Our youth play a vital role in the ‘present’ life of our Church
To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Venerable Monastics, and God-fearing Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America:
Today we celebrate the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple. One of the major feasts of our Church, it is also a special day for a lesser known reason: In the early 1990s, February 2 had been designated “World Day of Orthodox Youth,” while February had been set aside as “Orthodox Youth Month.”
Our youth hold a special place within the Body of Christ. On the one hand, they are the ‘future’ of our Church, destined to carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ long after most of us have entered eternal life. The babies we baptize today are tomorrow’s priests, bishops, Church School teachers, monastics, parish council members, and faithful Christian parents.
On the other hand, our youth — especially our teenagers and college-age young adults — play a vital role in the “present life” of our Church. And indeed, this reality must be recognized and celebrated if we are to take seriously the mission of “growing Orthodoxy” in North America. As parents, clergy, youth ministers, and faithful parishioners, we have a duty to remind our youth of their important place at Christ’s table, and to nurture, protect, and educate them, by every means possible, so that they will remain within the Body of Christ.
Of course, the world in which we live is becoming more and more complex. Our country has been engaged in war for the better part of a decade. Young people are occupying Wall Street, and Oakland, and Washington DC. Perhaps for the first time since the 1960s, our country has never been more divided politically, while our graduating college students face tremendous uncertainties with regard to finding meaningful careers and securing the means to raise their families. ‘Social networking’ has often replaced the need or desire for ‘face-to-face’ interaction.
If adults are asking questions like, “What is going on? Where are we going? What will become of us?” one can be certain that our youth also are reacting to these, and numerous other, questions — as well as a host of other issues, insecurities and cravings for acceptance, clarity, reassurance, and direction. Add to this the potent draw of destructive physical, emotional, and spiritual behaviors, and it becomes obvious why our youth often feel that they are swimming in a sea of confusion, desperately seeking answers to the “meaning of life.” There is no doubt that Christ and His Church have the answers, but the sensitivity needed to listen to the questions our young people ask and the fears they harbor is all too often lacking. If we are to address effectively youthful fears, hopes, and needs, we must embrace our youth as they are, and where they are — rather than where we are, where we think they should be, or where we want them to be.
Our Lord listened to those He encountered, accepting them where they were. He engaged farmers in language they readily understood. He spoke in simple terms with the simple, while providing sophisticated answers to the well- educated. He knew how to speak precisely because He knew how to listen. We, too, need to listen to the young people we encounter — and listen without prejudice or arrogance. And we need to love them — unconditionally — even as the prodigal son’s father loved and forgave him “with no strings attached.” If they do not experience this at home or in the Church, they will seek it elsewhere, finding a ‘love’ that has nothing whatsoever to do with the God Whom the Apostle John calls “Love” Itself [1 John 4:8].
Hence, my dear brothers and sisters: We must focus our vision on ministry to and by youth. We must continue — and expand—our labors, not just in the “future,” but in the “present” as well. We must remind them, as we read in 1 Timothy 4:12, that their youthfulness is not something upon which we look down, but that their place within the Body of Christ is no less important despite their age or inexperience.
It is my hope that, during the month of February, every parish will highlight the presence of their young people — and challenge one and all to bring back into the fold those young people who have ‘fallen through the cracks’ — so that the entire Body of Christ will continue to “make bodily growth” and “upbuild itself in love” [Ephesians 4:16].
Sincerely yours in Jesus Christ our Lord,
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada