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Youth: School, Life and Spirituality

Interview with St. Andrew's College Dean of Theology, Very Rev. Archpriest Roman Bozyk

Part one (originally published in the September 2012 issue of Visnyk/Herald)

Visnyk: Glory to Jesus Christ! Fr. Roman, thank you for participating in this interview. Can you comment on the challenges that our Ukrainian Orthodox youth face in our increasingly secularized world today as they try to develop a spiritual life.
Fr. Roman: There are many challenges in this world, especially for youth. On a superficial level, the world is full of things to do. So, if going to church or being active in a parish is added to that, very often, it is going to lose out. We are not really living in a place where people are purposely taken away from Church like in the former Soviet Union, but just in practical terms, that is what happens. For example, if you look at North America, probably 95% of marathons are run at 8 o'clock on Sunday morning. There is no way you can be a good solid hockey player without playing on Sunday mornings. So, that is unfortunate. Some may have to choose between being a professional hockey player and being a good altar boy. This is why, when we do have altar boys, we have to be very thankful for it.

The other level is, of course, deeper. This level is a challenge because the world affects how we think. It is not something that is new to just today. There were challenges all through history, but in the 21st century, there are challenges now which make it difficult both from a religious point of view and a comparative religious point of view. There is the misconception that science triumphs everything. There are still constant influences that say that only reason is important—not religion, not spirituality. So, if you cannot prove something scientifically, then it cannot possibly be true. Then, religion cannot be that important to us anymore. Then, we think that if we have to study something, we might as well study something that others will respect us for. Also, we will make lots of money and we will have a good life. If you are going to spend time preparing for a life, it is much more lucrative to be come a computer programmer than a priest. It is much more respected now to become a lawyer than be a priest, and so, in that way, there are a lot of other options. What happens is that many fall away, many become confused, but the ones who actually do choose this life, actually deserve a lot of respect and support because they are doing something very important in a society that does not value it anymore.

Visnyk: Can you give us a few practical examples of ways to overcome these challenges?
Fr. Roman: You have to find commitment and that is not always easy because, again, there are so many things that you could commit to, so you have to choose. Unfortunately, people see this as some kind of negative thing when you commit. There are a lot of choices that people can make and some of them clearly are not good. The thing is that apathy is easy in a modern sense. In the modern day, it is really much easier not to worry about stuff. Many people do make the right choices, but nonetheless lack the commitment to carry them out. Influences from the outside include not only those from the big bad world, but also influences that come from other students, parishes, priests, and, in general, from what goes on in the Church. All this does have an effect. So, in some ways the question of how to get more theology students should really be how to get more 16 year olds in Church on Sunday. If they are outside of the church at 16, it is hard to make them want to be a leader in the church when they are 18 or 19. That is a real dilemma.

Visnyk: Ukrainian Orthodox youth today—in fact, people of all ages—are struggling with this question: how to be in the world? They still want to have friends and play hockey, but they also want to follow Christ, get in volved in the Church and have a spiritual life. How can they do both?
Fr. Roman: One of the things which is good that is developing and returning to the Orthodox Church is the whole concept of Vespers. Even with working people, now that we have wide open Sunday shopping and we have all sorts of other things, people are going to miss Liturgy. So, if you do have work some Sundays, Saturday Vespers should become a viable opportunity for prayer. Vespers are a good preparation for the Liturgy and cannot replace it but should be a priority, especially when we are not able to be at the Divine Liturgy. One part of the program at St Andrew's College is the Chapel life and what is sometimes called—spiritual development. There is more to spiritual development than just Chapel, but Chapel prayer is a beginning. The Chapel life is important for a number of reasons—one, as it is said, "Great is our God and greatly to be praised." We are created by God and we should simply gather to praise God at appropriate times. Another reason for it is to baptise each day with prayer—to thank God in prayer for the gift of the new day. So, in the secular world where probably people are not going to Vespers as much as they should, or are only going to Sunday Liturgies, and in some places not having a service every Sunday, they miss out on many opportunities to pray and to learn. One of the objectives in our College is to do daily services—from the 15 minute First Hour to a 4 hour Vigil so that students will grow spiritually and, in practical terms, become more in tune with the life of the Church. It is an exercise in trying to get people to rearrange their lives around Christ and Christ's Church, rather than rearranging Church around their lives.

Visnyk: What if someone is considering theology to deepen their spiritual life? Can you tell us what goes into someone deciding to become a theology student, such as at St. Andrew's College today?
Fr. Roman: There was a time when being in theology was like being a rock star, but now people who want to become rich and famous by being a priest should realize that they are in the wrong century. They should have been born 150 years ago. Those who now are getting involved are in many ways much better Theology students. In a way, there is not so much open antagonism to theology students as there used to be in some countries, but still there is not a lot of understanding or support. The ones that are here are each in their own way committed. We used to have 12 full-time and maybe 8-10 parttime students. Now, we have 5-6 fulltime and 15 part-time. It could either be one of two things and is different for each student: one, clearly, so me people are not as committed right away and they want to test it out. Some are also realizing that because of finances and family and all these other things, and the challenges and expenses of the world, that they would like to have secular employment. They are willing to give some time to God and be a parttime student and maybe later be a parttime weekend priest. Now, that is not the ideal, but if he takes time to pray on Sunday and lead a small parish, then that is a good thing. I believe that God always calls enough people for what He wants to be done. If we have a shortage of clergy, it is not because God does not want enough people. It is because for some of the people He has called, He has been knocking, but they have not opened the door.

Visnyk: On this new ecclesiastical year and new school year, what is the take-home message for our UOCC youth as they plunge into a new season of study and activities?
Fr. Roman: We have to deal with the difficulties of this world, but we also have to rejoice. We are told to rejoice always. We are told to pray always. We are told to fast. In the Scriptures one of the things St. Paul says is to rejoice always, not just when it is good to rejoice. You rejoice always. Why? Because every day you wake up, it is a new creation. It is there for you. It is God's gift to you. Now, you can destroy it, or you can ruin it, or ignore it. Or you can make the best of every day. So, we rejoice always. Part of rejoicing is the fact that the Gospel that we preach—in Greek and in Ukrainian Evanhelia— means "the Good News." What Christ has brought us and what we are called to show to one another is the Good News of the Resurrection. And that's what it is all about.

Part two : click here

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