Truly blessed are those families whose multiple generations can come together to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord. Many of us know the heartache of having beloved members of our family absent from Pascha. And too many of us suffer the heartache of seemingly entire generations absenting themselves from communion. The following article, by Abbot Tryphon of the All Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island, explores why so many in this generation have gone missing.
Where is everyone?
Abbot Tryphon of the All Merciful Saviour
Monastery on Vashon Island,
Washington State, USA
Why are our churches losing members?
Over the years I have heard many grief stricken parents and grandparents lament the loss of their children and grandchildren from the Church. Sad as it may be, I’m not usually surprised, for over and over I’ve heard the sad truth behind this exodus from the Church. More often than not, these parents did not raise their children to be practicing Orthodox Christians. They may have had their infant baptized, but the frequency of church attendance was not important, other than the need to keep those ethnic links to the “old country”.
Parents, unless they are serious about their faith, often look upon baptism as the moment when their child is made Orthodox, but fail to realize the Mystery of Baptism is only the beginning of a life in Christ. These same parents know childhood inoculations against diseases are important, and they understand their child’s long term health requires sound nutritional planning, exercise, and loving support for good mental health. Being loving parents, they wouldn’t think good parenting ends with that one innoculation, yet they treat baptism as though it is a magical formula that assures their child is forever connected to the ethnic heritage of the family tree.
Orthodoxy can not be seen as the ethnic link to a family’s history, anymore than ethnic dancing and ethnic food, makes one Orthodox. It is fine to be proud of one’s ethnic heritage, and want to preserve one’s ethnic language and ethnic traditions. But our ethnicity does not save us. Only Christ saves us! Being Greek or Russian will not save us, for there is no grace in one’s ethnicity. It is only putting on Christ, and becoming One Body in Christ, that will bring about salvation. We must not link ethnic preservation to our Orthodox Faith, for in Christ there is “neither Greek nor Jew…”, for in Christ, we are but ONE NATION.
It is always sad to witness churches that are packed with Sunday worshipers who are only there because they want their cultural hit for the week. Getting together with people who are from the “old country”, and who speak the language of their former country, is not what makes one Orthodox. Knowing the traditional dances from the old country, and eating ethnic foods that connect them with the old country, is fine. Yet, if these ethnic bastions only serve up cultural hits for the week, they are in danger of becoming barriers to knowing Christ. As well, if these parishes place so much emphasis on cultural and linguistic links to the old country, they are in danger of becoming nothing more than walled citadels of ethnic purity, keeping “outsiders” from entering into the Gates of Paradise. If visitors (potential seekers) to our Orthodox parishes find themselves outsiders in their own country, Orthodoxy will be seen as an ethnic club that is closed off to them.
This is the reason I so strongly believe Serbs, Greeks, Russians, Bulgarians, and all other immigrants, coming into the United States to better their economic life, should be welcomed by Orthodox parishes that instruct them in the Orthodox Faith, encourage them to worship in the language of their adopted nation, and help them to become pious American Orthodox believers.
If we are not to repeat the mistakes of the past, that led to the exodus of the children and grandchildren of the last mass immigration, we must not repeat the same mistakes. If our children and grandchildren do not understand the language of worship, the faith will not become their own. And, if their friends are not made welcome in our churches, our children and grandchildren will eventually leave the Faith of their Ancestors, and we will stand, alone, wondering why our churches are empty, yet again.
With love and blessings,
— Abbot Tryphon
What can we do?
What can we do if we find Abbot Tryphon’s message hits close to home?
We must begin with the prayer of repentance. St. Ephraim’s prayer has us admit our sinfulness and not judge our brother. A prayer in the Jordainville prayer book asks that we not become a stumbling block to those outside the Church. We must grow in love and humility. Love and humility grow by seeking truer and deeper repentance before God.
Beyond personal prayer, we can follow Abbot Tryphon’s advice and ensure we worship in communities that place spiritual values above ethnic and cultural considerations. We can ensure that we are worshipping in a language that is common to all generations, so that all generations can fully participate in the worship of the Church.
This last weekend, parishioners from The Good Shepherd, Holy Ascension, Holy Transfiguration, St. Photini’s, Forty Holy Martyrs, Protection of Most Holy Mother of God Cathedral, and Sts. Michael & Gabriel (from Sydney) came together on the Timeless Wisdom Lenten Retreat. This camp shows us that there are a range of parishes in Melbourne and Sydney whose use of the English language demonstrates a willingness to connect across generations and to project the Gospel beyond the Church.
Last year we reported on an Orthodox family who visited The Good Shepherd at Pascha. We wrote:
The children in this family were absolutely enthralled with the service, the celebration and the community. They were thrilled to be able to completely enter into the joyful Paschal celebrations because they fully understood the language—perhaps for the first time in their lives. They were so overwhelmed by the goodness of celebrating Pascha in their own language that they unselfconsciously turned to their parents and begged, “Can we please come here! This is where we want to come!”
We would love for you to experience the joy of celebrating Pascha all-together—entire families who can fully participate in the Pascha celebration in Spirit and Truth. Entire families who can understand and be convicted by the Truth of the Gospel. Entire families whose love for Christ overflows generations, and culture and heritage, and embraces everyone in the love of Christ.
We invite you to attend the joyful celebration of Pascha at The Good Shepherd this year. We offer to share with you our heart, that your heart may overflow in the love, joy and peace of Christ. Come to The Good Shepherd. Bring your family. Invite those who do not regularly attend to rendezvous with you here in Clayton, Melbourne, at the centre of Melbourne’s residential population.
May your Pascha be truly blessed.
— Fr. Geoff
- How to raise faithful Orthodox children
- Six adults baptised, received into the Orthodox Church
- Services for Holy Week and Pascha in 2022
- Abbot Tryphon writes regularly from his blog The Morning Offering.