Issues of Sexuality - Bishop Anthony
July 17, 2012 Length: 82:36Bishop Anthony is Auxiliary Bishop of Toledo and the Midwest. He talked about sexuality among teens in the broader context of secularism.
Bishop Anthony: You know I have the privilege now of serving the Archdiocese as a bishop and of understanding what Metropolitan Philip has been doing for 46 years; I’ve been doing for a little over six months. And so I want to pay a special honor to His Eminence for all the years of leadership and allowing me to stand here because he stood for so many years for us. Thank you, Syedna.
It was also my privilege to be at the funeral of Father Peter Gillquist recently. And I understood that the risks that Syedna took weren’t risks at all in taking people into the Church. Now, the second and third generations of people that came in when Fr. Peter came in are fully integrated in Orthodoxy, and they wouldn’t be any other place. And I know Fr. Peter John is here.
And so this is the vision of the Orthodox Church. If you don’t have anything in place, that doesn’t mean that eventually people won’t find their place in the Church. And we must take risks to allow these things to happen. So thank you all of you brothers for being here and for giving us a fullness of our faith by having an opportunity to share in that faith.
My voice is a little compromised because I got a cold. So even though I may sound lower than normal; I could probably sing bass where I usually sing tenor, so I hope you aren’t distracted by what I say.
Being a bishop is a very wonderful opportunity to spread the Word of God. I was reminded of a story that this one bishop came to this one lady who was giving private Bible studies some place. And she was gathering a lot of people around her as kind of a charismatic person. So, he went there and he wanted to see what was going on in his diocese.
And he said, “If you are in contact with Jesus, when I went to my confession today, I had three things to say to my confessor. If you know Christ is speaking with you, what did He say? What did I confess to Him?” She turned to him and said, “He forgot.” Because when Christ forgives, He forgets. So we have to learn that in the ministry everybody can offer something in the ministry of our bishop’s calling.
Now today, I have the topic of the teenagers with the sexuality, which I find to be kind of a challenge to me standing here before you, and it’s sort of incongruence. But I hope that even though I’m ubiquitous with being in your presence, I will be able to speak on these issues from my research.
But before I get to that, I want put the context in which the teenagers face their lives and all of us do too. So I’m going to give a little trace of intellectual history so that we can get to the traits of the secular world that we live in. Because they’re in the place where they don’t have a lot of choices, because the worldview and the imaginative world that they live in is a lot different than the Church grew up in. So I just want to go over that quickly. It’s kind of a quick taste of the intellectual history of the Western world. And I have to summarize it quickly, and I hope that you don’t mind me going over these things.
About the 12th Century in the West, there was a development in Thomas Aquinas. And he started to frame the faith of the Church in philosophical categories. In the Orthodox Church, everything is an experience before it’s an explanation. But in the West, it became an explanation to prove an experience. So it’s kind of flip-flopped. But the thing that happened is if I philosophize about theology, then it’s my mind that’s putting the categories there. So it’s a transference of mystery to the explanation of things.
Now there was a subtle thing that happened. So when I use my mind to concentrate on God, that’s okay. But if my mind becomes the foundation of my experience of God, then it transfers that transcendence to an imminence in my own life. I hope I can understand this.
And then if you progress to the Enlightenment, it’s no longer thinking necessarily about God but about thinking about the natural world. It’s not God that doesn’t exist, but He exists and He creates natural rights and laws for us so that we can discover them. So we don’t even need God because He placed laws in our lives. That’s what we get.
So we have to discover the natural law rather than the nature-giver; rather than He who created nature. And then, if you get beyond that, we have a progressive deterioration of thinking about God, and we think about the world in opposition or in separation from God. And that’s really the cause of secularism. I hope this is something we may find interesting.
So what are the traits of the secular world? And I want to go through four of them. The first is contingency. In the Christian tradition, the world was created by God. But now, the world was self-created by all kinds of material things that were self-existent. And amino acids came together, and then after amino acids, there were proteins. And after proteins, there was organic life from inorganic life. And somehow, we were related to a sponge. I don’t know, if I look in the mirror, if that really is the case. Although sometimes when I wake up, it does look like that. Well, I guess being related to a sponge maybe better than being related to an ape, but I don’t know.
The case is that if from disorder came order; if from inorganic matter, there came organic matter, then there is no cause or purpose or plan before God for us. So the first thing of secularity is that we are sort-of self-existent. Homo-sapiens emerged and man took his place in the universe in a contingent way. It was an accident. I always say, “God is providence. The world is accidence or coincidence.” Or someone once said, “Coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous,” because everything is providence.
But in this world of contingency, everything was self-existence. So the research can give no satisfactory answer to why God exists. He may exist, but there’s no purpose or anything else. Absurdity rules. The forces and processes that caused all things to come into being are natural phenomena, and man is contingent upon the changes in the world. So this makes God irrelevant. Heaven and earth are just some things that are just causes for reflection but not necessarily causes of action.
As long as it was believed that there was a purpose in the world, then God had a purpose for us. But if it wasn’t the case, what do we do in such a world? So the first thing was a contingency. And then, the next thing on that was the autonomy. If man didn’t come from God and there weren’t necessarily rules made by God, then man could create his own social world as well. So it was experimental.
Four score and seven years ago, we brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal. Now we are on a great battlefield, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, may long endure.
This is a scientific experiment testing whether we can rule ourselves or not. That was the famous speech of the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln. So now, we are here to create our own world.
In man’s social universe, secular man believes he is free to determine his own destiny. Divine providence governing his life and the universe has no call. His future is his own. His is an uncharted adventure into the future. An autonomous man has infinite possibilities of what he choose. Autonomy means he can define his own destiny and his own meaning for himself. So the second trait is autonomy.
And the third is relativity. If I create my own social universe, I can create my own moral universe. So mores become morals or are separate from morals. Cultural expediency and the way I live my life change over time. So morals have to keep up with the changing times, and that is called relativity.
And finally, the last trait is temporality. If I came from nothing and I am going to nothing, then I am in an oblivion world. I am nothing. And so what you have here is secularity emphasizing that man is temporary. He assumes an agnostic attitude toward spiritual life. He concludes that existence is limited by time and there’s no afterlife and no injustices that will be corrected. Death is the end of everything. Everything winds down through maximum entropy.
And these were in a little book by Langdon Gilkey called Naming the Whirlwind. And I quoted also from the sociologist Anthony Campolo in A Reasonable Faith. And if you have a chance to get that book, he explains it very well.
Now this is the context then in which all of us face our lives in this world. And that means that it’s our challenge that God has given to us. It’s just the real world now and we, as clergymen, must accept this reality and do things within this reality that God will have us accomplish. Now, we can’t pretend it’s any other way. This is the way things are.
And therefore, our teens find themselves increasingly being taught all these things whether directly or indirectly. The school systems are organized that well. John Dewey, in the 1920s, organized the public schools to be a social-industrial center. Remember those little cards we used to get when we were kids, “Works well with others”? Nearly always? Part of the time? Very seldom? It’s not good to have the very seldom in the social network of our world.
So uniqueness and individuality isn’t as important as “Works well with others.” In an industrial, technological, bureaucratically, and administratively adept world, you have to be able to fit in. If you don’t fit in, you’re out. You’re on the fringe. And this sense is that’s how the whole school system was organized – all on a scientific basis. Some people think that integration was a social policy. Integration was really scientific social policy.
The reason they bus people is they found out certain schools had better test scores and others. So the reason they bus people there was so that everyone could have more of an equal idea of how it was to graduate from school, because they just wanted people with good test scores and analytical ability. It had nothing to do with race. It had to do with capability. If you wanted to keep America going, it had to go in an industrial social way. That’s why it’s so important for them to socialize well.
So this is the world the kids are in. If you have any questions along the way, you may just stop me and ask me about them. So the American teenager then became the noble savage in blue jeans. He became the future in your face. It wasn’t so much Facebook but these kids in your face. It wasn’t so much The Invasion of the Body Snatchers as it was the body sketchers and the body piercers, because now all those teens have those tattoos and those body piercings.
I have to tell a story about that. I was in a plane going to San Jose to do lectures for Archbishop Joseph and the West. And there was a young girl whose name was Karina. And she saw me in my collar and wanted to talk to me about spirituality, which was good I guess. So she took a seat right by me, which was rather precarious because she opened up and wanted to talk about all her spiritual issues.
And then I found out that young people really don’t have much holding them back. They will kind of tell you what’s on their mind at the moment to whomever is there, and she did me. But I couldn’t help but focus on, the diamond stud she had in her nose. And the light was coming through the window and it was just shining all over that diamond. And I didn’t know what to do. I kept trying to look in the other direction.
And she said, “What’s wrong? Is there something in your eye?” I was thinking, “No, there’s something on your nose,” but I didn’t know exactly how to handle that. But then I found something very marvelous about Karina. She came from a broken home. And her father left her, when she was thirteen, and her mother in a trailer park down south.
And she said, “It took me a long time to find any spiritual direction in my life, because I always wondered why my father left me.” And then she looked up at me and said, “But I forgive my father. There must have been something in his life that made him do that, because I bet he still loves me. I wish I knew where he was.”
You find people they have that spiritual life inside them. What did God say? “Let us create man in Our image and likeness.” – Genesis 1:26-27. So this girl had a Christian attitude even for her father. She said, “Life hasn’t been easy, but it has been wonderful in its own way.” And she said, “I hope you would keep me in your prayers. My name is Karina.” And I don’t think I’ll ever forget her name. I looked beyond the diamond to the gem of her own soul.
This is what I think the teens have. No matter what challenge they have in their life, all it is for us is to be able to communicate to them heart-to-heart. And when they see our sincerity, they’re going to find our sanctity. Can I say that again? Every time I say something I like, I repeat it. So they will find our sanctity. And this is the main thing of why we are priests in the Church is to joyfully present to them that God loves them and everybody has another chance and another and another chance in the Church.
If God, who’s the Logos; He doesn’t need a dictionary, but if He did have a dictionary, the word hopeless would not be there. And what the teens need most of all is to realize that they have a chance to change their lives and to turn them over to Jesus Christ and to become that fulfilled person that they really wish they could be.
You know, sometimes we’re always looking in a godly direction, which we should be. But if you really think about it, Jesus Christ came in a human direction. And if there is a true humanism, it’s Christianity because it gives us the possibilities of self-realization, self-fulfillment, and self-reflection that only Christ can give us. He showed us how to be a man before how to be a God-Man.
He showed us how to be a man before He showed us that He was the God-Man. If you really think about it, He could have overwhelmed us with His power and divinity from the start. But instead, He came to us and looked at us eye-to-eye; spoke heart-to-heart to anyone who needed His time. And He showed us that first you have to become a man before you can really know who God is. “The Kingdom of God is inside you.” – Luke 17:21.
He is in the midst of you. And this is the great tradition of the Antiochian Church. When, I was at the Belmont, His Beatitude gave me a chance to speak, but he only gave me two minutes. Apparently, he didn’t know me. But I said, “Before we look vertically, we have to look horizontally.” The whole meaning of spirituality is to go from me-centeredness to we-togetherness to He-foreverness. I love that.
And then later on when I went up to venerate the Cross, he said, “Very creative what you said.” I felt like speaking more. I wasn’t nervous at all. But that is the truth. And we can impart true humanness to the teens, because they are waiting for us to do it. And let me just go through the teen life and some of the things they’re faced with.
In our culture itself there are very many elements of teen life. Teenagers today serve a sentence of immaturity, but it wasn’t always that way. We judge people by their age, but my father tells time when people were judged by their size. If they were old enough to work and strong enough, they could start when they were fourteen. They could kind of exercise their working powers when they were young.
Now, we have to isolate the teens to sports. Or even if they’re very intellectually gifted, they have no avenue to express it. They have to fit within their programs in high school, so there’s no flexibility for teens. When the school day begins, they’re policed all the way through it. There’s no idea of individuality; no way of expressing their own selves. They can’t be looked at as just one great mass of young kids. They have to be seen as Mary and Thomas and Daniel and John. And when we see them individually, we’ll be able to help them not as a people in their teens but as human beings who are in God’s plan.
We also must understand that there are harder times than they’ve ever had before. People are growing up in low income families today. I’ll tell you an amazing statistic economically. Real wage income has not grown in America since 1974. So what has happened is absent inflation. I did research on every area really for this. Two people have to work to pay mortgages and stuff, so over 60% of kids come home to no one who is home.
Now this statistic means the almost have to raise themselves. It’s not that they don’t love their parents, but their parents aren’t able to be there because love for them means providing for them. But providing for them can only be done in one direction now. So we live in a culture that’s demanding on all of you too. Probably some of your wives work, and your kids now have to come home and make it on their own. Well, God bless them.
You know, when I grew up, everybody ate dinner at 5:30 PM. Everybody went to church on Sunday. Everybody went to the Memorial Parade on Memorial Day. There was a consistency in American life. No matter what your private faith was, your public duty was the same. Well today they don’t have that. That’s all broken down. And this is the attitude, Syedna, of the Antiochian Village and of the Parish Life Conferences.
They create a social milieu and environment where people who have the same faith can be comfortable and secure in knowing that they’ll always have people who believe the way they do. This social environment will become the safe haven of sanctity for the future. And the Antiochian Village is serving that purpose now. I’ll give you a good example of that.
When I went to the basketball tournament in Canton, Ohio, which had over 500 kids at the basketball tournament in a February; snowy evening and they filled the hotel; that tells you how much they wanted to be together. There was one young girl that was going through a hard time because her father died. And after I had given my talk, I said things like this, “Unless your purpose becomes a pleasure, your pleasure will become a pain.”
So I tried to figure out really little things for those kids. I said that you have to find a purpose before you find a pleasure. So I talked to them about things like that. She came afterward and told me that. Did you know her friends stood in back in the narthex and waited until she was done talking with me, and she was very upset. But this other little girl put her arm around her and said, “Come on. Now we’ll have a good time.” She wouldn’t leave her there alone. That’s what the Antiochian Village did. It made sisters out of their girls. That’s our future.
There’s no place to go now without places like camp. And I think the Parish Life Conferences are important for that. I put myself out to go and visit all those kids and to speak with them, because really I love them. When I became a priest, I became like Velcro. Everybody stuck. And now as a bishop, I sense that responsibility for all of them. And you know as a Bishop, I get a chance at the Parish Life Conference to meet with them.
Sometimes, I don’t think we all understand the value it is for a bishop to have a Parish Life Conference and to make it good. That’s how I get to know the people individually, so that if I remember their names next time they’re going to sense their part of the greater family of God. Thank God. And Syedna Philip gave me the Icon of the Hospitality of Abraham to remember that our Church is social as much as it is personal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we must make that for our kids.
So these are hard times that they’re living in. Let me just talk about the situation of some of the sexual statistics that you may not know about. A lot of the younger kids are engaged in sexual activity at a younger and younger age. Before, it may have been the Baby Boomers in college. Now, it’s in high school. And how they define sexuality is all personal and individual, and it is not the way we would.
62% of all people before they get married are in sexual relationships even before they’re married. That’s just one amazing statistic, I think. Only 19% of babies born in Europe are in a married family. Most are born out of wedlock. The Western World is becoming disassociated from romance and sexuality, and that is increasingly cutting short the fact that the teens themselves have anything to work with.
Even making a pledge of not having sexual relations before marriage doesn’t count. People that make pledges and go through abstinence programs are still prey to the same temptations, and they usually fall. People that watch media 50% of the day are 70% more likely to have sexual encounters before marriage, because the social media itself becomes so easy for them to have influences outside of the Church and the home. So these are just some of the statistics, you may have to deal with.
A lot of times people are meeting people over the Internet and forming relationships that way and very personal relationships, and they call that “hooking up.” I did research on that. They just find somebody and then they don’t have a relationship with them that’s personal, so nobody knows about it. They just follow their pleasure rather than their purpose. And I don’t know how many in your office may be dealing with all of this, but this is what they’re going through.
But I think the American system of dating needs the Christian atmosphere more important than that. If you’ve ever gone to those dances, there’s always a bunch of girls standing on the side that no one’s asking to dance. And then they pretend that everything’s okay and it’s all boring, but what they really want is someone to care about them so they will have a dance.
Everything is built on body type today, and it’s an impossible body type. If you take a Madonna body type, where there’s no fat content, to a body where you’re working out four and five hours a day, that’s not a realistic thing. And yet, people are measuring themselves by that. That’s why there’s an incidence of bulimia and anorexia is because there’s this artificial standard of what beauty is, and all our kids are subject to it. And it’s not only the girls now; also the men are forced into that, where they’re not looking at themselves as what they can be but how they look.
T.S. Eliot, the poet, said “I prepare faces to meet the faces that I meet.” And we live kind of like in a Halloween condition. So this is the real situation that the teens find themselves in, and they need to acquire skills and values which will help them in their lives, and that’s where the Church comes in.
Now this is another amazing thing. In the next decade in the 21st Century, there will be more teens than there ever have been in the United States. They will have a population that far outnumbers the Baby Boom Generation, so we’re going to be invaded by teens. Those under eighteen now constitute 28% of the U.S. population, but in the future they will constitute 39% in only the next decade. That means a huge twist of consumer products and goods going to teens and our marketed by the media for them, and sex sells. So these are other statistics that are pretty shocking.
Now, I have come up with certain things that we can do, which will help us in this American dating setting. And the first thing I would say is to go out in groups, rather than go out separately. Encourage the youth groups in your own time to not go out with people just one-on-one, but go out in groups. Because they can deceive you by treating you one way when they’re all alone, but it’s harder to deceive when they’re in a group.
As they treat others, they will treat you; especially as they treat family members, they will treat you. And I think it’s very good to encourage youth groups to always go out together and to do very wholesome things, rather than separately. There can be very damaging things in people’s psyches if they don’t continue in this idea of really loving each other in a pure way.
So the economy, the population, the demographics, and the American dating system, all of these things coalesce to form a difficult time for young kids in their lives. But I think the most important thing is to give the kids a goal to work for. Unless you have a goal line to cross, you won’t have a football field to play on. Unless you can be on the offensive, you’re going to always be on the defensive. And I think the young kids today are on the defensive, because of all the things I’ve talked about.
But if you give them a challenge, they will respond to that challenge. And if it’s the challenge of staying pure and of being strong in their Christianity, they will keep their self-worth so that they will be able to be self-fulfilled later on in their life. Because if they give away everything now, what do they have to give to that one essential relationship that they’ll have in the future. And I think that we have to do that for them; tell them how valuable they are; let them know how important they are to us, and then they’ll find that they’re important to themselves.
This is also is a most important aspect of teaching the youth in our lives. And I’ve been to a lot of churches that had good youth workers and good youth because they were always gathering together even as we do at the Antiochian Village. Remember that movie Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams? And he was looking at a picture and on that picture it had a bunch of old football players, maybe I associated with that because I played football myself.
But he asked one of the students what carpe diem means, and he said “Seize the day.” And that’s what we have to tell them. Use your life day by day to make progress forward, and that’s a good movie. There’re a lot of good things like that to direct people toward something good.
Do you have any questions regarding these statistics and things that I talked about? I’m not sure I approached it in the fullest way, but I gave a little collage of what it’s like to be a teenager today. But you will be receiving teens that are wounded, and we must find a way of healing them, especially through Confession and by being their Fathers in Christ. Do you have any questions?
Fr. Joe: Syedna, we talked about the teens, especially the talk yesterday and your talk today, as if they are separate from the society, and the family, I think maybe we should address the problem of the families and that includes the whole thing. Because we have seen how many parents doing something wrong either drinking or smoking or whatever, and we expect the teens not to do that, it’s really unrealistic.
Bishop Anthony: Yeah, that’s a good point Fr. Joe. In my own life, it was my family, my mother and my father, that created the structure for my faith. I would say if I ever did anything good, it’s a result of what they did for me. All the bad I earned on my own. So I think the foundation of the family creates faith. And then also if people stray when they are younger, if they had a faith foundation, I believe they’ll always come back again to the Church in some way. So that’s very true. Without the family, nothing we can do would last very long, so thank you for that.
Fr. John: Your Grace, like you I grew up in a family where we had dinner at 5:30. We went to church on Sunday, and we studied the Scriptures, and we believed in the authority of the Holy Scriptures. And I find myself just assuming that and taking that for granted. And then finding with our young people that it’s very ineffective in many cases appealing to anything that the Holy Scriptures might say regarding sexuality or how we might live our life. I’m sure you’ve encountered this yourself with the teens, and wonder if you might have some advice for us on how to get on the same footing or appeal to them in some compelling way?
Bishop Anthony: Yes, thank you Fr. John. I don’t believe that the families are going to get much stronger because of the economic pull of that double family income. I go back to that all the time. If there isn’t somebody at home on a normal basis, it’s going to be hard to maintain even family traditions that we would have. But that’s where the Church comes in. I think we have more to do now than we’ve ever done. We have to create a family environment for the teens.
I remember when I worked in Akron with Fr. Lou. We met almost every two weeks with the youth, Fr. Patrick and I. And we created relationships with them. A lot of times their parents worked, but when they knew they had somewhere to go in those two weeks, it created for them a sense of family unity. And I even met a few of them now that have professions and kids, and I was happy to be a part of all that.
So I think that the Church has to become a substitute family is a sociological sense more than it’s ever been. And the more we do that, the better off the kids will be, because I don’t see their parents having more free time to be honest with you. I think those days of everybody eating dinner at the same time are going to be very much like a dinosaur. I wish it wasn’t; we can create situations maybe where there is more of it, but it’s going to be very hard.
I mean, look at the economy now. 8.2% of the people don’t have jobs and that’s not counting underemployment where people aren’t looking anymore because they can’t find them. Plus, I’ll tell you another amazing statistic. It used to be that you could get a middle class income without any real skills. Remember the car manufacturers in the ‘70s and ‘80s? You didn’t have to have great skills.
Now, in order to stay within that middle class range, you have to know nanotechnology. You have to know all these sophisticated technologies in your own life. You have to have a very refined technical education as well as a professional education. You put all that together, and it’d take you into graduate school before you have an opportunity really to make the kind of salary that will give stability to your family. And these economics do have an impact on how you’re going to take care of your kids.
So that’s why, Fr. John, I think it’s going to be very hard to do unless people make a choice to live under the affluent standard that everybody else is living under. If people make that decision, then that’s another story. And it takes more courage and heroics to do that. I think it’s possible to do, but it’s more improbable.
Question #3: Thank you, Your Grace. Those are beautiful comments and you almost anticipated something I would like to bring here. So I have one small thing, a testimony from a teenager, and then one larger thing that you touched on, I’d like to underscore and ask you to say something a little more about.
First of all, when I was a high school teacher in the ‘90s as a deacon and before I had full-time pastoral responsibilities, one of my students we were talking about what the role of high school was, and one my students very insightfully said, “Well, it’s very clear that high school is a warehouse for youth.” And I asked him to discuss that a little more. I found that striking and a very beautiful insight, cynical indeed, but good insight nonetheless.
And he said, “The adults simply don’t know what to do with us, so they put us in high school as a holding tank until they figure out what to do with us.” I’d just like to offer that. Second, in our deanery in the southern California area with Archbishop Joseph’s blessing, we’re working very hard at cultivating inter-parochial youth ministry.
That is to say, each parish by itself may not have all the assets in it for effective youth ministry or care for their young people, but what we’re doing is we’re cultivating more and more connections between the parishes and I frankly am very excited about that, and I’ve started to see some really good fruit from that.
And this is keying into what you just said, Your Grace, about the Church providing a family atmosphere. This is not just an institutional shorthand, I think it really is our very life. So thank you for underscoring that.
Bishop Anthony: Thank you very much. Besides this, sometimes we look at kids as projects in the making. But I would like to look at them differently. Kids have everything in place. They’re just beginners. It’s different between being a beginner and being incomplete, because they’re not old enough. They’re just beginners so that they can become old enough. Sometimes, we don’t look at them as having possibilities even when they’re young.
I remember this one young kid. She was only twelve years old, and I was teaching Sunday School, Syedna, in Brooklyn when you were a priest and I was a seminarian. That’s when you asked me to preach the first time, and I haven’t stopped since. But anyway, the thing was she said, “The difference between angels and men is men see things from the outside, and angels see things from the inside first.”
These kids, even at a very young age, they have great wisdom. And we don’t give them a chance to develop, we just think they’re incomplete and deficient, and we put them in a category of teenager. It seems to me that we should give them a beginning. They have all the tools. Let us see how we can help them use them in the future.
The job of young people is not simply to go to high school and to make something of that. They have to construct their lives; make them into something particular. And the only way they can do it is with our help. But here’s another mistake parents make. They try to project onto their children what they have in themselves. They transfer their own goals into them. I don’t think that’s right. You have to let them discover what their talents are and follow them.
There’s a famous teacher who went to Sarah Lawrence College. He taught with Veselin Kesich, of recent memory, who passed away. His name was Joseph Campbell, and he said, “Follow your bliss.” Follow that where your talents lead you, and your salary will follow if you’re doing what you love. Even if you have a great paying job, if you don’t do what you love, you’ll take your depression home with you and spread around you all that negativity that isn’t who you really are.
So I think you as parents and we as priests must allow them to discover their own talents and to help them in that direction, so that they can become what God wants them to be. I have a little story about that. And I’ll still get to your question, Father. See that’s what happens when I get going on that.
But the point was there was this one teacher who had a very slow student in her class, and she tried to like all the kids as she would, but she couldn’t. She just didn’t like him. And when she marked his paper, she would put big checkmarks and give him F’s. And she asked God, “Help me to understand him.” So she went to look at his records, and in it, it said, “He shows talent to become something special, but he’s distracted. His mother’s sick.”
And she read all the way through. His mother finally died, and his father was all he had. And before Christmas vacation, he brought her, because he thought she liked him, an old bracelet that his mother had and put it on and asked her to wear it, because he said, “At least you care to try to teach me.” She felt convicted of that. She never took the bracelet off. The next week she came back a changed teacher.
Now, he moved away. But then she got letters in the mail that said, “I finished high school. I just wanted you to know. I finished college. I graduated in the top of my class. I just wanted you to know. I finished medical school last week, and I’m going to get married. And I have a chair waiting for you, the chair my mother would have sat in, but I wanted you to sit in it because you cared about me.”
She found a way of discovering his talent after she received that bracelet and enabled him to come what he could become. And that’s what we have to do with the youth – enable them. Sometimes, that’s a bad word – enabling, because of codependency. But what I think is that we have to help the people realize their unique gifts before God.
Did you ever notice Jesus, when He talked to the rich young man? He said, “Go and sell what you have, and give to the poor.” He didn’t say he was a bad person. He just said he could do a little more to become everything that he was. And this is the way that he taught everybody. He helped bring the best out in them.
And even St. Peter, when he denied him three times, Christ never gave up on him because, “Do you love me, Peter?” Three times to reverse the times that he did wrong. And he became the great apostle in Acts 1 and 2, because Christ never gave up on him. He didn’t believe in that word hopeless. He didn’t let failure be the sum condition and definition of that man’s life. He said, “You can do it.”
And this is the temptation, I think, for us to think that maybe there’s nothing more we can do as priests or bishops. But we can’t ever give up. It’s just like my mother said when I was ordained a priest. She said, “Son, I want to give you one piece of advice.” I said, “What’s that, Mom?” She gave me more than one piece of advice by the way. She said, “Never be a sad priest, because if you’re close to God, you should be joyful; because if you give off that sadness and think that you can fail then they’re not going to think that they can ever succeed in their spiritual life if you come off as being sad.”
And then my father gave me a piece of advice when I was consecrated a bishop, and I think this is good advice, Syedna. He said to me, “Never let doubt enter your decisions when talking to people.” He said, “Maybe, you won’t be absolutely certain, but with them you have to be certain, because you’re the last one they’re going to ask, and they want you to be certain. There has to be someone in this life to say, ‘Yes, do it,’ or ‘No, don’t do it. ’ “
And then he said, “Uphold the dignity of the episcopate, because it doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to Christ. You’re only a reflection.” See, when you have parents like that, you better do something in this life. Sometimes, I always think that I hope I do a good job so that they would be proud of what I’m doing. Also, I like Syedna Philip to be proud of me too, because he took so long in waiting for me to become a priest. I was dilatory in that.
And I want to do a good job. I see all of you and how hard you work. I went to the Parish Life Conferences. Those priests that span the Parish Life Conferences do so much work. They set the stage for me. I better deliver for them. And that’s the way I look at you, brother priests, for all you’ve done; for me really.
Question #4: It is already a hard mission or road we have to do with our children by helping to create a good environment, Christian or more specifically Orthodox. What can do with the bigger war or harder mission of the school system, because what we preach to them is completely different from what they hear in their schools? And they face us with this, “How come you are right and everybody else is wrong?” So how can we help them in making this distinction, because Christian morals are not the same as school system morals in these days?
Bishop Anthony: Well, that is the ultimate challenge for us. But we have something to offer the world that they don’t have. If they go by a secular world that says, “I’ve come from nothing and I’m going from nothing. I have a purposeless beginning, and I have a meaningless end.” If that is the secular worldview, we can say, “God had a plan, and He had you in mind even before you even had a history of your own.”
And you’re going to go from someone to somewhere for the rest of your life. So if you give people a plan and a challenge to fulfill that plan and give them meaning in life, then they’re going to want that better. It’s more attractive than nothing to nothing. “Nothing from nothing means nothing,” as that song goes.
So we have really, the meaning and life to give to people. And what’s more important? If we form love in our own life; if our professions have any meaning at all; if our relationships last, we have to have an eternity for their continuance, because that is the essence of our own identity. And if it all ends now, then eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you may die. You don’t have any other philosophy than that.
And I think you have to emphasize the fact that we do have the answer. Be compassionate with everyone, but be positive and joyful with the answer that we have. What you do here does count. Who you choose now will have a big impact on how you live your life. I mean, if you don’t choose the right mate, you’re going to be checkmated. If you don’t choose the right mate, you’re going to be checkmated in this life, right? Well, good thing it doesn’t really apply to me.
But I think that all of you know that to be true. I’m not going to see if this is true and make you raise your hands. But if your wife is a drag on you; if the wives are not helping the husbands, especially in the ministry, they’re not going to become what they really can be. If she doesn’t arrange your material and social life so that you can really be a priest, it’s very hurtful.
And now, these kids could have the greatest profession in the world, but if they choose the wrong person to marry then they’re going to be living a life of looking behind them; over their shoulder forever.
Question #5: Thank you, Syedna. You spoke about two parents working and so forth. But one of my big concerns as a priest and even as a parent is more related to modern technology and really I guess going back to the invention of the TV. But now with our cell phones, smartphones. iPads, and all these things that are put in front of kids when parents could spend time with them, they’re often not. And I’m wondering if you could speak at all to that issue and its effect on teens and families.
Bishop Anthony: The effect of the social media is the more they’re exposed on their own to the social media you’re talking about, then the more likely they are to have sexual, alcohol, and drug problems. It’s directly related, because they are using the social media as a substitute family. The big issue for teens is loneliness. They don’t have anyone to really be with. So if we create an environment where they have a family in the Church, that’s going to have a much greater impact than anything they do in the world.
They’re going to choose the good that comes from them. And I can use my own life. If I’m coming across as somebody that my parents would be proud of, that makes me happy because of what they invested in me and all of you, as my fellow clergymen. But if I don’t feel any responsibility to anyone and I’m completely isolated and insulated from every social aspect or milieu, then I’m not going to feel responsible to anyone. And I’m going to do whatever I want.
So we have to make connections of responsibility if we’re going to give people liberty. If we give them liberty; if we give them freedom, they have to have responsibility behind it. And we can develop that in our churches.
Question #6: Your Grace, I have a question. On Christmas, I gather some of the parents and ask them the question if they talk to their children about these issues, which we are talking about today – sex, alcohol, drugs, and so on. And I find out that parents never talk to their children about these issues; never educate them.
And as you said that the schools teach them the opposite of Church teaching. Who is responsible to teach those teens? And when? And where? If we don’t have anything in the Christian education curriculum for purity of life, the children are misinformed. Media is informing them the opposite, as is society and the schools. When and where and who is responsible to teach the children?
Bishop Anthony: Well, does anyone have an opinion on that? I think we have to then. I think the churches have to the best they can. If the parents don’t, then somehow we must do it.
Question #6 continued: But what age? Can we speak that in the Church? Can the priest stand in the altar and speak about sex and alcohol? We can’t.
Bishop Anthony: No, I think maybe just in youth groups and things like that. You have to find areas where you can talk about the importance of that. Fr. Joe maybe you have some views on that.
Fr. Joe: Well first of all, our children are being taught. And that’s one of the realities we have to accept. The media is teaching our children and unfortunately many of our families have computers and TVs in the kids’ rooms. And they watch whatever they want to watch, and they surf wherever they want to surf on the Internet.
So they’re getting, first of all, a lot of bad information. In many of our public schools, sex education begins in 4th, 5th, or 6th grade depending on the state in which you’re in. So the question for us as a Church is who is teaching our children? For sure the secular culture is teaching our children, and we have some choices to make.
Do we want to keep our children? Do we want to educate them in the Faith and our own morals and teaching so that they may live and so they may gain salvation? Or do we simply want to leave this to the secular culture to do? And my suggestion to you would be, first and foremost, is the parents should be teaching our children.
But many of our parents don’t know what to teach, and they don’t know when to teach. And I would just implore you as brothers to take some time with the parents, because they don’t teach for two reasons. They don’t know what to teach, because they themselves don’t know what to believe. And number two, they think that they can wait until they send their kids off to college.
But our culture has unfortunately forced upon our children at a younger and younger age things that they are incapable of making decisions about. So I would say, first and foremost, we need to start by educating the parents in hopes that the parents will do the educating, because I think that’s where it really belongs.
But the Church also has to make very clear what her teachings are to the families from the very beginning in hopes that they will teach. But sometimes Fathers, when the children come to you, you need to teach them. My policy has always been, “If they ask, then I will try to teach.”
Bishop Anthony: I think that’s very good, Father. And I think example serves as much as explanation too, Father. The example we set of trying to lead a good moral life ourselves will come across. Exposure creates example. And the more you’re exposed to kids, the more they’ll want to take on what you are.
I mean I don’t know for you, but for me, I never wanted to disappoint the people that loved me, nor did I want to disappoint God. I don’t know if I was unusual, but there was never a time in my life where I felt God wasn’t there. I always knew that what I did in life had a consequence to what He would think of me. And I always put that first. Now, I don’t know why that happened to me. But I didn’t want to disappoint God or the people around me.
So self-discipline is created by love of God and other people. And that way, you’ll be able to monitor your life. If we allow them to express their faith, they’re going to do what’s right. Pascal once said, “Doubt comes through disobedience.” And if you read the 14th, 36th, and 53rd Psalms, you’ll realize that transgressions speak deep in the heart of man saying there is no God. And the transgression is the thing that creates the non-belief in God. It’s the lack of willpower not intellectual belief that creates a lack of faith in God.
And so if we create an atmosphere where people can love each other in a wholesome way, they’re going to make the right choices later on in their life. And even if they don’t, they’re going to come back to where the right choice was, which is in all of us.
Question #7: Syeda, thank you. The underlying factor of Your Grace’s comments today is perhaps the absence of authority in the lives of the teens and lives of the children. If you happen to have any statistics or if you’d like to comment, Syedna, on the fact that perhaps their perception of authority is something that they actually need; that they are looking for, and how we can provide that as clergymen.
Bishop Anthony: I actually did a study on that as well, Father. So today, authority is not from the top-down. It’s from the grassroots-up. The secular culture is inventing their own spiritualties. And the fact that we have authority in our Church is very rare now. A lot of churches are capitulating to what the common culture around them want them to do. They’re following culture, rather than giving them an example of culture to follow Christ.
Orthodoxy is the last great hope for America and for the whole world, because we still have the authority top-down. If God the Father is the cause and principle of the Trinity, and His monarchy is such that the Spirit and the Son draw their Divinity from Him in a continual circle of love, then we also must maintain that in our Church.
And I always find it interesting that in order for the Gospel to be read, the Bishop blesses the Gospel, because it’s only through the Apostolic Succession that the grace of the Spirit makes that text the golden Word of God through and with the hierarchy of the Church.
Until I became a bishop and actually did that, that was the grace released so that the Gospel can be graceful and be sanctified. It’s just not picking up a Bible and reading it. It’s giving it to the authority of God so that when you preach the Word of God, it’s His Word and not your word.
Question #8: I just want to say one word that our kids need to be loved. You talk about Jesus. Jesus loved, and not by giving them iPads and iPhones and cars and all that stuff. Parents, they want to get rid of their kids. The kids nag them and nag them, and the parents figure if they give them this, they’ll stop nagging.
And kids feel. Most of the problems with our kids are they are not loved. They come from broken families. And you have kids, and you know that you have to love your kids. And kids know when we are genuine with our love or we’re not genuine with our love. So let’s love our kids. I don’t think it means that all the problems will go away, but at least we will be starting with a step forward.
Bishop Anthony: Thank you.
Question #8: Your Grace, I think that St. Augustine was the first one who turned the sexual thing upside-down. First of all, I remember when I went to school, we used to have religious instruction. Now in Canada, they’ve stripped all the schools of any possibility for religious instruction. They call it ethics or moral education.
And they’re rewriting the textbooks in order so that the kids will understand about same-sex parents and about the gay life and how they ought to accept children who are children of same-sex parents. And this is being taught to our kids at a very young age. Our church has to address this very strongly because our kids are getting mixed messages.
Bishop Anthony: Well, thank you. But we have to maintain the message of Christ for our kids and give them that sanctity; that their body is the temple of the Holy Spirit – 1 Corinthians 6:9 and following. If we keep emphasizing that their bodies don’t belong to them that they belong to God and that in baptism they were united to Him by His death and resurrection and by the chrismation they’re given the power and energy to live that life in Christ, then they will be able to honor their bodies because they’re honoring God.
And that is consistent all the way through, because even when we pass on, we keep the body because the body is the vessel of the Holy Spirit. And we don’t have the cremation, because it’s just not a utilitarian thing. It’s a part of the whole composite of what it means to be a human person. And so if you’re going to use that human person as united to Christ and united to somebody that’s going to seek God with you.
There is a little triangle by Plato the philosopher and at the end you have God on top. And he said:
If both the man and the wife are going towards God and He’s the peak, then they’re going to meet. But if they just go in parallel lines with their own love, they’re going to cross each other and they’re not going to have that meeting.
So we must also understand that if your temple is the body of the Holy Spirit, meet somebody else who considers that important too, and then you’ll meet Christ at the top and apex of Christ Himself in God and the Church. That was the philosopher Plato that said that. So that’s what I would say. The temple of God is the Holy Spirit, and they are going to realize that intuitively I believe.
Question #9: Thank you, Syedna, for all that you have said. I have only two comments. First of all, as parents, we should be aware that the way, if we are married, husband and wife act together and treat one another at home has a huge impact on how the kids later on will look to the relationship of man and woman. And they react their own way to what they see at homes.
The second thing is we know that our kids are using the iPods, the iPhones, everything, why we don’t use it with them. We know that we are, especially as a priest, away from the house most all the time. Why don’t we allow our kids to text message us and give little time to answer their text messages and to communicate with them? We know that they are using it. Let’s try to teach them how to use it properly and with the proper people, not only to kill time and to collect knowledge.
And another thing that I found out from my experience with my own kids, the TV shows. We know that there are so many bad things on the TV and our kids are exposed to it. Thank God that most of these programs are on late. And after they finish their homework, they go and watch them. What I found very positive is that the teens, we need to go into their world and touch up on it. And we can have better influence than to say no and to close what we consider wrong in their life.
So there’s Channel E. It’s the worst I ever saw about programs. All they speak about it bad things and nothing else, especially with the people off Hollywood and the stuff like that. So I start giving some time and watching with them. I didn’t have them close it. I watched with them and started gently passing comments about what is wrong and right in the life of those people. And they were listening.
And two or three good months until my kids now see that what those people are doing is ugly. We cannot do what they are doing. We cannot even give time to discuss it. So we can turn from what’s negative into something positive if we give a little bit of time to our kids. Thank you.
Metropolitan Philip: Bishop Anthony, thank you very, very much for this very enlightening lecture. From the comments which I have heard last evening during the panel discussion, which was excellent, and what you said this morning and the questions, which my brother priests have asked, I would advise Fr. Joseph Allen perhaps to plan a symposium for parents in the future.
Every age and period in history has its difficulty. I remember the saying of St. Paul. I don’t remember in which epistle. He said, “For the days are evil.” If you look at our families today or the whole American environment, the children are born into a family. Well, the mother takes care of the child for a short period of time, maybe a year or two or three. Then, the parents start sending these children to daycare schools, and the parents go to work.
The children come home and the nanny takes care of the children. But the children need the love of their parents in order to grow up in this difficult world with a positive outlook to the world, not a negative one. Then, the children go to school and go to high school and come home again and both the parents are working. The fathers and mothers are working.
They very seldom have time to prepare dinner for the kids. They feed them perhaps a TV dinner. But you know, when a mother cooks food for her children, she puts something from herself in this food. The poet said, “If you bake bread and do not put something from your soul in that bread, the bread will taste sour. If you make wine and do not put something in that wine from your soul, then your wine becomes poison.”
The dilemma which we are having, my brothers, is the days are evil. We are living in a very, very difficult society. Our values have been turned, as Bishop Silouan taught me, upside-down. When I was a child, my mother cooked for us and stayed with us until my father came home. And if we misbehaved during the day, she would threaten us with, “Wait until your Dad comes home.” And all my father had to do was to look at us, just to look at us, and we would get the message.
What I mean to say is that the children are not spending enough time with the family and the parents. They go to schools, and we know how our schools are today. High schools or college, and you know how our young people are in college. You know that, and I know that. So I don’t know how the Church today can cope with these problems of the children not spending enough time with the parents.
They come home they go to their Facebook or whatever. I don’t know. These things did not exist when I was growing up. And they spend a little time, perhaps less than an hour, in Sunday School on Sunday. And at some parishes, they never took the children up to the Liturgy. They used to teach them in Sunday School a few things and then send them home or leave them to play in the church hall while the Liturgy is going on.
So the difficult problem, which is facing the Church, is how to deal with these problems. What can we do for parents when they come home extremely tired in the evening? They don’t have time to really have serious dialogues with their children and whether the children accept that, because they have their own things to do. They have their own programs on TV.
So these are the issues. Our time with our children is limited. They spend most of their time at home doing their own things. Parents don’t talk to them. Then, they go to school, and the school is not very encouraging to say the least. They go to high school, and again, high schools are what they are today. You know that. And colleges are what they are today, and you know that.
Someone mentioned last night that the Church is not boring. I want you to know that the Church can be very boring if there is no symphonic relationship between the priest and his choir; if the priest does not present the Liturgy with love and with much feeling; and if the choir is lousy. Sometimes I feel so frustrated when I visit a parish and I find a choir that responds to “In peace, let us pray to the Lord,” with a lousy, “Lord have mercy.”
And if the priest and the choir do not present the beautiful Liturgy to the congregation on Sunday, and if the sermon is lousy, why should people go to Church? They can read the Divine Liturgy at home. They can read the Scripture at home. But this community worship is very, very important to us. Therefore, we really have to learn how to preach, how to teach, and how to present the Liturgy to our people in order to uplift them, so when they go home, they say, “Thank God. We had a very inspiring service today.” Thank you.
Bishop Anthony: Thank you, Syedna.