The Lord said: "You know how to discern the face of the sky,
but you, hypocrites, cannot discern the signs of the times" (Matthew 16:2-4).
It is important to say this outright, because in this moment, we are thinking especially about "our home churches" - our families. Our task is to prepare them for the Orthodox way of life in this Diocese, and in the Holy Orthodox Church. Our task is not identify with our children, for example, or to join their associations. We are not about to become young again or to imitate our children.
Our Lord, through the great unified voice of Holy Tradition, commands us differently. Instead of us imitating our children and youth, we are to teach them and lead them, to love them and sacrifice ourselves on their behalf- so that these young people may imitate us as we follow Christ.
St. Apostle Paul wrote this about who should imitate whom in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: "I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me"(4:15-16). And then later on, in the same Epistle, he repeated this principle: "Imitate me, just as 1 also imitate Christ"(11:1).
Indeed, we like to say that our children are the Church today and tomorrow. This is certainly true. They are full members of the Body of Christ that is the Orthodox Church, and we should treat them as such, as holy icons of the Lord.
But we should also make very clear that they are young and inexperienced. They are easily influenced and undeveloped. They are more vulnerable to social trends and cultural change than our mature members are. Because this lack of wisdom, and vulnerability to suggestion, they are often foolish in outlook, thinking and behavior.
That infinitely valuable gift of our children that God has given us is a two sided gift. On the one side is the beauty of child-likeness, with all its energy, openness and wonder. On the other side is the squalor of childishness with all its egotism, superficiality and capriciousness.
Whether we like it or not, we are the ones who must lead our children from this foolishness to wisdom, from childishness to maturity. After all, we are the parents, they are the children. We are the ones who guard and guide. They were not given to us for our sakes. We have been given to the Church, in this generation, for theirs.
Again, I quote the Apostle Paul in this regard. In his Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul described maturity that transcended this foolishness of youth: "When we attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, then we will no longer be children, tossed to and for and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles"(4:13-14).
In this passage, the Apostle outlines for us the goal of youth ministry, which is to lead youth to maturity - and he tells us exactly what maturity is. Maturity, st. Apostle Paul says, is attaining that single vision of faith, that apostolic unity of theoria, in which the Apostles and all this saints experienced the same revelation.
Maturity is also the lifelong, existential and mystical relationship with Jesus Christ as the Son of God. It is a relationship which is always characterized by the intersection of the divine and the human, and at that intersection, Christ brings the person into participation in the Trinitarian fellowship of love.
Maturity is manhood. It is the time, as St. Paul wrote, when "childish things
are put away"( 1 Corinthians 13:11). Manhood is the stage of life when thoughts and emotions are under control. It is the point when a person realizes that he is not a victim of past mistakes or tragedies, nor is he a puppet of psychological or biological forces. He is, rather, created in the image of God. He has a royal authority over his soul, and a purifying interaction with the world.
Maturity is communion with Christ, union with the Triune God. It is as St. Paul says, the "stature of the fullness of Christ." It is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, so that - as St. Seraphim of Sarov says, thousands will be saved. Maturity is the attainment of sainthood.
And that is what this Diocesan Ministry is all about. We are in the business of making saints, and nothing else. If saints are not produced, then whatever is going on is neither ministry nor is it Orthodox.
There is not such thing as "ministry" that is mere entertainment. Ministry has loftier aims than mere institutional preservation. Ministry is not baby¬sitting, or grand-standing, or fund-raising. Ministry is only the business of edification, which means building up. We all are at work in ministry. St. Paul tells us in Ephesians, "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the edification of the Body of Christ" (4:12).
In other words, ministry "is the making of saints". Our ministry is the making of saints. Our ministry is all about sanctification, and it can only be ecclesial. We lead our people by edification, and we acclimate them in the atmosphere of holiness. That is the way it should have always been. And that is the way it must be now.
Now, not later. Here, in our Diocese, not somewhere else. With our people, with our resources, with our people and our places... all managed and led by our clergy... in particular, not by anyone else, but by you.
In saying this, I am pointing to a couple of potential temptations that could distort our planning and preparation.
The first temptation would be to confine our planning to the replication of past forms, of what seemed to be successful in the past. It should go without saying that nothing of the past should be re-produced simply because it was already done, or simply because it is routine and is easily set into motion.
There is a reason why our ministry is often confined to routine. It is simply because too little attention is paid to the present, much less the future.
In this regard, I wish to draw your attention to a set of trends that are affecting all of us right now, and will effect especially our families. I am going to spend some time on these trends, mainly because the information is important... but also to underscore how important it is to make sure our thinking about our ministry is fresh, creative and pious.
While these observations are not pessimistic, much of them are negative. I share them with you, because you need to bear these thoughts in mind as we plan for the care of our families and faithful.
Some of these trends are obvious trends, and others require more discernment. The obvious trends are large-scale and historic, and they will impose profound dynamics upon us and our communities.
- Because of the undeniable warming of the global climate, violent weather systems will increase in number and severity. It is likely that we will see more hurricane seasons like this last record-breaking one. It is also likely that weather patterns will change, and sea-levels will rise.
- The power of radical Islam will continue to grow. Once again, we are seeing outright aggression waged against Christians in Egypt, Africa and against the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Turkey. While Western Europe Christianity continues to decline toward zero, the number of Muslims is skyrocketing.
- The center of culture is shifting away from Europe and America. It is now moving toward the Pacific Rim. China will soon become a superpower that rivals the United States. It is likely that a new3 cold war will be waged between China and her orient allies, and the United States and her Western allies.
- Because of the rise of radical Islam and the increase of China's economic power, the availability of cheap energy will evaporate. For the last 50 years, the cost of gasoline, fuel oil and natural gas was relatively inexpensive for the middle class... but the time will soon come, if it hasn't already, when that "cheap-ness" is no longer the case. This single economic fact will change transportation and travel patterns in America... and with it, the whole concept of the suburban lifestyle.
These trends are obvious, but there are some less noticeable developments that are just as significant.
* Along with the continued decline of the Christian population in Europe and North America, there is an explosive expansion of the Catholic and Protestant population of South America, Africa and Asia. In the generations to come the average citizen of Christendom will be darker-skinned, poor or of the lower middle-class. And what is more important, this average Christian will have little historic allegiance to European or Russian culture.. As a result, Europe and the West will become mostly non-Christian, while the Christian population will largely be made up of Hispanics, Africans and Asians.
* Western society continues to become more reliant upon technology for daily life. The modern culture, in its addiction to false images and entertainment, has become "disengaged" from the original design for human life. As a result, our young person will becoming "less-connected" with other people and with their natural world. He is becoming, in the terminology of the Holy Fathers, increasingly "insensitive" to the beauties and truth of God's Creation.
* Society continues to push religion - especially the Holy Orthodoxy - out of the public square and into the backstreet alleys. Religious belief has been demoted to the status of "private opinion". Ethics and morality have become matters of personal taste, instead of reflecting the eternal constants of truth and goodness.
* Society continues to ignore the moral witness of the Church, and has adopted only one simple value: the materialistic satisfaction of people who can speak for themselves. This means that society will increase in moral permissiveness. It will be liberation for those who have power and wealth. But those who are poor, or who cannot speak for themselves - they will be the ones who will have lows heaped upon them, and will lose their right even to live.
You may be asking yourself what these trends have to do with the Holy Orthodox Church, this Diocese or our families. We are even now seeing the effects of these trends in our parishes. By the time our young people reach adulthood, there will be no doubt about the reality of these developments:
* The economic hardship of our parishes will increase, especially on our new established churches and missions. The cost of heat and electricity will continue to rise. The cost of healthcare will affect the parish specifically by the skyrocketing costs of clergy health insurance. As a result of the economic downturn, many of our young people will continue to leave their home communities for the sake of education and employment.
* Because of the society's rejection of the Divine origin of moral law, and presence of temptations for the arousal of passions are at a degree higher than ever before, including the decadents days of Rome. At the same time, the witness of Christianity has been erased from civil society, and has been demoted to the ranks of mere superstition in the public schools. As a result, immorality has permeated the fundamental levels of youth culture and psychology, as there is no little authority to check its growth.
* Young people are over-scheduled. There was a time when the church functioned as the center of our ethnic culture and society. Those were good days, to be sure, but those days are in the past. Presently, our young people are over-committed to homework, extra-curricular activities, and athletic affiliations. Priority conflicts have always been a challenge for our young people: but the frequency of these conflicts exceeded prior experience. Twenty years ago, school-sponsored activities scheduled for Sunday morning would have been unthinkable. Now it is almost routine.
* More of our children and youth have experienced the corrosion of the family than ever before. At least a quarter to a third of our young people have been directly affected by divorce. A majority of our youth and children have grown up with excessive amounts of television viewing and exposure to violence and sexuality through the media. This majority has also grown up with the absence of the regular family dinner... so while the exhausted, over-worked parents and children watch the flickering blue lights on the wide screen in the den, they graze on finger food, they do not dine on food that nourishes and makes the heart glad... they sit in spellbound silence; they do not converse with each other... they watch the idiotic plot lines of characters who are insane and shallow; but they do not tell each other the true and better stories of grandparents, heroes and saints.
At this point, we have said enough about trends. Some of us, in the past, have reacted to such a presentation of characters by dismissing this as doom and gloom. Or, they might simply respond by becoming morose and depressed. They might complain that they did not feel "inspired" or "uplifted". This is the second temptation that can distort our planning and our work in our ministry - the temptation of pessimism.
Indeed, we are here for joy and peace, but not for cheerfulness. My intention is to spiritually encourage you to continue our work. Encouragement is all about courage, and courage is what is needed in our ministry to our families and faithful. Because our families and faithful need the joy of the Lord, not self-esteem or positive-thinking.
You see, while you and I might protest at thinking about these challenges, and while some might become pessimistic at these future trends, I am stricken by the painful fact that our families and faithful are already aware of each of these concerns. There are not aware intellectually. They feel existentially the pain of these concerns.
When there is no dining room table at home, when there is the feeling of unending appointments of things to do, when there is the wild acts of lust and anger, when there comes the certain knowledge that the American Dream is more dream than reality, when the price tag of materialism comes as an enormous burden of debt, and a constant concern about the interest rates and the stock market - our families and faithful are too anxious to be pessimistic.
It is our task to resist the temptation of pessimism, and to lead them out of the passionate web of deceit that binds them. It is our task to lead them into the maturity of sainthood. It is our task to lead them into beauty and communion.
It is our task of our Orthodox ministry to help our families and especially our children become human again, if they have lost their way. And if they haven't yet, our task is to keep them forever in the Orthodox Church, so they might remain human.
And that can only be done in the Body of Christ.
So how is this to be done? The answer to that question is exactly why we are here these several days. We are not here for details and schedules so much as we are here for goals and new ideas. We are here to talk about what programs and events should be produced, not the precise arrangements. We can have individuals and small task groups plan and execute various events. But here, we want to ask questions... we want to come up with fresh ideas... we want to discover together how we can carry the Orthodox witness to all families and faithful in our Diocese. Because we want to immerse them in the holiness and joy of Orthodox Tradition.
Some may wonder at this, and they may even mistake this for fundamentalism or fanaticism. It is neither of these. The Orthodox Witness calls for a ministry that helps our people live abundant life.... Full of discipline, yes, but full of an even greater freedom in Christ.
Let us be fervent in our work. Let us not fail to be hopeful. Let the joy of the Lord be your strength, as it was for St. King David as he struggled for the faith. Let us put our hand to be plow and not look back.
And let us minister to our families, faithful and especially to our little ones of the Kingdom of God, for the Orthodox Witness and the Orthodox way of life is the only prescription that will work in this present darkness.
We have discerned the signs of the time for our families and faithful, and we are persuaded that the fullness of the Holy Orthodoxy is the only way.
Thank you for your attention and love!
God bless our Diocese and all of you!