Thursday, June 23, 2016

Day of Youth + Future Topics

I am thinking about writing about the following topics and I would like some feedback:

1. Preparation for Holy Communion

2. When to arrive and when to leave the temple for Divine Services and how to behave when in church

3. Summer vacation from church – words that do not go together

4. Proper attire in church and WHY that even matters

5. The parish patronal feast day

6. The Parish School

7. Theosis/Transformation/Transfiguration

Please share your thoughts here about these topics, as well as sharing thoughts you have about others. Capturing these here helps me not to forget about these ideas, as well as allowing you to react to these and add to the list!

This Sunday, the Sunday of All Saints, we celebrate the Day of Youth in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. This day was established some years ago to focus on our young people. This is good. And we should take this seriously. And furthermore, the diocese has established this day, the Sunday of All Saints, as a day on which we annually take up a collection in support of our Diocesan Youth Fund. This is the only income for this fund, which is utilized heavily to support and subsidize youth events in our diocese like the annual Walk of Life, St. Herman's Retreat, and Young Adult Retreat. And more. Please be generous when you come to the cross this Sunday, and if you can't be there, please reach out to Nathan or Marina to make your donation before or after the fact.

People often say that the youth are the future of the Church. Of course, on one hand, from the chronological point of view, this is obviously the case. But on the other hand, from a theological point of view, this is completely wrong! Christ is the future of the Church. No one will argue with that of course. But what do we mean by saying that Christ is the future of the Church?

Living a Christ-centered life is our goal. We are striving for theosis (spiritual transformation), which is the Orthodox understanding of salvation. I'd like to massage the above play on words a bit here and state very categorically that theosis is the future of our youth. What I mean by that is this: young people must live their faith actively. A theoretical or abstract conception of faith is not compelling for them (nor is it really for any of us, but it is much less compelling for them for various reasons from cognitive development to the reputation for hypocrisy that Christians have in the mass media/popular culture). The point of this post is not to whine about the media's portrayal of Christians. The Lord warned us about this Himself so this should not be a surprise:

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Rather, the point of this post is to say that we sell our young people short if we do not challenge them. They are not looking for another shallow interaction. Their lives are chock full of that. They, like many who come to the faith as adults, are seeking authenticity. They are seeking a challenge. They understand that if salvation is so important that it is the main thing for which we strive and hope in our lives that it must be much more demanding than the veneer of a moral code that the world says that Christians preach to others but do not live for themselves.

But we betray our youth by watering down the faith for them. By “protecting” them from spiritual reality. By making Orthodox Christianity something that it is not. Orthodoxy is a spiritual struggle! But we do not challenge them to live Christ-centered lives. We do not challenge them to strive for theosis. We do not challenge them to live a morally upright life NOT because we say they must, but because if they are transformed they will be repulsed by immorality. Of course we have to teach them what is right and wrong, but I hate to break it to the parents out there: we aren't all that full of wisdom. And worse: the kids know that. And even worse: it isn't like most of us have been a stellar example for our kids (and they know that too, or they will eventually, so don't make your life into fantasy that will turn into a temptation for them later). The kids don't need every detail of our lives before we knew Christ, but they shouldn't think that mom and dad are saints either since sooner or later they will find out that, for most of us parents anyway, that isn't true.

Furthermore, our kids don't need more friends. They need parents. Parents who will hold them to a high spiritual standard. Parents who will exemplify a Christ-centered life. Parents who will share their spiritual struggles with them as appropriate, not to tempt them, but to make it clear to the kids that parents are not perfect (perish the thought!), and that it is not so much our moral superiority that draws God's Grace to us, but our humility and repentance. Do you remember when you first came to faith? How close God was? A lot of that time as new believers was spent in repentance and embracing humility. It is not a mistake that when we depart from repentance and humility that we have a lot harder time connecting with God.

And there is nowhere else to put this so I will include it here: it is not hypocrisy if we do not allow our kids to make moral mistakes that we made before we came to faith. In fact, it is shirking our duties as Christian parents if we do not hold our children to a lofty Christian standard. By God's Grace we survived our ignorance. Many do not. Why would we encourage our children to do something that we know is spiritually detrimental? This would be like if we survived some terrible disease but encouraged our children to also be so afflicted even if a cure is available. Maybe that isn't the best metaphor, but hopefully you understand what I am saying: don't encourage spiritually detrimental behavior in your children even if you engaged in such behavior. We are doing our best to raise saints here – even if we weren't saints ourselves.

So parents and other adults in our parish family (since it is not just the parents that guide our parish youth to salvation), let us not be confused that by their very nature the youth will be the future of the Church. If the future of our youth is theosis then yes – they will be the future of the Church in that they will live a transfigured life. But if their future is not theosis, is not a Christ-centered life, then they will not be the future of the Church. They will be outside the Church, for they will not understand why Christ was incarnate, and for that matter why God created man in the first place.

The motto “I'm #3!” is a real key here. What does that mean?

#1 is God
#2 is my neighbor (in the broadest possible Christian understanding of that term)
#3 is me

This motto is in complete opposition to the way that young people see the world. Again, for various reasons not excluding limitations in cognitive development, young people see the world in a hyper-selfish way. We hear “I'm #1” all the time. We give our children accolades for essentially doing little or nothing in sports, school, and life. Of course they think the world revolves around them! We tell them and show them that every day. But if they can understand that they are #3, well then we have already taken a rather large step in the right direction.

This is not me telling you how you must raise your kid. But if we want our youth to truly be the future of the Church, if we want them to fulfill their high calling as saints, then we need to make some adjustments on a macro scale. And this little note is about doing just that. I'm not telling you what time to put your kid to bed or what food to feed him or at what age he should start fasting. Those are things that parents know and understand about their kids and it would be frankly silly for me to comment on such things. Rather, this is about the big things. About making it possible for the statement “the youth are the future of the Church” to not be an empty, flippant, meaningless bunch of words, but rather an affirmative statement that this will NECESSARILY and UNQUESTIONABLY be the case. As parents and adults in our parish family this is our decision for the most part. It is never to late to start, but the Day of Youth in ROCOR is a rather good day I would suggest, so let's decide today that we are going to move in this direction in a very serious, conscientious way. I look forward to seeing you all at the huge parent and child “Stump the Priest” on Sunday!

Fr. Gregory

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