For the few of you who follow this blog, in my last blog post I announced that my chrismation into the Eastern Orthodox Church was on December 29th. I was blessed enough to have my wife, brother and sister-in-law there, along with my aunt and uncle, who came up from Florida, who are also Orthodox, my uncle was my sponsor. It was a beautiful ceremony and celebration. Not only was I chrismated, there was another guy, a few years younger than me, who was brought in through baptism and chrismation. Truly was a wonderful day.
About a week after my Florida family went back home, my uncle sent an email checking up on me. He also asked an interesting question, which sparked a rather verbose response. He asked how we can get more of the younger generation into the Church. How do we translate the language of the Church to them? As one who was involved in “college-age” ministry in the past, this is a subject near and dear to my heart. The baptism and chrismations that happened just the week before attest to the fact that Orthodoxy does speak to the younger generation, just many of them are unaware of our existance. I tweaked my response to make it more blog worthy and copied it below. Any thoughts and questions please share!
My generation is a tough one (and the upcoming one is probably even more difficult to reach). I truly believe in the universality of the Spirit, He's working in all places and all people to draw all to Him. This is where the other Christian traditions, specifically the Protestant, in America will work both to our advantage and disadvantage. Like how Father says: "We can say for sure where the Church is but we cannot say where the Church isn't". Even though we see everyone else as heterodox—and I use the word carefully, since most of my family and friends are considered this—we can say with certainty that all Truth is God's Truth, no matter where it is manifested. St Justin Martyr taught about the logos spermatikos and connected this with the wisdom spoken of in the book of Proverbs. St. Justin along with other early Church Fathers truly believed that the Logos was present in other cultures—pre-Incarnate Word Hellenism, specifically. If Creation is filled with the knowledge of God, that Christ is in all places and fills all things, we can say that God is always working to draw all men to Him. Now the fullness of the Christian life is found in the Orthodox Church, and it took me years to get to the point I'm at now.
Modern American Christianity will either leave people desiring something more or will scare people off entirely. I think it's interesting that during the heyday of liberal Christianity (18th and 19th centuries) there was a resurgence of paganism. After the Enlightenment project desacralized religion and the universe, many, desiring something inexplicable and mysterious, started adopting mystical practices and paganism. Wicca was birthed during this time. So fast forward to our time, the modern church and its reductionary practices have continued in this tradition of demythologizing the world: there's nothing sacred or mystical. Essentially, modern Christianity is deistic. I've been saying it for years: Western Christianity is spiritually bankrupt. So, we have a generation that has been a part of a mass exodus from the modern church, or won't touch it with a ten foot pole. Why? Because they’re fed up with churches and suspicious of religious institutions; they’re sick and tired of the shallowness, closed-mindedness, and hypocrisy of many Christians. This is where I've been trying to get to: they want something real, something genuine, and something they feel like they can worship—something beyond themselves. Something is missing in modern Christianity.
So, the modern church as an institution can scare away many. I don't blame them. These churches pride themselves on being "alive in the Spirit and not dead in tradition." So, why would a seeker even bother trying Catholicism since it has so often been demonized by Evangelicals and Protestants (and Orthodoxy is even more obscure and intimidating for them). But for those, like me, who didn't want to except the status quo and had bit of a rebellious disposition, and didn't want to walk away from my faith will try going elsewhere. If they can't find it in their churches—the genuineness, mysticism, or whatever—hopefully they'll be led by the Spirit. Sometimes the heterodox plant the seeds that come to fruition in Orthodoxy.
We also are enslaved to the "secular" and consumer culture. Religion is no longer seen as vital and integral to society. It is either seen as oppressive or as a mere accessory. We're raised being told to do what makes us "happy"; we translate this to "meeting our every fleeting and whimsical desire and feeding our appetites" (passions). If we have a need or desire we shop around to find something that fulfills that. No need, no shopping. Until one sees a need for religion they won't even consider it. And when they do, they enter the market place of spirituality. And way too many churches fall into the marketing/branding snare. They use the world’s methods. They become in this world and of this world. We Orthodox will do well not to play the market game. We'll be seen as just another religion proffering the same ol' BS, or just a different take on Christianity but really no different. The Church is simultaneously counter-culture and true culture. We create true culture: art, music, theology, etc. But because this is in stark contrast to the world, we are counter-culture. For those, like me, who always went against the grain of society, loved this about Orthodoxy; it is counter-culture; it says Death to the World! We want no part of the corrupted world of men! We want something hardcore! We want the renewed beauty of Creation. We want the Church in all its goodness, beauty, practices, dread, glory, mysticism. We want Christ! We want something that'll demand all of who we are, and to crucify all that we think we are, and be raised anew! But this is something we cannot turn into an advertising campaign or agenda (because no one wants to hear that, most people want something that'll make them feel better). Once we do...it comes undone and loses its potency.
And there's no amount of persuading that can be done to convince my generation that they're wrong. There are no gimmicks or ploys that will get them in the Church, that's the very thing we find so contrived and trite in the contemporary churches. Even though my generation will shop around for spirituality, we don't want to be sold something. We don't want an agenda thrown in our faces. We want to make the decision on our own, no forcing or coercing. We're inundated with agendas and advertisements all day, and the modern church has used these methods in hope of reaching the "youngsters" but it doesn't work.
After my mini dissertation (sorry), my answer to your question is: The Orthodox need to keep doing what we're doing, but just be open and welcoming to whoever strolls through the doors. And live what we preach. And most important: pray. As St Seraphim of Sarov said: Acquire inner peace, and thousands around you will find their salvation. This is the genuineness that they're looking for. They want to see Christians live as Christ.