Last Sunday, Fr. Michael led the teens in a discussion and a "stump the priest" session. One of the activities he did was getting the teens to write down some of the things they actually believed in. Not what their parents believed, or their church school teachers....what THEY believed.
Some of the resulting creeds were quite humorous, some sad, and some just plain interesting:
"I believe that George Bush will win in 2004 and I believe I like polish sausages."
"I believe in God...but not in Jesus."
"I believe abortion is wrong."
"I don't have anything I believe in."
While some of the kids took the exercise a bit more seriously than others, it was clear that many of them had not given any serious thought to what they actually believed in. Fr. Michael went on to point out that, whether they knew it or not, all of them had well established beliefs about everything, including God and the Church....even if they didn't think they did.
"All of you in this room," he said, "will be deciding whether you are going to be a Christian sometime in the next 10 years. You may do so actively or passively. But make no mistake--you WILL be choosing. If you think Jesus Christ was just a good philosopher, or that Buddha was God, or that there is no God... that is fine. I had some of those beliefs when I was 14. But make sure you know what the Church teaches, what you believe and, most importantly...WHY! Don't let other people, even your parents, make these choices for you. The Nicene Creed starts out with the word "I" for a reason...you have to make the Faith your own."
One of the great things about Orthodoxy is the fact that so many of the priests, bishops, and church school teachers I know are so calm in the face of typical teenage rebellion. They not only expect rebellion in matters of faith, but almost encourage it! Making the faith one's own is very important in Orthodoxy....the paradox here is that one can be nurtured in the faith from the time of birth, when one can't make those decisions, but then encouraged to aggressively engage the faith later. The gift of Baptism places the potential for true sanctity in us, but we must work to actualize this potential, with God's grace. Even though many of the teens are "cradle" and thus have participated in the life of the Church, we must encourage them to continue to make it their own.
And the Orthodox can remain calm in the face of rebellion because we know we have the fullness of the faith. There is no issue or question that has not been dealt with by the Church in the past 2000 years. Some issues may seem new, but almost all of them have foundational, philosophical, and theological assumptions that the Church has dealt with explicitly in the past.
It will be interesting to see if the "Gen Y" in our parishes actually stick with the Faith in the next 10 years....I wonder if many of them (as well as many of my own fellow Gen Xers) will follow a similar pattern in coming to the Faith as many Boomers are now. A period of agnosticism, followed by a stint in low-church evangelicalism. Then, after an encounter with church history or the Fathers, a move towards RCism or the Anglican Church....then in their mid-40's-mid 50's, coming to Orthodoxy....