Being Christian in contemporary America can be difficult enough without your family being against you. The last thing we think is possible is families not being supportive of our faith in Christ. It would be bad enough if our family didn’t believe. It is that much harder when they actively work against our journey to Christ.
Today the Church commemorates a saint who left his Christian family for paganism. Saint James the Great Martyr of Persia grew up a Christian but later departed the faith to join his friend who was a pagan king. When his family discovered his departure, they ‘disowned’ him. James was so sad at being disowned, he repented and was eventually martyred for Christ.
It ended well for Saint James and his family, but it doesn’t always end with repentance. There are two struggles that I see as ‘trending’ in the Church. The first is cradle Orthodox families that mock ‘serious’ faith in their relatives. It normally takes the form of, “Why are taking the Church so seriously? Can’t you just relax every now and then?”
The second form, maybe more understandable, is the family of converts. When someone departs from their childhood faith, whether Chrisitan or non-Christian, the family left behind can be offended and even spiteful.
Let’s face it, we feel the same temptation when someone leaves the Orthodox Church. We are hurt and may want to lash out. That is where the life of Saint James brings the two concepts together. He left the Church and suffered the estrangement of his family. He then left paganism and was martyred for Christ.
We hear this passage and may wonder how it is possible for families to rise up against each other because of faith. It happens more than you would think. Saint James is an example of Christians rising up against pagan family and inspiring repentance. It doesn’t always work that way.
Often, I find people, cradle and convert, that ignite a fire of serious faith in their hearts. It can be a lot of pressure to come to Church every Sunday, and sometimes during the week, when your family mocks your faith.
It can challenge our faith to turn against our unbelieving family members. We are supposed to honor our parents. It feels like we are disobeying the Ten Commandments if we disobey our parents and become ‘more faithful’ than they are to Christ.
It can feel prideful that we are in Church every Sunday when our family members stay home and enjoy family time without us. It can be a bit overwhelming to want to fast when our family refuses to fast. The only way our ‘new-found fervor’ can last is if we find others who are supportive. The Church becomes our family.
The daily life of the Church is much more than daily church services. It becomes a place where our daily activities and lifestyle choices are reinforced by the Orthodox Faith. The Church building and center become the places where we feel safe to live our Orthodox Faith without mockery. At least it should be.
The various programs of the Church can also be a distraction if they do not reinforce the faith. Thinking we are ‘keeping the family together’ we hurt the family when our activities are not in line with the Church teachings. Whether it is sports or cultural events, dances or dinners, when the activities stray from the Church, so do the families. Then we are back to where we started in the first place.
If your family experience does not support your faith in Christ, look to the Church. If your Church life does not reinforce the faith, sit with your spiritual father. Maybe a new ministry can be established, or an old one reinvigorated for the faith.
The Church has a lot of work to do. We are called to preach the Gospel to the whole world and at the same time go after the lost sheep. It is a balance that only the grace of God can accomplish. One thing is sure, there will always be family members that stray and family members that return. Let’s just not be reason they stray from Christ.