Vol. 2 No. 3 - Dormition 2007
The Belgrade, Moscow, Byzantine Hood:
Reaping What We Sow
"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it," - Proverbs 22:6
Several years ago, the American media was flooded with several studies comparing the attitudes and habits of American evangelical teens to their secular counterparts. The results were surprising to many people. Those who identified themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians had almost identical attitudes and habits on sexual issues to the population at large. Believe what they would, the heart of evangelical youth had been essentially won over by American ghetto culture.
Canadians pride themselves on our differences from Americans, in some cases, defining Canadian identity based on our profound differences from those living south of our border. Yet in the case of youth absorbing the popular culture - the ghetto slang, the suggestive music, the trashy clothes, the permissive sexual attitudes - Canadians represent a clone of their American cousins. For Orthodox Christians, the question is perhaps even more serious: for the lost generation of Orthodox youth, those whose grandparents and parents spent more time and attention on building the family business than on building the faith of their kids, a giant gap has emerged. Whereas American evangelical youth are still frequenting their churches, and are in contact with leaders who are trying - perhaps ineffectively - to offer them a spiritual and moral life preserver, the Orthodox children and grandchildren are not: they are gone.
One need look not further than the church schools and youth groups in old, established parishes. Even where they exist, their influence is very often muted by ethnic nationalism, or watered-down curriculum. Neither of these approaches prepares Orthodox youth to live out their faith in the outside world. As a result, the youth do what their parents, grandparents, and every generation of immigrants have always done: they assimilate.
American evangelical leaders responded to the U.S. studies with balanced maturity. They did not dispute the results; they did not blame the music industry, the Internet, or television, although each of these influences had a role to play in the problem. Remarkably, American evangelical leaders blamed themselves, and their own religious lives, for not cultivating a more authentic spiritual life in their children and teens. They recognized that they - American evangelical adults - lived lives that looked like, sounded like, and produced results like most of their non-evangelical neighbours. They also recognized that if they hoped for a different life for their kids, the results would have to start not with the kids, but with themselves - the parents.
The time is too late for Canadian Orthodox grandparents: the results are in, and our side gave up a generation ago. But for Orthodox parents, decision time is now. Will we say our prayers, and teach our kids to say them - in the morning, night, at meals, and in times of need? Will we actually attend Liturgy on Sundays and feast days - every time, not like some fickle movie fans? Will we turn off, then unplug, then disconnect the television, and radically shrink our time online?
If we refuse to take such steps, we will find ourselves walking in the failed steps of the generation before us, the generation who were so eager to be like "the Canadians", that they were willing to leave behind the day-to-day practice of the Orthodox Faith, tucked in some dusty corner in case someone died.
Of course, someone did die: the spiritual hearts of a whole generation of Orthodox youth, who are now parents themselves. And like the fictional mad scientist who created the monster, we got exactly what we set out to create.
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Dormition, 2007)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.