Anyone who joins the Church does so as a broken person. We come to the Church as if it were a hospital. We seek healing and rest for our souls and bodies. One of the major changes we have seen in the Church over the last 35 years deals with the question, “What is a family?” The idea of an intact family, in which father and mother come together in their only marriage — and both of whom are Orthodox Christians with their own children — is not as common as we would think.
More and more, Orthodox parishes and their priests are dealing with a variety of issues in this regard.
- Single parent families as a result of divorce or having children out of wedlock. As a bishop I know I am not doing what needs to be done to see that the needs of single parent families are being addressed.
- Families in which both parents are not Orthodox Christians, which is quite common in all Orthodox Churches in this country.
- Reconstituted families, in which previously divorced couples re-marry, bringing into the marriage their own children. The couple may be either Orthodox. Or in some instances, only one of them is Orthodox, while the other comes from another Christian faith background. Thus the children may have been baptized in a different faith tradition.
Today, I would like to speak about the single parent family. Of this group there may be some parents that do well financially with good-paying jobs. Some may receive generous monthly child support from their ex-spouses. Thus, they may have the financial means to seek necessary support for such services as house cleaning or live-in caretakers/daycare to help tend to the children. My guess is that this group would be in the minority. I think many single parents have full time jobs that may not pay as well, making it necessary to live check to check. Whether single parents are divorced or have had children out of wedlock, they may not receive appropriate financial support from their ex-spouses or the other parents of the children born out of wedlock. They may not have the means to pay for domestic support services. Single parents then face the demands of daily home life without the support of a spouse. Besides working 40 hours a week, they still need to prepare meals, keep the house clean and the laundry done, and pay the bills, including the cost of day care for children. After all is said and done, is there room for church? For those single parents who have their own parents (children’s grandparents) that are close by, they are a Godsend as they provide support in many areas and they do it for nothing. Thank God for the love and concern of grandparents who can still fulfill this role.
As I reflect on what we can do in parishes to support single parent families (and those single parents who are seeking and willing to receive this help), the following things come to mind:
- Can parishes support single parents by asking parishioners to prepare meals for such families?
- Can parishes engage a couple of people who would be willing to do house cleaning when needed?
- What can be done in parishes to link single parents up to appropriate childcare relief?
- I think it would be great if a priest or someone he appoints could form a support group in the parish for single parents. The group could focus on how single parents can live out their Orthodox faith in the context of the reality they live in.
I wish to thank parishes that may already be doing some of the above things. It would also be great to hear from single parents with regard to what the Church can do to better support them. May the blessing of the Lord be upon our single parents. Thank you for embracing your labors with joy and love, especially at times when this is difficult.
With love in Christ,
The unworthy +Paul
Thank you, Your Grace, for the thoughtful ways you offer for parishes to love and support single parents in need. I believe a spiritual family should find ways to connect and engage with each other throughout all stages of life. There are years where we can give, and years that we are on the receiving end of prayers, love and support.
Your ideas do a nice job of considering the physical needs required for one in need due to lack of time and/or money, but I submit to you that one of the greatest need I have felt, and continue to feel, is the need for love and belonging. My own divorce came unexpected for me, and I was not in any way prepared for the feelings of failure, abandonment and loneliness that followed. It has been difficult to feel “at home” and safe in a community where I was once a part of a complete family, often feeling as if I do not belong. People often do not have the ability to listen with love and empathy for a situation they have never experienced. A common response to this kind of plight is pity that does not require connection or bearing of any burdens. It would have been most helpful to have a place to go when I needed to be with people that care about me, whether it be a social gathering, book club or prayer service.
And though I have grown in both joy and spirit these past 5 years, I also experience the long term problem of seeking companionship in healthy ways with loving, like minded men. Using dating apps is just plain unhealthy and attending events does not seem to introduce me to new people in my situation. I wonder if what occurred in my life has changed my path forever, in which case, I suppose I need to better understand working out my own salvation on a single person path. I would love to see the Church grow in her ability to embrace and hold all forms of human suffering through those who make up her body.
Thank you again, for addressing such an important issue.
Thank you for a very thoughtful and moving response in which you so wonderfully articulate what your needs are as a single parent and the desire you seek for companionship. We do have this norm in our church of family with both father and mother, which as you say results at times in single parents (at least in your experience) as not feeling they belong. I began my note stating that all of us come into the Church as being broken. I think that is how it must be, wholeness comes through embracing the broken Christ. I think the words I say when I break the lamb at Communion ring with such truth. “Divided (or broken) is the Lamb to God, who is ever divided (broken) but not disunited, Who is ever eaten yet never consumed, but sanctifies those who partake thereof.”
Just as our Lord is broken for the world, so must we be as well; “broken and distributed for the life of the world.” In the mystery of embracing the broken Christ, we find our true humanity. The Lord’s blessing be upon you,
The unworthy +Paul
Your Grace, I find your words quite edifying, ringing with genuine love and concern. Your ongoing efforts to do what you can as the Spiritual guide of us all is truly blessing.