Youth and Tradition
“Tradition” and “youth” aren’t words that generally go hand in hand. Before Pink Floyd’s iconic 1979 hit, “Another Brick in the Wall pt. II, ” which contains lyrics such as, “We don’t need no education, We don’t need no thought control”, the portrayal of the stereotypical “youth” brought to mind fast cars, broken curfews, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Even St. John Chrysostom, writing in fourth-century Constantinople, notes that of the youth, “no one knows any Psalm but it seems a thing to be ashamed of even, a mockery and a joke…”
Consequently, the conversation between the Church and its youth is not a new one but one that seems to be rehashed with the ever-changing secular environment with which we live. Today, Chrysostom’s concern of the youth not knowing the Psalms has to contend with a smorgasbord of other secular issues that now face Orthodox Christianity and its young adherents.
In a world that increasingly seems to buck tradition, the Church is tasked with reaching out to a diverse and dynamic group of young Orthodox individuals—some of whom don’t even know the Church, let alone the sacred Psalms that St. John held so dear. With this in mind, modern Orthodox Christians (clergy and laity alike) can feel like they are caught between a rock and a hard place, asking themselves how they (and the Church they constitute) can relate, connect, and inspire a generation that is seen by social scientists as independent, open-minded, and maybe a bit self-absorbed. As a member of this generation myself, I can concur: the task at hand is not an easy one, especially considering the varying rates with which the Orthodox Church and secular society change.
Then how is a connection made without compromise? Perhaps the two greatest levels where a connection can be made are the sacramental and communal levels, with each one complementing the other: participating in the sacraments of the church unites us to the body of Christ, consequently bringing us into communion with the rest of Christ’s church. In this way, so too do confession, unction, marriage and other sacraments create unity and community.
While the sacraments can bring youth into the greater church community, so too can community bring youth into the sacramental fold. Youth and young adult ministries such as camps, conferences, mission trips, and other community events can help bring youth into communion with one another and with the body of the Church.
Additionally, providing the right answers to such an innately curious group (with social scientists deeming us the “Why?” generation) is imperative in bridging the seemingly large chasm that can exist between the Church and her youth. Indeed the task can seem difficult, but with each difficult question answered and with every youth retreat that commences, a number of new youthful souls find their way into the body of Christ.
In closing, it seems only fitting to return to the fourth century and to St. John Chrysostom’s quotation on the youth and the Psalms: “The matter of instruction is a sort of fountain. Teach him to sing those Psalms which are so full of the love of wisdom. When in these you have led him on from childhood, little by little you will lead him forward even to the higher things.”
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