The Education of Youth Today
By Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol
In the Church, education means "direction", the direction of people not to specific ideas or values or ideals, but the education of people to love our Lord Jesus Christ. Education in the Church means to teach people to love Christ, because this is what it is all about. The Church speaks of love towards God. A secularized conception of religion, of the Church, speaks of faith in God and only this. But perfection in the Church is the love that will remain forever, since both faith and hope will be abolished on the last day and that which will remain will be love. Therefore the challenge is for people to learn to love God. To have faith in God is a basic first step, which ascends to the next step and the next step. We are not to remain only there, because a person cannot give their entire life to something they simply believe in. If they are such an idealist, they can do it, as is done in other situations of everyday life we see around us. Yet in the Church that which exists is the love of Christ. For us, Christ is what it is all about. Christ is the One who is the Teacher of everybody. See how beautifully the Lord says this in the Gospel: "Learn from Me...". That is, people learn from Christ, from the same Christ, from the life of Christ, from the words of Christ, but above all by the experience of the love of God within them. That's why this experience is so strong that it overcomes all other loves in the world.
It is not enough, brethren, to tell our children about the ideas of the Gospel, it is not enough to say that the Gospel and the Church is the best anyone can give them, and that love, joy, freedom, and justice is beautiful. Of course all these things are beautiful, but that which a young person needs today is to learn to love Christ. To learn how that which the Church gives is Christ, and this is something the world cannot give them. People can always learn to respect their fellow men, to love them, to be honest, sincere, fair, democratic, liberal, and all that. The Church is not needed to teach these things which nature itself teaches. Our human self and human existence teach us freedom, justice, democracy, respect and love for others. What the Church has to tell us about is the love of Christ. And here, allow me to tell you, is the point at which Christians today stumble, because we consider the Church to be an ideological system and that it is enough for us to be good people. That it is enough for us to observe our duties. That it is enough for our kids to have their boundaries. To not be mischievous. To not do bad things. Sometimes they say things that we hear, we smile with grace of course, but this does not express the Church. What do they say? "It is better to be in church, rather than to be involved with drugs." "It is better to be in church, rather than to be in prison." It's as if the Church is the opposite of drugs and prison. One would say, as the camel once said: "Isn't there a straight road, a middle road?" So, it is either the Church or drugs? So, whoever is not in church is doing drugs? Certainly not! You don't need to be in church to be honorable, noble, honest, a good spouse, a good parent, a good student, and all the other good you have in you. This is why we often cannot understand why our children have another relationship with God. Why we who are older cannot understand. We say: "Why do you want that thing? Isn't it enough that you became a good person and a good scientist and you have your work to offer the world and society? Why do you want more? These are exaggerations, fanaticism, eccentricities, and illnesses." Why do we express such views? Because we measure our lives not by love but by duty. "Do your duty and that is enough." But love, my brethren, has no limits. When you love God, you have no boundaries. It's like when you have love for a certain person. If you have love for a person, you want to be with them, to unite your life with theirs. Can you put boundaries on such love? Love is a fire which burns in the heart of man. It does not enter into the limits and molds of logic, but it acts alone, from the heart and not from the head. The Church teaches and calls people to love Christ above all.
You know, one could observe in older times the phenomenon in the Church when there were very many children. We remember, those of us who are older, that until a certain age almost all children went to Catechetical School, to Church, and they had a relationship with God. After a certain age they were lost. At fourteen, fifteen, or eighteen. Some went to the army, some went to get an education, and the efforts of the people were lost, such as the catechists and others. Why do you think this is the case? Where was the mistake made? Okay, of course there is human weakness, human challenges, and cares which proliferate as a person grows. But the "wrong of the Church", to say in quotation marks, is not the Church itself, but we people of the Church who, unfortunately, did not realize that what we had to give our children was the love for Christ. We taught them the ideas of the Gospel: "Be a good child, an honorable child, have love for others, do charity work, be an upright person." But the love for Christ we did not speak about. This is because theology for us was idealistic, philosophical, and humanistic. We ignored the love of God, and what it means to love Christ. For this reason it was not very important for people to learn to fast, to do vigil, to confess, to commune, to read the live of the Saints. No. It was enough to read other books. The lives of the Saints were set aside. The ascetic life of the Church was set aside. Man, who was invited to experience Christ in the mystery of the Church, was set aside. Other things got in the way. This is why we were losing people, one after another, when they reached puberty age. Of course, sin has its power and experience. This is something that attracts humans and makes them captive. On the other hand, what will draw people back? Ideas? Ideas are dead shadows of reality. An idea cannot keep you, no matter how much of an ideologue you are.
Fortunately those days are gone, and today it seems we have recovered, rediscovered, our roots and our traditions. And we see young people in the churches. We see young people loving God, entering the church with a new outlook, a new perspective. They may have their difficulties, their problems, their falls, and their weaknesses like all of us. But they listen for the love of God. And this is what we must tell our children, my brethren. To learn to love God. When they love God, then is revealed within the experience of the love of God. Then they learn and obtain a strong spiritual antibody within themselves, which is a counterweight to the weight of sin. And with this, if they are wounded by sin, they will have the presence of the love of Christ to comfort their hearts. They know they cannot be saved by their own power, they will not be saved by their own outlooks, but with the love of God, the compassion of God, the mercy of God, and the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for all of us.
If we talk about education in the Church today, we are talking exactly about this initiation, this directive - Help people to love God.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos