Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Blueprints for the Little Church

I just finished reading a new book from Ancient Faith Publishing entitled Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home. I'm of course all for families finding a way to develop their domestic churches and so my bookshelves are full of books on the topic. Even considering the venerable age of some of these titles, they have held up well over time. There's an immutable quality to the Church that makes bringing a family together in prayer a timeless and priceless enterprise; the true wisdom of one decade is often the wisdom of the next for those who have ears to hear.

Blueprints of the Little Church begins with a discussion of why praying at home is important but also points out that prayer alone is insufficient. As the authors put it, "These three foundation stones for your little church are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving." With this expanded framework the book then walks unearths and then carefully places one stone after another in an organized manner so that by the time you've finished the book you have the beginnings of a strong substructure to build your family on. I don't say spiritual life or church life or any other such thing because these three things (prayer, fasting, almsgiving) should permeate everything. And, as the book points out, a Christian is not only a Christian when praying at home or on Sundays. We are expected to bear the image and likeness of Christ with us everywhere.

There is a lot in this book on how to start praying and how to avoid common pitfalls. No little space is given to prayer corners and developing a prayer rule that works with the family schedule. What it also has, and what I see a lot of value in, is a constant return to realizing that this part of your life will never be perfect. It will never measure up to that "glow in the dark" holy family in the parish that is always at church on time with children who are never at odds with one another or with parents that never seem to lose their tempers. Readers of this book will make mistakes and their children will push back against these formative efforts. As the authors say it is about love reflective of the love of God that will always be a better choice than anger or frustration. This is your family's walk and no one else's so avoid the trap of comparing your family to others you know. To fall down is human. To get up and try again is salvific.

The book moves onto how to begin fasting and how to set realistic expectations. As with much of this book (in fact from the opening words of the Blueprints) there is a recommendation to consult with your priest. This book isn't a replacement for a parish priest, it's in no small way a study guide for how to make the most of the pastoral relationship. This section is followed by some words on stewardship and then an appendix on the liturgical year.

All the above should point to my fondness for the Blueprints for the Little Church. I wouldn't hesitate to give this book to catechumens of mine with small children. Truly, I wouldn't feel awkward putting this in a parish bookstore for "cradle" families to read. It's a handbook for family growth and betterment for those families that want a little direction or encouragement in turning the family towards Christ and His Church.

Let me say, though, that families with older children (say teenagers) may well flip through the pages asking, "Where do I learn how to get my fifteen year old interested in praying with us?" That is somewhat outside the scope of this book. At a pastoral level I can say that this situation has so many unique difficulties that it would need another book entirely to fully address teens and the Church. Convincing a 7 year old to pray and come to church is not the same discussion you will have with a teen. In broad strokes prayer, patience, and love are the same colors to paint with, but Blueprints is not going to speak to that situation in as direct a way as parents of older children may like. This doesn't detract from the merits of the book in any way and I offer this only in clarification.

(AFP) - How do we as Orthodox parents keep our children in the Church throughout their lives? It all begins with involving them in the life of the Church from birth onward—in the parish and also at home. Blueprints for the Little Church provides practical ideas and encouragement—without judgment—for incorporating the primary practices of Orthodox spirituality into your family life at every stage of its growth and throughout the church year.

About the Authors:

Elissa Bjeletich hosts the popular Ancient Faith Radio podcast, Raising Saints: Educating Our Youth in the Orthodox Faith, Both at Home and in the Parish. She is the author of In God’s Hands: A Mother’s Journey through Her Infant’s Critical Illness (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2013) and the Sunday school director at Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church. She lives near Austin, Texas, with her husband, Marko, and their five daughters.

Caleb Shoemaker is the father of four children. A graduate of Gordon College with a BA in Youth Ministries and an MA in Biblical Languages from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Caleb has worked in church and parachurch ministry for seventeen years. He and his wife Emily converted to Orthodoxy in 2012. He blogs very sporadically about the importance of bringing the life of the church and the life of the family together at This is his first book.

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