I just finished a very gruelling weekend of sacraments. We actually had 11 weddings and baptisms over two days! Very tiring and definitely a good example of the "Burger King Parish" phenomenon. Still, through all these events, in which people have come to the church to either become Orthodox Christians through baptism or to be married in the eyes of God, I cannot help but worry about the future.
Over the years I have participated in hundreds of weddings and baptisms and in over 95% of the cases (this is NOT an exaggeration) the participants did not know the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, or even how to Cross themselves. It is very disconcerting to see young couples, their wedding parties, and even their parents, come to the church and not even know the basic elements of their faith.
In Baptisms we can gleam the reason for this spiritual bankruptcy that is infiltrating our church. In the last 5 years, I do believe I can recall only one Godmother who knew and could recite the Creed by heart. Only one among hundreds that I witnessed! We have gotten to the point where the Godparents not only read the Creed out of the priest's book, but they cannot even pronounce the words properly, which indicates this is their first time reading it!
If we ask ourselves why young adults do not know the basics of the faith, it is easy to accept this knowing that they had no guidance or spiritual education when they were young. These days, the role of the Godparents is seen as a honorary role that only requires one to buy nice gifts for the child on special occasions. Most believe that such things are left up to the parents, to raise their children in the Orthodox Faith. However, the parents know even less.
Now, in many parishes across Canada, these kinds of situations can easily be avoided. How? Education, education, education! We get angry at parents who choose unsuitable Godparents or unsuitable "koumbaroi" for their weddings, but we do not do a good enough job in educating our people as to what type of people they should be selecting for these roles. In most parishes there are no wedding counselling or marriage preparation courses, no baptism pamphlet given out or catechism held for those coming into the faith! There is virtually no preparation or education whatsoever!
The most common excuse that most priests give is that they have no time and no man power to perform all these ministries. Although being shorthanded is partly true, it is not a good enough excuse to neglect the spiritual education of the people. What can be more important? What is more crucial to the future generations of our church? Are our people less important that putting icons on the wall? Are our people less important than community centres and banquet halls? Are our people less important than all the materials things we put before them?
We spend so much time, effort, and money on all the material needs of the church and we forget that the spiritual needs are the most important. If parishes do not have a significant budget for religious education in their community, then it won't matter how many community centres they build, or how beautiful the icons are. In 20 years there won't be anyone left to look at them; the community centres will be empty. We boast about or buildings while our people do not know the Creed. We boast about our nice tiles and double headed eagle mosaic on the floor, but our people do not know the Lord's Prayer. We boast about the latest trip to the Holy Land, Greece, or any other European locale; whatever distracts us from God's calling to preach the Word, while our people do not even know what time Liturgy starts on Sunday!
And for some reason, we priests do not even mention this from the pulpit! We do not preach against this situation! We do not educate! We have learned the magic word; ACCOMMODATION! We accommodate our people. We accommodate their likes. We accommodate their dislikes. We accommodate their spiritual laziness. We accommodate their ignorance of the faith. We accommodate so much that we start confusing accommodation with LOVE! We start saying that we have to "love" people as they are and not push them too much because they "don't know" and cannot be faulted. It is out of so-called "love" that we intentionally avoid painful yet critical topics in our sermons. It is out of this so-called "love" that we offer "drive-thru" Communion out of the context of the Liturgy because we want those who "work" to be able to receive. Where were they the rest of the year!
Last time I checked, true Love is not letting your children do whatever they want! Parents discipline and guide their children so that they can grow to be well rounded adults. Is not the priest the father of his congregation? Where is it written that the father must spoil his children so that they will not cry or act up? I do believe that God did not do this in the Old Testament and we definitely should not be doing it now. Christ came to preach Love as the true spirit of the Law. This does not mean that he abolished the law altogether! The law remains, but the guiding force behind it is Love.
In the same way, the church must still teach what is right and even discipline when necessary. However, it must be done with love so it will always lead people towards God. If we do not stand firm and teach and guide with a firm hand, we are not practicing Love at all. We are really practicing self love because we look for the praise of our congregations instead of doing the right thing in the face of ridicule. We worry that if we do not offer "drive-thru" Communion, the people will go down the street to the other Orthodox Church and get it. Then we will lose business! Why not start thinking about what is good for our people spiritually and not what is only good for their worldly desires, because it seems to me that we worry much more about our quantity instead of our quality. However, if we keep going down this path, we will end up with a whole lot of nothing!
End of rant.