MOSCOW: February 20, 2008
Metropolitan Laurus' Address at the Opening of the 12 th World Russian People's Council
Your Holiness, Holy Vladyko!
Your Eminences, Your Graces, Beloved in the Lord Brother Archpastors and Concelebrators!
Dear in Christ Fathers, Brothers and Sisters!
First of all, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me” to come here (1 Timothy 1:12); the great “chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4) has gathered our brethren here to discuss important matters concerning the future and current flock of the Russian Orthodox Church and the peoples of our dear Fatherland.
That is the crux of the matter—youth is not only our future, but also our present. Young people deserve our special attention by virtue of the fact that they are called upon to open new paths to disseminate the truths of the Gospel. Without the youth, we would not only be deprived of the ability to progress, we would stagnate. But if we attract and unite our youth, especially those young people who burn with love for God and the desire to serve the Church and Fatherland, we will be able to accomplish great feats to the benefit of the Church, Orthodoxy and our much-suffering Motherland. The Russian Church Abroad, scattered throughout the world, can especially fulfill this mission, fostering the expansion of Orthodoxy and its great legacy among the peoples, spreading the good news to those “which were afar off, and to them that were nigh” (Ephesians 2:17).
The youth is the hope of the state and the adornment of the Church. The family, the state and the Church are all interested in the ecclesiastical-moral education of the young generation, so that it can be shown the proper paths to manifesting the ideals of the human spirit. They are our heirs; they are the future builders not only of family life but of social and civil life. The family, the school, society, and especially the Church must care for the establishment of a healthy and nourishing atmosphere for spiritual and moral education of the youth, and this demands cultivating their will towards good. The basic rule of patristic pedagogy is well expressed by the great teacher of the Church, Origen: “teach nothing that the teacher himself would not try to manifest in his own life, to influence the student with word but also by example.”
Religious-moral training demands a realistic, sober approach not only by society and the government, but also by the family and the Church.
In the circumstances we found ourselves in abroad, the Church always served as a guide post around which our lives were built. The Church supported Russian philanthropic, cultural, social, youth, sporting and other organizations. The Church formed a network of church parish schools and attracted children to actively participate in Church life as altar boys, readers and singers. Annual youth conferences are held on various themes, both diocesan and global. Pilgrimages are organized, church music conferences, etc. The results of these efforts are obvious—young people, close to the Church even after four generations in the diaspora, preserved their faith, their Russianness and their language. One late priest of the Russian Church Abroad, a former priest in Shanghai under St John (Maximovich) of Shanghai, and then later in Harbin and Australia, always said the following to young people: “If you participate in Church life, for example, by singing in the choir or serving in the altar, if you take part in the brotherhood or sisterhood of the parish, you will never lose your Russian language, you will speak Russian well and you will never leave the Church.”
Despite the fact that we have flourishing Russian parish schools, we do not adequately reach out to the growing generation. We must present Orthodoxy to them in a way they understand. People come to church and understand little. This is a result of the language of divine services, and the order of the services themselves. It is necessary to explain everything: what are vestments, why a priest gives a blessing just so, why these exclamations are uttered, why certain rites are performed during the service. From personal experience I can say that this works—it serves to spark interest. They ask more and more questions, they begin to read more and stand in church with understanding. We must always remember that the divine services are also a spiritual school. They are given to us not only for prayer, for they have great educational value. We learn about everything during divine service: Church history, the lives of saints, Holy Tradition, Holy Scripture. We absorb all of this in the “school of piety,” as St Tikhon of Zadonsk said. We must do a better job of explaining what is happening during the service, for this will retain people in the Church and they will begin to see the beauty, the spiritual wealth of the Orthodox service. They will begin to truly participate, and not merely be spectators.
We have a wide variety of youth: there are children of Russian descent who are reared in the Russian Orthodox spirit, there are those of Russian descent who were not educated this way but came to the Church later in their lives. Some came from Russia where they did not attend Church, and now, abroad, and became “churched” by finding in our temples a little bit of their Homeland. There are locals who came to Orthodoxy by different paths, who actively participate in Church life.
Our Church must work with youth who are reared in these different ways. It is a fascinating but also a very challenging task. It is in just this way that we can fulfill one of our missions—to hand on the legacy of our Russian ancestors. In leaving Russia, they preserved outside her borders the pre-Revolutionary Rus, her legacy, which many who remained in our Homeland had lost. Before us is a unique challenge—to pass on the Russian Orthodox tradition to the whole world. This is what we strive for.
Assimilation is one of the basic problems young people face, since it threatens to separate them from the Church. Orthodoxy and “Russianness” are preserved only in the Church. Experience has proven that without Church it is impossible to preserve faith, language and culture. If a young person considers himself to be Russian, he will in all likelihood attend church and participate in parish life. Assimilation is a problem because we live in a heterodox and non-Christian, secular environment in which society offers another world view, and offers it with great allure. For this reason, parents have great difficulty rearing their children as Russians and resisting this secular Western education. In America and in the West in general, comfort and egotism are preached. Drug abuse, drunkenness, extramarital relations are widespread. All this is promoted and permitted as something natural. It is very difficult to resist this influence, because this lifestyle and this world-view are forcefully imposed by society. These temptations truly overwhelm our youth. But if they have Russian Orthodox—or at least Orthodox—friends they can spend time with, if they have kind, good guides with whom they can openly share their troubles, their thoughts, then we can expect that they will preserve their faith and will not depart from the laws of God.
So this is the most important thing—that young people have someone to look to as an example of good life, an example of peace, who can speak with them in their own language, who understand them, answer their questions and simply spend time with them. This is very important, because by working with the young people, by socializing with them, we give them the seeds which can later bear good fruit. Social contact is what I consider to be the most important. We must not fear young people, and they should not fear us. We have more joy than trouble when we work with them. If we give them all the time and effort we can, then, of course, their world-view
will gradually become Orthodox, and thereby we will battle this spirit of secularism in society.
Atheism was imposed in Russia, and that is why Orthodoxy and the Church are now crucial to her existence. That is where Russia's salvation lies. It is assimilation that is associated with falling away from the Church. If a Russian person becomes an American, or Frenchman, or Australian, he usually falls away from the Church. Yet our culture is infused with the spirit of Holy Russia, Orthodoxy, so we try to educate our young people in the Russian parish schools so that they remain Orthodox. This problem does not exist in Russia, because Russians remain Russian, despite the influence of the West. The main thing is to pass on the faith, to perform the “Apostolic going into the people,” as St Theophan the Recluse wrote, and open the light of Orthodoxy to the youth. We have a double goal: to teach young people not only Orthodoxy, but our culture, otherwise they will not remain in the Church, and consequently, many troubles and dangers will befall them.
Of course, many different influences affect young souls, and the Church must overcome them, but the phrases: “they don't come to us,” “they are not interested,” “we don't need them” are absolutely unacceptable. Dear fellow pastors, everyone who works in the Harvest-fields of Christ, all social workers! Let us persistently and purposefully, lovingly, patiently and condescendingly serve the youth, fostering within them love for Orthodoxy and the ideals of our Homeland, ensuring for them not only a bright future, but preserving and developing our present.
I give my heartfelt thanks for the opportunity to participate in the sessions of this Council. I wish everyone that the Lord grant good health, well being and success. May God's mercy and His heavenly help accompany you all as you gather in this forum and in your work going forward. May the Grace of the Lord our Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the communing of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen!