What Draws Youth to the Church?
This summer, at one of the Orthodox camps, two questions were posed to the youth: 1) What troubles them most and what do they most dislike about church, and 2) What draws them to church? The answers of the youth were varied, but nearly all of them testified to a conscious and serious attitude towards their faith and to the fact that our youth -and this is very comforting and encouraging -think about, agonize over, and are concerned about their spiritual life.
What troubles youth and what do they not like about church? Apathy in parish life; lack of piety; Orthodox people who do not value their faith; the denigration of Orthodoxy (and Christianity in general) in public schools; ignorance regarding Orthodoxy; the need to lead a double life: one, "official," external, in the world, and the other, at home and in the heart, Orthodox; the attitude of heterodox and unbelievers towards Orthodox believers; the lack of morality in society; the inculcation of the theory of evolution as dogma; spiritual loneliness; swearing; contemporary society's fascination with various pagan, agnostic and Eastern teachings...
What is it that attracts our youth to the Church? A feeling of spiritual peace in the soul; the Lord's promise of the Kingdom of Heaven; inspiring examples from the lives of saints; the feast of Pascha; spiritual warmth, that is so distinctive of Orthodox churches; authentic spirituality and church traditions; the possibility of cleansing one's soul through the Mystery of Repentance; participation in the services through singing on the cliros and serving in the altar; the world of miracles and the miraculous; the Mystery of receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord; church aesthetics, especially icons; the variety and profundity of Orthodox church services; church discipline; the feeling of joy and serenity in church.
Our pastors should know what goes on in the souls of our youth, what they come up against in the world, and how to help them in this warfare. Through contact with these young souls, a pastor not only receives the opportunity to influence them, but he himself can learn a great deal from what comes from these young souls -- fresh impressions, a lively interest, trust, zeal, examples of spiritual struggle, purity... A pastor, after all, is not only a perpetual teacher, he is also a perpetual learner.
Translated from Russkiy Pastyr, San Francisco, 1996:11