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Domestic Church - Fr Gregory - 11-02-2011

A friend was recently complaining that many people assume religion is what is done either in Church or privately, but that it doesn’t appear to be manifested in the home. While such a complaint is probably valid, the lack of what might be thought of as “domestic church” is a fairly modern development.

In ancient times families used the home as a place of liturgy and many traditions of domestic practice developed. In the West a great range of domestic rituals came to be used to follow the Church year. Most of them can be revived to restore the home to its central place in Faith.

To take but a few examples from the recent Seasons of the (Western) Church Year: in Advent there can (should?) be both an Advent Wreath (suitably blessed) and a Jesse Tree in the home, and on Epiphany the house should be blessed by having 20 + C + M + B + 11 (for this year) written in blessed chalk over the front door. Details of these and many other beautiful domestic rituals are readily available (if anyone has trouble finding them, I’m happy to provide details). None requires great resources, or significant liturgical skill, and none imposes particular burdens on the Priest. For example, a Priest should bless the chalk for the Epiphany ritual during the last service before it is used, but he is required to do nothing more. These are simple rituals in which every member of the family, not to mention friends and neighbours, can participate.

Such domestic expression of the Faith can have an unexpected influence on visitors. A colleague who visited during Advent, enquired why there were “different coloured candles” in a “flower arrangement” in the drawing room. This led to a lengthy discussion about the history and use of the Advent Wreath. A further question about “some sort of family tree” in the kitchen was followed by a discussion about the history and use of the Jesse Tree in Advent. The postman called to deliver a parcel recently and wondered whether “some vandals” had scrawled graffiti above my front door; we had a pleasant discussion about what had actually happened (the Epiphany chalk ritual) and he left saying he (a Roman Catholic) now wanted to know why his parish Priest didn’t promote such a “beautiful practice”.

There are numerous traditional practices in the lead up to Pascha that are part of the “domestic church” tradition. Anyone preparing for Simnel cakes? Making Pascha (using a Pascha press)?

“Church” should not be something that happens on Sundays. Liturgy is part of the Christian life and should be celebrated in the home.

It is interesting that Rome is actively encouraging the development of the domestic tradition – see, for example, “The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy”: <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""> ... io_en.html</a><!-- m -->

As Orthodox, we need to rediscover the practice of the Faith in our homes.

Fr Gregory