A good friend of mine and fellow seminarian recently said to me, "The generation of priests before us built buildings, but our generation has to build Churches."
This struck me as very wise and insightful. Actually it is one of the most insightful things I have heard in a long time. Although it may sound derogatory to the older generation, implying that the churches they built were not really "churches," I do not believe it is meant in this way. However, I do believe that the statement is a very accurate observation of the cultural divide between the "old" and "new" generations of priests in Canada.
This mainly stems from the fact the we, the "new" generation do not respond to the type of ministry that previous generations responded to. Now, I am not talking about cultural conditioning, new world mentalities, or even language barriers. I am talking about a very different understanding of how the Church should be proceeding into the new millennium. What we are seeing is a shift in the most fundamental beliefs of progress and ministry within the clerical ranks.
This is happening for two reasons: 1. The "new" generation did not grow up in a village type environment where religion was not questioned and the social norm was being Greek Orthodox. 2. We are neither illiterate nor stupid, and this is a dangerous combination in a multicultural society like Canada, where we are bombarded by multiple philosophies, religions, and the latest trends.
The "old" generation comes from an experience of the church that is much out dated for today's society, and ironically out dated for even the Byzantine times. I say this because the type of Orthodoxy that many of the "old" generation know and love, is the type that is fit only for peasant Greece under Turkish occupation. By this I mean simple, sometimes blind, faith based mostly on the sayings of monastic writers (who were the main influence during that time) with little regard for high theology or an ecumenical attitude. Namely, they are in many ways as far from Byzantine Orthodoxy and Zoroastrianism is from Christianity.
Again, let me repeat that I do not say these things to belittle our older generation. I have the highest respect for them and their traditions. It's just that they have great difficulty realizing that many of "their" traditions are not "our" traditions, and furthermore, they are not the "churches" traditions either. This is because during Turkish occupation the Greek nation lost most of its literacy and understanding of high theology by descending into a world of fear, oppression and superstition. It is only in the past century, and really the last 60-80 years that we have the patristic writers at our disposal again! They were lost to us for nearly half a millennium and yet we believe that what our grandparents practised only 60 years ago is the most important witness to authentic Orthodoxy.
Chrysostom said that "bad traditions, even if they have existed for many years, should be disregarded if they are found to contradict the faith." This is the situation we are in now. The "old" generation is set in its ways. It has a vision of what the Church is and where it should be heading. This vision mostly revolves around building large churches, filling them with expensive iconography, establishing Greek schools and dance groups, and having Sunday schools running during Liturgy to keep those pesky children out of the way of the real adults who want to do the real praying.
Conversely, the "new" generation is a seeking culture. It wants to know and learn and be engaged in its faith. It is well educated and willing to participate in worship. It does not want to accept things "just because" or on "blind faith." It demands more from it's teachers, it's clergy and parish councils. It does not want to be tucked away in some church basement, colouring icons and reciting the Creed until it is blue in the face. It does not take hypocrisy well, nor does it simply accept explanations that are not only shallow, but illogical.
To minister to such a generation, priests must turn their attention away from the fundraising, the gold plate dinners and the enormous preoccupation with having the biggest dome in Canada. They must begin devoting resources to the Church's most precious commodity; its people. They should not be wasting 95% of the their time on buildings that will be empty in 20 years because they were too busy to write a sermon on Sundays. It is time to stop building buildings and start building Churches! We must focus on congregations, knowledge and spirituality, not icons, domes and paving parking lots. Those will come in due time. Seek ye first the Kingdom of heaven and everything will be added to you.