Părintele Nostru Arhimandrit Roman Braga
ASK THE PRIEST
The following is an excerpt from the Ask Father column in Again magazine. The priest responding to the question is Fr. Roman Braga. Again is issued quarterly and subscriptions are available for $16.00 per year from Concilliar Press, P.O. Box 76, Ben Lomand, CA 95005-0076 (or call 831-336-5118).
QUESTION: I am a recent convert to the Orthodox Church and am zealously trying to enter into the fullness of the Orthodox life. I am having difficulty balancing my time spent in prayer with the time I must spend with my family and at work. The fact that my family is not Orthodox complicates matters. How can I pray, fast, and live my faith as an Orthodox Christian in such a way that I do not alienate them from the faith?
ANSWER: I want you to understand you are not the only one experiencing these difficulties. Many converts struggle with what it means to be an Orthodox Christian in a Protestant country such as America-that is, being Orthodox not in name only, but in spirit. The struggle is particularly difficult for one whose family is not Orthodox. How should one pray, how should one fast, how should one live out one's faith when surrounded by those who do not understand what Orthodoxy is about?
First and foremost is the matter of prayer. You should realize that there is a great difference between Protestant and Orthodox beliefs about spiritual realization. Orthodoxy is not overly formalistic or legalistic; the accent is on living with Jesus Christ in your heart and feeling His presence at all times. Prayer doesn't mean you have to read a certain number of official prayers. The Phiokalic definition of prayer is the feeling of the presence of God in you heart, even if you don't say any words. You realize this state of prayer by a continue dialogue with our Lord.
St. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing, which in practice is impossible. St. Paul was very busy traveling, writing, founding churches, and having to practice a specific profession to make his living. What he meant by that statement is that we should transform our whole life in a prayer; life becomes a liturgy, no matter what you are doing, if all is dedicated to God and to you neighbor.
No matter how busy you are, your dialogue with God should continue. Say the Jesus Prayer ("O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!"). The Holy Fathers say that this short exclamation can replace other forms of prayer when you don't have time to read them. You can say it within yourself while working in the office, driving you care, or even talking with other people. Or use you own words, conversing with God about your problems, you family and friends. In this way, you can blend prayer and daily chores without being frustrated that you didn't finish your formal rule of prayer.
Regarding the daily schedule of prayer, there is no specific rule for married people living in the world. It all depends on one's lifestyle, profession, and available time. The Holy Fathers composed large prayer books, services, and hymns to fill the whole life of Christians and the needs of all occasions. A monk can read most of them, but even in monastic life there area variations in schedules and obligations.
How can you practice your Orthodox faith in your non-Orthodox surroundings? The Holy Fathers of the desert say that when you are praying and your neighbor knocks at your door, you should forget about prayer and be at his disposal, because live is more that reading prayers. The same thing is true of fasting. If you are invited for dinner, don't even mention you are fasting; eat what is on the table. In fact, this is the word of Jesus in the Gospels. After returning home, then abide by the fasting rules. Of course, you should avoid those occasions when possible, and when you can't, then do what Jesus said in the Gospel and do not publicize you intimate life with God.
In your private discussion, if the subject comes up, you should tell others what Orthodoxy is and what you are doing, but maybe you have observed that we don't go from door to door proselytizing; this is not the Orthodox way. Those who become Orthodox most often come as a result of their own search for the True Church, especially for the sacramental life, since this is the essence of Orthodoxy.
Now if you are the only Orthodox member of your family, it is our Orthodox understanding that we shouldn't force others to do what we do, and we should respect their beliefs and customs. We preach by our example, not for force-feeding lectures or sermons. It is our way of education. Let them see you good example. Find enough time for your family; that is more important than your Orthodox prayers. When discussion come up on Orthodox doctrine, be articulate and firm in your beliefs, and let them draw their own conclusions. Of course, you must practice these beliefs-go to church and keep the fasts as much as possible in your non-Orthodox family without imposing on others.
May the Lord God help you to be fulfilled in the Church as you deepen your Orthodox life. This fulfillment is something the develops naturally, not something that is leaned. Christ is in us, and when we discover Him, we don't need anything else.
Din “Again Magazine”
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