St Paul speaks of the earthly family and the heavenly family in his epistle to the Ephesians. The earthly family is our home, the household and the people therein. The heavenly family is the family of God, the Church, of which the domestic church is a part. These two families inform one another; to know what the earthly family is meant to be, we must view it in light of the Church, and to understand the Church we must know what an earthly family should be like. The Church isn’t primarily an institution or an ethnic group, but a family.
We most commonly experience the Church in the local parish. We might describe our parishes as large or small, vibrant or dead, but the way in which we look at the parish probably categorizes us as well: if we see the parish as a place to “get” religious services, as primarily the place for baptisms, funerals, weddings, and Christmas, we must actually believe that the parish is a supermarket; if we seek out the parish only to be inspired, uplifted, or challenged, then the parish becomes for us a theater, a place where we expect to be entertained. In reality, the parish is a family--and families aren’t always inspiring. Often, family life is routine.
If we keep in mind that the parish is a segment of the heavenly family, a gift from the Lord, we will develop a sense of commitment and a desire to be a part of its life. Participation in its activities should be high on our list of priorities. We will then make the local Church a vital part of the domestic church, and in doing so little by little our children will also come to see the parish as their spiritual family.
The high point of our parish life is liturgical worship. When we set our calendars at home, we should take into account the times when the parish family will gather and should plan accordingly. The more regularly we gather with our parish family, the more deeply our domestic church will be immersed in our spiritual tradition. Some parishes may meet more or less frequently depending on the community’s commitments and resources, but in general parishes can be expected to be called together on Sundays, Pascha (including the Great Fast, Holy Week, and Bright Week), the Twelve Great Feasts, Fasting Seasons, and Saints’ Days.
While worship is the most important part of the life of the local Church, it is not the only one. Fellowship is essential to worship, especially since it is through fellowship that we grow in love as a family. When the parish community truly is aware of its status as family, its worship takes on a fuller dimension. Therefore the domestic church cannot separate itself from the social life of the community. Children today are given many opportunities for encountering others, but many of the groups which provide such opportunities promote values of which we would not approve. When the domestic church becomes a living unity of the local Church, the parish becomes the center for young people’s experience of Christian fellowship.
In addition to occasions such as coffee hours and dinners, many parishes provide occasions for interaction such as support groups, study groups, charitable organizations, and the like.