If we really value our youth then it seems to me that we need to orient our service so that we do not simply teach facts about our faith, and stories from the Bible, and do not only make youth into those who are able to participate in religious activities. But we need to be making disciples. Urgently, and earnestly and as the necessary goal of all of our effort towards them. Developing young men and women, youths and children, who experience the Christian life as union with God at every moment, and who understand the meaning and purpose of the Christian spiritual life, not merely the practicalities.
How do we make disciples? It is by responding to their questions and concerns, whatever they are, in a positive and thoughtful and honest manner, without giving simplistic answers. It is by presenting our traditional Orthodox worship and spirituality in a language that is comprehensible. It is by explaining how our way of being Christian actually makes a difference to everyday life, and promoting as the goal of human life truly entering into union with the divine life of God so that we become authentically human, abundantly alive, and that person God created us to be. A disciple is one who lives in a relationship of discovery and personal growth with ones who are able to share their own experience.
We must live out this way of life as examples to our youth. If we ourselves do not live in the unceasing presence of God and in union with the Holy Spirit, how can we present this as the ambition for others. And it is as we ourselves live in union with God and are transformed by grace, that we come to understand God’s perfect and overwhelming love for the youth, and his own desire that they enter into union with him. We cannot share what we have not experienced ourselves, and if our own life is reduced to following religious observances and is not a true participation in the divine life then we have nothing to share. Certainly nothing transforming and transfiguring.
The temptation is always to substitute religious practice for spirituality and discipleship, and to imagine that as long as young men and women, youths and children, are in Church services then they will somehow absorb the Orthodox way. It is much easier to teach people how to act. Much harder to teach others how to be, how to experience life with God in every moment. But it does not work like this, and every young person, every child, must be shown how to be converted to faith in Christ each day, and must be discipled by others so that they also, whatever their age, experience Orthodoxy as the fullness of life in Christ, as the experience of the life of eternity now.
It will not happen by accident. We have to determine that our youth are so valuable that we will put their needs first, and their need, above all, is to be led to enter into union with God by the indwelling Holy Spirit, by those of us older Christians who have already experienced such a transforming union for ourselves. It is that we disciple them honestly and generously, and present our wonderful, blessed, divine spiritual life in language that can be understood and embraced by even the youngest.
Our Lord says to us as he said to his own disciples, Let the children come to me, and do not place obstacles in their way.