Following the Feast of Theophany when the water is blessed, it is the custom for a priest to visit the homes of his parishioners. Taking holy water with him, he conducts a short molieben and then goes from room to room sprinkling everywhere with the blessed water. Time permitting he may be offered some refreshment and talk with the family. Often, however, he is following a busy schedule with many houses to be blessed and a fair distance to cover from one to the next. Pascha and Nativity visits may be equally hurried for similar reasons--and this is all the more unfortunate since aside from these traditional visits there are many people who have virtually no contact with their priest outside the church services.
In Russia, Greece and the Balkans, where parishes generally existed as close-knit communities, it was customary for a priest to make regular visits to the homes of his parishioners. Today Orthodox people often live some distance from a church; life has become more hectic, and it is the exception rather than the rule when a priest sees his parishioners in their homes any more than two or three times a year. This is a very sad decline in pious custom. Where secularism so easily overtakes us, it is to everyone's advantage for a priest to have as much contact with his parishioners as is practically possible. This is especially important in households with young children who tend to be intimidated by clergy, and who should be encouraged to develop a reverent familiarity with their priest--such a relationship is fairly essential for a child who is of an age to begin having confession.
With the growing number of converts, there is some question as to how and when to receive a priest. It is important to remember first of all that while a priest's visit should not be formal, its focus should be spiritual. The priest is Christ's envoy and it is as the bearer of grace that he should be received in our homes. It is less important to make elaborate preparations for wining and dining him than to prepare oneself to discuss questions and problems within the family or the parish, and to receive what the priest
has to say. The visit may begin with a short service of supplication before the icon corner in the living or dining room. A priestís visit should remind us that our homes are also meant to act as small churches. Needless to say, the television or radio should be turned off and the attention of the children also focused on the special guest. If there is a dinner, the priest takes his place at the head of the table with the father of the family seated at his right. Those families who are unaccustomed to having their priest visit them may feel awkward and unsure of what is expected. But any stiffness is sure to iron out long before the visit is over.
It is, of course, a very joyous occasion when the priest is able to visit the home on one of the great Feasts. This both helps us to preserve a sense of the spiritual significance of the Feastówhich is so often lost at home where we are apt to overindulge in eating and various holiday diversions; and it also imparts a special blessing upon the home. As we mentioned earlier, however, it is rare that on the feast-day visit one is able to spend time freely conversing and discussing matters which deserve the attention and intimate atmosphere found in the home. For this it is best to invite the priest on a Sunday afternoon for tea, or for dinner in the middle of the week--as schedules and convenience permit. If the priest is married the invitation should also be extended to his matushka; one should not overlook the fact that she is the priest's helper and also a servant of the Church.
We hope that this brief article will help Orthodox faithful to appreciate the significance of a priest's visit to their home and will encourage a less formal and deeper bond with the shepherd of their souls.
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