An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
It may perhaps be an absurd question since I am unsure that I know how to make myself "Orthodox." That being said, I wonder if we converts might have a tendency to think too much of the superficial. If I were forced to define what I think it means to be Orthodox, I guess I would say that it means that we are moving ever toward loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves (For what else might we see Theosis as being but the perfecting of these things, by whose very nature is the deepest sense of perfect community). Of course, what distinctively makes us Orthodox as opposed to others who are seeking to do the same is the method by which we excercise the "muscles" that afford us the ability to do these things. How often did Jesus rebuke the Pharisees for focusing too much on the excercises and not on the REASON or the GOAL of the exercises? It reminds of those silly people who go to gyms in order to look good as opposed to actually becoming more healthy.
With this in mind I am pressed to ask myself what will help my kids be Orthodox. There are many people - I think especially converts - who believe that by simply showing our kids the exercises that they will naturally absorb it and desire it themselves. But, speaking as one who hates going to gyms and doing physical exercise, I think one certainly needs to do more than show overweight people (like myself) how to sweat and be sore the next morning in order to convince them (me) that I should also sweat and be sore.
Clearly we need to include education to explain to kids why we Orthodox do what we do - just as in my example above a person needs to be educated as to why excercise is beneficial. Lacking education you might as well toss the exercises in the garbage - they will resent it and run. But adding education might not be enough.
After liturgy the other day I saw a group of Orthodox teens gathered in a van in the parking lot listening to "eminem" blast out his vulgarities while the rest of the Parish celebrated their "coffee hour." Ah yes, an arguably superficial thing and I would not dare and indeed I do not dare to consider that the parents of these particular teens were in some way failing (What precarious ground would I be placing myself on by doing such a thing since I know that I myself fail in some many parental ways) but by the same token I might step out on a limb and ask about the potential for a parish wide failure of sorts. That, however, is an altogether different post. I am presently challenged to ponder my own children's impending approach toward teenhood and the extent to which my failings today will fuel their descent into doing things that would make listening to "eminem" look as dangerous as frolicing through a field of daisies.
In addition to being an example (see me doing the excercises?) and providing education (this is why I do the exercises) I think I need to start showing the FRUIT of these labors. My kids need to see honest to goodness love. And frankly, for my part, they need to see a helluva lot more of it.
I've thought often of what it means to 'raise pious children'. I think I've reached the same conclusion as you: I have to be pious first. Only then can I teach them what it means. What a tall order that is...
The thing for me Jim...and I expect others as well...is that piety is not something you can easily observe from a distance. I think you really have to KNOW someone to "see" if they are pious.
I may perhaps simply be saying this to escape feeling guilty for not saying my prayers as often as I could or for not attending services as often as I could, but I think it is none-the-less true: you can be at church everytime the doors are open, do thousands of prostrations everyday and STILL not be pious. Of course that being said...I am neither pious and neither do I do enough exercises to assist me in piety.
But, if REAL piety does shine through the external piety, then what good is the external piety...especially to my kids.
Hmm... I didn't suspect that such a little word would have so many under currents. Perhaps 'holy' or 'godly' would have been a better word. Allow me to back gracefully away from the word 'pious'.
I guess I was trying to say that I'm thinking -just thinking- that if I want my children to grow up loving the Kingdom than I am going to have to love it first, and not just talk about it. In that sense, I think I was agreeing with your post. :) But knowing my own shortcomings, as you seem to know yours, I rely heavily on the prayers of their patron saints to assist in the matter, as well as our SF. After all, we can teach them the 'faith-works' as SJC called them, but only the Father can provide the Grace necessary for such love.
'Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers...' as we like to say. ;)
Basil writes: I have two things to say about the "Eminem" example: I think it's important that our children learn to interact with the culture in appropriate ways. This interaction will often lead to clashes as they make choices that are different from our own. Also, you don't know what kinds of discussions that particular event will lead to down the road --- discussions amongst the teens, between them and their parents. Perhaps an important discussion would be to integrate the teens into parish life as adults, so that at least a few of them will understand and really desire not to offend others with their own choices.
Second: When I was that age, adults (while safer than my peers) wanted to smother me with attention. Sitting out in the car and listening to $popstar was easier than putting up with all the extrovert bull from adult strangers.
It is certainly true that if we really find the heart of Orthodoxy, our children will too. There is a subtle point with respect to thinking we understand someone else's spiritual state by what they are doing.
On one of my many Father Hopko tapes, he tells what would be a truly horrible story from the point of view of us who are into externals. In the time of early monasticism, a young man went to the desert to practice austerities. The more austerities the young man practiced the greater his pride grew. After some time of this, the young man gave this up because it was clearly not working and returned to Alexandria. After his return, he became involved in adultery and murder. At this point the story ends saying that the young man finally knew true humility.
Another saint to reflect on is St. Mary of Egypt. She made it to the Holy Land by "servicing" other pilgrims. Yet she was the only one who really got the point.
While these stories are rather extreme, my point is that we really don't know what is happening in other people's spiritual lives. Rather our own problem is to be open to God ourselves.
Well for what it is worth this is not a problem confined to converts. In many ways the churches where most of the parish is made up of cradle Orthodox ( please know that every time I type "cradle or "convert" I cringe...) have an even greater problem with raising children in the Faith. At my parish I would be so overjoyed that the teenagers bothered to show up for the Liturgy that I wouldn't care what they were listening to in the parking lot! Seriously I'd say of two dozen teenagers in the parish, we are lucky if two or three come to Liturgy more than once a month. Of course the parents of these children bear a great deal of the responsibility for this. The struggle your are facing is one reason that the idea of becoming a parent frankly scares the crap out of me. Sometimes I wish I could move to the middle of nowhere with a group of Orthodox families and live like the Amish. Ultimately only God can make us better fathers, mothers, brother, or friends, all we can do is offer ourselves to Him and follow Him as best we can. On a prctical level, on of the best books on bringing up children in the Faith is "The Path to Salvation" by St. Theophan the Recluse. I would be happy to loan you my copy if you want to read it.
Basil - my point about "eminem" was less about the evils of "eminem" and more about the tendency we have to think that by just have the doors of the church open and by dragging our kids there that they will automatically embrace Orthodoxy. Shouldn't the church be a place that will facilitate (and guide) the sort of discussions you mention? As opposed to letting the kids hide in a van away from the "life of the Parish"? I guess I am saying: YES! Let us engage the kids and the culture in the hopes that they will come to their own decision to reject the messages of most "popstars" I really really believe that evangelicals are doing a much better job of this sort of thing...Rade's post seems to affirm this I think: how many predominantly cradle Orthodox churches are making "return customers" of their youth?
Rick - Your points are well taken. Interesting that at least a part of the Orthodox life of confession and guidance by a Father/Confessors revolves around the notion that we ourselves may not know what is going on in our spiritual lives. I've certainly seen this played out in my own experience.
Rade - I REALLY appreciate your insights as a "cradle" Orthodox. I am reminded that people are people whether convert or cradle. By the same token I think ALL parishes could benefit from a more balanced mix of both cradle and convert...we might perhaps have much to learn from one another. That may be another blog post.
Are you suggesting perhaps a forced desegregation between "cradle" and "convert" parishes? Hmmm... I can see it now: "Tell Baba Milovojovic I don't care if they don't speak Serbian, she's getting on that bus!" ;-) Seriously though, I think the main problem the Orthodox church in America faces in confront modern culture and society and developing an appropriate response lies in the fact that due to jurisdiction and calendar issues, we are not even united amongst ourselves. Sure I can take Holy Communion (with my priest's blessing) at St. Paul or St. Spiridon, but being in communion has not translated into being a community. Why are the Amish and Mormons so successful? Because they have a community that has enough "critical mass" (though I'm not sure what this entails). Something you will only find in some of the larger Greek, Serbian, and Russian(as in a couple thousand parishioners) parishes back east. Hmmm... I feel a blog post coming on...
Because I can't stop myself, I would like to clarify my post a little bit. My own life has been a tale of me doing one stupid thing after another. Things far stupider than listening to Rap although I listened to the 60's spiritual equivalent. And yet this lead me to the Orthodox Church. I would almost have to say that God's grace on me looks like stupidity. The point, of course, is that wherever anyone's kids seem to be heading the destination may be somewhere else entirely.
Likewise when we as parents think we are showing love what we may be doing is something else entirely. In the last year I had a tragic moment of realization of some of the crazy things that I had been pushing on my kids. It was quite sobering and made my kid's life easier at least for a little while.