Your Eminences and Graces! Dear Fathers, Brothers, and Sisters!
I would like to heartily welcome you to this wonderful gathering of the Orthodox youth. A while back even the idea of gathering several thousand representatives of the Orthodox youth at one place with the help of the Moscow government was hardly imaginable. It does not merely testify to the highly developed relationships between the Church and the government in our country, but first of all, it confirms the fact that we have the Orthodox youth in actual fact. It well proves that considerable changes have occurred in the life of our people.
The issue about the youth is always on the agenda of the Holy Synod, the Hierarchal Council. Many of you are familiar with the fact that various significant documents have appeared, which, if have been adopted, are aimed at the right organization of youth work. Documents are all well and good, and administrative and church conditions are crucial, but we would like to know – what happens in the end? What if these signals are sent in vain and the young generation connected with the Orthodox Church does not comprehend them? Seeking feedback, hearing your voices and your opinion, and consulting with you, we have gathered this large group of the Orthodox youth. Therefore this meeting is aimed not merely at providing you with certain reports, ideas, or thoughts, but also at hearing your opinion, seeing your reaction to what is happening in the life of the Church and to what is happening in the domain of youth work – what is satisfying, what raises questions, and what may be bewildering, and, perhaps, even unpleasant. I am convinced that this gathering will result in serious thoughts about where we are and where we are going to in the work with our young people on the all-Church level.
Now, please allow me to share some of my ideas about modern life and the life of our young people. We live at the time when information determines world perception and even world view largely. Many people, who touch on this topic, speak about this fact. It is because information is the dominant factor in modern society. Why do we call this society information-oriented? Because the information factor is vital. If the mass media do not report on a certain occurrence, it feels as if it never happened. One must make countless efforts in order to get through this silence.
We are aware that sometimes the information user becomes upset facing silence, especially if the mass media keep silent when and where bloodshed takes place, where people face injustice, where the sufferings of thousands and thousands of people stay in the background, but demonstrate the sufferings of handful or dozens of people as a tragedy of global scale. It does not mean that people are inhuman, but it means that information is, among other things, a tool of political influence that also is capable of changing one’s outlook.
That is why, do not be a starry-eyed person switching on your tablet or computer that you will find out the truth. Unfortunately, in most cases, we do not see the truth, especially where we need it most.
Therefore, speaking about modern life, I would like to, first of all, encourage our young people to decipher the spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10). It is quite difficult, but essential, because the devil dresses up as an Angel and it is difficult to distinguish him. He mimics imitating the aspiration for the truth, honor, especially freedom and those ideas that are close to a human heart. Indeed who is against freedom? Ask anyone on the street: “are you for freedom?” All of them will say: “Yes, I am!” But if people are offered freedom which is a poisoned product in disguise then, being attracted to its cover, they may easily swallow it and get poisoned. It is a deadly poison. Consequently, critical attitude towards information, its comparison and evaluation, based on its influence primarily on your heart and soul, should be a certain way of protection against that negative, which information flow brings today.
I would like to speak a little about the quality of modern life. The information factor determines the characteristics of our life. Many things have changed in human society especially following the appearance of mobile communication and the Internet. People use these tremendously convenient inventions. We are witnessing the acceleration of scientific and technological progress, the development of educational system, and the enlargement of people’s horizons, because information has become practically widely available. People do not have to visit libraries and flip through voluminous encyclopedias or read monographs. With just one click you get a fast, perhaps easy, but clear, answer to a question you ask.
On the other hand, all such phenomena have dangerous sides. This immersion in the information world – the virtual world – has a certain danger of deficit of a real human communication. It is easy to imagine the following picture: young people are sitting in one room, looking at their tablets, and are practically not communicating with each other. If anyone asks another person a question, the later will only shrug. What is he or she doing? He or she is communicating via social network. There is no real conversation, no interest in it. However, communication via social network arouses interest.
What is happening, if we are exchanging real conversation for virtual communication? We neglect an extremely important aspect of our life, which is a personal experience of a real conversation in person. Communication in person brings such a valuable experience like nothing else. We know that sometimes we lack this experience in dealing with some issues concerning organizing a family life. Let us be honest to ourselves; we often connect our lives with certain people, with whom we probably should not. We do that because we lack experience and knowledge. If there is no experience in communication, we are incapable of seeing what is in the eyes of a person. Indeed, personal communication passes not merely rational message, but also emotional and spiritual.
Sometimes people say there is a certain air of a person. I have qualms about characterizing this concept, but I am certain that a person has some sort of energy. I believe that everyone knows this. Sometimes when you look at someone’s eyes you will see a light and peaceful look, and a pure soul, or sometimes you see an evil flame. Is it truly possible to see this pure soul on the Internet, even if the person you are talking to is speaking eloquently about the purity of heart? Or will you see the evil flame if the things you have are only photographs and a text?
I am not encouraging you to leave social network completely, but I would like to state that you should not, by any means, immerse in it, so that social network would seize other opportunities for seeing the world, because it is dangerous for a personality.
In this respect I would like to say a few words about church life. What is a parish? What are a church and a divine service? This is not only one’s prayer to God, but also a spiritual communication with each other. I remember the low number of churches in the post-war Leningrad, in which thousands and thousands of people gathered at divine services. I remember when I was just a preschooler and even a schoolboy, when I was standing during the Divine Liturgy at a church squeezed up tightly and I could hardly see anything, because I was short back then, and the only thing I could feel was the warmth of human bodies and a special atmosphere. The moment when all of this multitude of people, squeezed up due to circumstances and united by the force of their faith, suddenly started to sing simultaneously the Symbol of Faith always left profound impression on me. It was breathtaking. I can still hear the singing of thousands and thousands of people at those Leningrad churches of the post-war period. Yes, people did go to their homes and did not have conversations with one another for whatever reason, which is, strictly speaking, the exact same thing we are doing today: sometimes we come to a church and then leave it, without speaking to anyone. However, the participation in prayer itself is not merely a vertical dimension of oneself and God, but also horizontal of oneself and people around them.
So in order to balance out the influence of the virtual world and to broaden the experience of communication, our parishes should become community in actual fact. I have been speaking about this issue since I was ordained a bishop. What is needed to be done to make it possible? The life of a parish is needed not to be limited to divine services. I have set this essential goal for our clergymen so that every parish, which is even slightly organized and is capable of supporting itself, would have an agenda for issues that do not concern divine services. We need to hold meetings with young people, perhaps, with single men and women after the services. Indeed it is a significant social function too. Imagine an old lady who does not have anyone, no relatives, no close ones, because all of them are in the past. She switches on a television and cannot understand what is going on. She looks out the window and cannot understand anything either. Where can she realize her potential and where can she find support? The answer is in communication. Is it not necessary for the Church, society, and even the government to work with such old people at a parish after divine services and to organize their favorable leisure activities? If we are talking about the importance of working with the old, it is as crucial to work with the youth.
We do not have to face any rivals. There are other places where young people can get more pleasure and fun, but if the Church compares itself to such places and tries to compete with them, it will always lose. But meetings following the divine services will be very purposeful, will influence heart and mind positively and develop solidarity, because they will be part of people’s spiritual life.
I would like to speak a little about another major issue of modern life. To specify it I will name three aspects: the first is information and its influence, the second is the aspiration to pleasure, and the third is the aspiration to comfort. This is what characterizes the so-called consumer society. These three aspects determine the structure of modern society, and often, a modern young person.
When we mention comfort, we are not talking about the improvement of life, of course. Indeed, comfort also means a well equipped workplace, which has excellent machines and many other things that help to realize one’s potential and perform one’s professional functions. However, I am not talking about this. I am referring to outlook, not things.
There is a saying in English, which everyone now can understand, because it has become certain international slang – “relax and enjoy”. In Russian we can paraphrase it as “ease the strain on yourself”, “take it easy”, or “why do you bother? – Relax”. Enormous efforts are made in order to achieve this state of relaxation. Money is needed for this too. When people get money, what do they spend it on? They spend it on achieving the main aims of a human being. If one’s key aim is comfort, he or she will spend their money on it.
Indeed it causes incredible controversy with the Christian message: “he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:38). What about “taking it easy”? Forget about Christianity! What is a cross? Is it a tool of complicating people’s lives or a torture device? Not in the slightest. The Lord has not brought a torture device, but He experienced this torture device Himself in order to give us freedom, call us to another life, and to capture us from this frail earth and lift us to heaven…
However, one needs strength in order to get to the top. You are probably familiar with the difficulties an alpinist faces while climbing to the top from movies or books. What happens to a person who is climbing a mountain? They strain themselves, overcome their weaknesses, and sometimes commit good deeds of saving their companions. It is the same with taking one’s cross: there cannot be perfection without either hard work or carrying one’s cross. Reject any propaganda which says that the path of relaxation and enjoyment is the way to achieve perfection. This is the way to degradation, not merely of a personality, but of human civilization.
Now I would like to focus on such a significant topic of interpersonal relationships. There is not a single trivial thing in the word of God. Every Commandment is like a guiding star in life, like a ray of light. If anyone of you was in a situation when your life depended on a ray of light, you will understand what I am trying to say. I have been in such situations physically, when a faint light somewhere far away saves you. If I had not seen that faint light, I would have died. Therefore the light of the Commandments saves us in some way, because a person can lose his or her way and stay in the dark, even in bright light, including artificial light, and may not determine values and may confuse ideals.
Thus a question arises: are God’s Commandments, being so old-fashioned, guiding stars as well? The answer is simple: they are the only guiding stars. Only if we orient ourselves towards them, we can finish our life journey, save our souls, and reach happiness.
Several days ago, I delivered a speech in another auditorium and said: human happiness can only exist on moral basis. The lack of morals is incompatible with happiness. Why is it incompatible? The answer is very simple: God wanted it to be this way, because He created a free and sensible person, not an animal. There are no morals among animals, although they do have a certain behavior pattern concerning physiological cycles of animal body. Sometimes watching their behavior we are surprised to see such justice that exists in the animal world. We are amazed at a mother’s love for its baby or at such readiness of a small bird to protect its nestling and to attack a human or a big animal. We declare it is not morality, it is a mechanism, including biological, that God has created. Some time passes and the animal loses maternal instinct and the love for its baby disappears. But people have a concept of morality. If we follow its standards, we have the potential of happiness. If we destroy these standards for ourselves, we lose this potential for becoming happy.
Here I would like to address this very important topic for young people. The Church does not approve of so-called civil marriage or simply cohabitation. Why? God did not allow to live like that. It is as simple as that. Some can laugh at this as much as they wish, but some can think about it. Let us think about this.
Why do people begin such relationships before marriage and often many times? The answer is usually this: “it is better to live with him or her than to kill time”. Or another reply: “well, I need to make out this person”. But what usually happens? A person lives with him or her and cannot reveal their personality. They start living with another person, and it does not work out again. Indeed how often young people change their partners, as people now call it. Let us consider the most important and basic principle: marriage is based on love. If there is no love there is no marriage. But can we call the relationships that have no mutual responsibility love? Suppose a couple starts living together and they feel that they have true love for certain. Why then they do not get married? Because they have their own agenda that is hidden from their partner, as people now call it, and it begins with words like: “What if… I will wait, I have my own thoughts”.
I often hear tragic stories about the sufferings of one of the partners – I do not like this word, but use it because everyone understands it – when the other partner breaks up with them. But he or she does it for a reason, because the characteristic of the relationships with no strings attached is intended to have a change. In fact sometimes people think that the more experience they have in it is better. It can be compared with an idea that many people believe that the more you wash your clothes is better. But you can wash it so much that the clothes will lose all its former appearance in the end. Likewise the moral condition of a person and the feeling of morality are so fragile. Its destruction is deadly dangerous for a personality.
Today everything promotes this living: television, cinematography, and the Internet. Everything is aimed at developing perhaps the strongest instinct, which is capable of controlling a person in a certain situation. But it does not mean that everything people say is true. Truth is where God is.
There are terrifying statistics of divorces. However, nobody has statistics of how many civil marriages fall apart. What if we imagine our society and count the number of divorces and civil marriage break-ups? The whole society is in a state of divorce. This cannot be irrelevant to the moral nature of humans and to the condition of society itself.
I am aware of the fact that it can be perhaps difficult for many of you to comprehend this right now. But at least please think about these words, compare your behavior with God’s word, trust the Savior’s words: “For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Perhaps it is difficult to comprehend this in a short period of time – five, ten, fifteen, twenty years – but when a person lives a long life, he or she starts to understand much more. Indeed we will understand everything when the gates of eternity open before us. Then all of these words will become convincing and easy to interpret. We are given time here only to meet the Lord in the eternal life.
I believe that the ability to rejoice and thank God is crucial. Christianity is not a joyless and sorrowful religion. This is not a system of taboos, which presses people and hinders their lives. Christianity gives enormous energy, truly liberates human spirit, draws people’s attention from immediate temporary circumstances, and opens a grand perspective. One can notice this perspective only when one uses God’s criterion for determining what one’s life is and what is the life of others. This condition of joy and gratitude to God is based on trust for God. It is not a coincidence that the main sacrament of the Church is Eucharist, which translates as “gratitude”. We gather together as the Church in order to thank God, because the words “thank you” and “I am grateful” are the right words to address God with. Everything else – our requests and even our tears – is secondary. It is because God leads us through life in order to help us inherit eternal life as much as possible.
The Church places its hopes on young people due to many circumstances. I will now say a very unexpected thing. I would not have said it yet five or ten years ago, moreover, twenty years ago. But the more I watch the lives of the modern Orthodox youth, the more I understand that the construction of a new and healthy Orthodox way of life should absolutely be connected with the young generation. We have been talking about this way of life for a long time. I started to write about it back to the end of the 1990s, but I did not fully comprehend what this new way should mean. Now looking at you, I understand that you have the potential to realize this new way of life. It is unnecessary to dress in the costumes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries so as to demonstrate this way of life. We should not establish any dress codes, because a dress code is a uniform. However the things that determine our way of life are our appearance, the way we design our house, things we are interested in, our pursuits, the way we bring up our children, the way we, being modern people, fulfill our faith while receiving a good education. Therefore I suppose that you are called to create this model of modern Christian way of life.
I would also like to talk with you about some practical questions. The Hierarchal Council insists on the organization of youth work at every parish, which, of course, is capable of coordinating and supporting it, because there are small parishes in villages that are economically weak. But I mean the parishes which have an opportunity of coordinating congregational relationships. This youth work should include Sunday schools and social activities. If we mention this issue, a question arises: who is going to do all of this? We almost do not have any other origin, but the potential of our youth.
In my opinion, it is of central importance that our young people would participate in the work of congregational consultation, if we are speaking about priorities. We call it missionary work at parishes. Usually when an outsider walks into a church, a querulous old lady meets him, and sometimes a worker of a candle store talks with him in quite a rude manner. Currently, we are working on training such workers to have a kind word to parishioners. If a person is not a churchgoer, he or she comes to a church on a Wednesday and does not comprehend much, because the culture of divine services is unfamiliar to him. He or she is already confused by these external factors and, in addition, nobody explains or shows anything to them or helps them understand what is going on. An idea emerged: it is essential to have congregational consultants, who could be somewhere near the candle stores. The first thing this consultant should do is to see who walks inside. If it is a person who does not comprehend much and looks in all directions, then a congregational missionary, the consultant, comes to this person and asks him or her: “you came to us, why is that, what has happened?” The person may answer: “you know, my mother has died. I need something, but I do not know…” This will be the first conversation with a recent non-believer, who is very important and came willingly to the church. It is not enough to say what is necessary or should be said, but perhaps say some more. If there is not enough time, perhaps it is a good idea to exchange phone numbers and meet later. This consultant should probably invite him or her to some congregational meeting at the church, which could have a youth program or some other, if the church has some agenda besides divine services.
Sect members are walking around, doing so-called missionary work, and snatch up sleeves and carry people to their organizations. We do not do this. People come to our churches willingly being non-believers in order to see the beauty and everything that they cannot see in their everyday life. Indeed it is crucial to meet with such people.
This is a limitless area of real work of the Church, which should be carried out mainly by young people, who of course should be trained. For this purpose we are launching courses in the extent of half baccalaureate course at our educational institutions for all those who are willing to perform a Christian mission, social and youth work. Why is it a half baccalaureate course? Because if anyone is willing to learn theological subjects further, there is an opportunity to receive such education starting from the fourth year of study, not the first or the third ones, and pass baccalaureate. Being a congregational consultant without proper training is possible, but risky. So this is the opportunity for receiving education that has occured today. I would like all of you to hear that we are waiting for you at parishes so that you together with clergymen, who are often just as young, conduct your mission.
Here I would like to stress the importance of voluntary work. The celebration of the 700th anniversary of the Venerable Sergius’ birth has given us an excellent example of such work. I love celebrating divine services very much when volunteers are around me. I like to kindly call them my guards. I love watching their faces and praying together with them. These people have done so many good deeds for the Church. Of course, the potential of this voluntary work is far from being empty. Therefore there is an opportunity for the current young generation to start doing the activities, which the future of the Church and our people depends on. I thank you for listening.