Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 21, 2007
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
I want to say a few words about Christian Education today. It is an important subject for all of us to consider. It is not just about teaching children, but of the education of our community as a whole.
The emphasis in churches of all kinds has been towards children. Sunday Schools are mostly about them. Of course this is necessary. We want our children to learn about their faith and, hopefully, to take what they learn and apply it to life whatever they and wherever they go. For centuries there were no Sunday Schools. Christian education was primarily in the home with parents doing the teaching by word and example. But this took place in societies where the Orthodox Church was the center of life to a large degree so that not only the family, but society itself, tended to support what was learned in the home.
That was in the old world. We do not live in such a world. Early in America bishops and priests recognized the need to supplement what was taught in the home and so the example found in protestant churches of classes taught on Sunday mornings became increasingly the norm. The Church still had a great deal of influence in many places with youth associations and parish auxiliaries filling many of the social needs of Orthodox people most of whom were immigrants.
Things have changed. Our children look increasingly to their schools and communities to find their niches in life. The Church cannot compete with schools, community athletic associations, social clubs and other organizations available to our children. We can provide youth activities in parishes, dioceses and on the national level, but most of our childrens' time is spent, no matter what we do, outside of church.
It has become increasingly important that we teach our children more than facts about Church rituals and traditions. It is vital that we teach our children what it means to have a personal and experiential knowledge of God. That is something only the Church can provide. Orthodoxy has within her all the treasures of spiritual wisdom necessary to transform life, to liberate us from the tyranny of sin and death, to nurture within us the peace and happiness that the world cannot offer and cannot take away. Living the Christian life is more than a hope for the future it is the way to make every single moment vibrant, alive and joyful.
More than that, it is both a way to personal liberation and to contribute to the salvation of others. The person filled with divine love cannot help but share it through example and with words when necessary.
Do our children know this? Have they experienced it for themselves? Do they see in us people who walk with the Lord day by day and whose lives have been transformed by divine love and grace? Have they seen in us the face of Christ? Do we practice a living faith? How much time each day do we spend in meditation, contemplation and prayer? Have they watched us give unselfishly for the good of the least of the brethren? Have our children actually seen us doing these things? Do we speak about the Lord, or the Faith, the power of the sacraments, or the benefits of living a spiritual life to them? Do we read the Bible in our homes? Have we taught them that true happiness can never be found apart from spiritual practice? Have they learned from us the path to enlightenment and deification? Do we even know what that path is and can we explain it?
If not, then please know that it is never too late. God is always calling us to ever more deeply into the mysteries of the Faith. The door is always open. God is always teaching and we will always be learning, if we so desire it.
My friends, Christian education is vital for everyone. If we are not actively and consciously growing in our faith, then our faith is dying in us. A parish cannot rise higher than the spiritual aspirations of its people. We want to emphasize parish-wide education. We want to encourage everyone to learn and to grow in the love of Christ. If all of us make this effort then we will see more and more of our children develop a living and dynamic faith. Fewer will be drawn to leave the church when they go off to college. The effect on parish life is dramatic when people practice the Faith in church and in the home with loving hearts and open minds.
Our Sunday School staff does marvelous work with great sacrifice, love and dedication. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the people who give so much to try and make a difference in the lives of our children. Of course, four hours a month are hardly enough. The lessons learned on Sunday mornings must be repeated and confirmed in the home. Parents, the more you participate, the more you learn and grow with your children, the greater the results will be.
The greatest educational tool we have for everyone, young and old, is the Divine Liturgy. This is why we insist that children attend the Liturgy with their families. We all need to take the time to study, explore and share in its infinite riches. I hope to begin a special project soon to open our eyes to the meaning and conscious experience of the Divine Liturgy that will culminate in the celebration of one of the Church's most ancient and beautiful liturgies, that of St. James of Jerusalem. There is no more powerful prayer than when we are consciously gathered together around the Holy Table to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the "medicine of immortality".
Brothers and sisters, the evidence of God's presence among us is unquestionable. To come here and worship the Lord in peace with such a warm and loving congregation is the greatest of all joys. We are on a journey together, an ascension from glory to glory that demands little more than the resolve to give ourselves ever more fully to God. There is so much more, my friends, so much more to learn, so much more to do, so much more to come. Let us dedicate ourselves to Christian education in all aspects and for all our people so that we can see and experience the glory of God even more in our lives.