Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Family

Family means a lot to most of us - not only because we have been brought up with them, but because we rely on their presence, comfort, and compassion. We are there for one another, and share joyful and sad moments throughout our lives with them. As family members, we share responsibility of looking after one another, putting each other first. 

It is usually within our own family environments that we learn to put our own will and desires to the side, bearing in mind, and taking into consideration, the needs of our loved ones. Family life, through its struggles, joys and sorrows often leads to a beautiful realisation; that we are unable to achieve very much on our own, but as a close group we are certainly able to overcome tragedies. Without each others presence and support, life would be impossible. 

What does family mean for Christians? Does the fact that our relationship with God is at the centre of all that we do, necessarily mean we place less importance on family life?

Saint Sophia (Wisdom) and her three
daughters (Faith, Hope and Love).
Interestingly, icons are of course painted as
'windows into Heaven', reflecting God's eternal
Kingdom. Therefore, the iconographer
shows that these martyrs are still united
as a holy family beyond death. 
On the contrary, our family life must reflect our relationship with Christ, which is a relationship of communion, peace, and joy. From this divine relationship, our family relations flourish, with love, compassion, and warmth. Yes, Christ did indeed tell us that we must leave everything behind (including family) to follow Him and give our entire lives to Him. However, the more time we sacrifice for Him and His Church, the more we are able to offer to our families; our unceasing prayer, and support. Saint Paul, in his first epistle to Timothy, writes:

 'If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever!' (1 Tim 5:8)  

Therefore, there is a connection between our faith, and family life. I would argue the more we love God, the more we are able to love, care for, and support our families. Christ enriches, flourishes and blesses family life. Our Saviour's Holy Mother, the Ever-Virgin Mary, along with Her parents Joachim and Anna, and other Saints and righteous servants of God, give us the greatest examples of family life. The connection and relationship between the Theotokos and Her Son is marvelling. As the Lord's Mother, raising Him, and allowing Him to grow and offer Himself to the entire world, she undoubtedly went through all the emotions that the ministry of motherhood bears; anxiety, sorrow, and of course joy and love. 'I have been looking for you anxiously.' (Luke 2:48) At the same time, the Mother of God is sinless through grace, so this shows us that the anxious, sorrowful, difficult times of family life are not the result of sin; but are natural stages of life.

14th century mosaic of the Virgin Mary's parents in Constantinople,
Joachim and Anna, showing the holiness of their
familial love.
Although there is not much written on the subject of Christ's upbringing within the Gospels, 'we should not forget that it happened,' as Fr Alfred McBride, a Roman Catholic priest and lecturer writes. The Theotokos is truly the Mother of God; but also a human mother of a Son Who had an upbringing. Perhaps it is for a good reason that we do not know how she raised Christ. It is a mystery. The mystery of the incarnation, as well as the mystery of motherhood and family. 

Often we do not necessarily know how to love our family members; we simply do. It is something that comes naturally, and perhaps this is because family is a God-given gift. A mystery which surely leads to a stronger, authentic relationship with Christ. In what way then, does family life relate to life in Christ?

Family of Chinese Martyrs, of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.
Being brought up in our own families perhaps leads us into the greater family of God; the Church. 

'For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and all were made to drink of one Spirit.' (1 Cor 12)

Through Baptism, we enter into the greater 'family of Abraham' (Acts 13:26) - the family of God. Within the Church, we experience, witness and live in communion and unity. By getting rid of individualism, and becoming one with Christ and His Church we realise that we are all in this life together, to struggle, celebrate, mourn, and worship as one. In a similar way to family life, there may be personality clashes, jealousies, scandalous behaviour or idle talk, however we unconditionally forgive one another in love; and move on, striving to humbly assist each other in living the life of the Church. 



2 comments:

  1. "He [Jesus] said to them, 'If you come to me but will not leave your family, you cannot be my follower. You must love me more than your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters - even more than your own life!'" (Luke 14: 23-27)Here, whilst Jesus does not necessarily say the family is to be resented, he does say that it should be sacrificed if you wish to follow him.

    Also, we read in Matthew 10:34-37, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household."
    Here again Jesus reduces the family as unimportant, which, I think, is the correct approach for one who believes salvation is all that matters in life. Family is irrelevant, if we have that salvation mentality.

    So whilst there are some positive verses about family in the Bible (some of which you quoted), almost all of them fall outside the Gospels. Jesus himself saw family as unimportant, further illustrated by his visit to the Temple when he was 11, when he lost his parents and was debating with the priests.

    But, of course, you cherry-pick the parts which suit your positive approach to family ;)

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  2. Thanks for your comment. I think especially if your family situation prevents you from giving your whole life to Christ, then yes, your only option is to leave this environment. However, in many cases, families stick together, support, and assist each other in following the Lord (thus I gave examples of several saintly families). After all, 'when there are two or three gathered in my name, there I am in your midst!' (Matt 18:20) This does not exclude families! Therefore the family, as a body of people can be such a great blessing, and can truly lead to a fuller life in Christ; an environment where the virtues of peace, love, humility, self-sacrifice and so on can truly be put into practice. For some, family life is necessary for their salvation; for others, the monastic life.

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