Train up a child in the way that he should go…

The well-known writer and Cistercian monastic, Fr. Thomas Merton, once wrote that the beginning of the new school year is a time when anything seems possible. The smell of new text books and school supplies is a harbinger of a shift in the season when the long and luxurious days of summer give way to the reemergence of the more structured rhythm of weekly school activities. And now that Presbytera and I no longer have any children in high school we miss the happy chaos and the energy of the academic environment. (A cautionary note is in order to young parents; these hectic school days will be over far too quickly and you will miss them when they’re gone!)

And as the seasons shift into the late summer and autumn so too our focus shifts in our parish life as the new Church Year begins in September. Typically, a Divine Liturgy is celebrated in our parishes with the Doxology of the first day of the year, this practice stemming from Byzantine times and serving to remind us of the consecration of time itself in the bosom of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Perhaps the most obvious manifestation of this seasonal shift is the focus given to parish youth ministries.

For a smaller parish, we are blessed by God to have young families and children sufficient to make a full panoply of ministerial offerings possible. Our Sunday School ministry kicked off this month with separate classes for our elementary, middle, and high school aged students. This is an essential mechanism whereby the Orthodox Faith being taught and modeled in the the home is reinforced by our dedicated core of religious educators. I say “reinforced” since no Sunday School, no matter how effective in its own right, can supplant the teaching and modeling that must occur in the home! We endeavor to allocate a thirty minutes of classroom instruction for our little ones and will supplement these efforts throughout the school year with such ancillary events as teaching liturgies and Vacation Church School in the summer.

This month also saw our inaugural GOYA (Greek Orthodox Youth of America) meeting with a wonderful turnout of our middle and high school students! In addition to our monthly GOYA meeting we have planned such fun events as a Diabetes Association Walk-a-thon, a canned food scavenger hunt before Thanksgiving, a Giving Tree toy drive for disadvantaged children, and a Christmas party! Looking into the next year, we are anticipating such formational events as an area-wide GOYA winter retreat in Flagstaff with our brothers and sisters in Christ in the sister parishes in the valley, and, of course, GOYA summer camp right here in Prescott next June!

The synodal ministry Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) is another essential ministry that serves to support our Orthodox college students across the country at this most-important time of personal discovery and development! The sad and broken model of the high school graduate leaving the door of the Church behind as he or she enters the college years is being consistently corrected thanks to this beautiful nationwide Orthodox youth ministry! We had the joy of hosting our area college-aged parishioners at our home for an OCF kick-off barbeque this week as we planned our monthly meetings and looked ahead at the many opportunities OCF provides for meaningful engagement. The OCF “Real Break” ministry provides our students the opportunity during Spring Break to perform outreach and service projects in such places as Houston, New Orleans, San Francisco, Guatemala, El Salvador, Romania, Greece, and Constantinople!

And, very soon, we will begin scheduling JOY (Junior Orthodox Youth) events for our elementary-aged students! Why this intensity of focus on youth ministry? Simply put, it is our sacred duty as parents, grandparents, god-parents, interested adults and clergymen to “train up our children in the way they should go” because our salvation depends upon keeping this sacred trust! The delusional idea of raising a child in a spiritual and moral vacuum in the vain hope that he or she will decide later in life what to believe is to consign them to a spiritual desert of disbelief in their adult years. Study after study demonstrates that belief in God must be inculcated in and lived out and modeled for our young ones from their earliest memories. One longitudinal study conducted over 20 years in Sweden concluded that the father’s regular attendance is THE determining factor in whether or not a child will embrace faith as an adult.

With your prayers, your engagement, and your consistent support, we will work tirelessly at St. George to broaden and expand our youth ministry offerings! And beyond the things we do for for children, it is essential that we do things with our children! Weaving them into the fabric of the parish and finding essential tasks for them to discharge is also essential in order for them to take their own place in the parish as fully-fledged and not as “junior” members of the Body of Christ! So anticipate that we will explore every avenue to include our youth in the life of our parish, as readers, greeters, acolytes, and teachers.

If you would like to join us to become a part of this vital ministry please contact Fr. Apostolos! “Many hands make for light work” and we have much work to do!

In Christ,

Fr. Apostolos Hill

Recommended link: The Upbringing of Children According to the Holy Fathers