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.
Mornings can be pretty rushed in our house. There are days that we are scrambling to get everything together so that we can be out the door by 6:45. Yesterday was just one such morning.
I hit the snooze button on my alarm because I just had to have ten more minutes of sleep. Then Big Brother overslept, something he never does. The two younger children were crabby, and we were all pretty harried when we finally managed to have shoes on feet, backpacks in hand, and were headed for the door.
Then Sister yelled “Mama, prayers!”
I wanted to say, “Sorry, little girl, Mama is going to be late for work.”
But, I realized that my two-year-old had her priorities right. I needed to change mine.
The Importance of Morning Prayers
Children are experts at imitating their parents. They easily pick up on what we do, how we view the world, and what we see as being important. This is both encouraging and incredibly scary.
St. John Chrysostom wrote, “This, then, is our task: to educate both ourselves and our children in godliness.”
What a task. The fact that God entrusts such a monumental task to imperfect, sin-prone parents like me still causes me to catch my breath. I need all the help I can get.
Because I need help, Morning Prayers are even more important. I need to begin my day by focusing on Christ and asking for his strength, love, and blessing. I also need to teach my children how to pray and how to make time for prayer. To show them through my actions that choosing to start each morning in prayer is probably the most important decision I make all day.
As parents, we need to commit to making time for morning prayers. Yes, it is difficult. Yes, there are a million and one reasons why it won’t work for your family.
Do it anyway. Therein lies our salvation.
Once you commit to making time for morning prayers, what do you do next? What should morning prayers look like? Here are some suggestions based on our own family practices, the practices of friends, and advice of spiritual fathers:
Read the Prayers
Each Orthodox prayer book has a section called Morning Prayers. You can pray the entire prayer, or abbreviate it to fit your family’s needs. Because of our children’s ages and attention spans, we typically shorten the prayers. We will often just say the Trisagion prayers or the Troparia and Prayer to the Holy Trinity. If we are very rushed, we will simply pray the Lord’s Prayer.
In addition to learning the prayers of the Church, it is also important for children to learn to voice their own prayers. Therefore, we also have Big Brother (six-years-old) pray the Jesus Prayer and then pray for a blessing on his day. Sister (two-years-old) prays “Lord have mercy on….” various family members. My husband finishes by asking a blessing on each member of our family and any special plans or events of the day.
Sing a Hymn
Children learn better when words are set to music, so hymns are a natural way to teach theology and encourage church participation. We try to sing the hymns of feasts (right now our kids are loving “Christ is risen from the dead!”) or hymns we would like them to know from the Liturgy (“Holy God, Holy Mighty” is one we’ve worked on in the past).
I have found that children are naturally drawn to icons. They love to hold them, to kiss them, to look at them during prayers. Help young children learn how to properly kiss the icons and hold them reverently. We have many icons in our icon corner and try to prominently display any festal icons or icons of saints on their feast day. Make sure to venerate the icons at the end of your morning prayers.
Drink Holy Water
Some Orthodox Christians begin each day with a sip of holy water. This reminds them that all of their blessings come from God. It also starts the day with a blessing. What a beautiful tradition.
Yesterday after Sister reminded me of the importance of morning prayer, we paused and went over to our icon corner. We chanted the Lord’s prayer together, sang “Christ is risen” as loudly as we could, and kissed the face of Jesus.
Could there be any better way to begin the day?