As a follow-up to my previous post, 12 Things the Normal Orthodox Christian is Doing, I thought I might offer a few more “every day” kinds of things that I associate with being a “normal” Orthodox Christian—that is, one who is living according to the norms of Orthodox Christianity. (This will unfortunately differ from what the “average” Orthodox Christian is doing.) And thank you to those of you who commented on my previous post and on social media with your own ideas!
Again, this list is not meant to be exhaustive, nor is it meant to be a list of “requirements.” It’s also not ranked. This list is also more focused on community-oriented actions, while the previous list is perhaps more centered on the individual. The lists are meant to complement each other.
1. Love your fellow church members.
By this, I don’t mean feel good feelings about them, but look for practical, active ways that you can meet their needs, lighten their load, comfort them in sorrow, etc. Christ said that people would know that we were His disciples because we had love for each other (John 13:35). Unfortunately, many parishes don’t function that way at all. Let’s change that, beginning with ourselves.
2. Serve in your church.
Related to #1 above, we also should be finding ways to serve in our parishes. We are all ministers in the church, members of the royal priesthood. If we really are a chosen nation, a peculiar people (1 Peter 2:9), then there are no consumers or spectators or customers among Christians.
We seek out ministries in our parishes where we can assist, suited to our own abilities. If there isn’t something in your parish yet where you can serve, speak with your priest about what you would like to do. He almost certainly has been waiting for someone to come and offer some help.
3. Serve in your community.
One of the things that authenticates our faith to the world is that we love people outside of our churches, as well. We unfortunately live in a time when civic engagement is down—people volunteer less, vote less, come to church less, etc. Membership in nearly everything is down. But Christians have reasons to be engaged in our communities. We believe that Christ came to redeem the world. And our presence is part of how He’s doing it.
4. Support Orthodox organizations and institutions in addition to your parish.
Above and beyond your tithes and pledges to your parish, give occasional or regular financial support to monasteries, seminaries, charities, missionaries, etc. They all need help, and we depend on the work that they do to provide us with a full spiritual life. Support them not just with your money but also with your visits, your words, your sharing of their events, etc., on social media, and with encouraging other people to get involved with them.
5. Teach your children.
Sunday School is not enough. Even if it were enough, the trend is that parents are bringing their children inconsistently. But even the most fantastic curriculum in the Church is not going to be enough if the faith is not reinforced by practice and education at home. The primary responsibility of parents to their children is to teach them how to be Christians. (That means, of course, that they know how to do it themselves!)
6. Build spiritual brotherhood/sisterhood.
We often speak of how important it is to have a spiritual father—though I usually prefer the term father-confessor—but spiritual brotherhood (which includes sisterhood) is actually spoken of far more often in Scripture! Brothers dwelling together in unity (Psalm 132(133)) is the locus of blessing and salvation from God.
Ideally, our closest friendships should be with our fellow Orthodox Christians—sharing love, sorrow, joy, coffee, play dates, meals, ball games, theatre, pilgrimage, etc. Yes, we need a confessor to whom we can be obedient and who is a father to us, but we also need—perhaps more often!—spiritual brothers and sisters who stick close to us. Spiritual friendship is critical, and it is even an image of Christ, the Friend who “sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24).
7. Be hospitable.
Offering meals and fellowship is one of the best ways of building community, especially spiritual brotherhood. Open your home, your wallet and your life to others. Pouring ourselves out nurtures love within us, and we create and strengthen the bonds of friendship that are characteristic of true Christianity.
8. Encourage young people to become clergy and monastics.
I was once told by a certain monk that most parents in his tradition would hate for their own kids to become priests. I asked him why. He said that the attitude could be summed up, “I know how I treat my priest, and no one will treat any son of mine that way!”
Clergy and monastics aren’t “better” than any of us, but they are nevertheless a great gift of God to the Church. If one of our children shows an interest in ordination or in monasticism, we should encourage them. And we should speak highly of the life that clergy and monastics have taken upon themselves. It is a great struggle, often painful, often full of rejection and disappointment. So it takes courage. Why should we want a son or daughter of ours to pursue such a life? Because it is needed, but also because with the struggle comes great joy. Even when I hate being a priest, I love being a priest.
And don’t just encourage them to consider ordination or monasticism—bring them to visit seminaries and monasteries.
9. Find a mother of young children in your parish and help her.
This is related to #1 and #2 above, but I wanted to highlight it especially. The mother of young children in a parish is usually one of the most fervent believers in the parish, but she is also one of the most stressed. She likely feels that she cannot pray, that she cannot worship, that nothing ever gets done, that she and her children are a nuisance to others in the parish. And it is likely that some parishioner or other has told her so.
Find her, help her, encourage her, do little things for her. Help with her kids, help lighten her load, pray for her, bring her meals—anything you can think of to minister to her. I have become convinced that mothers of young children are one of the most critical demographics in our churches—not because they need Christ or live as Christians more or less than anyone else, but because they are at the center of the health of our parishes, because they are the nerve center of families.
Find a way to make her time at church easier, her life at home better, etc. Let her know that her presence and the presence of her children is a blessing and joy for you and for the parish.
10. Find an elderly person in your parish and help him or her.
Most parishes have several people who, because of age and infirmity, cannot come to worship often or even at all. Most parishes think that it is the clergy’s job to visit those people—and it is. But what a priest or deacon brings to that person’s home or hospital bed is not the same as what you bring. Visit them, offer them rides, send them cards, pray for them. They often feel abandoned and lonely. Be there for the elderly.
And be there for their faithful caregivers, too—especially family. Most elderly people who have a family member caring for them probably have only one person in the family who is really making the effort. That person likely feels overwhelmed, unappreciated, and burnt out. Lighten their load.
11. Sponsor a seminarian, especially a seminarian family.
When I was in seminary, the majority of the married families with children in the seminary were on some kind of welfare. They were literally impoverished and had to receive state assistance in order to eat and to keep a roof over their heads. Even aside from the financial problems with family life in seminary, most seminarians and their wives (especially their wives!) feel stressed out, fearful, pressured, etc.
Contact the seminary and ask if there is a family in need you can adopt. Send them money, cards, clothes for their kids, Christmas gifts, words of encouragement, and most especially prayer. These are among the neediest people in our Church! And we expect them to be strong in the Lord and ready to serve others. Help them.
12. Visit other parishes.
Go for their feast days, their educational events, their festivals, etc. Get to know other clergy and other traditions. We are one Church, and we cannot truly be that one Church in a real way if we do not know each other.
Visiting other parishes also helps your own parish. How? It gives you ideas for things you can do and it lowers anxiety about problems in your own parish by seeing either that others share the same burdens or that things don’t have to be that way and could be some other way. Bonus effect: You also widen the pool of possible spouses for your kids.
So those are some more of my ideas of what a normal Orthodox Christian should be doing. Do you have any more ideas? Leave them in the comments!
And just as an addendum: Even though I mention two groups of people in the parish—mothers of young children and the elderly—I am by no means suggesting that no one else is important or ought to be neglected. Of course, in keeping with everything else here said about loving one another, everyone who has a need should be loved. Don’t neglect anyone.