AND THINK OF ENGLAND!
by Deacon Vassilios Papavassiliou
According to statistics, Orthodoxy is one of the two fastest growing Christian denominations in the UK,
and the only
growing episcopal one. Despite all our attempts to keep Orthodoxy the UK's 'best kept secret', the Spirit of God is blowing in places where, it seems, we prefer it would not. Sooner or later, and I think it will be sooner, we will find ourselves in a situation where we are going to have to rise to very different challenges to the ones we are experiencing at this present time and, moreover, the present challenges will become ever more acute and pressing. Although it has been claimed that
"the Orthodox Church has always set her face against proselytism", we are going to have to face the fact that
we cannot stop the Holy Spirit proselytising. All this is happening at a time when the youth belonging nominally to the Greek Orthodox Church in these lands are displaying a minimal interest in Church life. When it comes to our children, we spend far too much time
using the Church to hellenise them, and next to no time giving them
Christian instruction and spiritual experience. If anything, what we teach them of Orthodoxy is little more than old Cypriot customs and superstitions. Having identified Orthodoxy exclusively with 'the Motherland' or, perhaps more accurately, the 'Mothervillage', 'the God of our Fathers' has become more 'the God of our grandmothers'.
Sadly, for many of us, Orthodox life consists of only three services: baptisms; weddings; funerals. The young 'cradle Orthodox' are by no means the only ones who see the Church merely as an institution that exists only to solemnise our 'hatches, matches and dis-patches'. It seems this is the "tradition" that the children are inheriting from their parents. This 'bare minimum' approach: attendance; special occasions; communion three or four times a year, seems to have become a tradition for which the first and second generation Greek Cypriots are even willing to fight. Those who enter the Church or holy orders with enthusiasm are therefore often opposed by their fellow Orthodox who wish their parish to remain as true to their memory of the church in the Motherland as possible.
Could it be that the problem is, back in the village in Cyprus, their experience in church never surpassed this 'bare minimum'? Either way, it is hardly appropriate to apply the life of a village parish in Cyprus 50 years ago to parishes in
London in the
century. If the Tradition of the
Church is the life which the Cypriot refugees were forced to leave behind, then Tradition is dead.
No wonder there is little interest in passing the Tradition on to others in this country.
In these circumstances, how can we begin to reach the young, inactive Members of our Church? Why is it that, while more and more converts are embracing Orthodoxy with enthusiasm, more and more Orthodox are known to our Church only by the names written in our baptismal records? The onus falls on the clergy to make some sort
with the youth. But how is this close encounter of the third gen- eration to take place? The clergy can no longer expect others to take the first step. The clergy have to realise that their ministry is not confined to the walls of the church building. The clergy have to be seen outside of their own environment. But when the youth do enter the cleric's 'territory' (for
baptism or funeral, or for Easter), the clergy need to respond. If the services are held as they usually are as though the young people are not there -a minimal impact will be made on the hearts and minds of our young people. It is curious that when young people are present at weddings, baptisms and funerals, the clergy tend to make every effort to hold a large part of the service in English, yet they are often unwilling to do so at Easter, when per- haps the most number of young Orthodox will be present in church. Furthermore, the clergy often make the effort to speak or give a sermon in English at weddings, baptisms and funerals, but never on Easter or on the feast of a popular saint when many young people may be celebrating their name day, or at any other time. A few words may be added in English if the local mayor is present, but God forbid that English should be uttered for the benefit of our own people! Perhaps it is no wonder that people come to church only when it is a matter of life and death. Those are the only times we speak to them in
their first language and when they can understand something of the services. If we do make an impression on such occasions, maybe they do come back, but we, either unaware of their presence or unwilling to respond to them, make no effort to speak to them through a sermon, through the use of English in the service, or by talking to them at the end of the service. What word of inspiration or friendship will they go home with? What act of kindness or what enjoyable conversation will linger in their memory, making them wish to come back? They leave disappointed, waiting for the next wedding, baptism or funeral for some sort of pastoral spiritual experience.
Deacon Vassilios Papavassiliou
First appeared on ΟΡΘΟΔΟΞΟΣ ΚΗΡΥΞ (ORTHODOX
HERALD) January-February 2006. Official publication of the Archdiocese
of Thyateira and Great Britain.