In any endeavor, organization and the setting of priorities play a crucial role. The christian life is no different. The Gospels especially, and all of the rest of the scriptures, and our Holy Tradition help us to set our priorities correctly, however, I have found that most christians have lots of problems in establishing a "routine" that helps them in their daily life. I speak from experience here. In families, the lack of or presence of a disciplined and organized lifestyle is particularly crucial.
Nighttime is the most precious time, if one or (preferably not) both parents work. These hours go by quickly, the kids get tired, mom and dad need some time together, the dishes must be cleaned, the phone rings of the hook. Before you know it, the kids are in bed, the kitchen is still a mess, each bedroom looks like a grenade exploded in it, and your family has prayed very little together, read nothing, and, in short, been so encumbered with the business of "living" that you can not look at the evening as having accomplished anything.
Try to make sure the kids rooms are clean or close to it BEFORE dad comes home.
NEVER watch television after dinner. This thing will rob you of your inheritance, since you won't talk much to each other, and will likely not say your prayers, nor will you be in a spiritual state that make prayer ineffectual anyway.
I have discovered the hard way that BBs are like tv in an important way. They rob time from your family. Get online AFTER the kids are in bed.I NEVER break this rule! :)
Get an answering machine or Call-Notes or something like that. Don't answer the phone after dinner, until the kids are in bed. I have a beeper, and tell close friends to beep me if they need to talk to me right away. Everytime I break this rule, I am sorry. A night goes by, I have an "important" conversation, my wife attends to the kids, and they are all in bed by the time I am done. In most cases, I consider such a night to be an almost total loss.
For our family, the following routine works most of the time .... Well, so nobody calls me Fr Pinoccio ... it works ALL the time, except when it DOESNT work! Parents, I am sure you understand.
Dad comes home, after calling ahead, so dinner can be ready upon arrival. If the weather is nice, we often eat later anyway.
Family eats dinner, the eldest clean the kitchen, the youngest clean their bedrooms and any other messes that are left. All children get into their pajamas.
We say our evening prayers together. More about this later.
Often, we brew some tea, perhaps make popcorn, and have it while we "Read about Saints" (as Natalie (4) puts it). We almost always read from the Prologue, and often read topically from favorite books, or a book we are currently serializing.
We read most of the evening prayers from the Jordanville prayer book. Since the house is a little church, I lead the prayers. If a child wants to "cense", or read a certain psalm, etc they ask me or my wife. I believe maintaining order is important. We always prostrate before beginning, with the prayers:
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me a sinner"
"Most Holy Mother of God, save us"
"Holy Father Seraphim, pray to God for us"
(sometimes each person then mentions their saint, in turn)
"Angel of God, my holy guardian, pray unto God for me"
"O God, cleanse me a sinner and have mercy on me"
"Thou hast created me o Lord, have mercy and forgive me a sinner"
"I have sinned immeasurably, O Lord, remember me a sinner"
We often sing "O Heavenly King  ", then one child recites the trisagion.
We also sing the evening troparia.
I think it is very important that we sing together. It does not matter if you cannot carry a tune in a bucket, or if everyone around you would like to throw the bucket at you - singing involves the entire family, and I do not know a child who does not like to sing. It also helps one memorize many hymns and prayers, and is really the only way that I know of to keep the little ones involved.
I use *some* judgment, and perhaps omit some of the longer prayers, depending on the tiredness of the kids, the lateness of the hour, etc. We always say the 24 prayers of the day, antiphonally. Two or more read each line in turn, and the others may or may not prostrate with each prayer. A friend follows a different rule. She prays with the kids for 5-10 minutes. When the natives get restless, they stop. The next day they begin again where they left off, after saying the Trisagion prayers first.
At the end of the evening prayers, we love to sing troparia. St Seraphim, St Nectarios, other favorite saints. Natalie always insists on singing "More Honorable", and we love to sing "To Thee the Champion Leader" , with prostrations (good aerobic exercise!). The younger ones sometimes swing a "censer" which is actually a lampadka, that we really use as a censer. I encourage the parents of small children to encourage them when they "play church", and provide them with "censers" and the like. Of course, discretion must be used, (for instance, my children are forbidden to "consecrate", and icons and other holy things must not be left lying about)), but you will be rewarded with many house blessings, processions, and Deacons litanies (which were usually "Pray to the Lord! Lord have mercy!", sung with all the fervor and volume a four year old can muster).
During lent, it is important to say the prayer of St Ephraim, with
prostrations. Each child can say their "part".
The key for us, I think, is to enforce discipline, but allow freedom of
expression. A tough trick, but it can be done. Another is to force ourselves to pray together. This was a hard lesson for me, as I don't like noise, and I was letting my wife handle all the evening prayer chores. I would be reading something edifying, or talking on the phone - after all, I was going to pray later. Fortunately, my spiritual father insisted that we all pray together, and, by and large, things work out. This IS important. One more key, to bring us up to the oft repeated number 3: Sing a lot. Prostrate a lot. Don't just read a bunch of prayers. Value this time. This is what you are "here" for.
My wife and children say intercessions together in the morning, some may say them at night. For me, this is the most patience demanding part. I have recently been reminding my children to pray for people more. They have a set routine in the morning, with Marina, in which they divide up the work. One prays for family, another for clergy, etc. One time I aksed Natalie (theyoungest, at 4 years old) if she remembered to pray for me today. "Oh no Daddy.I *don't* pray for you. tha't Timmy's job"! At least she was honest! since that time, we have a short (5 minute) pperiod in the morning, after the communal prayers when everyone (by themselves, although perhaps in the same room) prays for whomever they will. They have also been instructed to remmber to pray for Dad and Mom, and not leave that task to Timmy.
We have a small controversy in our house. Marina wants to pray first, then read, I am a procrastinator, and want to read lots of stuff, then pray. Occasionally, I get my way, and the kids are near comatose when we pray. Not a good idea. My wife has the better idea.
Fr Seraphim Holland
1 Don't sing it between Pascha and Pentecost! The Orthodox do not say this prayer until Pentecost, in anticipation of the Giving of the Holy Spirit. The Easter Tropar is substituted, being subg three times. We also often sing the verses that begin the Paschal matins, liturgy and vespers as well.
We confidently recommend our web service provider, Orthodox Internet Services: excellent personal customer service, a fast and reliable server, excellent spam filtering, and an easy to use comprehensive control panel.