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What we can do


    More specifically, what can we do to gain this awareness, this realization, and how can we make it fruitful in our lives? I will try to answer this question in two parts: first, concerning our awareness of the world around us, which as never before in the history of Christianity has become our conscious enemy; and second, concerning our awareness of Orthodoxy, which, I am afraid, most of us known much lass than we should, much less than we have to know if we wish to keep it.
First, since whether we wish it or not we are in the world (and its effects are felt strongly even in a remote place like our monastery here), we must face it and its temptations squarely and realistically, but without giving in to it; in particular, we must prepare our young people for the temptations facing them, and is it were inoculate them against these temptations. We must be aware that the world around us seldom helps and almost always hinders the upbringing of the child in the true Orthodox spirit. We must be ready every day to answer the influence of the world by the principles of a sound Christian upbringing.
    This means that what a child learns at school must constantly be checked and corrected at home. We cannot assume that something he is going to learn at school is simply something that is profitable or secular and has nothing to do with his Orthodox upbringing. He may be taught useful skills and facts (although many schools in America today are failing miserably even at this; many school teachers tell us that all they can do is keep the children in god order in class without even teaching them anything), but even if he gets this much, he is also taught many wrong attitudes and philosophies. A child's basic attitude towards and appreciation of literature, music, history, art, philosophy, even science, and of course life and religion—must come first of al not from school, for the school will give you all this mixed up with modern philosophy; it must come first from the home and Church, or else he is bound to be miseducated in today's world, where public education is at best agnostic, and at worst, openly atheistic or anti-religious. Of course, in the Soviet Union all this is forced upon the child, with no religion whatsoever and an active program of making the child an atheist.
    Parents must now exactly what is being taught their children in education courses, which are almost universal today in American schools, and correct it at home, not only by a frank attitude to this subject (especially between fathers and sons—a very rare thing in American society), but also by a clear setting forth of the moral aspect of it which is totally absent in public education.
    Parents must know just what kind of music their children are listening to, what is in the movies they see (listening and seeing together with them when necessary), what kind of language they are exposed to and what kind of language they use, and give the Christian attitude to all this.
    Television—in households where there is not enough courage to throw it out the window—must be strictly controlled and supervised to avoid the poisonous effects of this machine which has become the leading educator of anti-Christian attitudes and ideas in the home itself, especially to the young.
    I speak about the raising of children because this is where the world first strikes its blows at Orthodox Christians and forms them in its image; once wrong attitudes have been formed in a child, the task of giving him a Christian education becomes doubly difficult.
    But it is not only children, it is all of us, who are facing the world which is trying to form us in anti-Christianity, by means of schools, television, movies, popular music, and all the other influences that pound in upon us, most of all in the big cities. We have to be aware that what is being pounded in upon us is all of one piece; it has a certain rhythm, a certain message to give us, this message of self-worship, of relaxing, of letting go, of enjoying yourself, of giving up any thought of the other world, in various forms, whether in music, or in movies, television, or what is being taught in schools, the way subjects are emphasized, the way the background is given, and everything else; there is one particular thing which is being given to us. It is actually an education in atheism. We have to fight back by knowing just what the world is trying to do to us, and by formulating and communicating our Orthodox Christian response to it.
    Frankly, from observing the way Orthodox families in today's world live and pass on their Orthodoxy, it would seem that this battle is more often lost than won. The percentage of Orthodox Christians who retain their Orthodox identity intact and are not changed into the image of today's world, is small indeed.
    Still, it is not necessary to view the world around us as all bad. In fact, for our survival as Orthodox Christians we have to be smart enough to use whatever is positive in the world for our own benefit. Here I will go into a few points where we can use something in the world which seems to have nothing to do directly with Orthodoxy in order to formulate our Orthodox world-view.
    The child who has been exposed from his earliest years to good classical music, and has seen his soul being developed by it, will not be nearly as tempted by the crude rhythm and message of rock and other contemporary forms of pseudo-music as someone who has grown up without a musical education. Such a musical education, as several of the Optina elders have said, refines the soul and prepares it for the reception of spiritual impressions.
    The child who has been educated in good literature, drama, and poetry and has felt their effect in his own soul—that is, has really enjoyed them—will not easily become an addict of the contemporary movies and television programs and cheap novels that devastate the soul and take it away from the Christian path.
    The child who has learned to see beauty in classical painting and sculpture will not easily be drawn into the perversity of contemporary art or be attracted by the garish products of modern advertising and pornography.
    The child who knows something of the history of the world, especially in Christian times, and how other people have lived and thought, what mistakes and pitfalls people have fallen into by departing from God and His commandments, and what glorious and influential lives they have lived when they were faithful to Him—will be discerning about the life and philosophy of our own times and will not be inclined to follow the first new philosophy or way of life he encounters. One of the basic problems facing the education of children today is that in the schools they are no longer given a sense of history. It is a dangerous and fatal thing to deprive a child of a sense of history. It means that he has no ability to take examples from the people who lived in the past. And actually, history constantly repeats itself. Once you see that, it becomes interesting how people have answered problems, how there have been people who have gone against God and what results came from that, and how people changed their lives and became exceptions and gave an example which is lived down to our own times. This sense of history is a very important thing which should be communicated to children.
    In general, the person who is well acquainted with the best products of secular culture—which in the West almost always has definite religious and Christian overtones—has a much better chance of leading a normal, fruitful Orthodox life than someone who knows only the popular culture of today. One who is converted to Orthodoxy straight from "rock" culture, and in general anyone who thinks he can combine Orthodoxy with that kind of culture—has much suffering to go through and a difficult road in life before he can become a truly serious Orthodox Christian who is capable of handing on his faith to others. Without this suffering, without this awareness, Orthodox parents will raise their children to be devoured by the contemporary world. The world's best culture, properly received, refines and develops the soul; today's popular culture cripples and deforms the soul and hinders it from having a full and normal response to the message of Orthodoxy.
    Therefore, in our battle against the spirit of this world, we can use the best things the world has to offer in order to go beyond them; everything good in the world, if we are only wise enough to see it, points to God, and to Orthodoxy, and we have to make use of it.

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