Skip to Navigation

Who Is the Enemy?

by His Grace Bishop John, from The Word Magazine, October 2016

October is Youth Month in the Antiochian Archdiocese. We make special efforts to remind the youth that they are not the future of the church, but part of the present. Baptized into Christ, they already have gifts of God's grace and the responsibility to live and share the Faith of the Apostles that has been delivered to them. They were baptized to gather as the Church, allowing them to grow, respond to God, pray for the world and witness to the truths that God has revealed to them and us. The God who has revealed himself allows them and us to encounter him and engage ourselves with him. These are their Christian vocations, and ours from our youth up, along with God's call to resist those "many passions that war against us."

As a pastor, I encountered parents who sabotaged efforts for their children to be responsible and committed by contributing to the Church on behalf of their children, as well as going to Church to pray for them while sending them to all kinds of activities that would look good on college resumés. They wanted to take care of the Church for them, but made those other things more important to the children than God. As a result, many of those children made poor choices later on. While parents understand that they cannot learn math or how to read, bathe or eat on behalf of their children, somehow when it comes to learning responsibilities for their Church and working out their salvation, there is a disconnect.

The enemies that we and our children face are not other religions, other Christians, and surely not other Orthodox jurisdictions. Our enemy is an egocentrism subtly promoted on all levels of our society, one that ultimately leads to nihilism. Doctrines of this substitute for Christianity include extreme individual entitlements to pleasure, choices without consequences, making oneself the ultimate priority, and freedom to destroy that which is undesirable, including the very young and old. Its underlying, unspoken premise is that there is no God and no value other than oneself. The people we see are all that matter and there is no life other than what we see. These messages are often subtle. In light of these assumptions, anyone who claims to know what God reveals becomes the enemy of society. When we try to protect our youth from dangerous mistakes or drugs, we are called at best old-fashioned, unprogressive, or, at worst, bigots and haters.

What can we do as Orthodox Christians and as a Church to combat these evils that have been stealing our youth?

  • Have and share regular encounters with God as we quiet ourselves and pay attention to God.
  • Speak to God regularly.
  • Read the Scriptures slowly and ask what surprises us and how it relates to our lives.
  • Listen regularly to the youth, and not just talk to them. We value them: listening shows it.
  • Make Church, God, prayer and family our first priorities.
  • Get to know Orthodox from other parishes and work with them, promoting our common goals.
  • Do our part to make the parish a pleasant and peaceful place, where children see God's action and our true priorities.
  • Build up the parish and parish leadership to empower them to do God's will.
  • Protect the parish from extremisms by reporting abnormalities to the local bishop.
  • Participate in parish educational events to encourage others as well as feed ourselves.
  • Be patient with toddlers in the Church. ey need to grow up being comfortable in this space.
  • Be patient with ourselves and other adults. Sometimes we all need a break. Our children need to learn how to choose well. Freedom to choose God requires real self-control, absence of addictions, good will, optimism, charity toward others, and an absence of fear. We need to make our parishes safe places where these positive attributes can be learned and cultivated. 

Note the articles that are practical to understanding the needs of our youth and serving them in this issue of The WORD.

Bishop John