“Where have you been all of my (Orthodox Christian) life?” This pickup line applies, at least for me, to the book Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker! As soon as I heard about this book, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and read it. Because I am a parent, I am always looking for ideas of how to better incorporate Orthodoxy into our family’s life. Because I am also an educator, I am in constant search for ideas of ways to make the Faith tangibly accessible to young people. When I heard the title, I was pretty sure this book would be a helpful read on both counts. When I recently received the book, I dove right in and began to read.
From the first page, I could tell that my suspicions were correct. Each page of this book, from the introduction to the “best appendix I’ve ever read in my life” (my exact words to my husband as I read it) is bursting with encouragement, ideas, and challenges for Orthodox parents and teachers. Among the many things that I love about this book is the variety of suggestions that it presents. At its core are the three disciplines in which we are to be continually growing as Orthodox Christians: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The book provides proposals from the authors and also includes contributions of “how our family is living this concept” via paragraphs written by other parents. The book does not suggest or imply in any way that there is a hard line of “what everyone must do to be really Orthodox.” Rather, the authors send their reader again and again to check with their own priest. This recommendation begins early. The first page of the book is titled “Ask your priest,” and that attitude of “your spiritual Father knows you best and therefore can most wisely help you know how to apply this” permeates the book, as it should. Each chapter is as useful and practical as the one before, and the whole book ends with an appendix packed with hands-on ideas of ways to celebrate each feast of the Church Year (and more!) together as a family.
Orthodox Christian parents and educators who apply the concepts in this book will firmly establish the Faith in the hearts of the children in their care. In architecture, blueprints are drawn up by trained artists with building experience. In the same way, this book was written by Orthodox Christian parents with experience in both parenting and Orthodoxy. Just as blueprints are necessary to begin a successful building project, this book is a necessary tool for parents and teachers who want to firmly ground their children in the Faith. Any Orthodox Christian who is serious about living their Faith should read this book and begin the slow work of applying it to their family life.
Although I may not have had this book for all of my Orthodox Christian life, I am grateful to have it now. I will be sure to share it with others. Blueprints for the Little Church will be my go-to gift for new converts and/or new parents in our parish. And we will all be the better for it, for when we work to build the “little church” at home, the Church as a whole is strengthened.
Do you need to pick up a blueprint for your little church? Purchase your own copy here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints
Find ideas for celebrating feast days, similar to the ones described in the Appendix, on the “Blueprints” Pinterest page: https://www.pinterest.com/orthoblueprints/
Listen to Elissa and Caleb talk about their book (including how the book itself came to be), answer questions about the book, and share related stories in this podcast about the book: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/faithencouragedlive/blueprints_for_the_little_church
Here are some excerpts from “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker:
“This book offers hope to those engaged in the struggle against the passions. It is imperfect advice penned for imperfect people, warring to make sense of a dark and mysterious world through the lens of the Orthodox Faith. Among the myriad voice is trying to tell you what to think and how to act, among the countless sources of monastic wisdom and patristic treasures, among the countless Pinterest boards and parenting blogs, this book makes a humble offering to mothers and fathers who wish to see their family embrace the Orthodox faith and to raise living saints.” (p. 9)
“The key ingredient in building your little church is to avoid comparing yourself to anyone else. Everyone’ piety is personal; it’s between them and God—and hopefully their Confessor. It’s not one-size-fits-all and just as you can’t expect to try on someone else’s custom made leather gloves and expect them to fit—well, like a glove—you shouldn’t expect someone else’s prayer rule to fit you perfectly, either. There are countless resources online and in print for developing a pious Orthodox life but nothing can compare to a personal conversation with your priest or father confessor, who can guide you through the process.” (pp. 11-12)
“We cannot provide a meaningful experience with God for our children. We can prepare the ground, present them with opportunities, share our own experiences, but we cannot encounter Christ for them–they must do that for themselves. We can lead them to water, and we can tell them what it means to thirst and talk about how satisfying the water has been in our own lives, but they must decide to drink.” (p. 18)
“Our modern family homes offer very little stillness; we move frenetically from one activity to the next, and our loud lives seem to have nothing in common with the monastic life. …In some ways it feels as if we cannot accomplish anything spiritual, because we are always called back to …redundant tasks. …Think about the traditional monastery; this community, this space, is set aside for worship and contemplation of God. The monastics engage in simple, repetitive work, with regular interruptions from the talanton or the bells, which call them away from their work to prayer. Parents engage in redundant tasks and find themselves called away from their own thoughts and plans by their children. Both environments are designed to call us away from our own egos and our own plans, drawing us to prayer. Perhaps the family home is not so different from the monastery.” (pp. 23-24)
“Becoming the little church means acquiring a new mindset. We are not simply raising children to live happy and healthy lives—we are raising saints who will find their rewards in heaven. This is radically different from the popular notion that we want “good kids” or “well behaved kids.” Moralism will only produce pharisees and passionless drones. The saints of God are filled with the Holy Spirit, radiate the Divine Light, and bring others to salvation.” (p. 30)
“As you set out to create sacred space in your home, know that you cannot do this wrong. Set aside a space in your home and let your icon corner develop as it suits your family best. The important thing is to gather together in prayer and to make room in your home to live out your faith. This is an important step in the creation of your little church, and you will continue to return to these sanctifying activities again and again with your children as you grow together in faith.” (p. 89)
“The church in her wisdom offers at the healthy rhythm that leads us to a wholesome and good routine. Instead of the frantic pace of a family spinning out of control, the Church provides an intentional, peaceful rhythm that is firmly grounded in prayer and love. In an Orthodox home, time is put to holy use so that the routine is not tearing us apart and wearing us out, but actually contributes to our spiritual lives. When we sanctify time with prayer rules, liturgical cycles, and spiritual seasons, we have time itself as it was intended: as a reminder of God and a tool for our spiritual growth.” (p. 93)
“…It is vital to the success of your family’s prayer rule that the parents are making the effort to pray daily no matter how briefly. …Parents are the workmen who are building the little church and the children will take their religious cues from them.” (p. 107)
“The best way to teach a child what a fast should be is to show them. If we are happily eating less and feeding the hungry more, if we are really studying the Word of God and increasing our prayers, our children will see our honorable fast—and its spiritual rewards—and every word we have said to them will be proven and made manifest.” (p. 132)
“The question to ask of yourself and your family is not how much you can afford, but in what ways you can give to God’s work of your time, treasure, and talents.” (p. 154)
“From the day our children are baptized, they are full members of the Orthodox Church. They are neither junior members nor extensions of their parents, but full Orthodox Christians with the same free will and potential as adult members. It is common to hear children referred to as ‘the future’ of the parish. This is a lovely thought, but the nomenclature is all wrong. If we really believe the words of the prayers said at baptism and chrismation, then we cannot simply categorize children into ‘the future.’ They are the parish now, fully invested in what happens around them.” (pp. 161- 162)
“If we can trust that our children are truly God’s and not ours, we need never be exasperated or humiliated by their behavior. We don’t have to fear they won’t turn out well enough—we need only call upon their Father and ask Him to give them what they need. They are His children, and we must commend them to Him.” (p. 169)