When my husband and I became Eastern Orthodox seven years ago, I knew I had come home. However, I wasn’t sure how to make my own home reflect my new faith. This series–”So I’m Orthodox, Now What?”–is based on the questions I asked myself in the first few years after our chrismation: How could I make our home a “Little Church”? How could I instruct my children in a faith that I myself was only beginning to explore? After some experimentation, conversations with older and wiser Orthodox mothers, readings, and instruction from spiritual fathers, I have found ways to create an Orthodox home. I hope that this series can provide encouragement and practical ideas for new converts and a forum for more seasoned Orthodox families to share their practices.
I need structure. Without it my life quickly devolves into chaos. Case in point: the massive pile of laundry staring me in the face right now–evidence of my relaxation during Spring Break this week. Sigh.
The Church Fathers understood this need for structure and routine in a profound way. Therefore, the Orthodox Church, in its wisdom, has provided a structure of prayer for believers. These routines are not meant to constrain us, to limit our prayer time. Instead, they are designed to help us develop the habit of prayer, which in turn leads to a prayerful spirit awake to Christ at all times.
One of the pillars of this prayer structure is the practice of Evening Prayers in the home. As a new convert, I understood the idea behind Evening Prayers. I was excited to develop a prayerful spirit. But, how could I create a routine of prayer in my home? What exactly should Evening Prayers look like in my house?
Creating a Routine of Prayer
Make Prayer a Priority
We all find time for things that we consider priorities. I bet that you brushed your teeth today. I also am pretty sure that you took the time to read this blog 🙂 The first step in creating a routine of Evening Prayers is to decide that it will be a priority. Commit to making time for Evening Prayers each night. Hold a family meeting to discuss it and explain to the children why prayer is so important to you and to your family.
Set Aside a Specific Time
At the family meeting, you may want to discuss the specific time that you will set aside for Evening Prayers. All families have different schedules, and those schedules change based on the season of life the family is experiencing. We currently pray our Evening Prayers right before bedtime. We have become accustomed to our nightly routine of dinner, baths, books, and prayers. Your family may require some creative thinking to find a time for Evening Prayers. After dinner? After soccer practice? Before the youngest child’s bedtime? Whatever you decide on, begin to consistently implement it into your evening schedule.
Some of the routines that we develop become so ingrained in us that we don’t even realize we are doing them. You most likely don’t remember brushing your teeth this morning because it has become a habit that is on autopilot for you. Now, our goal is not to put our prayer life on autopilot, but it is our goal to find ourselves automatically standing in front of the icon corner each night. Consistency will bring this about. At first you may need to create reminders on your phone or leave post-it notes around the house. Or give one child the responsibility of watching the clock and calling the family together at your designated time. After awhile you won’t need the reminders because the habit will have been developed.
What Should Evening Prayers Look Like?
Our family uses the Evening Prayers in the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians, but there are many other prayer books out there. You can check in your church’s bookstore to see samples before you purchase one. The Evening Prayers consist of the Trisagion Prayers, the Creed, and a few specific prayers for evening. You may choose to shorten your prayer time, however, if you have very small children with short attention spans.
Many families keep a list in their icon corner of people that they would like to pray for or specific countries in turmoil to remember. You can pray for your family members (including godchildren and marriages you have sponsored), for missionaries your church or family supports, for the persecuted church, and the list goes on. We have each of our children say a short prayer every night. They begin by saying the Jesus Prayer and then add their personal petitions.
Evening Prayers are a great time to teach your children the hymns of the Church. During Lent, Nativity, feast days, and other special times of the year, you can sing hymns appropriate to the season. We have also sung “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal” and “Come Let Us Worship and Bow Down” so that our children can recognize them and sing along in Church.
Candles and Incense
You can also light candles and burn incense, as these are always appropriate for Orthodox prayers. They also serve as sensory cues to help children (and adults) realize that they are entering into a holy space, a sacred time.
Creating a routine of prayer in your home through Evening Prayers isn’t always easy, but the rewards far outweigh the challenges. We can create the structure that helps us develop a prayerful spirit and an awareness of Christ in and around us. And our homes become holy.
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How do you implement Evening Prayers in your house?