by Fr. George Alberts
When we speak of spirituality whether it be of adolescents or any other age group of our Church, there are a few things that we must keep in mind. Orthodoxy is a way of living. Many of the Church teachings and the teachings of Christ Himself of necessity conflict with our world and society. Our Lord called Satan the Prince of the world. When we follow Christ, the King of Heaven, we are bound to conflict with the ruler of our world. So we as Orthodox Christians are called to live in this world of sinfulness, not partaking of it, but rather separating ourselves from it by our spiritual and Christ-centered existence. This is a tremendous task. For those in the age group of adolescents some extra and special problems are imposed by our society. They are forced to fit into certain groups or categories and meet certain qualifications for acceptance. As one religious columnist put it: "It's a generation that feels shoved into a strange land of morals and mores that it hasn't asked for, a land of constant contradictions and confusing rhetoric." Feelings of inadequacy, inferiority and lack of acceptance are derived by society's heavy pressure at this age for total acceptance. Great emphasis is put on physical attractiveness, physical development, intelligence or personality. The adolescent who does not possess these qualities is rejected. One of the modern songs, "At Seventeen," by Janice Ian sums this all up. She writes: "I learned the truth at seventeen, that love was meant for beauty queens and high school girls with clear-skinned smiles who married young and then retired. The valentines I never knew, the Friday night charades of youth were spent on one more beautiful, at seventeen I learned the truth. And those of us with ravaged faces, lacking in the social graces, desperately remained at home inventing lovers on the phone, who called to say 'come dance with me' and murmured vague obscenities. It isn't all it seems at seventeen."
The question that we must ask ourselves, is does the Church promote these feelings or does it ease them? Do we make our young people feel wanted and adequate or unwanted and inadequate? Our major concern should be education, communication and support. Without these concepts our youth will be unable to reckon their personal spiritual life in the Church with their life in society which legalizes, supports and often promotes anti-Christian acts and beliefs. This can lead to drug and alcohol abuse.
All adolescents are not spiritually on the same level just as all adults are on different levels. Some of the problems in our churches that retard the spiritual growth of our adolescents are as follows: Hypocrisy seems to lead the list. How often have you heard a young person say, "My parents preach the Church but don't follow it themselves." Another problem is a lack of knowledge about the Church and its services. "The Liturgy doesn't mean anything to me." Often the much talked about idea that we must have some great ecstatic experience in our life to be really Christian, is often felt. "I don't get anything out of the services. There's no feeling there." The fact that the Church often is in conflict with society causes more problems. "The Church is out of date, it doesn't fit in with my lifestyle." Many people echo this feeling but if asked they really cannot tell you what the Church teaches. Finally the emphasis today on "things." Religion and the Church often become just another "thing" in our life and we focus on the "things" of our religion like icons, incense and vestments, rather than the teachings, beliefs and the person of Jesus Christ.
These are a few problems that stand in the way of development of a spiritual life. What can be done to alleviate these problems and assure the future of our Church? First of all, we must educate and guide the child in the Church as he is growing. We should never be afraid to practice what we preach at home. Doing otherwise leads to feelings of hypocrisy. This also means that we must educate ourselves so that we can guide our children in their spiritual development and answer their questions. Along with this we must be as open and honest with our religious feelings as with any other everyday subject. We cannot make our faith a once-a-week closet religion. Remember feast days and name days in the Church. If our faith is alive for us it will be alive for our children. We should work to encourage love and trust. We can do this by teaching repentance and forgiveness on the part of both the parents and the children. Let them know that you are not perfect and do not expect them to be perfect. Ask your priest to help with spiritual and other problems. If your children grow up regarding their priest as their spiritual father and confessor, many future problems will be solved.
Our youth are the future of our Church. It is the sacred duty for all of us, clergy and laity alike, to educate our children in the faith, to provide them with good Christian examples, and to fully integrate them in all aspects of Church life. Then and only then can they be fully prepared to accept the responsibility of leading our Church in the future.
Father George Alberts is pastor of St. Nicholas Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and involved in many youth related programs.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America