Within the Orthodox Christian faith, each Christian family is considered a Domestic Church, being the smallest unit of Christian community, faith, and practice. It is in the Christian home that one lives out the Orthodox faith. The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus as saying "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (18:20 NAB) What is the Christian home if not two or more gathered in the name of Christ? Each family, being part of the Church, is charged with much the same ministry as the parish church; namely worship, Christian fellowship, charity, education in the faith, growth in virtue, evangelism, hospitality and works of mercy.
The "religious life" is not limited to those who have taken monastic or priestly vows. Rather, all Christians are called to religious life. As St. Benedict said of his monastery, the Christian home, too, is to be "a school for the Lord's service."
Worship in the Domestic Church
Worship in the traditional Orthodox home general centers around the Icon corner (sometimes called a "home altar"), which is typically placed in a prominent location in the living room or dining room of the home. This customarily consists of one or more icons and often a shelf or table on which are placed various devotional items.
It is here that the Orthodox family comes together for prayer. Several Orthodox prayer books and devotional manuals are available which provide the customary prayers. These are typically based upon the Hours that are observed in monastic institutions, simplified for use by the family. (See the article on Icon corners; see also Icons and Home Items in the Marketplace.)
Fellowship in the Domestic Church
Education in the Domestic Church
In the mind of many of today's Christians, religious education has become the task of the parish church, the Sunday school or the youth group. However, this has not always been the case. One of the foremost obligations (and privileges) of Christian parenting, is seeing that their children are brought up in the knowledge, love, and fear of the Lord. The Sunday School, which began as a Protestant movement, was designed originally for the religious education of the children of un-believers. It was expected that children of believers would be trained by their parents.
There are a number of wonderful resources that are available, both in print and online, to aid the Christian parents in their educational role. Particularly useful are various resources from the Orthodox Christian publishers and book stores. (See Orthodox Booksellers.)
In addition to the education of children in faith and morals, adults in the Christian home are expected to continue their own growth in the faith. This is appropriately done by regular study of the Holy Scriptures, the Church Fathers, lives of saints and other devotional writings. These should be read, studied, and discussed in the home. Children should be encouraged to participate in the discussions at the level appropriate to their age.
It should be noted also that Christian study is not merely an intellectual or academic exercise. Rather, one should read and meditate in such a way that one's heart is open to the working of God in one's life. The Scriptures are not merely an account of what happened thousands of years ago, but a living testimony to God's work and an authority in our own lives. The lives of saints are not merely stories of heroic deeds in another time and place, but challenges to all of us to strive to work out our own salvation.
Outreach in the Domestic Church
"An important part of a child's education is storytelling, since good stories excite the imagination and strengthen the bond between parent and child. Stories from the Bible are preferred, and the child should repeat them often, to underscore full comprehension." - St. John Chrysostom
"For the correct upbringing of your children: few words, much example, and more prayer are necessary." - Father Epiphanios Theodoropoulos, Counsels for Life
"Marriage is more than human. It is a 'microbasileia,' a miniature kingdom which is the little house of the Lord." - St. Clement of Alexandria
"Preserve marriages in peace and harmony; nurture the infants; instruct the youth; strengthen the aged; give courage to the faint-hearted, reunite those separated; bring back those in error; defend the widows; protect the orphans; liberate the captives; heal the sick." - The Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great
"Fathers and mothers: Go and lead your child by the hand into the Church." - St. John Chrysostom
"With us everything should be secondary compared to our concern with children, and their upbringing in the instruction and teaching of the Lord." - St. John Chrysostom
- Building the Domestic Church by Presbytera Pearl Veronis
- The Icon Corner: A How To by Dr. Alexander Roman
- Icon Corners by Dr. Alexander Roman
- In our Family and Home, by Melkite Catholic priest Fr. Romanos Russo
- Marriage and the Christian Home by Fr. Michael B. Henning
- Prayer Life in an Orthodox Home by Archpriest Roman Lukianov
- When No Priest is Available: Reading the Service Books While Traveling or at Home by Archpriest Sergei Shukin
- Quotations on Christian Hospitality
- Coniaris, Fr. Anthony. Making God Real in the Orthodox Christian Home (ASIN B0006COYQS)
- D'Avila-Latourrette, Brother Victor-Antoine, Blessings of the Table: Mealtime Prayers Throughout the Year (ISBN 0764809830) (Byzantine Catholic)
- Fournier, Catherine and Peter, Advent, Christmas and Epiphany in the Domestic Church (ISBN 0898708591) (Catholic)
- Fournier, Catherine and Peter, Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church (ISBN 0-89870-860-5) (Catholic)
- Robinson, David. The Family Cloister: Benedictine Wisdom for the Home (ISBN 0824518276)
- A Table Prayer Guide (Center for Family Care, firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Diocese of Newton A Guide for the Domestic Church (Conciliar Press)