Englewood, New Jersey, September 24, 2021
The state of our youth is a Churchwide problem that can only be addressed by true and honest dialogue and true and honest introspection, believes the head of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.
In his Encyclical for the Year of Youth published last week, His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph offers a heartfelt plea for all Orthodox Christians to work together to strengthen the faith of our youth and all Orthodox Christians.
His Eminence begins his epistle noting that he has found serious concern for the youth everywhere he has traveled throughout his Archdiocese—everyone is wondering what can be done to help the youth stay faithful.
But, the Metropolitan believes, often the wrong questions are being asked. The fixation on new programs and new curricula can blind us to the important question: “Do our young people know the Crucified and Risen Lord.”
To begin addressing the problem, Met. Joseph hopes to begin a dialogue “not about our youth but with our youth.” Children and adults often feel alienated from each other, unable to understand each other, and children who become more fervent about their faith often find the “flame extinguished by apathetic religiosity in their home.”
But the Church is for everyone, and the young and the elderly need each other, and most importantly, together “we all need our Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Body.” The way forward is not to judge, but to humbly listen.
The Metropolitan is calling for a sincere dialogue that will prove difficult, he writes. Uncomfortable truths may come to light, but “True service to God comes from a place of transparent openness, and we cannot serve Him truly until we face all the difficult truths in our lives.”
And no amount of programs or charismatic youth directors can solve the problem, His Eminence continues, but rather, churches “must be places where souls find salvation and hearts are set aflame with love for God and neighbor.” Churches must embrace the ascetical practices of the Church and inspire people to selflessly serve and turn to God in repentance.
This is the ideal, but we must be honest about where we fail to live up to it in our homes, Met. Joseph continues. Parents and all those responsible for raising children must prioritize the life of the Church above all, striving to bring their children “face-to-face with the Living God.” This burden cannot be left up to Sunday School teachers alone, Met. Joseph cautions.
Likewise, parishes must do their own soul searching and be honest about what they have truly prioritized.
And turning to the youth, Met. Joseph assures them of his love, and honestly states: “Let me also say that my heart breaks when I think about how we, as the elder generation—both clergy and laity—have at times let you down, failed to live up to what we preach, or not supported you enough in your struggles.”
Nevertheless, if the youth are willing to enter into the envisioned dialogue with the elders of the Church, it could prove fruitful for both sides. The Church always overcomes the challenges of every age, and always will, the Metropolitan encourages. “Let us all join together in taking up our crosses and following Him,” he writes.
In conclusion, Met. Joseph assures that he is committed to doing his part, but everyone has a part to play in strengthening the Church and ministering to the youth who are beset by so many problems today.
Read Met. Joseph’s full letter at the site of the Antiochian Archdiocese.