clothing, or room. O, how necessary it is to despise
luxuries, money and dress besides! 
The house in which Christians live is the abode where the
members of the family will spend the majority of their lives. It
is here, not in society, nor at the market place, where
individuals will learn of the important things of the Christian
life. It is in the Christian home that individuals will be able
to work out their eternal salvation. It is in the Christian home,
that children will be raised and taught by word and action what
it means to be Christian. It is in the Christian home that all of
the teachings of Christ and of the Church can be practiced. The
Christian home can and should provide all these things, because
each home in which an Orthodox Christian family resides should be
considered a "family church." Making the dwelling a
family church is spiritually edifying for all its inhabitants.
St. John Chrysostom states that it is no small thing that Aquila
and Priscilla... "had made their very house a church" 
(1 Cor. 16:19).
The Family Church and Eternal Salvation
The Christian home being the family church in no way implies
that the household is independent of the diocese, the parish
church or the community of Orthodox Christians. The family church
cannot exist as an entity independent from the parish church, but
must exist as an integral part and continuation of the parish. As
soon as the husband decides to break his family church off from
the parish church and become autocephalous (selfgoverning), he
has already separated himself and his family from the whole
Church. His house can no longer be considered a family church and
loses the outpouring of God's grace which formerly had been
granted to it.
The primary purpose of the family church is the same as that
of the Christian marriage: the attainment of eternal salvation.
It is necessary, therefore, that the family church remain an
integral part of the parish and that it and all the members of
the family church draw their strength and direction from the
parish. Without this foundation their strength, direction,
beliefs, practices and the very love of God begin to wane or
deviate from the divine truths held, guarded and taught through
the parish. Basically, no Christian existence is possible outside
of the Church; therefore, to separate oneself from the Church is
tantamount to severing one's spiritual life-line.
The Icon Corner
The first thing that should be done when an Orthodox Christian
family moves into a new apartment or house is to determine which
eastern wall or corner can be turned into the icon corner. This
should not be a non-conspicuous place where the icons will be
hidden from people's eyes, rather it should be a very prominent
spot which all can see. The icon corner should have icons of
Christ and the Theotokos as well as icons of the saints for whom
the family has particular devotion. Many times an Orthodox family
chooses a particular saint to whom they wish to dedicate their
family church, and place it under his or her protection. The
icons in the icon corner of a family church dedicated to a saint
will, of course, have an icon of the saint together with those of
Christ and the Theotokos.
The icon corner will either have a small table or a shelf upon
which may be placed prayer books, a hand censer, a bottle of holy
water, a blessing-cross, the candles that the husband and wife
held at their wedding, holy oil, palm branches and sometimes
other religious objects. In front of the icons an oil lamp should
perpetually burn. Some families burn wax votive candles before
the icons; however, the tradition is to burn olive oil. Electric
lights are not appropriate for use as the light to burn before
icons. The traditional oil lamps require an amount of attention
which electricity does not, thereby directing our physical
services and thoughts to God several times a day when we are
required to trim the wick and refill the lamp with oil.
The use of pure olive oil may be objected to because of its
high cost; however, God is beneficent to those who think first of
spiritual matters and then of themselves. A family with which I
am familiar had a multitude of problems, one of which was not
enough money to purchase food. The head of the family placed the
household under the protection of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin
Mary. As an offering of faith and love, the family's head
promised that the lamp in the icon corner would burn only pure
olive oil and that it would be allowed to go out only after there
was no more food on the table and no money to buy either olive
oil or food. Because of the strong faith shown by the family
head, the Theotokos has miraculously provided the family with
enough money to purchase both olive oil and food for months on
There are a number of different kinds of utensils designed for
burning oil before icons. A very common one is the wick-float
which utilizes cork to keep the wick and flame floating on the
oil. The burning of oil before icons, its care and practice is
1. The Glass. Any low, wide-mouth glass may be used
for the lamp. Once used for this, however, the glass should
not be reused for any other purpose. In Greece, most of the
lamps are of clear glass, but colors such as red, blue or
milk-colored are also used. [It is advisable to use a large
enough glass so that the oil will last at least 10 to 12
2. The Oil. The use of olive oil for the lamps
is a tradition which we have received even from the
time of our father Moses. The olive oil will burn best if
left open and allowed to age (or even become rancid).
3. The Wick. To make a wick, use cotton string
about one foot in length. Do not use coated or waxed string.
Cotton string of about 6 ply will be thick enough. If the
wick is soaked in vinegar it will burn brighter and cleaner.
If this is done, the wick should be allowed to dry thoroughly
before being used.
4. The Flame. The fathers of the Holy Mountain
[Athos] have taught us to use a very low flame which they
call apathes, passionless. The flame should burn steadily,
not flickering. The lamp will burn six to twelve hours,
depending mainly on the oil, but also on the size of the
flame, the weather, etc. Before relighting the lamp, remove
the excess carbon from the wick and twist the string slightly
to shape the wick into a point. [Candle wax may be used to
make a firm point for ease in "threading" the wick.
It should be trimmed off before lighting.]
5. Cleaning. The napkin or tissue used to wipe
the carbon and oil from the fingers should be burned in a
separate place (the home censer is the best place) and not
just thrown into the garbage. Be careful not to drip or spill
the oil when lighting the lamp (St. Theodore of Studion
imposed a canon of thirty prostrations on the church
ecclesiarch who spills oil from the icon lamps). The glass
should be washed periodically, and the oil replaced anew. The
water in which the lamp is washed, as well as the old oil
from the icon lamp, should not be poured down the drain. It
is best, rather, to pour it under plants or trees, or an area
that is not walked upon.
Pious Orthodox faithful take oil frequently from the lamp
and bless themselves, making the sign of the Cross on their
When the icon corner is in order, the priest should be called
so that the home can be sanctified and dedicated as the family
church. The service performed by the priest to bless the new
dwelling is somewhat similar to the consecration of a church [in
Russian practice] in that holy water, holy oil and incense are
used and a lesson from the Holy Gospel is read. All the rooms of
the house are sprinkled with holy water and each of the four
outer walls are anointed with the sign of the Cross with holy
oil, a candle placed before them, and after the censing of the
house, the lesson from the Holy Gospel is read [in Greek practice
the service of The Small Blessing of Waters is generally done].
At the conclusion of the blessing, the inhabitants are blessed
with holy water: the husband first, followed by the wife and then
the childrenthe oldest first. Relatives and friends present
are then blessed.
Once a new dwelling has been blessed, it is not to be assumed
that the priest need not be called periodically to bless the
dwelling. Traditionally, houses are blessed annually on, or
shortly after, the Feast of Theophany. The Greater Blessing of
Waters takes place on this feast day; the waters from this
blessing are brought into the dwelling of the parishioners and
are sprinkled in all rooms by the priest. The blessing of homes
by these holy waters maintains the spiritual association between
the family church and the parish, as well as again providing for
the sharing of God's spiritual gifts. Some Orthodox Christians
ask the priest to bless their dwelling at the same time when an
Akathist or Molieben (prayer service) is served by the priest in
the family church. Neither the annual blessing nor the blessing
in conjunction with these short services are as elaborate as the
blessing of the new dwelling, but because of this it should not
be overlooked, for it is in this way that the grace of God is
extended to individual dwellings.
Prayer: Corporate and Private
The icon corner is the center for family prayer. It is before
the icons that the Christian family should pray together as one
unit. "For where two or three are gathered in My name, there
am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). By praying
together, the family members understand that it is together and
as a whole that they are under God and that it is He Who directs
the life of the whole family and of each individual member and
they clearly realize it is God Whom they are directly responsible
to. It is God and the Church which are the real foci of the
family, not political leaders, psychologists, materialism, a
social structure nor secular happiness. Corporate prayers by all
family members allow each to strengthen the other's faith and
earnestness. This creates a stronger bond of love and
understanding among all the members, so that true forgiveness
after a misunderstanding can more readily take place. It is here
in the family that true Christian love must be learned and
exercised, since if we cannot love those of our own flesh and
blood, how much more difficult it will be to show Christian love
towards our neighbors. If we are unable to love either family or
neighbor, we are not able or worthy to love God Himself. "If
anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar;
for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, he cannot
love God Whom has not seen" (1 John 4:20). Corporate family
prayer can help build that necessary love of family, neighbor and
Many Orthodox families have the custom of singing some prayers
or verses from Vespers, Orthros or Divine Liturgy and
incorporating them as part of their family prayer. Other families
say, rather than sing, prayers and verses, but what is most
essential and important is that the prayers be alive in each
person and do not become merely repetition of empty words. This
vitality in prayer is an important consideration in private
Our prayer must be deep, sincere, wise, and fruitful; it
must change our heart, direct our will to good, withdrawing
us from evil. Superficial prayer is hypocrisy, a mocking at
sacred thingsvain prayer. "This people draweth
nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoreth Me with their
lips; but their heart is far from Me" (Matt. 15:8). 
It is very discouraging for us not to be able to pray in such
a deep, sincere manner. For this reason we may not be strongly
motivated to assemble the entire family for prayer, since we may
feel there are too many distractions in corporate prayer which
are not present in private prayer. Even with this difficulty the
family must be encouraged to pray together. The devil triumphs
when family prayer is abandoned for this reason.
Starets Macarius of Optina Hermitage wrote to a wife regarding
The joint prayer of husband and wife is a great force.
That may be one of the reasons why the enemy is trying to get
both of you to break this excellent habit. [This is] one more
temptation which God permits so that you should learn to
overcome it and come out of the testing stronger than before!
In the private prayers of each member of the family church are
included prayers for every other member. Members of the family
church always must pray in all possible ways, for the grace of
God to guide and strengthen each other and for God-pleasing
harmony in the family church. It is only with reliance on God and
in obedience to God that this will take place. The harmony and
spiritual strength of the family church is necessary since it is
the ark of our salvation.
Read the words of St. John of Kronstadt on praying for each
"Behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may
sift you as wheat" (Lk. 22:31). It is he who so greatly
distracts our thoughts in the temple during Divine Service
and at home during prayer; it is he who draws away your
thoughts from God, from our souls and the souls of others,
from heavenly and eternal things; it is he who occupies us
with early trifles or with earthly vanity, with earthly
nothingness, with earthly allurements, with food,
drink, dress, houses, etc. We must pray for each other that
our faith should not fail as the Savior prayed for Peter. 
In addition to the prayers each member of the family offers
for the other members, he should pray once a day for all other
members of the Church-at-large and for certain persons. Each day
prayers should be offered for the whole Church, our country, its
civil authorities, for Orthodox Christian countries, for our
bishops, priests, deacons, monks and nuns, for our parish priest,
for our spiritual father, for the old and the young, for the
poor, the destitute, orphans and widows. We must pray daily for
those whom we have offended, scandalized or led into evil, and
for those who hate us or offend us. Daily we also should remember
in prayer the Orthodox deceased of our family, God-parents,
friends and Church leaders.
Formal prayers of commemoration which may be used in
conjunction with daily private prayers can be found in some
publications of Orthodox prayer books. A comprehensive
commemoration of the living and departed can be found as the last
portion of Morning Prayers in the Prayer Book published by
Holy Trinity Monastery (Jordanville, New York 13361).
Orthodox Christians having Orthodox family, God-parents, or
friends fallen asleep in Christ should request the parish priest
to hold a Panikhida on the fortieth day after death, the sixth
month, the first year after the death, and each year on the same
In conjunction with the Panikhida, koliva (boiled wheat with
sugar and/or hard candies) usually is prepared and taken to the
Church to be blessed at the service. The wheat represents to
Orthodox the promise of future life, for since the wheat only
gives life after it has been buried in the earth, so too man will
rise from the dead. The sugar and sweets remind us that death is
sweet and for a pious Orthodox Christian to die is no tragedy.
"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His
saints" (Ps. 115:6).
At the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, names of members of
the family church, Orthodox relatives, friends and spiritual
leaders, both living and deceased, are submitted to the parish
priest for him to commemorate in the Proskomedia. The names are
placed in a special commemoration book held by the family which
is submitted together with a prosphora (offering bread)
obtainable at the Church's candle-stand [in Russian practice], or
baked by one of the members of the family specifically for the
purpose of making commemorations.
Prosphora is made without milk, eggs or butter. A recipe and
helpful hints for the making of prosphora can be found in A Lenten
Cookbook for Orthodox Christians, published by St. Nectarios
Press (10300 Ashworth Ave. North; Seattle, Washington 98133).
Another aspect of an Orthodox Christian's prayer life is the
blessing of the bed before retiring. This is done by one's
tracing a large Cross over it and dedicating one's sleeping hours
to God. This practice should be taught to children as soon as
they are able to coordinate the movement. Adults should not
consider the blessing of their bed as something "cute,"
only for children, but as something for all Orthodox Christians
and therefore they also should adhere to this custom.
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem writes about making the sign of the
Let us not then be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be
the Cross our seal made with boldness by our fingers on our
brow and in everything; over the bread we eat, and the cups
we drink; in our comings in, and goings out; before our
sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are in the
way and when we are still. Great is that preservative; it is
without price, for the poor's sake; without toil, for the
sick, since also its grace is from God. It is the Sign of the
faithful, and the dread of evils; for He has triumphed over
them in it, having made a shew of them openly; for when they
see the Cross, they are reminded of the Crucified; they are
afraid of Him, Who hath bruised the heads of the dragon.
Despise not the Seal, because of the freeness of the Gift;
but for this rather honor thy Benefactor. 
Scripture reading and study is an integral part of a
Christian's prayer life. Holy Scripture is God's revelation to
man and it is through this revelation that the Christian receives
guidance and direction so he or she may live a virtuous life. The
study of Scripture strengthens his faith in God, renews his
spiritual life and keeps him free from despairthe life- and
soul-destroying sin. The reading and study of Holy Scripture
helps the Christian to understand why the Church directs him to
think and act in ways which are not always in the mainstream of
St. John of Damascus in Exposition of the Orthodox Faith tells
to search the Scriptures is a work most fair and most
profitable for souls. For just as the tree planted by the
channels of waters, so also the soul watered by the Divine
Scripture is enriched and gives fruit in its season, viz.,
Orthodox belief, and is adorned with evergreen leafage, I
mean actions pleasing to God. For through the Holy Scriptures
we are trained to action that is pleasing to God, and
untroubled contemplation. For in these we find both
exhortation to every virtue and dissuasion from every vice. 
It is not enough to hear the Holy Scriptures read at the
Divine Services in church, rather their reading and study must be
a daily affair. It is with this consistent approach that we will
most readily understand God's commandments, His love, His nature
and what He expects from us, His children.
Reading of Holy Scriptures may be done on an individual basis,
but it is more fruitful for the family to read together the
prescribed daily passages of scripture indicated on an Orthodox
calendar. Reading Scripture can be done in conjunction with the
family evening prayer. This practice accustoms the children to
the importance of reading the inspired Word of God on a daily
basis. The Epistles, Acts of the Apostles or Old Testament
readings can be done by the wife or one of the children while the
reading of the Gospel should be reserved for the head of the
family. At the end of the Gospel reading, all present, beginning
with the head of the family, kiss the Holy Gospel to show their
love and respect for the written icon of GodHis words.
During the reading of the Holy Scriptures at family prayer,
our physical posture should not be relaxed, but we should
continue to stand erect and listen to it as we stand during
prayer. Prayerfully must we be attentive to the words of Holy
Scripture. Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov gives advice on the
reading of the Gospel:
While reading the Gospel do not seek enjoyment; do not
seek ecstasies; do not seek glittering thoughts; seek to
behold infallibly Holy Truth.... Read the Gospel with the
greatest reverence and attention. Do not consider anything in
it of little importance, little worthy of consideration.
Every iota of it emits a gleam of life. Neglect of life is
This attentive approach of Bishop Ignatius should be applied
to all Scripture reading, not only to the reading of the Holy
Our reception of the Word of God must be as worthy and
attentive as our reception of the Body and Blood of Christ. When
we are administered Holy Eucharist, we take extreme care so that
the Body and Blood of Christ do not fall to the ground from our
lips; likewise, we should be equally careful to see to it that
the Word of God does not fall away from our thoughts, actions and
words. The person who carelessly receives the Word of God shares
in the same guilt as the person who through neglect permits the
Body and Blood of Christ to fall to the ground.
Sundays, Saturday Evenings and Feast Days
Divine Liturgy on Sundays and on feast days should never be
considered as replaced by corporate family prayer in the home. On
these days the family should attend the entire Divine Liturgy at
the parish church, since it is here that God's greatest gift is
bestowed upon usthe Body and Blood of Christ.
Saturday evenings and the eves of major feat days should be
times given particular attention by the family. The attendance at
the Vigil Service at the parish church is the ideal manner to
spend these evenings. If, however, due to small children or
illness, members of the family are not able to attend the vigil,
they should spend a quiet evening in prayer and spiritual
reading. Orthodox Christians should not be spending these
evenings at movies, balls, or amusements, nor playing cards,
cutting the grass, fishing, or involved with other secular
concerns, whether within the home or without. Radios,
televisions, stereos, and musical instruments are silenced on
these evenings, since the day of the feast has already begun at
sundown. These silent evenings are to be spend in quiet,
spiritual preparation for the feast. Secular entertainments
should not be recommenced until after the celebration of the
Divine Liturgy on the feast day.
On the eve of a major feast day and on Saturday evenings (when
the Vigil to the Resurrection of Christ is celebrated each week),
Orthodox Christian husbands and wives abstain from sexual
relations in order that they can direct all their thoughts,
actions and concerns to spiritual growth and not be occupied with
non-spiritual matters. The Christian Church does not view sexual
relations between husband and wife as a base act brought about by
the sin of Adam and Eve for the sole purpose of conceiving
children. The abstention from physical relations at these and
other times is not motivated by a mentality that views these
relations as unclean or sinful. The Church Council of Gangra held
in 340 A.D. decreed four canons which uphold the respectability
of the marriage bed.
Canon One states:
If anyone disparages marriage, or abominates or disparages
a woman sleeping with her husband, notwithstanding that she
is faithful and reverent, as though she could not enter the
Kingdom, let him be anathema. 
Canon Nine states:
If anyone should remain a virgin or observe continence as
if, abominating marriage, he had become an anchorite, and not
for the good standard and holy feature of virginity, let him
be anathema. 
Canon Ten states:
If anyone leading a life of virginity for the Lord should
regard married persons superciliously, let him be anathema. 
Canon Fourteen states:
If any woman should abandon her husband and wish to
depart, because she abominates marriage, let her be anathema.
The abstention from sexual relations is for the sake of
spiritual matters and preparation. This reasoning is as old as
the Church itself, since St. Paul in his letter to the
Corinthians (1 Cor. 7:5) indicates that husband and wife should
not refuse each other except for times when they devote
themselves to prayer.
Earlier we mentioned the hand censer as part of the icon
corner. This hand censer is used in the home on eves of feasts,
Saturday evenings, the beginnings of lenten periods, on the eves
of name's days of the family, on the eve of the patron of the
family church, and on other occasions. Some Orthodox families use
the hand censer each evening at family prayer, but the minimum
use of it is for the above-mentioned occasions.
The offering of incense to God is a practice which dates back
to the time of Moses when God gave commands as to how to burn it.
You shall make an altar to burn incense upon ... And
Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; every morning when
he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up
the lamps in the evening, he shall burn it, a perpetual
incense before the Lord throughout your generations. You
shall offer no unholy incense thereon (Ex. 30:1, 7-9).
The burning of incense as an offering to God will continue
even to the end of the world, as revealed by God to St. John.
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a
golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with
the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before
the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the
prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God
(Rev. 8:3- 5).
Because of the command and revelation of God regarding the
offering of incense, the Church uses incense as an acceptable
offering in its Divine Services. Since the parish church uses
incense, so should the family church use incense as an offering
pleasing to God. On Saturday evenings, on the eves of feasts and
the other already-mentioned occasions, the house is
"blessed" with incense. The head of the household
carries the hand censer with burning incense throughout the
entire dwelling (basement and attic included) and makes the sign
of the Cross on the four walls of each room and over the beds.
Some Orthodox have the custom of saying with each sign of the
Cross thus made: "This room (or bed) is blessed by the sign
of the Holy Cross." The person censing is accompanied by all
members of the household chanting "Holy God...," the
troparion of the feast or Sunday or other appropriate ode, and
bearing icons or candles. The procession begins at the icon
corner, proceeds through the entire dwelling, and returns to the
The hand censer, charcoal (for burning the incense) and the
incense may be purchased at some parish churches or from monastic
communities such as Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Brookline,
Massachusetts 02146). The parish priest or deacon would be happy
to show parishioners how to light the charcoal and offer incense.
The charcoal and incense ashes should not be discarded in the
garbage, but should be put along the foundation of the building,
buried in the ground or put in some other appropriate place where
no one will step on them.
Feast days are celebrated by Orthodox families as special and
joyous occasions. These days are not regarded as normal days and
for this reason Orthodox homes often are decorated especially for
the feast. The decorating of the home and icon corner can be a
project for the parents together with the children. The
decorations themselves, the decorating, and the blessing of the
house with the hand censer, all place emphasis on the specialness
and the importance of the feast. These are not to be surpassed by
any secular celebrations at home, for after all, the Orthodox
home is a family church and God is at the center of its
existence. There is nothing so empty as a Christmas celebrated,
as many westerners do, so that the house decorations, the meal,
the gifts, or the family get-together are the center and reason
for the celebration. In other words, Christ has been made alien
to the celebration.
The Name Day Celebration
The first name given to a child is always a Christian name. It
is the saint of this name who is the patron of the child. Many
times the child receives the name of a saint who is commemorated
on the day or near to the day of the child's birth. Sometimes the
child is named after a saint for whom the family has special
devotion. An adult who becomes Orthodox generally will be given a
Christian name by the priest who accepts him into the Faith or he
will be allowed to choose his own patron saint to whom he has a
It is to our patron saint that we should pray and have special
devotion, so that we may receive an abundance of God's blessings.
Not only should we hold our patron saint in special reverence,
but also we should have an icon of the saint in our room and in
the icon corner. His or her life should be read and studied, so
that we may learn how our lives should be directed. On the feast
day of the saint, we celebrate our name day and the saint's day.
This day is considered as our birthday into the Church and on
this day we celebrate this important event.
Orthodox, many times, celebrate their name day by inviting
Orthodox family and friends to their home which may be decorated
for the occasion. An icon of the saint is displayed in a
prominent place and often is decorated with flowers. The priest
may be requested to serve an Akathist or Molieben (prayer
service) to the saint on this day either in the home or in the
The difference between the celebration of one's day of
physical birth and of one's name day is that on the former the
person whose birthday it is, is the center of attention, whereas
on the latter, the saint is the focal point. For this reason the
icon of the saint is prominently displayed. The saint being the
center does not imply that the person is forgotten, for he is
wished by all a "Happy name day," or is sung "God
grant you many years." The latter might be thought of as the
capstone of all name day celebrations.
Placing the saint as the center of attention on one's name day
ties the whole celebration in with the entire Churchboth
the living and those fallen asleep in Christ, since it is on this
day that the Church is commemorating the saint. Our friends and
relatives are not alone in their celebration, but do so together
with the whole Church. Their prayers are directed to the saint so
that his or her prayer to God on our behalf may bring us God's
One's name day is not only a day for celebration but also is a
day for our spiritual growth. We should try to go to confession
and to receive the Holy Eucharist on this day. In parishes where
this is not always possible, one should do so on the Sunday or
feast that is nearest the saint's feast day.
Deceased family members and friends should be remembered in
prayer on the feast day of their patron saint.
Four periods of fasting as well as nearly all the Wednesdays
and Fridays of the year are observed by Orthodox Christians by
abstaining from flesh meat and dairy products. The regulations of
fasting for these days and periods can be found in an
easy-to-follow outline in A Lenten Cookbook for Orthodox
Christians. Periods and days of fast with the fasting
regulations are also noted in the St. Nectarios wall calendar.
Both are available from St. Nectarios Press.
The prescriptions for fasting are not easy to keep but neither
is Christ's mandate to us to be as perfect as our Heavenly Father
is perfect (Matt. 5:48). Many times Orthodox view fasting from
foods as nearly impossible to do, and yet this aspect of fasting
is really the easiest.
... in fasting one must not only obey this rule about
food, but refrain from every other sin in order that, while
the stomach is fasting, the tongue also may fast, refraining
from slander, lies, idle talk, disparaging one's brethren,
anger and every other sin committed by the tongue. One should
also fast with the eyes, that is, not look at vain things,
not give freedom to the eyes, not look shamelessly and
without fear at anyone. The hands and feet should also be
kept form any evil action. 
The fasting periods are observed in Orthodox homes by an
increase in individual and family prayer, Scripture reading and
other spiritual reading and endeavors. Entertainment is cut to a
bare minimum so that our spiritual effort is not distracted by
secular concerns. In many Orthodox homes the operation of
televisions, radios and record players is suspended or severely
restricted throughout the lenten periods.
Holy Water and Oil
A bottle of holy water, blessed in the parish church, is kept
in the icon corner and sometimes by individuals in their rooms.
This holy water is to be used, not left on the shelf, and
disposed of when newly sanctified holy water is obtained.
Holy water may be used in cases where a person falls under the
power of evil spirits. The individual should be encouraged to
drink some of the sanctified water and be sprinkled with it. At
times when members of the family feel an especially evil force
within the home, the head of the family should sprinkle the
inside walls of the family church with holy water in the same
manner as is done by the priest. Other members of the family,
bearing candles or icons accompany him during this sprinkling.
The evil spirits should be exorcised by this sprinkling of
sanctified water; however, if their force persists, the priest
should be asked to come and bless the family church.
As the first thing taken into the body, holy water (together
with a piece of antidoron, if this available) may be drunk in the
morning. It is drunk at times of temptation and in times of
illness, in fits of anger; it may be used to sign the Cross on
sores and cuts.
Oil is referred to frequently in both the Old and New
Testaments as a main source of good, for lighting, for healing,
for anointing and for cosmetic purposes. The practice of
anointing with oil is observed today in the Orthodox Church as it
was in apostolic times. The anointing with oil takes place in the
Mysteries of Baptism and Holy Unction and at the All-night Vigil
Service on the eves of important feasts.
Oil symbolizes God's mercy and when used in anointing it is a
visible embodiment of the grace of healing. Christians,
therefore, often keep small bottles of holy oil in their icon
corner and anoint themselves and others of their family with the
sign of the Cross in holy oil. This anointing is usually done on
the individual's forehead and is used for the same reasons for
which holy water is used.
Oil taken from oil lamps burning in holy places, where saints
and holy persons are buried, and in front of miraculous icons is
considered to be blessed by God and is used often by Orthodox
Christians in the same manner as oil which has been blessed in a
formal manner in church.
Holy water and holy oil are both restorative and protective
when they are used with faith and belief in the grace of the Holy
Spirit that sanctified them.
Illness in the Family Church
When the sickness of a member of the family church entails his
or her absence from Divine Liturgy, this should impel the family
members who do attend the service to bring home antidoron
(blessed bread) for him or her. Antidoron is not a substitute for
Holy Communion, but is for those who, for one reason or another,
are unable to receive the Eucharist. Those ill at home benefit
spiritually and physically from this link with the healing Church
During times of illness, Orthodox Christians do not put their
faith entirely in medicines, medical personnel or home remedies
as the answer and cure for their physical or mental illness. Holy
water and blessed oil are used freely as some of God's gifts to
help us at these times. Prayers said by the infirm and other
family members are extremely important during illnesses within
the family church.
The priest should be called during illnesses so that he may
pray for the infirm, offer spiritual advice and bring the
Mysteries of Holy Confession, Holy Communion and Holy Unction.
The idea that a priest should be called only when someone is in
danger of death is not an Orthodox idea but comes from the
western churches and is contrary to Holy Scripture. The priest
does not come to prepare a person for the grave but he comes to
bring spiritual life. Holy Unction is a service for the spiritual
and physical health of an individual, not a preparation for death
and burial (Jam. 5:14-15).
A priest coming to a sick member of the family to bring him
spiritual and physical strength through the mysteries should be
welcomed into the house which has been prepared for the visit.
Radio and television should be turned off during the visit, so
there are no distractions from the great blessings that God
bestows through the operation of the Mysteries. Religious objects
needed for the priest's visit should be out and in their places.
This arrangement can be discussed with the priest at the time he
is requested to make the visit.
During pregnancy an Orthodox woman should be particularly
concerned with the spiritual aspect of her nature. The child
lives within her for nine months and because the baby is part of
her body, any spiritual gifts the mother receives also come to
the unborn child. Frequent reception of Holy Communion and
frequent prayer are highly desirable during this gestation period
so that God's grace may envelope the mother and her child.
After the assurance of pregnancy or after the birth of the
child, the parents may wish to have the priest offer a
thanksgiving Molieben to God for His blessing them with a child.
On the eighth day after birth the child is named according to the
tradition of the Church. Although the hospital or civil
authorities may desire the name sooner, on the eighth day,
Orthodox parents should bring the child to the church and have
him or her named in the Orthodox manner. This service of naming
an eight-day old baby may be conducted in the home before the
icon corner if weather conditions or the child's health make it
impossible for the child to be brought to church.
The fortieth day after a woman gives birth, she comes to the
church with her baby in order to be "churched." This is
done in imitation of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, who on
the fortieth day after giving birth brought Christ to the Temple
so she might be purified and present Christ to God (Lk. 2:22-38).
Forgiveness in the Christian Family
The bonding cement of a Christian communitywhether it be
a parish or the familyis the ability and the readiness of
each of the members to ask forgiveness from one another. If we
are not able to forgive one another how can we expect God to
forgive us? In the "Our Father, ... " which Christ
taught us to pray, we ask for God's forgiveness on these
conditions: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
. . ." (Matt. 6:12). The most effective medicine against
anger and irritability, although it is the most bitter at the
first draught, is to ask forgiveness after a quarrel. It is
bitter for human pride but, if it is so, hasten even more to make
use of it, for it is bitter only for the proud, and if it seems
so intolerable to you, then you know that you have within you yet
another serious ailment, pride. Sit down and think over your own
soul, and pray that the Lord might help you master yourself and
ask forgiveness and reconciliation from the person you have
offended, even if he is more to blame than you are. 
The Christian family is the most primary of all human
relationships, for on its stability depends the stability of the
entire Church. Disharmony within Christian families penetrates
into the larger Christian community, creating disharmony in the
parish church as well. Members of the family should be quick to
ask for each other's forgiveness when they have said or done
wrong to them. Asking for forgiveness keeps animosity, anger and
hatred from becoming rooted in members of the family, which
eventually may cause the dissolution of the family and the family
church. This catastrophe is not only physically harmful, but also
spiritually detrimental. The seeking of forgiveness for wrong or
harsh words or anger should never be put off until tomorrow, for
then it has had time to root in the heart, and sets a precedent
for the next time. Eventually it will become a habit not to seek
forgiveness, but rather to let these passions build up to the
point where one is too proud to ask it.
The heads of monastic communities ask forgiveness each day of
the brotherhood and entire community in the prayers at the
conclusion of Compline and Midnight Office; this indicates the
importance of asking forgiveness from those with whom we live.
Seeking forgiveness from members of the family church can be
patterned after the parish church's Vesper Service on Forgiveness
Sunday (Cheese-fare Sunday) when all parishioners seek
forgiveness from one another. At the Vesper Service, each person
says to the other, "Forgive me, a sinner," and then
makes a complete prostration (touching the head to the ground)
before the other person, after which they exchange the apostolic
kiss of peace by kissing each other on alternate cheeks three
times [or by kissing each other's right hand].
In the family church the member who has been angry or has
spoken un-Christian words toward another, whether or not this was
justified, should ask forgiveness for his deeds, words or actions
and make a complete prostration no later than bed-time the same
Husband and wife, the evening before receiving Holy Communion,
as part of their preparation, should ask forgiveness from each
other as well as from the children and anyone else residing in
the house. A tradition existing in some pious Orthodox households
is for the children on the evening prior to Communion to kiss the
right hand of their parents when asking forgiveness.
Before the reception of Holy Communion, an Orthodox Christian
must ask forgiveness both from fellow believers in the parish and
friends with whom he has felt anger or has exchanged un-Christian
words. He explains to them his intention to receive Holy
... and asks, in a general way, their forgiveness, he
does not mention any particular offense unless there is a
special reason for doing so; the answer has become a formula:
"May the Lord forgive!" This custom is founded on
two convictions. When men offend each other it is God that
they offend; and it is to God that men confess their sins.
But confession must be done in the presence of a priest, and
can honestly be done only by him who can think that he is
reconciled with all men. 
Eternal salvation is the goal of our earthly life. This goal
requires our constant striving to live as Christiansa task,
in any age which is difficult to accomplish. The influences of
our contemporary world with its atheistic, humanistic and secular
approach to all aspects of human life has made it extremely hard
to live as a true Christian. The parish church and the home are
the only bastions where God can be praised, glorified and
entreated. These are the only places where Christianity can be
taught and where one can gain the courage to begin living a
The home is the place where people spend a great deal of their
time; therefore, the environment of the home is important if we
wish to keep in contact with our Faith and eventually attain
eternal salvation. For this to happen, the home must be converted
from an ordinary home into something morethe family church.
The family church provides us with an environment in which we can
grow and develop into mature Christians. The proper understanding
of the responsibilities in Christian marriage and in the
establishment of the family church does not bring us any closer
to actually being mature Christians. This is only the
rationalistic, theoretical aspect of the matter, not an
implementation of it. What God seeks are actions, not lifeless
reasonings and abstractions.
Our lives, marriages and homes remain as the inferior wine
that was served first at the wedding feast of Cana, if we do not
become active in our pursuit of the goal of mature Christianity.
It is only after we work at preparing our lives and homes for the
reception of Christ and the Christian life, that our lives, our
marriages and our homes will become like the good wine which
Christ miraculously made from water at that joyous wedding (Jn.
30. Ibid., p. 148.
31. Ibid., p. 150
33. Sergieff, Op. Cit., p. 245
34. St. John Chrysostom, "Homilies on the Epistles of
Paul to the Corinthians," A Select Library of Nicene and
Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip
Schaff (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1969),
Vol. XII, p. 265.
35. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, "Directions for Using
the Wick Float," (Brookline, Mass.; n. d.). This type of
float can be obtained inexpensively from Holy Transfiguration
Monastery, 278 Warren St., Brookline, Mass. 02146.
36. Sergieff, Rev. John Iliytch (St. John of Kronstadt), My
Life in Christ (Jordanville, N.Y.: Holy Trinity
Monastery, 1971), Pt. II, p. 151.
37. Macarius, op. cit., p. 65.
38. Sergieff, op. cit., p. 34.
39. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, "Catechetical Lectures: On
Crucifixion and Burial of Christ," A Library of Fathers
of the holy Catholic Church (Oxford: John Henry
Parker, 1845), Vol. 34, Lecture XIII: 36, pp. 161-162.
40. St. John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox
Faith," A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene
Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff and
Henry Wace (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.,
1973), Vol. IX, p. 89.
41. Brianchaninov, Bishop Ignatius, "On Reading the
Gospel," Orthodox Life, July-August 1967, No. 4
(106), p. 9.
42. The Twenty One Canons of the Regional Council held in
Gangra, The Rudder (Pedalion) (Chicago: The Orthodox
Christian Educational Society, 1957), p. 523.
43. Ibid., p. 526.
45. Ibid., p. 527.
46. St. Abba Dorotheus, "Directions on Spiritual
Training," Early Fathers from the Philokalia, trans.
E. Kadloubovsky and G. E. H. Palmer (London: Faber and Faber
Ltd., 1963), p. 176.
47. Khrapovitsky, op. cit., p. 45.
48. Macarius, op. cit., p. 29 n.
St. Nectarios Press, 1987. Reprinted with permission. Order the complete book from
St. Nectarios Press.