The power of prayer cannot be underestimated. Often we think of prayer as an individual activity. But for Orthodox Christians there is an emphasis on the prayer of the whole community. This should also apply to prayer in our family life. A family should pray together.
If you are a family of two its quite easy to arrange for prayer together. Currently this is my situation and my wife and I always pray together both evening and night. But when you have a family of four with varying ages it is a bit more difficult.
We have in the Church the morning and evening services which are available as reader services which can be read in the home without a priest. The idea taught by Elder Paisios is to have the younger children participate in part of these prayers.
They should read the evening Compline and say to the younger family members, “You can stay with us for a little while, if you want.” If the children are somewhat older they can set up a rule; for example fifteen minutes for the older children; two to five minutes for the younger children; and after that, as much as they want. If the parents make them stay for the entire Compline they will just end up resenting it. We shouldn’t pressure them because they have not grasped the power and value of prayer.
Prayers are something that should be done every day, both in the morning and evening. The evening prayer is an especially important one for the family because it is a time when the entire family is together. Even when sick or tired you should have your evening prayers even though you may have to cut it short.
The morning prayers can be shorter depending on the nature of your family schedule. You can find shorter prayers in the many Orthodox prayer books that are available. It is best to at least stand in the front of your home icon stand together with your children and spouse, light the vigil lamp if its not already burning, and read together a few prayers before everyone heads off to their activities for the day.
By engaging the whole family in your daily prayers the unity of the family is nourished. Family life involves many small conflicts which can lead to larger ones and separations of members of the family. Divorce has become a major issue. If you are praying together it is much more likely you will not face this traumatic destruction of the marriage bonds.
Elder Paisios tells a story about family prayer,
I remember once, when my younger brother got sick, my father said, “Come, let us pray and beseech God to either heal him of the take him so he will not suffer.” We all prayed and he became well again. Even at mealtime we all gathered around the table to pray before we began to eat. If anyone started eating before the meal was blessed, we would say, “He committed fornication.” You see, we viewed the lack of restraint to be a form of prostitution. It destroys a family to have each member come home, any time they like, and eat alone without good reason.”
As the elder points out meal time is a natural time to pray. Unfortunately today many families no longer eat together. This should be avoided if at all possible. There is something sacred about eating together. To give thanks to the Lord for the abundance of blessing He provides for us is important for our well being and our relationship with God and the unity of our family.
Seek out ways that your family can pray together. If you are a couple you have an easy task. For those with children still at home it’s a bit more difficult to get a common prayer time established. But once you do, you will be surprised at the benefits it will bring to your family.
by Fr.Dn.Charles Joiner
Reference: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels IV: Family Life, pp167-168