How stubborn attempts to "protect" Orthodoxy are losing young souls
"But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Mark 21:43)
Our Orthodox faith teachers that suicide is a sin. Yet in many parishes, and in some Orthodox families, the spiritual suicide that takes place in passing the Faith on to the next generation is often overlooked, although the consequences - the loss of numerous souls for eternity - are extensive and tragic.
The lessons passed on to young people in parish life contribute to this tragic fall:
• Young people are presented the Orthodox Faith as part of a culture that is from long ago and far away. When they grow up, many reject the old, distant culture, in order to become "Canadians" - and their life as Orthodox Christians goes with it.
• Families are determined to stay in a particular parish, even if it becomes clear this will mean that their children will not end up understanding the Orthodox Faith.
• Parishes look to an identity other than Orthodox Christianity to preserve their numbers, then wonder why people don't attend church.
• Time, energy, and money (both in families and parishes) is concentrated on entertainment (festivals, dances, music, language), and spiritual life bears little fruit.
In Canada, the result is obvious: the Orthodox Faith is growing in numbers, but these numbers have little to do with a younger generation remaining an active part of the Church. Instead, growth is almost entirely made up of immigration and converts. For parishes with few or no converts, who depend on immigration to fuel their numbers, this translates into parish death - the suicide of a parish community.
The demise of such parishes is widely evident. No meaningful Greek immigration in the last two deacades sees dying Greek parishes. A Statistics Canada report released around 1999 showed Ukrainian as the fastest shrinking language in Canada. The result? Ukrainian Orthodox churches are amoung the fastest aging and shrinking parishes in the country. Serbian and Russian parishes, blessed with recent immigration, have been able to put off this effect, but inevitably, the question will present itself there, too: how willing are Orthodox people to share Christ and His Church with those who do not share their language and culture?
Canadians have shown they are very unwilling to change groups (religious or otherwise). The existing "cultural bunkers" in some Orthodox circles make make it even more difficult for non-Orthodox Canadians to even visit Orthodox parishes, let alone look at Orthodoxy as a spiritual home. Yet by allowing this, Orthodox people participate in the process of losing young people who are already in the Church (i.e. contributing to their apostacy), and turning away those who might come. To be a participant in this process is to be a stumbling block to the young, and to those young in the Orthodox faith.
What is needed? Something very un-Canadian: Orthodox need to leave their ethnic enclaves for the sake of their children, for the sake of mission to non-Orthodox Canadians, and for their own sake. Why for their own sake? Because churches that are not growing are dying: an Orthodox faith that is "mine", and not good news to share with others is dead, as we read in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). If Orthodox people do not go beyond their people, their parish, their "set", they inherit the same sin as the Jewish converts to Christianity in the first century - and indeed, the same sin as the people of Israel in the Old Testament, who abandoned God.
The Orthodox faith is not about "me" or "my people": this is the heresy of philetism, and it leads to spiritual rot in the hearts of those who would live this way.
If we really believe Orthodoxy is the Truth, then it is the Truth worth sharing - at any cost, even at the cost of personal comfort (oh, how the martyrs must weep to see our North American comfort!!). If we are not about to give that up for the sake of the young souls around us, if we would rather be a stumbling block to their salvation, then we are better off if, in the Lord's words, "a millstone were tied around (our) neck(s), and (we) were thrown into the sea."