On September 10, 2011, St. Joseph Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, Texas, hosted the 2011 Orthodox Christian Parenting Retreat. The speaker was Fr. John Peck, priest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Prescott, Arizona, and the topic was “Orthodox Christian Parenting in the 21st Century: Guiding, Guarding, and Discipline for Parents, Grandparents, and Godparents in the Orthodox Tradition.”
There’s two more things I would like to discuss. One is sort of the state of the Christian faith in the twenty-first century, and the other is vocation, specifically as the Scripture says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” There’s two parts of that. One is the way he should go is obviously a way of faith and piety and devotion. I don’t think you will find an Orthodox priest in the history of the Church that will ever say, “We need a little less of these pious practices and a little less of this devotion stuff.”
More piety conforms the inner person. Remember that. What you do on the outside is not just dressing. It’s helping conform your own soul and your own spirit. That’s why we do it. The practices of the Church, if we fall off on one side or the other on this narrow way, nudge us back onto it very easily, very simply. For children especially, knowing what it is they’re supposed to be doing in life is really important to them. You can’t just say, “Well, whatever makes you happy,” because someone will just sit down in front of the TV and play Nintendo. “It’ll make me happy.”
The state of Christianity in the twenty-first century, particularly in North America. The essay I wrote a little while ago is called “The Orthodox Church of Tomorrow,” and in it I look ahead about twenty years. Since I wrote that a couple years ago, it seems like it’s not twenty years out; it’s getting closer much faster. Likewise, I think we’re seeing something else in the world today, and I think we’re going to see it come to a parishioner in our lifetime. I think Western Christianity is dissolving; I think it’s disappearing. I think there is a desperate expression of attempts to make it hip, cool, more relevant, but it’s actually just spinning out of control, and it’s changing faster and faster into different and different expressions of what no longer matters, which is individuals’ opinions of trying to make the Gospel fashionable—the Gospel of the last ten minutes.
Western civilization, for the most part, is built on Western Christianity. Don’t mistake what I’m saying here, but Europe especially was built on the Roman Church. With the foundation of the Roman Church eroding, Europe has fallen apart. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Leadership… something will come and take its place. In Europe, of course, they’re struggling, not just with Islam; they’re struggling with Sharia law, already entrenched. In this country, of course, we’re trying to take measure to make sure that the Constitution is not superseded by other forms of law. It’s ridiculous that we even have to do it, but that’s the reality.
When you look at your children, you look at the world that you’re up against, you have to realize a couple things. In the progression from a Christian society—and, yes, there is such a thing as a Christian society—to open persecution, there are several stages, and I want to read them for you. It starts with the questioning of basic Christian beliefs without challenge. Then it goes to the ridicule of basic Christian beliefs without challenge. “You Christians believe the world started in six days—ha!” Then questioning of foundation of Christian beliefs, and then the ridicule of foundation of Christian beliefs. Then the expulsion of Christianity and Christians from the public arena. “You don’t have anything to say, because your mind is full of Christian doctrine.” We saw that in the assisted suicide debates ten, twenty years ago, when Jack Kevorkian wouldn’t talk to anybody whose mind was filled with Christian doctrine. “Your mind is filled with Christian doctrine. You’ve got nothing to say.”
I hope I don’t have to point out that that’s a logical fallacy rather like saying, “You’re a man, so you have nothing to say about the morality of abortion.” That’s ridiculous. That’s like saying, “You don’t shoot guns, therefore you don’t have anything to say about gun safety.” It’s ridiculous. (I hope I don’t have to point that out.)
Next, you make it fashionable and popular to ridicule and bully Christians. We see that today. After that, quiet persecution and intimidation—bullying, basically—keeping Christians out of the public arena, and that’s followed by open persecution. I hope I don’t have to reiterate how close we are to it here.
Back in the ‘80s, there were a lot of monks in Russia—and I’m sure other places—who were saying, “Today in Russia, tomorrow in America. We don’t know how or why, but what we are experiencing here is coming to you. We do know that.” Of course, this was before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism, and it was deemed ridiculous! And yet, here we are. Nobody would have assumed back then that anyone, people from Harvard and Johns Hopkins, would seriously go to a conference on making pedophilia normalized. It’s ridiculous; it’s demonic. These are the powers that we’re up against.
Think carefully about your family unit if you would. If you were preparing your children to remember who they are and where they came from and what they’re bearing, how would you do it differently? How important would Scripture reading be? In my experience… I want to tell you how I grew up. I grew up with my grandmother and my grandfather in the house. My dad has his chair; my grandpa had his chair. Next to both of their chairs was a Bible; I never saw them open it. They always read it when I was gone. I look back now and I realize that, number one, they read it a lot, they knew it pretty well, and they understood Christianity from what I have to call the Orthodox perspective. They were giving me Orthodox Christian answers to things throughout my whole life. We all knew it was there. That’s Dad’s Bible; that’s Grandpa’s Bible. There were other books around the chairs, too, but those were always there, always right on top.
I’ve got a bunch of Bibles, as a priest—it’s hard to imagine that, I suppose. I don’t have a chair in my house. My house is pretty small. I don’t have room for all my books. My boys lounge all over the couch, so I don’t really have a place of my own. My Bible is actually next to my bedstand. It’s important, like I said early on: Read the Bible. Read it out loud. Don’t ever read it silently. Do yourself a favor.
Have you ever had one of those experiences when you say something or you ask a question, and as soon as the question is out of your mouth you know the answer? It’s the same thing. There’s so much of that in the Scriptures. There’s wisdom, there’s prophecy, there’s typology. I’m getting ready to do a Bible study on Genesis, and the first five books of the Bible, too, but one of the things we’re going to cover is that it’s very obvious, from the early Greek philosophers that the early Greek philosophers themselves say that the gods were just men that have been deified. Some of them even say—Socrates—“I’m related to Zeus.” They were men. The difference is that the Greek religion takes it from the other side, not the side that says god was good and the serpent was evil. It takes it from the other side: god was evil and the serpent was good! The Garden Hesperides, you always see snakes on Athena, you see snakes next to Apollo, snakes next to Heracles, and in Revelation, the throne of Zeus in Pergamon was called the throne of Satan by Jesus. I think he actually knew who he was talking about.
It’s not just that the world is indifferent to Christianity. It’s not just that, of all the choices, Orthodox Christianity is the best. You have to understand: the spiritual powers at play in the world know precisely what the Church is. They know exactly what the Church is, and they’re gunning for it at all times, your kids, too. That’s why we say, “Protect them by your prayers. Never send your kids out without a blessing, without a prayer. Always thank God when they return, always with a prayer.” Protect them by your prayers. Get that holy water out; take care of it. Get them anointed at every feast.
The easy way to receive grace, of course, for beginners, is Communion. But you know what? Here’s the trick. Your kids aren’t going to be beginners for long unless they completely neglect their spiritual life. They’re going to move on from that, and they’re going to start getting grace from prayer and grace from fasting. Some will get more grace from tithing. Just like a merchant, I make more profit if I sell Coca-Cola, I make more profit selling books online, I make more profit if I sell little watches. Whatever merchant gets profit out of it, that’s what he will sell. If you get more spiritual benefit out of fasting, fast more. If you get more out of prayer, pray more. St. Seraphim of Sarov said the same thing. “Whichever thing is bringing you grace, do it with all your might.” Get as much as you can. Fill up on it.
We forget that we can do that, that in a faith which encourages synergy and symphony, that we can draw near to God who instantly draws near to us. We ask, he gives. We seek, he reveals. And it really does work that way. We’re not simply bumps on a log looking at the stars, hoping that our spiritual message-in-a-bottle will get there someday. God is in our midst. “Christ in our midst”—we say that all the time, right? God is in our midst at all times. He’s not on the throne, looking down, sad when we do something wrong and happy when we do something right. He’s right here with us.
We don’t have to worry so much about the world, but we have to provide and protect our families from these spiritual influences. That’s what we’re really up against. Those are the real enemies. If you’ve not had your house blessed… I don’t know what you do here. In my parish, some people will not let me in their house to bless it, at any time of the year. There’s always some bizarre excuse. Eh, whatever. I’m not here to do violence to anyone or make them feel bad. I can’t understand it. I don’t charge money for it; it’s free! I won’t eat! Just let me in to bless! Can’t get in.
And yet I have non-Orthodox people who call me and say, “Weird things are happening in my house. I’m having weird and terrible dreams. My children wake up crying and screaming. Would you come and please do whatever it is you do?” I said, “Well, whatever it is I do is I’ll bless your house, and then I’ll ask you, ‘Have you been baptized? Are your children baptized?’ ” “Well, no.” “Would you like to? You want to be protected, right?” This is how it works: it’s easy to fill up an empty cup, but a cup that has something in it has to be emptied out, and there’s no end to the Holy Spirit; you can’t empty that out of you.
That’s why we say paradise and hell are the same. Everybody will experience eternal life; not everybody will enjoy it. The truth is that the love of God, that’s what the fires of hell are, and that’s also the illumination of heaven. It’s different. We don’t have this Dante-esque levels of afterlife. It’s all the same. God loves us all the same, and it’s a lot more than we can bear if we don’t love him back.
When I was in college, people used to come into my room and leave stuff there all the time: shoes, gloves. They never left food. Of course, because I’m human, I would be visited by people whom I just couldn’t really stand. I’m embarrassed to say that to you, but it’s true. They’d come in the room and my skin was crawling: please just leave. And they would leave eventually. But imagine not even being able to close your eyes, and forever have someone in your face saying, “I love you,” and you can never get away from them. That’s hell, for somebody who doesn’t love God. That’s just a tip-of-the-tongue foretaste of it.
When we look at the problems of the world and how the world is hammering down on Christian faith and Christian expression—and soon the open persecution of clergy. It’ll be quiet. It’ll be like, “You didn’t pay your taxes; you’re going to jail.” Debtors’ prison or something like that. They’ll make up some excuse for it, but the reality is that those things are trifles. They’re difficult for us.
But the key thing is that you raise children in a hostile environment the same way that you raise them in a pleasant environment: you pray with them, you listen to them, you strengthen them, you protect them, and you provide what they need. If your child needs a Bible, get them a Bible. Get them one they can carry around. All the kids in my youth group have one of these, and whenever we memorize a verse, I make them open it up and highlight it. Then I test them on it the next week, and during the week, too. I’ll call them at home. “Hello, Joe, is that you?” “Yes.” “What’s the Bible verse?” “Uhh…” “No, don’t look for your Bible! Just say it right now! I want to talk to your mom.” After a call like that, guess what? “I know my Bible verse!” Good for you. “I didn’t know you were serious.”
And this comes about the other thing: vocation. A vocation is a calling. A calling to the priesthood, of course, is a vocation. Monasticism, I’ve been told by monks, is not a vocation. That is, it’s not a calling, per se; it’s a decision. I still call it a calling, because I think each one of us is made for a particular thing. We work out that particular thing. It’s not: “I very clearly was made to be an accountant.” I don’t mean that. I mean: “I was made to do this kind of work, to be in this kind of environment, to fulfill my potential as best as possible.”
The way you fulfill your potential, by the way, is not through strength or intelligence, but constant effort. I’m 49. I got my doctoral degree three years ago. I got my first bachelor’s degree at the age of 30. I was working the whole time. So please believe me when I say my assistant priest, my associate priest, Fr. Bill Clark, he was ordained a priest at age 68. You’re never too old to do what you’re supposed to do. Fr. Bill has been so busy since his ordination, going to mission parishes, filling in, getting other parishes ready for their new priests. He’s constantly on the move; he’s constantly busy.
There’s no such thing as too late for me to do what I’m supposed to do. There’s no such thing as that, and you can’t look back and say, “Well, if I had only known when I was 20.” Yeah, well, you didn’t know, and God had his hand on you even then. He could have revealed it to you, but he didn’t. That means you learned something that someone else is going to need soon.
We talk about vocation, [our children’s] calling. This is serious. They really want direction. You can’t—I don’t recommend… I recommend you not say to them, “You should be a doctor. You should do this. You should do that.” You’ve got to look at their strengths. You’ve got to look at their skills, their abilities. My youngest son, for example, is taking a second year of Mandarin Chinese. He’s like his mom; he absorbs languages like a sponge. He speaks some Arabic; he speaks some Russian. He’s taking a second year of Mandarin Chinese, and he wants to go into the armed forces, where I’m sure they will put him to good use.
My other boys, likewise, ask, “What do you think I should do?” I say, “That’s not for me to decide. I forbid you from becoming priests!” They’ve heard that a lot, and yet, the middle one… Dwight Moody has an Academy of Preachers; he has a Festival of Young Preachers every year in Louisville. I took him to that, because they’re desperate for Orthodox participants. Benjamin gave his sermon, very well received. He got off and says, “I really like that. I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to do.” I said, “You know my feeling about this…” So he called his spiritual father, who is my godson, and I stayed out of it. He said, “You have to fast and pray for a month that God take this away from you.” Take this away from me. And after a month, it only got stronger. He really felt this was what he had to do. This is God’s doing, not mine, because I forbade him from doing it.
Likewise, sometimes a child knows what they think is the easy path or a default position, but the reality is that they know that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. They want to do something someone else thinks is hard or difficult or more interesting or challenging or cool. But if you avoid God’s direction in your life, especially if it’s a real calling, let me describe to you what happens to your life, in my experience. You know that Jenga puzzle? It’s a big tower of puzzle pieces, and you take a piece out here and there until the thing falls down? That’s what happens to your life. God just says, “Oh, really? Well, let’s see… You don’t need this, and you don’t need any of this, and I won’t let you do that... and that’s enough of that.” And pretty soon there’s nothing left of your life—except what the Lord wants you to do. If you’re smarter than [I am], you will learn faster than I did.
That goes for any skill. I know a young man who’s not in my parish. He’s brilliant in math. He should be an engineer. He wants to be a car mechanic. He’s completely defaulting to a safe position. It’s not his calling; he’s brilliant. I mean smart. And he’s going to hear it from me. I’m working on him already, because the potential there… There’s nothing in the world that is better than doing what you love with all your might, because it’s so hard you love doing it.
How many people have seen The Sound of Music? There’s that great moment in The Sound of Music when Maria goes to the Mother Superior and she starts singing, “Climb Every Mountain.” It’s a short song, really short, almost nothing, but one of the verses is:
Find a dream that’ll take all the love you can give,
For the rest of your life, for as long as you live.
That’s profound! I remember it was interesting, because—what the heck does a Mother Superior dream about? But that was her dream. She was a person. She was living her dream.
Kids today have too many choices, way too many choices. We have to provide and protect the children. I recommend this. I want you to think carefully about guiding them, not necessarily away from things or to different things. I want you to think in terms of removing things from the list.
Kids hear from an early age, “You can do whatever you want to do.” They know that’s not true. They know that’s not true. In a dreamworld, perhaps. I will never play pro basketball. I am okay with that… although I am good on defense, because my center of gravity is nice and low, so when they come, they just fall over me. It’s true. No blood, no foul.
But you can remove things. If a kid asks you—and I hope that they will at some point, especially those of you who have teens—you can say, “You’ve really got some strengths there. That’s easy for you. That’s not easy for everyone else.” “Yeah, but it’s not interesting.” You get past what’s interesting, and you find out the kernel of what you’re for, how you’re supposed to serve, and that’s part of it, isn’t it? How you’re supposed to give back to the world, to serve mankind, and by the way, to serve yourself, to fulfill your function, why you were created, to sanctify this form of life, to be holy—and not successful, but effectual.
Some people have a job like a physician, a doctor, who goes to med school. He gets $250,000 in debt, and sometimes they turn, they start working as a doctor, and they say—and I’ve heard one of them say this—“I hate being a doctor, but I have to do it now, because I’m so in debt. This is the last thing in the world I want to do, but I’m stuck.” What a miserable life! It’s terrible!
I don’t want your children to be miserable, so this is what I recommend. When they get stuck—this is what I say to people all the time—if money were no object, what would do? If money were no object, what decision would you make? That removes a lot of the angst about the decision-making and puts it in perspective. Then you can get to: what kind of life do you want to have? Do you want to travel a lot? Are you a homebody, you want to be around the house? Do you want to live on a farm? Do you want to live in a high-rise in downtown Chicago? What kind of life do you want?
Of course, as Orthodox Christians, and for many of us who have converted to Orthodoxy, being near church is very important for us. Sometimes, life takes us away from the church. My son and daughter-in-law live in Odessa-Midland; there’s a little mission there, but no priest. There’s no church. My son, I don’t worry. He’s been to more services than any of us will be, already. Once he has a child, he’ll be back in church, no problem. That is, he’ll move to where there is another church, I’m sure. I’m not concerned about him or my daughter-in-law. But it’s a problem when you’ve got major metropolitan centers that don’t have a single Orthodox church in them.
So: “If money were no object, what would you do?” What was the second one? “What kind of life do you want to have?” I’m not afraid to ask how much money you want to make. What kind of car do you want to drive? “I want to drive a Porsche.”—“Don’t become a priest.” Although, if I had a Porsche, I’d be the coolest priest. Bishops don’t drive Porsches, but they should; they’d be cool. A lot more guys would want to be bishops. It’s okay to ask that question: how much do you want to make? “Well, I want to work in environmental concerns.” “Great. That’s called minimum wage most of the time, but that’s okay. If you’re happy, I’m supportive.” My boys know that, too. If it makes you happy, if that’s the life you want to live, you’ve got my complete support… but for now I’m going to call you an idiot.
Finally, I ask the kids in my care, not just my own sons, something more important which often flushes out a lot of the other questions. This is what I do, and if you’re involved in youth ministry, steal this, borrow it, ignore it—it’s up to you. I say, “Listen, I want you to make me a list: the top ten qualities of the girl or boy that you want to marry.” They think this is a catechism test. “He should be… Christian. He should be… nice.” All that crap, you know?
I always look at the list. On the boys’ list, it never says, “She should be pretty.” I say, “Don’t you think she should be pretty?” And they’re like, “No?” “You are an idiot, too, because you have to wake up next to that girl for the rest of your life. So you’d better think she’s pretty.” Well, come on. Then they go, “Oh, you want the real answer! Okay, yeah!”
And it’s the same with the girls. He should be handsome. Don’t say “cute”; it’s very emasculating. He should be handsome. He should be a provider. He should be a protector. This is my opinion, but he should not be one of these guys who says, “Hello, woman. We respect your inviduality,” and all that other stuff. He’d better be a guy that, if somebody comes to the house unwanted, brings the thunder. Well, he’d better, because if you don’t do it, who’s going to?
Don’t you understand that one of the questions the Nazis asked the Jews, “Even when we took away your children, you did nothing: why?” That ain’t happening in my house. And it’s not happening in my parish. And, if I get the chance for martyrdom, that’s a quick ticket to heaven. I’m all right for that. That removes a lot of problems for me.
But list the top ten qualities. Often, they’re all the same: they should have a good sense of humor. Ah, thinking now. They should be handsome or pretty. They should be honest. That’s another one I see pop up. It’s funny. Kids know they’re being lied to, that’s the funny thing. They know they’re being lied to. That’s why they don’t trust officials any more at all. It’s a miracle that any trust clergy, because we are officials. We’re government officials to them; we just have a different country, a different government. You make them fill out their list, and then you compare the lists, and then you let them talk about the lists, and then you say—and this is the kicker—what kind of a guy does a girl like this look for? What kind of a girl is a guy like this looking for?
You say, “Men always want somebody like Barbie,” but what kind of a person are you attracting? What kind of a person looks for the person you are acting like? And should you change that if you want a different person? I always remind them, “It’s okay to change. You’re not failing to be yourself. You’re not failing to live out who you really are.” Who you are is a fluid concept, in my opinion. You get to decide who you are.
When I was in college—has anybody else had this experience?—you go away to college, and I decided: I’m going to be the guy I always wanted to be. My parents were divorcing all the way through high school; I had to work constantly to help put food on the table. I said, “You know what? I’m here; I’m going to be the person I want to be.” Did anybody else have that experience? I’m alone here. Okay—I’m not alone. Good father; good job. I’m impressed with you already.
In my first weekend, I broke up three fights. I said, “This can’t be college; it’s ridiculous.” I started thinking I wanted to be strong. I was small and slight. I wanted to know how to handle myself better, if I could, you know. I got to explore a little bit of who I was. I got to create the person I wanted to be. It’s not all just nature or just nurture. You need to participate in that process. Who do you want to become? Who do you you want to be?
Have you ever seen that TV show, The Millionaire Matchmaker? They’re people who want to marry millionaires, and they ask themselves, “What kind of person does a millionaire want to marry?” Well, they’re probably not wearing sweats. They’re probably taking good care of themselves. They want a good package.
My point is simply this: if you know the type of person, the criteria of the person you want to fall in love with—because, in my opinion, you can fall in love with anybody; it’s true. We love people because of their perfections, but that’s not true. We like people because of their perfections; we love them because of their flaws. That’s the reality.
I think that having, not a checklist so much, but a comparison list… “This guy makes me feel so… He’s so dreamy inside! But he doesn’t have any of the things I’m looking for”—at least gives a person a second glance. Children are people. I want them to take a second look. I want them to have a second take, a second chance to really look at what they’re doing before they jump in, all in, both feet. I think that’s really important, so I tell all the teenagers, “You’d better think about what you’re doing. Just think about it.” Those that are desperate for affection and attention realize they’re worth more than getting whatever they can get. They get a chance to really think about what they’re doing.
If you know the type of person, the kind of life, where you want to live, how you want to live, figuring out what you do for your living is a lot easier, because you’re literally just eliminating possibilities. That’s fluid, too. “I want to live on a farm; I want to have 20 kids. Well, maybe I don’t want to live on a farm, and maybe I don’t want 20 kids.” It goes back and forth, but at least they’re thinking about it. They’re not simply going to end up at 30, saying, “This is not the life I wanted, and now I’m stuck here forever.” Nobody’s stuck forever.
A vocation is a calling, but it’s a calling by God. Remember: in the Scriptures, there’s really only one person that rejected the call of Jesus. Remember him? The rich young man? “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t worship idols, honor your father and your mother.” “I’ve done all this from my youth. What else do I need to do?” In one Scripture, it says, “Jesus looked on him and loved him, and he said, ‘One thing you lack: Go, sell everything you lack, give it to the poor, you’ll have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.’ And he turned and went away.”
The proof of that for us is like the thief on the cross: you can be right next to God and still go to hell, and still reject him. The key for young people is to not reject God. If they realize, like it or not, that God has given them gifts, he’ll work out the details. I’m not super-eager to have my children decide by age 12 what they want to do in their living; not that worried about it, but when they start turning 16, I start taking interest, because I don’t want them to turn 26: “I don’t know what to do with my life.” I want them to not do nothing, even if they haven’t landed there.
I was 35 before I was ordained a priest, but I wasn’t idle. For what it’s worth, if you don’t know this, it took me 15 years to finally get to seminary. I was accepted everywhere I applied; I just couldn’t afford to go anywhere, so I went to St. Herman’s in Alaska. But I didn’t sit around on my hands. I studied, I read, I got to know the Scriptures really, really well, studied the theology. The only thing I couldn’t study was patristics, because there’s so much information that you have to have a guided tour of that.
When I got to seminary, I found out I had read all the textbooks. So all I had to do was reread everything once, and I could write my papers. Thank God! because I was also administrating and teaching courses and running around like a chicken with my head cut off. But I wasn’t idle during that time. I was working, I was learning different skills, and I was studying.
If your kids aren’t idle—and there’s a difference between lazy and idle. Some people aren’t lazy; they’re just idlers. They need to not be idle. They need to not be bored. They need to look at themselves. They need to do something. My dad was actually very good about this. If you came home from school, and you weren’t going back to school, he said, “Time to work.” You’ve got to work. The Scriptures say if you don’t work, you don’t eat. How come we never hear that very often today? It’s not politically correct, but that’s the Christian way, right? Everybody has to do their part. That’s what’s fair. It’s only fair.
Young men particularly, moms and dads, need to be reminded that someday they’re going to be dads, and that no matter what they choose, it’s going to be hard to do it, it’s going to take sacrifice to achieve it, and it’s worth it when you do. No matter what, it’s going to be tough. That’s just the nature of adulthood. So, while you have the chance to choose, choose the kind of life you want, choose the kind of experience you want, choose the kind of salary you want to make while you can choose it, while it’s still easy for you to choose.
And you know what? Most people have three or four different careers. Fr. James, how many different careers have you had? Working on number four! I’ve been a comic-book artist and a graphic artist. I’ve been a radio announcer, actually worked in Christian radio for a while. I’ve been a factory worker. I’ve done fast food. I’ve done in-home sales. I’ve been a priest and a teacher. I think I should stop there. That’s seven. I’m not proud of that! It’s just the reality. Those are seven professions; they weren’t just jobs. They were professions I had to learn. I’m very happy being a priest now, but young men, young women, as much as it is possible for you, parents, try not to impose your life too much on your kids.
I know a young woman whose mom is a chemist. She’s never worked in chemistry. That’s her degree, and she wants her daughter to be a chemist, so, of course, her daughter is learning chemistry. Nothing bad about that, but I’m sure she’ll never work in it. She’s a brilliant young lady. I think she should turn her powers onto something else that she actually will make use of. But that’s me. Again, check me when my kids are 50 and I’ll let you know how it works out for me. Ultimately, a vocation is between that individual and God.
I want to say one final word about holy orders. We always hear about a crisis in vocations. There’s no crisis in vocations. If I had five more priests living in Prescott right now, I could start five more missions at the drop of a hat. There’s no crisis in vocations. There are missed vocations. People do not hear praying for vocations. When I do the Great Entrance, I am always praying for those who are called to the holy angelic ranks as a monk or a nun or those called to holy orders as a deacon or a priest or a bishop. Well that sinks into people, and the seed that God has planted starts to bloom, and they start to ask. “I kinda thought about this…” Okay.
Then we have to confirm your calling. We have to validate it, and we need to move on it. There’s no rush, but you’ve got to put it to the test, because the whole process of preparing for orders is part of the discernment process. People drop off all along the way, sometimes even graduating seminary and saying, “Nope. I finished, but I don’t want to be ordained.” We know lots of guys who’ve done that. But here’s the thing: there are priests in your parish right now that you don’t know about. There are deacons in your parish right now. Start praying for them now.
Like I said, I prayed for my children’s future wives since they were babies. A little selfishly, but nonetheless, I’ve been praying for whoever they are. And one has already been married; great girl, very Orthodox, very pious. Love her. One down, two to go! But when it comes to vocations, we’re only kind of observers in that. The Lord really takes a strong part. My request to you is, if you know of someone that might be considering a vocation or if you don’t know someone—I assure you, you probably know someone and you don’t know it; they haven’t revealed it—pray that the Holy Spirit will ignite in them this strong inspiration of serving him in this way.
The priesthood requires sacrifice. The diaconate requires sacrifice, and only out of these two do our bishops come. More than anything else, what it requires for deacons and priests and bishops, what they must be more than anything else: they’ve got to be men. They’ve got to be men; they can’t be women. I don’t mean females. I mean they cannot act like old women. They cannot act like immature teenagers. It requires men to lead.
Every good leader follows someone. Don’t worry about that, but realize that God answers prayer. He really does. He really does. He loves us, and he’s going to bring up people in the midst of loving environments to go forward and take what you have here in this parish elsewhere, to move the faith onward in different places, to bring it up in rocky territory where there are no current Orthodox churches, to revitalize churches that are struggling with renewal, to bring new churches out, to save souls. People are desperate to find the Orthodox faith. They just don’t know that we’re here.
So, of course, pray for our bishops, priests, and deacons, but pray that God raise up men to do that work. And likewise, the same with those who want to live the Gospel literally. That’s all monasticism is. “I’ve decided to live the Gospel literally.” Guess what? You’re living pretty close to a monastic life, plain and simple.
I want to thank you all for your kindness and forbearance. You’ve been very gracious. You’ve laughed at all my jokes, which I appreciate very much, and we’ll have our final session of question-and-answer.
Thank you, and I want to thank Fr. James and Fr. Mel, Fr. Joseph. You all treated me like a prince when I came, which I didn’t deserve, but I’m exceptionally grateful for, and I want to assure you that, from now on, your parish will be on my personal prayer list until, God willing, we get an opportunity to meet again. God bless.