“As God illumines all people equally with the light of the sun, so do those who desire to imitate God let shine an equal ray of love on all people.” (St. Basil the Great)
I had the privilege on Saturday, September 9, to attend the first annual 30 Under 30 event at Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. It celebrated the next generation of Orthodox Christian Leaders. Thirty young men and women from across the nation were selected and honored for excellence in their chosen field and their commitment to the Orthodox Christian faith. I was asked to participate as a mentor and was honored to do so. I knew several of the young people being honored, including two who are members of my parish.
Since many of you reading this were not able to attend, here is a brief description of this wonderful event. We began informally, checking in and receiving our name tags, and then mingled with each other over drinks and finger foods. It was casual and relaxed. His Eminence, Archbishop Peter Loukianoff of Chicago, Father Christopher Metropulos, President of the college, and the movie/TV star and recording artist, Jonathan Jackson, who is a devout Orthodox Christian, all joined us as well. We then went to our sit-down lunch and listened to several wonderful short talks by Charles Lelon, of OCN, and Jonathan Jackson as we ate.
The afternoon was skillfully emceed by Demetra Soterakis. As the meal ended, we watched Father Thomas Moore receive the OCN Hero Award for his lifetime of service to others and were then introduced to each of the 30 Under 30 awardees. Demetra read their names and brief bios, and they received a plaque denoting their achievement. Next, we relocated to an adjacent auditorium where Father Christopher interviewed Jonathan Jackson about his journey to Orthodoxy. The day concluded with Jonathan providing us with a private concert of some of his faith-inspired songs. The entire event was extremely well organized by Eleni Alexiou, Managing Director of OCN, and Demetra Soterakis.
Letting His Light Shine
Several of the speakers pointed out that our young people being honored are the future of Orthodoxy in our country. While this is true, I believe they are also represent the present. Well-documented and exhaustive studies show that young adults in their 20s are the age group churches are losing most. The statistic often heard today, that six out of 10 young people are leaving all churches (Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant) is accurate. Yet, what I saw at 30 Under 30 were young Orthodox Christians committed to the church. Christ tells us to let our light shine (Matthew 5:16), which is His light shining through us. These young adults are letting their light shine now, and my hope and prayer is that they inspire others to do the same.
Jonathan Jackson made a similar point, though I will express it in my own words (you can see what he said for yourself on OCN’s Facebook page). He said that the best thing we can do to shine our light is not to engage in argument and try to persuade people to the faith. Rather, we are to become shining examples of Christ and His love in a genuine and authentic way out of love for His church.
We attract others to Christ and His church by our loving way of being, not by convincing intellectual arguments. This is the whole point of living the sacramental life of the church, which is theosis, or deification, where we become increasingly Christ-like and our words and actions then flow naturally from this way of being. He reminded the young people and the rest of us—and again I am using my words—how the Orthodox Christian life is to be lived. It is not a set of rules to follow grudgingly, doing what is right because we think we have to while we really desire to do what is wrong. This is living the faith as if we think we are appeasing God and are thus guided internally by some sort of inner compulsion. What we need to do is get to that peaceful place where we are doing things that please God out of love. And they are simply a natural outward expression of that love. I saw the young adults, and frankly, us older adults, absorbing this message. Praise God!
The Importance of Relationships
Our entire Orthodox Christian faith is relational. We love God and develop a relationship with Him through the sacramental life. This leads to loving others and developing relationships with them. One of the findings of the studies I mentioned earlier is that attrition in the church can also be attributed to lack of meaningful relationships between younger adults and older adults other than their parents. We have allowed our parishes to become too segregated within, which limits opportunities for these relationships to form. But they are vital for the transmission and perpetuation of our faith. I know I have genuine relationships with some of the young adults in attendance, and I saw clearly that day that others do as well. I would also like to think the beginnings of new relationships formed that day.
We need events like 30 Under 30 for these very reasons, to see His light shining in our young adults so that we can all be inspired, to bring generations together, and to form loving and lasting relationships. I offer thanks to all who made the event possible. A hearty well-done to His good and faithful servants.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
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