One of my personal joys — as husband, father, and priest — is family prayer. The Huneycutts struggle to pray as a family every night after dinner. Dinner ends, the kids clear the table, I prepare the family icon [prayer] corner, while my wife prepares kids’ bath water, PJs, etc.
The two year old, Helen, starts us out with “In the Name of the Father … and of the Son … and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Though co-equal and co-eternal, the names of the Persons of the Trinity start out audible and diminish to a whisper by “Holy Spirit.” “Amen,” however, is a bit louder. We’re working on it.
Then the six year old, Basil, does his part of our family ritual, leading us through the introductory prayers. Being a boy in the first grade, he just started helping to read prayers last year. He leads us through the Trisagion prayers and Daddy does the benediction at the end of the Our Father.
Here’s where our prayer pro, 10 year old Mary Catherine, takes over. She prays selections from the Jordanville Prayer Book, as she has been doing since she was four or five.
Our time concludes with my reading the live of the Saints from the Prologue. This is one of my favorite parts of the day: hearing about the heroes & heroines of the Faith. The kids like it, too.
My wife, having worked all day and prepared dinner, is given a momentary breather during family prayers. Since she is also head Chanter and Choir Director — as well as being married to me — she deserves every break available!
Sometimes during our prayers, for some reason, she and I look over at each other and, without words, smile and wonder at the mystery and blessing of parenting. What a joy. I am unworthy.
Before all five of us are the icons adorning our family icon corner: The Life Giving Spring, St Joseph the Betrothed, St Elizabeth (Mother of the Forerunner), St Andrew the First Called, St Mary Magdalene, St Basil of Kineshma, Ss Constantine and Helen, and St Raphael of Brooklyn.
The Life Giving Spring:
While in seminary at Nashotah House, I did my CPE at Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison, Wisconsin. My wife and I used to visit Holy Assumption Greek Orthodox Church where we met their resident iconographer, Philotheos David Giffey. Having seen a sketch of the icon, Life Giving Font, in an Orthodox clipart book — and knowing nothing about its history other than we liked it — we commissioned Philotheos to write this icon for us.
St Joseph the Betrothed:
My relationship with St Joseph is contained in My Story. As tradition holds that St Joseph was 80 years old when he became the guardian of the Virgin Mary, I prefer icons that show him as an old man.
Elizabeth (Amy) and I first attended church together in Valle Crucis, North Carolina. This valley is so named, Valley of the Cross, because it is shaped like St Andrew’s Cross — an “X” shape. The Sunday we visited just happened to be St Andrew’s feast day. The sermon was on St Andrew — and a year later we were married on that same weekend in that same church. Thus, we adopted St Andrew — or vice versa — as our family’s patron.
Given my devotion to the Virgin Mary, we named our first child for her. Later, we gave her St Mary Magdalene as patron. This is the Russian tradition, whereas the Greeks frequently name daughters for the Theotokos. Anyway, our daughter feels blessed to have “two” patron saints.
St Basil of Kineshma:
Our son was actually named for a living person, Bishop Basil of Wichita. When he was born I was serving in the Russian jurisdiction (ROCOR) and we came to love the story of a New-Martyr, St Basil of Kineshma. Though he doesn’t have two patrons, Basil relishes the memory of his patron and that of his name sake’s, St Basil the Great.
Ss Constantine & Helen:
I really don’t know how we settled on the name “Helen” for our youngest. She was born on Great & Holy Thursday at 2:15 am. She was baptized on St Helen’s day, old style. Maybe that’s it. Anyway, St Helen is most always portrayed in iconography with her son, St Constantine the Great.
Ever since hearing of Raphael Hawaweeny back in 1993, I’ve been continually drawn to his memory. By God’s grace and with the blessing of His Eminence, Metropolitan Philip, I now pastor a small mission under St Raphael’s heavenly patronage.
If you’ve read My Story, you may be wondering about a Roman Catholic saint, Thérèse of Lisieux. I admit, I have an icon of her on our dresser in our bedroom. That’s just one of those things I trust God to sort out.
Each night, standing in prayer, I can’t help but notice our children’s growth: physically, mentally, and spiritually. It’s a wonder to behold. There’s not many things that I do each day that I look back on with total contentment. Yet, family prayer fits that bill. I’m not always motivated, fully alert, or even willing. But I always leave changed, blessed, different.
I’m helped in this transition by my family with me — Kh. Elizabeth, Mary, Basil, and Helen — and my family before me: Christ and His Mother, St Joseph, St Elizabeth, St Andrew, St Mary Magdalene, St Basil of Kineshma, Ss Constantine & Helen, and St Raphael of Brooklyn.
For those families who are Orthodox, I commend the practice of saying prayers each night, gathered as family. Hopefully, for the non-Orthodox, the above sketch sheds light on a rather peculiar space in most Orthodox homes, the home altar, the icon corner.
Glory to God for all things!