How do we keep our youth in the Church?
We are living in an age that has witnessed changes on a massive scale as never before. The way we communicate has changed with the coming of the internet, with information available that would have required a library and advanced degrees to access in the past. Ideas and information are available that leave our youth with choices that were never available a generation ago.
Moral norms have changed, with values and lifestyles that would have never been seen as acceptable in the past becoming part of mainstream. Gay marriage, the high divorce rate, children being raise by unwed parents, and profane music that sounds like it came from the underworld (which inspired it, I’m sure). Child sexual abuse is reaching shocking numbers, with clergy, boy scout leaders, coaches and police officers under arrest. With the environmental crisis increasing and political unrest spreading, hope is fading. Our world is polarized in ways that are mind boggling, and the economy has lowered the hopes and expectations of a whole generation.
With all that has changed in our world, is it any wonder young people are abandoning the Christian faith in droves? With the youthful questioning of authority, it is not enough to simply expect them to accept the authority of bishops, priests, and the traditions and teachings of the Church. There needs to be a change in the way we of the older generations communicate with our youth.
In this age of information we must demonstrate to our youth the difference between information and wisdom. Wisdom is that which is passed down from the past and which imparts substance and enlightenment. Wisdom is not about information, and does not compete with worldly knowledge. Wisdom need not be in conflict with science, nor be linked to narrow mindedness. Wisdom is that which not only connects us to the best of human knowledge and experience, but links us to that which is eternal. Wisdom gives us the ability to relate to our Creator, to our culture and to others. The urgency of imparting this message is great, for we have a whole generation that is in danger of losing faith in God.
It is not enough to expect our young people to attend services if we do not listen to them, respect them, and try to understand the world that is confronting them. They are growing up in a different world than people of my generation experienced, and this important difference must be acknowledged and respected. We can’t simply teach the truth to our youth, we must live it in a way that makes it real for them. We must be patient with them, be open to their struggles and non-confrontational when they disagree with us, or we will lose them forever to Christ.
Today’s young people have the same hopes and dreams that previous generations held, but this fast changing world is depriving them of hope. Nihilism has become the religion of countless numbers of our youth, with the result that life has become meaningless . The information age has driven God out of societal, cultural and governmental prominence, resulting in mass disbelief.
We who are of the older generations must witness to the wealth of truth that is in the ancient knowledge and wisdom of the Church by demonstrating it’s worth in how we live. If young people do not see a genuine living out of the Faith in us, they will keep looking for truth in directions that will take them far from it. Young people are worthy of our love and respect, and worthy of sharing with us the life in Christ that is their heritage as well. The Church will not be a draw to our youth unless her members demonstrate holiness of life and reach out with love, patience and understanding, offering something that is seen as real by today’s young people.
Finally, today’s young people need to see joy in the hearts of those of us who have taken on Christ. If we do not have joy in our hearts the youth will see nothing that is attractive to them, and will continue in the wasteland of consumerism, materialism, nihilism, and all hope for the future of our planet will have died.
There is the seen, and there is the unseen, the material and the immaterial. That which is material can be scientifically examined and experienced, the immaterial can only be seen and experienced spiritually. These are two worlds that are only seemingly at odds with one another. If you attempt to examine that which is of a spiritual nature using a science that is by its very nature meant to explore the material realm, you will fail.
The things that are of God are far beyond the capabilities of our finite mind to comprehend. The divine can only be known through the nous, that place in the heart that is our true center. It, unlike the brain, is capable of knowledge that is beyond human comprehension, coming as it does from noetic knowledge.
When we try to apply words to the noetic form, we fail. We can no more explain God than we can explain quantum physics, since both are unseen. God is outside the realm of human intellectual understanding. The Eastern Church approaches things of God as holy mysteries, since God can only be known in His divine energies, not in His essence. If a scientist can believe in quantum physics, the unseen, why can he not believe in God Whom he has not seen? If we can believe in the concept of infinity, something that goes on and on without end, why can we not believe in God?
The science of the soul is noetic and can be examined and experienced only through the activation of the nous. The nous in Orthodox Christian theology is the “eye of the heart or soul”, the mind of the heart. God created us with the nous because the human intellect is not capable of knowing Him without it. The intellect alone can not know God, for human reasoning is limited to the things that are of a material nature. God is unknowable without His divine revelation, and only the nous can perceive this knowledge. God’s essence remains inaccessible without noetic knowledge. Science has it’s place, but only the heart can know God.
Quantum physics, while mysterious, is still part of the created material realm, and is fairly explainable now. The real difference isn’t between seen and unseen, but at its root, created and uncreated. It was the uncreated energies of God that Moses saw in the burning bush, or that the Apostles experienced in the transfiguration. A scientist will understand the properties of light (photons), but will have no clue about the uncreated light, which heals, deifies and casts no shadow. Fr. George Calciu of blessed memory experienced this light in the midst of the worst Romanian prisons, and the result is another effect that science cannot explain: incorruption of body after death.
Love in Christ,