Living The Faith


By Fr. Rodion Laskowski

The question of how to attract and keep our young people close to the Church is one of major concern in our troubled age. To remain indifferent to this problem can only be regarded as a grave sin and is an indication of soul-destroying self-love.  The proposed solutions to this problem are many and varied, but unfortunately most succumb to the easy allure of gimmicks, i.e. the attempt to use methods popular in our fallen society, but sadly distant from the true aim of our salvation.   Among these we find an exaggerated call to social action, distraction through social activities, appeals to the intellect, and outright distortions of the Gospel message to accommodate each individual appetite.

Let us  briefly examine  each of these  methods, beginning with  the call to social action.  This approach plays upon what  are basically positive and as surely  Christian  virtues  such  as mercy,  loving-kindness  and  brotherly concern.   Apostles  of social action exaggerate  the human aspect of Christ's message,  stressing it over  and above  all other considerations.  Thus, the primary functions of our Lord's Incarnation are understood to be feeding the hungry,  clothing the  naked, healing  the sick, etc.   Far different  is the Orthodox  concept which recognizes  as above  all these things "the freedom from the slavery of  sin" wrought by the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Savior.  Therein lies the fullness and  the perfection of love. However, to belittle the previously mentioned works of mercy would be to belittle the very command  of our dear Savior Himself. The ideal we  must aspire to is to place  all  this  good  in a  sound perspective,  in accordance with  that hierarchy  of values  revealed  to us  by the  divinely-wise Fathers  of the Church.  For  a false perspective destroys the  delicate balance in which our Creator  has placed these things.  The distortion  of this  perspective has caused many purposely to direct the high values of youth towards exaggerated social action,  to the  lamentable exclusion of any  spiritual struggle.  Our Savior  and  Judge  may  have relegated  those  who  failed  to relieve  the sufferings  of their brethren  to perdition,  but he also  distinctly stated that Mary, the sister of Lazarus, had chosen the best part by sitting at His feet and hearing His  words.  To those critical of the woman who anointed Him with costly  ointment at the house of Simon the leper  He said: "For ye have the poor with you  always and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but Me ye have  not always" (Mk. 14:7).  We should beware lest  our sense of social justice lead  us to the excesses of organizations  such as the World Council of  Churches, which give monetary support  to guerillas waging  war against their  governments.  I believe  we can find  the key  to the correct path in these  words of  our Savior:  ..... "and  whensoever ye  will ye may  do them good."  Certainly  the love  we have for  our Savior for freeing  us from the bondage of sin will  naturally move us to perform those works of mercy which are so important a part of our spiritual struggle.

The question of social activity as the responsibility of the Church and as a means  of attracting young people  is even  more clear-cut. The  Church has always adequately provided for  the social needs of her children by the very nature of her spiritual activity. Christians, drawn together for the worship of  God,  have  always  naturally  accompanied  this sacred  duty  with  the opportunity to share not only their bread, but their struggles and spiritual joys as  well.   There is no precedent  in Scripture or ecclesiastical history for   the   Church  being   responsible   for sponsoring  purely   secular entertainments.  Parties,  dances,  raffles,  sports activities  are simply gimmicks which give the  illusion of uniting the flock. More often, they are destructive of that sober  and soul-saving spirit which should be cultivated among  Christians. Those  who need such outlets  can find  a wide  range of choices in  secular society.  However, among serious Christians  we see much less dependence  upon these activities. How  sad it is to  see the church so often empty during services  because later there is to be a social event and people must prepare themselves for it!

Another popular  gimmick is the appeal  to intellectualism. Since most young people  today receive an  education and  considerable stress is  placed upon becoming a diversified and cultured individual, it is a temptation for many churches and spiritual leaders  to entice young people by appealing to their intellect And  certainly the Church is not devoid  of things to study.  Thus, we  find  groups of  Christians  studying  the Sacred  Scriptures, the  holy Fathers, art, iconography, music,  etc. The pitfall here is simply that most of this is education devoid of experience.   We can become Scripture scholars, but we  are not  taught or encouraged  to believe sincerely  the words about which we  know so  much. We plunge  headlong into the lofty exegesis of the Fathers without  first mastering the ABC's of  the spiritual life: the lives of the saints.   We  read about Prayer of the Heart over coffee and doughnuts, and upon  rising from our chairs expect the gift to  be already upon us.  The intellectual pursuit  of spiritual  things not accompanied  by struggles can easily lead  us into the delusions  of the sectarians and  their theories of instant salvation. Again, we  see how some thing basically good and holy can be distorted and can lead to the ruination of souls.

Lastly, we are confronted with the outright and deliberate distortion of the Gospel. For  this distortion  we can blame  not only youth,  but parents and spiritual leaders  as well. Now, this blatant  distortion goes hand in glove with  the "theology  of  convenience," i.e.  "what is convenient for  me is good;" and the good assumes many faces when Divine Revelation is interpreted by the  theologians of  convenience. For instance,  the self-same Scriptures which condemn  homosexuality as  a  grievous and  soul-destroying sin  can simultaneously  be regarded  as  a "holy  book" by  those who  go far  as to "marry"  two  individuals  of  the  same sex!   To  serious  Christians  this blasphemy  is,  of  course,  obvious, but  what  of  other  and more  subtle distortions?   Do we perceive  their deceptions as easily? We shall attempt to unmask some of them as we continue.

Now  that we  have examined some  fallacies, what  are the truths  which can realistically  solve our problems?   If these  methods are imperfect  or even patently destructive,  what can we substitute for  them?   Are there any valid and soul-saving  ways by which we  can keep our precious  youth close to God and His  Church?   With great conviction  we must state that  we believe there are.  Our Savior  in His  mercy has given  them to  us, the Holy  Church has preserved them for us in the face of impossible odds, and they are available to us even now  for our comfort and consolation.  These ways are simply bound up in  the attitudes  and actions of those Orthodox Christians  who are our youth, their parents and  families, and their spiritual guides.   In examining these attitudes  and actions we hope  to reveal the only  sure way to ensure the future  of the Church, i.e. the dedication of  her children to Truth and spiritual struggle.


The youth of today  have very high ideals, and to deny this would be grossly unfair.  But we must admit that very  often these  ideals can sour,  can be perverted, can be exploited.  Often young people ultimately relinquish their ideals if they suspect that the situation is hopeless; if they conclude that nowhere  can these  ideals be  fulfilled. Unfortunately,  this is  the usual progression of events today. Disappointments lead to abysmal falls, often to depths lower than those  they condemned when their idealism was fresh. Where this does not happen, ideals are exploited by false prophets of good. Why is it that sectarians far  from the fullness of truth are able to inspire youth to  make such  amazing sacrifices?  Young Mormons  sacrifice years  of their lives  in active  missionary  work. The  disciples  of Sun  Myung Moon  live amazingly austere lives centered around work and self-sacrifice. What of the tremendous sacrifices made by the members of the Guyana community before the ultimate horror  which stamped out its existence? Yet  at the same time, the Orthodox Church, possessing the  fullness of Truth, has a real difficulty in keeping her  youth. Could  part of the  answer be that in  ignoring the high ideals and  potential  moral  heroism  of  our  youth  we  have  failed  to familiarize them  with our examples of such  heroism, displayed by  our own young, even  the very young, who  loved Christ and His  Church in past ages?

Do our youth know of St. Bogolep, the righteous child schema-monk, who as an infant  refused milk  from his  mother's breast  on Wednesdays  and Fridays, thereby going  hungry on the days of fasting appointed by  the Holy Church? What of  St. Sergius of Radonezh, whose fasting was so  severe at the age of twelve that his mother had to entreat him to abandon it? His wise reply was: "Should I  not strive  toward God with  all the strength  I have  so that He might deliver  me from my sins?"1  What of that  great athlete of Christ, St. John the  Faster, who  was hung from the rafters, had  straw burned beneath him, and was beaten with swords by the Moslems because he would not eat meat during the  Fast of the Dormition  of the Mother of  God?  Against the wicked perverters of  our age we offer the struggles  of the Virgin-Martyr Basil of Mangazeya, who endured  martyrdom  for his  refusal to  participate  in the wicked  sin of  homosexuality. Can we  even count  the choirs of  virgins of tender years who gave  themselves over to martyrdom rather than defile their bodies, those  temples of the Holy Spirit,  by fornication?  The litany would be  endless if  we continued.  Therefore, dear  youth, do  not be  afraid of struggles. Here  are your  examples and defenders.  For the sake  of passing honors  and  earthly  beauty you often  give yourselves  over  to  amazing deprivations. Do  not look to heroes  who worship the body  and mind, but to Christ   Who   can   reward    you   in   eternity   for   your   struggles.

The reason we are not well-disposed to spiritual struggle is because we live in a slothful, self-indulgent age, and the enobling ideas that do exist can, unfortunately, lend  themselves to self-glorification. To deny  oneself for Christ has  ceased to be attractive. To fast  is difficult, even useless (so we think), yet dieting  to make our bodies comely and training for athletics and sports are profitable because the glory returns to us. But how long does this glory  last in comparison to the glory our  Savior promises us? Our own Metropolitan Philaret in his Essays on Moral Theology for Young Students has said: "The  Kingdom of Heaven is acquired by  effort and only those exerting themselves achieve  it."  We cannot expect to lie  back; we cannot expect God to do it all  for us; yet how often do we hear  youth asking what the Church can do  for them, without the least thought of  exerting any effort on their own part. In the above-mentioned essay, our Metropolitan proceeds to explain  "synergism,"  as  taught by  the  fifth  century father,  St. John  Cassian:

According to this teaching, we are saved only in Christ, and God's grace is the  main force  in salvation. However,  salvation requires  the individual efforts of  man himself,  not only God's grace. Individual effort  alone is insufficient for  our own  salvation. It is  necessary since not even God's grace will save us without our own effort. In this way, our salvation occurs simultaneously through God's saving grace and through our individual effort. According to the bold  expression of several Church fathers, God created man without his participation, but  he cannot save man without his agreement and desire. He himself created man with absolute power over himself. Man is free to choose  good or  evil, salvation or  destruction, and God  does not limit this freedom,  even though He continuously  summons man towards salvation.2
To understand this ideal  more fully we can turn to our great Abba and First Hierarch Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), who explains the process thus:
Christianity  is a  podvig of  virtue; Christianity  is the pearl,  for the acquisition of  which the  wise merchant of  the Gospel should  sell all his possessions. .  . 'This is the  will of God: your  sanctification,' says the Apostle, and  it is  possible to attain it  only by making it  the chief and only  aim  of life,  if  one  lives in  order  to attain  holiness. .  Moral perfection is attained by the way of independent, intricate work on oneself, by inner  warfare, deprivations, and especially  by self-humiliation. . . In short, the Orthodox faith is an ascetic faith.3

Of course,  the implementation of  these ideals is difficult.  We can become intimidated by the pressures of society and succumb to peer pressure.  But we must remember,  'Orthodox Christians have moral codes  by which we must and should live. If it  happens that the code runs contrary to the (sinful) 'way of life' of the given society in which we live, we should and must adhere to the  higher way of  life which is  our Orthodox  Christian way of  life. Our Orthodoxy cannot  be determined  or influenced by outside  criteria, but the outside  criteria  must  either  be transformed  or  rejected  by  us. 4

"We set ourselves apart  from the rest of the world by our non-participation in  those  things which  the  world  considers  'cultural,'  'progressive,' 'amoral,' and  'contemporary. Christ's Church provides  for us our light and vision. And  our light  and vision sees  and detects evil and sin which the outside world views as harmless. 5

It may seem that  God is asking a great deal of us, but we must never forget to what  lengths our heavenly Father went in  sacrificing His Only-Begotten Son and  what pains and humiliations our Savior endured to  show us the way towards salvation.

Parents and Family

In  addition to the  role of our  youth, and  their own relationship  to the Church,  we must  of necessity  examine the  role of  parents and  family as partners and helpers in the formulation of that relationship. Unfortunately,  this  can  be  a  rather distressing  subject.  Obviously  our Lord foresaw difficulties  when He  gave these  words to  us, "He  that loveth  father or mother  more than  Me is  not worthy  of Me" (Matt. 10:37). He  foresaw the struggles sincere  Christians would encounter, even  with their own parents, in striving to live  the Gospel message. Examine the lives of the saints and marvel at the countless  examples of parents imploring their children not to go to  martyrdom, forbidding  them to enter  the monastic life,  even to the extent of chaining them up and mercilessly beating  them. The mother of the Blessed Feofil of the Kiev Caves actually attempted to murder her infant son rather than  to recognize  the grace of God  in him. The mother  of the holy martyr St. John the Faster knelt at his feet during  the entire time of his contest, and besought him with tears to break the fast and escape martyrdom. Our own age is certainly no different. How many parents are horrified at the thought of their own child entering the monastic life or the priesthood! One mother took her son  to a psychiatrist. A father told his son, who had taken the  monastic tonsure,  that while at  work, when  other men spoke of their sons'  accomplishments as lawyers,  doctors and  business men, he  told them that his son was  dead, so ashamed was he of his monasticism. One wonders if that father knew how accurate he was in a certain sense. Monastic struggles aside, how  many parents are disturbed if their children  so much as wish to lead a fuller Christian life. Some of my own spiritual children have related to me  that their parents are disturbed over  their attendance at the vigils on  Saturday nights.  They  were told  that normal  young  people go  out on Saturday nights to have a good time, not to church. I know a priest who told me about  some young  men who came  to him in desperation  because their own fathers  had given  them money  to go  out and  defile their virginity with prostitutes because  they had "come of age" and  had to prove their manhood! When these young men resisted, their fathers accused them of perversion!!  It would  certainly be unfair  to  convict  all parents  of these  destructive attitudes, but  even pious  parents are often terribly  weak and permissive, fearing to lose the love of their children. I had a neighbor in my childhood who took the phone off the hook every Sunday morning on her way to church so that her children, who were sleeping in, would not be disturbed. One author, writing  about  what it means  to  be an  Orthodox  parent, has  adequately described this weakness:

Where once  there were  grace-filled societies, in  old Holy Russia  and in Greece, today  the spirit of  the world has almost  completely triumphed and now constantly conspires against the raising of godly children. We know this in  our hearts,  but  do we  really act  as  if we  believe it? Or  have we succumbed in large measure  to the spirit of the world? Have we accommodated ourselves  to  it, so  that  our compromise  takes  a terrible  toll on  the sanctity of Orthodox homes?6
Of course the entire situation is a reflection of the abandonment of zeal as the standard for life in Christ and its replacement with mediocrity. "If the Church of  Christ finds  herself in difficult times today; if  she is faced with challenges which seem impossible; if many of her leaders are tempted to compromise  with  secularism  totally;  if  the Church  is  considered  'too monastic, too rigid, too  confining, too strict, too "otherworldly" 'and, to sum it up, 'too way out', then is it not because we have accepted mediocrity as the standard norm in our lives?"7

Young  people are  often  presented with  some terrible  standards  by their elders.  Some examples  can be offered.  Drug abuse  is a terrible  sin, but alcoholism is an acceptable vice.  A brother priest of mine was told he could not possibly  be a good  batiushka because he does  not like to drink vodka.  Such an attitude contributes to the fallen idea that clergy must participate in various vices in  order to appear more human to their people. In American jargon this is known as the "good Joe" concept.  Often priests, whether they are  tempted to  follow this "good Joe" mentality or  are true  pastors of souls,  are exposed  to  the bitterest  of criticism.  Protopresbyter George Grabbe,  in his  article "Orthodox  Christian Education  of Children  in our Days", well states:

Let  the most important center of interests for them be the local  church, and let the parents hold the spiritual  authority of the church pastor high in the eyes of their children. Children must be protected from all  criticism of  their priest. It  is difficult to  ascertain to what degree such  criticism can poison their  hearts for many years  to come, and sometimes for their whole lives.8
Other poor or double  standards are revealed in attitudes toward fasting and fornication.  Of partners in  fornication,  the  young man  is  held to  be experiencing a  normal part  of growing into manhood,  while the unfortunate girl  is  considered  a  harlot. As  for  fasting,  we  can bring forth  an all-too-well-known example.  How many of our  people, both parents and youth go out and wildly  celebrate the civil  New Year in total  disregard of the fast?  Young people  are often exposed to  destructive prejudices  by their elders  (e.g.:  Blacks and  Puerto  Ricans lack intelligence, ambition  and morals! Or, how superior Russians are to Greeks, Greeks to Russians, both to Americans, Americans  to foreigners! We can  go even further: Great Russians are better than Little Russians, city people to peasants, those of the first emigration  to those  of the  second or  vice versa.)  We can  almost become convinced that our Savior  might have been somewhat confused when He came to save "all men."

But, glory  to God  Who does not deprive  us of merciful hope!  We can still find examples of God-fearing and God-loving parenthood even in our times. To comfort  our souls  after the above-cited examples,  we have  the Righteous Abraham who trusted God  to such an extent that he was willing to plunge the sacrificial knife into the  son of his old age, until his hand was stayed by the angel  of the Lord. What  of the brave Sophia,  who witnessed the brutal martyrdoms of her three  young daughters, encouraging them all the while?  Or what of  the martyr whose mother came to witness  his contest in her wedding garment because of  her joy? Or of the mother of the  martyr Meliton of the Forty,  who bore  his half-dead  body on  her shoulders, following  the cart which contained  the bodies  of his fellow  athletes, that he  might be with them as he drew his last breath?

Where such  wondrous Orthodox parents still  exist, there still breathes the Spirit of God. Yes, glory to God, we still see mothers holding their babies through the  long vigils. We see parents who  endure the criticisms of those who  chastise  them for  imposing  "cruel  and unnecessary" fasts on  their children. Yes,  we have even heard  of an Orthodox father  who, in this very country, suffered imprisonment because he desired the Orthodox enlightenment of  his children!  Yes, there  are still  homes where true  Orthodox parents preside as  abbots of monastic communities. It is interesting  to note that one of the most  destructive influences on contemporary Church life has been the exaggerated and false distinction made between monastics and lay people, between monastery and parish rules of prayer. The Church has never made such distinctions.

St. John Chrysostom used  to say constantly that the life of the monks does not differ from the life of married people. God's commandments are common to all, and the call  to heavenly blessings and the glory of God in the Kingdom of Heaven  is directed to all  people, monastics and married.  When the Lord spoke to  the multitudes,  those who were  listening to Him  were not monks.  Purity of heart, humility,  spiritual mourning, almsgiving, fortitude during times of persecution and grief in order to acquire the Kingdom of Heaven are the features  of the way our Lord indicated to the  Israel of grace and were directed  to farmers, fishermen,  simple folk,  and heads of  households who brought  with them  wherever they  went their  children and  their problems, which were just like  ours today. St. Chrysostom says that the Apostle Paul, in  writing his  epistles  to city  dwellers, such  as the  Corinthians, the Thessalonians, etc. people, in other words, with wives and children  -  "demands of  them   all  the   spiritual  precision  which  the monastics  keep."9

Spiritual Guides

In order  to direct the high  aspirations of youth and  to bring to fruition the good  seed planted by devout  Orthodox parents, it is  essential to have access to  wise and prudent spiritual  guides. Our Savior did  not leave His fold unattended  when He departed from this  earthly life, but appointed the holy  apostles,  and through  them  their  successors, as  shepherds of  His rational sheep.  These  shepherds  have  led Christ's  flock  through  many spiritual dangers and, by  God's mercy, a few such guides remain even in our terrible times  to lead us as well. But, alas, many souls have been lost to the wolves of the  passions because of false shepherds, and of these our own age has  its full  share. The youth of  our times must use  the rational and spiritual  gifts which God  has given them  to seek  out wise guides  in the spiritual life.  Those who  have not the  comfort of truly  Orthodox parents will have only the comfort of these discerning spiritual guides to cling to.  In  order for  them to be  able to help  us, 'we  must be willing  to submit ourselves to  them in obedience, to the very exclusion  of our own will. For spiritual directors to be able to help the youth know Christ, they must, for their  part,  guard the  purity  of  the faith.  and  cultivate holiness  in themselves.

One might  ask where  one can find  a spiritual father.  In the  life of St. Arsenios of  Paros, we read:

St. John the  Baptist dwelt in the wilderness, fasting  and praying  in secret.  No one  saw him but God, Who,  seeing the Forerunner fasting  and praying in  secret for Him, for  His glory, revealed his virtues  to all. As the  wise Nibs says, men left  the cities and ran to the wilderness; wealthy persons  who had houses decorated with gold and wore silken  clothes, and  those who had beds  studded with precious  stones and rested on soft mattresses, lay down outdoors on the sand by the banks of the Jordan.  Why? Because  of the  virtues of  the man.  Virtue, like  a magnet,  attracts men.10
Those who  truly thirst for spiritual perfection  will find, by God's mercy,  true  fathers. Those who wish  to be  mediocre will likewise  find mediocre guides  and  be  satisfied  with  them.  The advantages  of  good  spiritual relationships are spoken of by that great father St. Ambrose of Milan in his work  Duties of the Clergy:
It is a very good thing  to unite oneself to a good man.  It is  also very useful for the young to follow  the guidance of great  and wise  men. For  he who lives in company with  wise men  is wise himself; but he who  clings to the foolish is looked on as a fool, too. This friendship with the wise  is a great help in teaching us, and also as giving a sure proof of  our uprightness. Young men show very soon that they imitate those to whom they attach themselves.11
The  saint proceeds  further  to prove  his point  by citing  the beneficial relationships between Joshua and Moses, Lot and Abraham, Elisseus and Elias, and Timothy  and Paul.  The exalted character  of a true  spiritual relation ship is  illustrated in our times by the warm  sentiments of love and esteem directed  towards our Metropolitan  Anthony, of  blessed memory, by  our present First Hierarch on  the eve of his consecration as bishop of Brisbane in 1963:
But today I would like  to  mention, mention  with gratitude,  the extraordinary attention  and fatherly love which was shown  to me as a young monk by the 'abba of abbas' and spiritual father of the Russian Emigration, His  Beatitude Metropolitan  Anthony.  'An infirm  and overburdened elder,'  weighed down by care  and 'looking after all the churches,' he found time to write letters to me, and with the shaky, already weak hand of an old man, he wrote letters full of wisdom, edification and enormous spiritual experience.  I preserved these letters as sacred objects, as precious treasures, but they were destroyed  by the merciless fire which broke out in  the house where I was  living   in  Harbin,  in  which   I  myself  all but   perished.12
Recognizing the  necessity of seeking out  these spiritual relationships, we might  further ask what  are the  responsibilities  of the  Church and  her spiritual guides in our times.

1.  Holiness of  life.  This is  something very  difficult to  evaluate, both because  true spiritual guides  often conceal  their holiness,  and because charlatans  feign it.  Suffice it  to say  to the dear youth of  our Church Abroad: Give glory and thanks to God that it is not difficult to perceive in our hierarchs true monks, men of prayer, defenders of the faith. We have, by God's mercy,  true monasteries and  convents where true monks  and nuns wage warfare against the passions  and pray for us sinners night and day. We even have  venerable fathers  and spiritual guides among  the parish  clergy who bring forth  much fruit, despite the  most incredible obstacles to spiritual development caused  by ignorance and indifference.  Not long ago, during the radiant glorification of our  Righteous Xenia the Blessed of St. Petersburg, I  discovered, to my  amazement, that  among the  priests  was one  who had labored for  over 60 years in  the vineyard of Christ.  I must confess I was rather  awed by  that  realization. It  was something which I  could barely comprehend. It  was both chastisement and uplifting  to my sinful soul which already thought that almost  eight years in the priesthood was a great cross and deserving of praise.  So, we see in just a half century how considerably enfeebled we  have become in comparison to our  elder fathers! I recall with equal amazement hearing at the Youth Conference in Toronto about a father in Palestine who  by his prayers brought  down the whole side  of a mountain in order to  conceal the impious exposition by marauders  of the relics of some fathers who  had labored in the  nearby caves. And this  in my own lifetime!

2.  We need not  speak much of  the attempts  of our beloved  archpastors in these times  to defend the purity of the  faith. This they have consistently done in  spite of  much bitter animosity  on the part  of lukewarm hierarchs intent on  keeping "in step with the times."  Dear  young people, you will do well and  profit your  souls if you speak  out and read the  epistles of our Synod  of Bishops,  and  especially the  "Sorrowful Epistles" of  our First Hierarch.

3. Finally, an important lesson we must learn from our spiritual guide. both of  the heavenly choir  and of  those struggling  in  our times  is  how to recognize Orthodoxy as our Fatherland and to speak its language. We would be naive  if  we did  not  admit  that even  today  we often contend with  the lamentable sin of placing ethnicity above our precious faith. In this regard we have failed to  take example from  our own wise hierarchs  who, in their epistle of  this past September,  have stated:

By God's  mercy, the Russian Orthodox  Church Abroad  has outgrown its  name and  has  come to  occupy a special, unusual place in the conscience of all Orthodox Christians. Despite our weakness, we have been vouchsafed so great an honor, and on this account they may  but love us or  despise us. Without separating  ourselves from the Mother Russian  Church,  our  Church  is  truly  the  free,  multinational, multilingual Church of the diaspora.13
To illustrate how these words are sadly ignored or misunderstood, I recall a disturbing passage from the  report of Archimandrite  Panteleimon, Abbot of Holy Transfiguration Monastery, to the 1974 Council of our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad:
And sometimes  we hear it  said that one of  our people, or perhaps even one of  the priests, has said that our Church uses Russian and, therefore, it  would be better if they went  to the Metropolia where English is  used.  Or  perhaps again, that  our  Church  does  not  have the  youth facilities, etc.  of the Greek Archdiocese and, perhaps it were better that they went  there. When we hear such things we  are greatly saddened. We have said on many occasions that the Russian Synod Abroad is the sole guardian of piety in the diaspora.  She alone among the 'Orthodox' unashamedly proclaims the Orthodox  Faith. How can we then surrender the lambs  that come to us to wolves in sheep's clothing?14
Yet in  1929, our Metropolitan Anthony had a  much brighter vision than many of  our contemporaries.  Upon  presenting the  staff  of  office to  Bishop Nicholas of  Great Britain he said, "The Lord  has decreed that you commence your episcopal  ministry in  a country which has many enlightened  sons who genuinely love  our people  and our Faith...  You should turn  your pastoral attention  to  those  English  people, especially  the  youth,  who wish  to acquaint themselves  better with  the Orthodox religion  and Church. Welcome them with pastoral affection  and pray to the Lord for the salvation of both Russian and English souls."15

I do  not think that we  live in a time or  under circumstances where we can afford  to identify the Church  too closely  with cultures.  That may  be a luxury reserved for more openly prosperous times for the Church. Possibly, a return to the concept of theocracy will be God's blessing on our times. When the  people  of Israel  were  tempted  by the  way  of life  of their  pagan neighbors, they  besought God  to give them  also an earthly  king. It seems that  from the  time  that God granted their  request  their woes  began in earnest.  I can  state my  concern no  better than our respected theologian Father Michael  Azkoul in his  article "Orthodoxy: My Country":

The Ark of  the Church  must not  escape the rocks  Of ecumenism only to founder on the shoals of nationalism. Let us  remember that nothing is  more precious than Orthodoxy. No matter how beautiful, how brilliant, how formidable our ethnic heritage, the  Church on earth is  our country, our home.  She is the Way to our everlasting  and celestial home in  the Kingdom of God  above. No wonder the Church  has always placed  the monk before our  eyes as an ideal:  he is aoikos, homeless'  on  earth  save   in  the  greater  'nationality'  or 'fellowship' of  the Church universal.  He tells us that  we are 'pilgrims,' always emigres, especially in these 'last days.' We have one 'home' now, the Church, the  icon of the  heavenly Church, in which  she mysteriously shares already. Indeed, bring in  your earthly treasures if you must; let God bless and  sanctify them.  Beware, however, lest  you seek  to bring too  much and cannot enter the door of the temple.16
I  hope that  it  has become  apparent from  all  that I  have said  that my contention is simply that the most perfect way for us to inspire a love for the  Church in our  youth is for  the Church  to be precisely  "herself."   By simply  clinging  to  her  traditional  piety, by  encouraging  the  fullest possible liturgical  life in our circumstances,  by nurturing the concept of the  "Church in  the home,"  and by  attaching ourselves to  sound spiritual guides, we will provide  the means for keeping youth close to the Church. Of course, the results will  be qualitative and not quantitative. It is vain to expect  that the  Church will be  preserved by  numbers. If the  numbers are plagued by  mediocrity, we  will only become disastrously  enfeebled. Let us heed this call to Orthodox zeal!

"Why be mediocre, when  you can be your best, with the grace of God, through your efforts  and the prayers of His saints? Why  be a spiritual loser, when the heavenly  Kingdom is  to be gained?  Why seek earthly  prizes and goals, when Heaven is to be stormed? 'The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the  violent take  it by  force' (Mt.  11 :12),  said our  Lord. Let us use Christ's spiritual power to  overcome our sinfulness and temptations. Let us seek perfection from ourselves and,  in so doing, discover  that our Lord's yoke is indeed light. Let us not live with mediocrity, but let us seek after perfection."17

In parting, allow me  to share with you these precious and divinely inspired words of our God-bearing  father St. John Climacus, taken from his Ladder of Divine Ascent:

Offer to Christ  the labors of your  youth, and in your old age you will rejoice  in the wealth of dispassion. What is gathered in youth nourishes and comforts those  who are tired out in old age. In our youth let us  labor ardently  and  let us  run vigilantly,  for the  hour of  death is unknown. We  have very evil and dangerous, cunning,  unscrupulous foes, who hold fire  in their hands and  try to burn the temple  of God with the flame that is in it. These foes are strong; they never sleep; they are incorporeal and  invisible. Let  no  one when  he is  young listen  to his  enemies, the demons, when they say  to him: 'Do not wear out your flesh, lest you make it sick and weak.' For you will scarcely find anyone, especially in the present generation,  who  is determined  to  mortify  his flesh,  although he  might deprive himself  of many pleasant dishes.  The aim of this  demon is to make the very  outset of our spiritual life lax and  negligent, and then make the end correspond to the beginning.18


1  "The Early Life of St. Sergius of Radonezh," The Orthodox Word,  x (July-August, 1974), 130.
2   Abbot (now Metropolitan) Philaret, Essays an Moral Theology for Young Students (N.Y., Department of Foreign Relations of the Synod of Bishops [of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad], 1975), 16.
3  Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), "How Does Orthodoxy Differ from the Western Denominations?" (St. Nectarios Educational Series, No.59; Seattle, Wash.: St. Nectarios Press, n.d.), 24-26.
4  "Popular Songs, Heresy and Our Way of Life," Orthodox Christian Witness, V (Sept. 27/Oct. 10, 1971),3.
5  "The Playboy Philosophy",  Orthodox Christian Witness, V (Aug. 14/27,1972).
6  "On Being an Orthodox Parent," Orthodox Christian Witness, XII (Nov. 27/Dec. 10,1978), 1-2.
7  "The Age of Mediocrity," Orthodox Christian Witness, V (Oct. 11/24, 1971), 1, 4.
  6 Protopresbyter George Grabbe, Orthodox Christian Education of Children in Our Days (Jordanville, N.Y.: St. Job of Pochaev Press, 1960), 29.
9   "St. John Chrysostom", Orthodox Presence (Nov., 1978), 11-12.
10  Constantine Cavarnos, "St. Arsenios ofParos" (Modern Orthodox Saint Vdl. VI; Belmont, Mass.: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1978), 59.
11  St Ambrose of Milan, "On the Duties of the Clergy" (A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church 2nd Series, Vol. X; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1969), 58.
12  Archimandrite (now Metropolitan) Philaret,  "Address of Archimandrite Philaret," Orthodox Christian Witness, VII (Aug. 5/18, 1974), 3.
13   "Epistle to the Flock of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, Beloved of God", Orthodox Life, XXVIII (Nov.-Dec., 1978), 20.
14   Archimandrite Panteleimon,  "The Mission of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia," Orfhodox Christian Witness, VIII (Sept. 23/Oct. 6,1974), 5.
15   Ibid., 9.
16   Rev. Michael Azkoul,  "Orthodoxy: My Country," Orthodox Christian Witness, X (Oct.18/31,1976), 2.
17  "The Age of Mediocrity," op. cit., 3.
18  St John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, trans. Archimandrite Lazarus (Moore) (Willits, Calif.: Eastern Orthodox Books, 1973), 55.

"Youth and the Church" is the text of an address delivered at the annual St. Herman Youth Conference, held on 12/25 December, 1978, at the Russian Orthodox Church of Our Lady of Kazan, Newark, New Jersey, sponsored by its pastor, the V. Rev. Archpriest Vladimir Shishkoif. Reprinted from Orthodox Life Vol. 29, No. 3 May-June, 1979