Orthodox America

  Youth: A Crises of Character

Society is corrupted precisely through the want of Christian education. -- St. John of Kronstadt

    Orthodox parents trying to steer their children safely through the moral chaos of today's world may be encouraged by increasing signs of a shared concern. From the Wall Street Journal to Reader's Digest, voices are calling for a halt to the moral degeneration of our society, whose number one victim are the youth. After reporting yet another horrifying case of juvenile crime, the Washington Post concluded: "The depth of the problem has reached a point where common decency can no longer be described as common. Somewhere, somehow...the traditional value system got disconnected for a disturbing number of America's next generation."

       An enlightened commentary on the subject was made by Senator Dan Coats in a lecture published by Hillsdale College (Imprimis, September 1991). He cites the findings of a commission of educational, political, medical and business leaders who met to examine the problem of American children: "They issued a report called Code Blue..,[which]...made an essential point: the challenge to the health and well being of America's youth are not primarily rooted in illness or economics. Unlike the past, the problem is not childhood disease or unsanitary slums. The most basic cause of suffering, the report concluded, is profound self-destructive behavior and belief. A crisis of character."

      . What brought on this crisis? "Ultimately," Says Senator Coats, "the crisis of character which afflicts our youth has roots in our intellectual culture....We have seen the development of a militant relativism....Stabilizing beliefs have disappeared. What should we expect but moral confusion? 'We laugh at honor,' in C.S. Lewis' words, 'and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.'

       "Second, our pervasive culture has set itself against moral restraint and virtue. Children are witnesses to more than 10,000 murders on television before the age of 18. It should be no surprise when some actually kill. MTV provides an unending diet of seductive ,sexual images. It should be no shock that one in ten teenage girls gets pregnant each year. Rape, aggression and violence are excused or encouraged by some rap music. It should be no wonder that kids caught for rape and murder show no remorse.... Culture has consequences."

       At the root of the problem, says Coats, lies an absence of any "countervailing nourishment for the spirit."

      Churches and families have traditionally been the principal moral educators and character builders of society, but families are disintegrating and the authority of churches in affecting private morality has been overshadowed by the prevailing climate of moral relativism, in which youth are indoctrinated through our secular humanist system of education. Coats points out what frustrates many Orthodox parents: "When schools contradict home-taught morality by preaching relativism and 'value free' decision-making, they can do irreparable damage to young minds. Teaching nothing at all on the moral agenda is preferable to inculcating a rootless relativism.''

      In an effort to reverse the tide, some schools are experimenting with "character-education" programs, which stress values such as honesty, responsibility, respect, dedication, perseverance, self-respect. Former Secretary of Education, William Bennett, is among those recommending that children be exposed more to "the moral imagination embodied in great literature": Crime and Punishment, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord Jim... works which expose the workings of moral reasoning, the consequences of sin, the necessity of virtue. However, a real, lasting solution can only be built on an absolute value system.

      The modern Greek Orthodox philosopher Konstantinos Georgoulis emphasizes the need of ethics being brought into essential relationship with t Christian faith. "Religious upbringing must strengthened not only in schools, but also outside the schools." .The failure to do this "has resulted barbarization and bestialization." The first place our orientation in life must be given to God. We must not forget, says Georgoulis, the words of the Russian poet Pushkin: "Whoever gives to God the second place gives Him no place at all." (Cavarnos New Library, Vol. II; IBMGS 1992)

       Helpful advice to parents on the subject is given in the following short essay by Bishop Gregory (Grabbe).



Parents desiring to give their children a proper Orthodox upbringing many times feel hampered by the surrounding environment, particularly in schools. This is only natural, for we live in a not Orthodox society and our children have teachers trained in principles foreign to Orthodoxy. Their entire world view is different from ours, and they often approach the education of children under the strong influence of the ideas of Freud and other psychoanalysts. This type of world view is quite obtrusive and rarely tolerates contradiction.

What can parents do in such cases?

      First, it is necessary from early childhood t. impress upon children the fact that as children of the Orthodox Church they belong to a special and unique organism, which has its own laws and it: own world view, which are in many ways foreign to what prevails in the society around them. Even before beginning school, children should be made aware of this and know that loyalty to the state must in no wise infringe on their religious views and their personal being. Parents must accustom them to the idea that they need not fear or be ashamed because of this, in order that when they start school they be prepared and brought up to revere the podvig of confession. Then it will be easier for them to stand up to the challenge of the world view foreign to Orthodoxy.

       If such attacks are too strong, parents can go to the school and insist on respect for certain basic principles pertaining to our faith.

       At the same time, it is of course vitally important that parents enter more deeply into the lives of their children, encouraging them to relate what goes on in school and explaining any questions that arise, from an Orthodox perspective.

      This is far from easy, but love, faith and constant attention, joined with prayer will let parents know how best to influence children in order to protect them from harmful influences.

      One must be careful, however, that in nurturing a consciousness of belonging to a special church organism, to a special culture, not to rouse feelings of superiority, of scorn or judgment of others. Such consciousness must be defined not in these terms but on the basis of love and devotion to the richness of one's Church.

      These feelings, this consciousness is transmitted to children not so much by teaching, but through the home environment, whether or not it rests on an Orthodox foundation, with all this entails. The atmosphere that parents create in the home--this is what is of primary importance. /.../

      Nowadays especially, parents must make every effort to saturate their children with noble thoughts and feelings at a young pre-school age, so that they would thereby be prepared to deal with the different influences which will come from teachers and peers. This requires even more vigilance on the part of parents, and here especially they must be aware of how important it is for children to work on themselves and on their spiritual formation.

      Children are like plants that God entrusts to their parents--the gardeners. If the parents graft onto them healthy shoots of churchliness, if they take care to see that they grow in the good soil of a Christian family and Orthodox environment, if they are careful to uproot weeds capable of choking everything good, and will water them with the living water of the word of God--then they will fulfill their responsibility before God and the Church and will gain for themselves comfort and joy.

      If, however, on account of their negligence, the small plant entrusted to them grows up into a barren fig tree, the parents have no one to blame but themselves. Then they will hear the terrible word of God which Prophet Samuel had to deliver to the priest Eli for neglecting his sons' upbringing: I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever (1 Samuel 3:1314, KJV).

(Translated from Blagovest, a newsletter of the San Francisco cathedral parish Joy of All Who Sorrow, February 1992)


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