I have noticed (and discussed) with Orthodox college students what seems to me to be their inability to flirt. Indeed at times, they seem positively ignorance of flirting. God love them, they know how to be brothers and sisters (a good thing) but they can’t flirt.
Many young men and women are in a similar situation, They know how to have sex but know nothing of romance. They don’t know how to express that they find the other person attractive and desirable without then moving to establish a sexual encounter. The consequence of this is that their relationships with each other are predatory with each young person play simultaneously the role of victim and predator.
In a recent post on Catholic scholar Anthony Esolen (Marriage Doesn’t Just Happen), offers a diagnosis and prescription for Catholic youth that is equally applicable to the Orthodox Church as well.
Where can our young people go to have innocent fun, not just alongside the other sex, but specifically for mingling with them, meeting them, flirting with them, searching for one of them to love? Where are we nudging them gently along toward marriage and the sweetness of that life?
He goes on to observe that again and again we ask
“What can we do to keep our youth in the Church?” And their attempts haven’t worked, because they have viewed young people as consumers of a churchly product, rather than as boys and girls, young men and young women, with obvious natures and needs.
God love us and God forgive us!
There are times when it seems we’ve given over the life of the Church to scholars (real though mostly wannabe) who want to have learned discussions about “Holy Tradition.” While theology, Church history, liturgy and the rest of what is taught in seminary is important, it is all secondary. It is at the service of helping future clergy and lay leaders in their vocation to help others live life in Christ.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten that the Christian life isn’t an escape from life into the rarefied realm of academic theology but, as the fathers remind us, about being “fully alive.” This is why Esolen calls
…upon every parish in the United States to do the sweet and simple and ordinary things. Not everybody can speak learnedly about church architecture. Not everybody wants to hear about that. Not everybody can speak learnedly about grace and free will. Not everybody wants to hear about that. But everybody can learn to sing, everybody can learn to dance, everybody can watch a good movie, everybody likes a picnic, or a hike, or a trip to the beach, or a goofy time at the bowling alley, or a softball game, or an ice cream social, or coffee and tea and doughnuts. It is not good for the man to be alone—or the woman!
From my own experience working with parishes in transition and clergy in crisis, I’ve come to appreciate how important it is to focus on “the sweet and simple and ordinary things.” I’ve also come to understand how hard that can be to do this when clergy don’t have the proper formation–spiritual and human.
We need to help young (and not just young) people learn to navigate the ordinary aspects of life not the demands of a doctoral seminar. To do this, however, means we need to embrace ordinary life and see in it the epiphany of God’s saving and deifying grace.
As Esolen “Sometimes our duties are difficult or dangerous. Not this time! So then, what is our excuse?” Given the facts on the ground, given the damage that has been done to generations of men and women, I suspect what Esolen is calling for is harder than he imagines.
But it is no less important because it is hard. In fact, it is important because it is hard.