While in the Orthodox Tradition, the family is often considered to be “the little church” in which we live and practice our Orthodox Faith, the family as a social unit has not gotten the attention in our spiritual tradition that one can find for monks and nuns.
Be that as it may, most of us spend at least part of our lives in families and there we do have to consider how to be Christian. In the modern age we see some attempts to write about the family from an Orthodox perspective, including trying to emphasize married saints of the Church. This literature though gives witness to the dearth of writings on family in the mostly monastic spirituality of Orthodoxy. Even in the New Testament, depending on what English translation you read, the word “family” only occurs 5-20 times, and even there gives almost no instruction on what Christian family might look like.
“In addition to temptations from the evil one, Starets Macarius [19th Century, Russian] gives several other important causes for family problems. To one correspondent he writes: ‘It is this growing indifference to His Word, and our consequent refusal to examine our hearts-where we could find both the peace He bequeathed us and the insight into our lack of love of Him and of our neighbor-which brings in its wake this punishment, this disruption of the home.’ He also says that this is due to our failure to see Christ in others. He reminds us that when we mistreat others, we are in a real sense mistreating Christ. So he tells us, ‘Remember that you are pupils of Christ-of Christ who teaches us to love not only our friends but even our enemies, and to … forgive all who trespass against us. “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses’”Matt. 6:15). What a frightful prospect!’
Along these same lines, he tells a correspondent that while it is good that she has a long prayer rule and often reads the Church Fathers, ‘remember that love of the neighbor is the first work you must strive for. And you do not even have to leave your house to find that neighbor: your husband is that neighbor; your mother is that neighbor; and so are your children.’ To another spiritual child, he says that the ‘poison’ in the family cannot be cast out of their home ‘unless you promptly cease condemning each other. You clearly think you are always in the right; she, of course thinks she is. You heap on her a multitude of grave or petty accusations. She does the same to you. Where will this all end?’ Then he points out that the chief things the husband accuses his wife are actually the same faults he has. The Elder concludes:
All this financial trouble between you comes of your having completely forgotten that yours is a Christian home, or should be. A home is a Christian one when all the members of the household bear each other’s burdens, and when each condemns only himself. You have forgotten this, both of you. And so every word of hers pieces you, like an arrow dipped in poison. And your words, likewise, pierce her.
Ponder the truth of Christian marriage: man and wife are one flesh! Does it not follow that they must share all their possessions? And yet you two haggle over this property! And why? Because of words!
Unless you promptly strive for and achieve a loving peace between you, it is hopeless to try to bring tidiness and fairness into your business dealings with one another. Humble yourself, not her. Love her, not yourself.”
(David and Mary Ford, Marriage as a Path to Holiness, p. xlvi-xlvii).