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The Spiritual Gifts of Youth

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  • byakimov@csc.com.au
    The Spiritual Gifts of Youth A talk delivered by Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky on Sept. 5, 1899, to students entering the Kazan Theological Academy.   A
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 3, 2003
      The Spiritual Gifts of Youth

      A talk delivered by Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky on Sept. 5, 1899, to
      students entering the Kazan Theological Academy.

       "A certain householder planted a vineyard and let it out to husbandmen,
      and went into  a far country..." (Matt. 21:33)

           Your first thought upon beginning the advanced course of theological
      study should concern not your own well-being but the welfare of that
      vineyard which is entrusted by the husbandman to the servants of the Word.
      We have been hired to do His work. When the time of the fruit draws near,
      He will ask us for it; if we are found to be careless workers we shall be
      miserably destroyed and He will let out His vineyard unto other husbandmen.
      This must be our first consideration, brethren, upon entering the walls of
      this academy; your life no longer belongs to you; from henceforth you must
      labor and live for the mighty work of God,

          Now is this the kind of exhortation anticipated by young people who
      have at last attained the coveted title of "student"[1] after ten years of
      obedience and a supervised life of younger years spent under the watchful
      eye of parents and teachers? Your picture of student life, of the academy,
      of the city of Kazan, is colored perhaps with visions of freedom, of having
      fun, of pursuing a bold and critical examination of ancient traditions. And
      very likely some of you young people are now thinking to yourselves: "You
      greet us with words about ascetic struggle, about our spiritual calling.
      What are we to understand by these words if not restraints, solitude,
      sitting over boring old books, even fasting and prostrations? We've seen
      enough of all that in seminary and at school. Let us have at least these
      next four years to give ourselves over to the prerogatives of youth.
      Perhaps in our own good time we shall come to the altar with drawn and
      somber faces and dedicate the remainder of outlives to ascetic labors. But
      for now, do not deprive us of our youth; let us be young, let us have our
      worldly ways and enjoy this period between our strict seminary years and
      the difficult life which lies ahead of us. Don't cloud our entrance into
      the academy with reminders of our responsibilities, of our fealty to the
      Church and to the spiritual needs of the people. Of course, these reminders
      are just and the demands are lawful. But are those very different
      inclinations of a young heart--which so quickly fill it when it breaks away
      from its long confinement and enters the relative freedom of student
      life--so unnatural and unlawful?"

          And so. my dear young friend, are you afraid of ascetic struggle,
      afraid of deprivations and restraints? But I have not yet spoken to you of
      such things; and if I should begin to speak of them. I would not refer to
      them as the goal of life, but only as a means of attaining that which is
      holy, exalted and eternally satisfying. Look at those called by God and by
      nature to give physical birth, and you will be ashamed of your
      faintheartedness by comparison. Think of a young woman, liberated from the
      obediences of maidenhood and the scrutiny of her parents, who becomes the
      wife of a wealthy baron. There opens before her the prospect of a brilliant
      social life and freedom, but she prepares herself to be a mother. And if
      she is a worthy member of the family of man, her thoughts and feelings are
      fixed upon her children. She is indifferent to worldly enticements and does
      not grieve that in place of banquets, balls, and crowds of admirers she has
      to become a nursemaid, to wash diapers and to constantly be anxious for the
      welfare of her child--who may be sickly or abnormal. All these deprivations
      are compensated by a joyful awareness that she is giving her life to a
      beloved being, that she is living not for herself but for another.[2]

          And to you, beloved students of the highest knowledge of the divine and
      saving Truth, to you is now entrusted not the life of a single child, but
      the spiritual nourishment, the spiritual preservation, the spiritual life
      of a society, of a people, and of nations. In the face of such a lofty and
      absorbing task, is there any place for self-love, self-pity, laziness,
      sensual indulgence? Of course, it is not these base feelings which filled
      you with misgivings upon hearing my words. You r sense of regret concerned
      much higher, more refined gifts of youth: an enthusiasm for ideas, the
      happiness of friendships, a ready acquaintance with the life of society...
      I do not argue that these are wonderful gifts. And you should know that the
      way of Christ does not exclude anything which is genuinely beautiful and
      exalted, and does not prohibit it to His followers. "All that the Father
      giveth Me shall come to Me" (John 6:37), said the Lord, and only that which
      is foul and base is foreign to His disciples. Therefore, do not imagine
      that we want to deprive you of the best gifts of your youth; on the
      contrary, we are offering you the possibility of using these gifts to far
      greater advantage than happens otherwise, so that you can bring a more
      abundant harvest to the Owner of the vineyard.

          What is youth in its relation to spiritual life? Through observation we
      have come to recognize three periods in a man's life when the Lord shows
      particular attention to the soul, showering it with gifts and effecting its
      renewal. This happens first of all in the childhood years which our Saviour
      glorified in saying "Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven." At this age a human
      being first comes to an awareness of those lofty qualities in his nature
      which distinguish him from the world of dumb animals; feelings of love,
      compassion and truthfulness are aroused within that God created purity and
      beauty of soul with which a man comes into the world. A second and more
      refined renewal of spiritual life occurs in the years of youth, when a
      person's soul, freed from the guidance first of parents and then of
      teachers, steps into life as a more or less independent being: it steps
      into life a second time as it were. In this period of youth the exalted
      soul is keenly aware of the God-created beauty of nature; it envisions the
      possibility of a holy, ideal life on earth; it is drawn irresistibly to
      acts of love and self-sacrifice... There is a third renewal of the spirit
      and mind which comes to those who for a time abandoned their high calling
      but who never entirely lost the image of God. This renewal occurs when
      sickness or misfortune rouses the awareness of their approaching death and
      forces them to shake from their soul the deceit of sensuality and pride,
      those delusions which they exchanged for the holy add pure poetry of youth.
      This is that rebirth of wisdom and repentance experienced by some of the
      best representatives of our secular society who went astray in their youth
      but who regained this path of truth in their latter years. May the Lord not
      deprive you, my dear listeners, of experiencing at least this penitential
      rebirth, although it lacks the strength and integrity which enrich those
      followers of Christ who submitted themselves to His yoke while still in
      their youth, One of the ancient prophets has well said:

      It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. (Lam. 3:27)

           Yes, these are blessed, for they enriched their spirit and their
      activity with those irreplaceable and never to be recaptured gifts with
      which God adorns the period of youth and through which every youth can--if
      he so desires--conquer those temptations of sensuality and self-love so
      commonly encountered at this stage of life, Therefore, let us now define
      more precisely the nature of these gifts and how they must be utilized in
      serving God and in refining one's own spirit.

      The Youthful Ideal

            A young person's soul possesses an abundance of empathy, a need to
      love. Left to the natural course of a spoiled life, this love usually turns
      either into sexual passion or into an aimless, romantic fantasy which later
      resolves into bitter disillusionment. But if a soul filled with an
      abundance of empathy is seized by zeal for God's truth, God's
      righteousness, then it will turn with love toward others similarly chosen
      by God's Providence, and here, within this warm fellowship, in the lively
      exchange of ideas and inner reflection, he will gain an immeasurably richer
      source of joy and fullness of life than that soul which is given over to
      carnal love. These comradely discussions concerning the common aims of
      life, these mutually invigorating conversations on matters of philosophy
      and ethics, bring one to forget about food and rest; they expand the heart
      and fill the soul to such an extent that in the student's own awareness
      they give his perfectly ordinary (an outside observer would say even
      boring) surroundings an aura of rare beauty and poetry .... Of course,
      seekers of sensual and material pleasures cannot understand this, but life
      itself offers this lesson. Ask older people: what memories make them feel
      young at heart, inspire them to undertake some podvig or help them to
      oppose temptation? The answer lies in memories of friendships forged in
      student life, of inspired plans for working to improve society, of
      heartfelt discussions--naive perhaps but truly holy--in twilight hours or
      at night in the corridors of the academy or along the pathways of the
      academy grounds. And if such people also have memories of romantic
      conquests and love affairs which make such prey of reckless youth, as a
      person grows older such memories become burdensome and shameful, a fact
      well expressed by our national poet:

      The fading diversions of youthful folly
      Like a dim and drunken stupor
      rest heavily upon me;
      The regret in my heart over days gone by,
      Like wine, grows stronger with time.

      The same thinker would consider him self happy indeed if in place of these
      burdensome memories he had endowed his soul with memories of pure and
      wholesome friendships of youth. What a great advantage it would be to the
      work of God and the building of Christ's Church if from their youth its
      builders had delighted themselves in true friends, united in mind and heart
      in the study and mutual elucidation of God's truth, in a sharing dedication
      of their lives to the service of Christ.

           And here youth has all the more to gain. If in the earthly realm it is
      able to take such pleasure in groundless and unrealizable fantasies, then
      in the realm of spiritual life-where sincere desire has a corresponding
      reality--where, as Christ said, there is not that grievous distinction
      between the poetic ideal and prosaic reality, where among two or three
      gathered together in the name of the Lord, Christ Himself is present--this
      youth is truly one continuous celebration, a stranger to vanity and free
      from those tormenting pangs of conscience and from that hopeless
      despondency and premature aging which is the fate of all seekers of sensual

       A Love of Knowledge

            Enough has been said for now about this first characteristic of
      youth. Another gift, no less seductive for that youth who chooses the wrong
      path in life but likewise no less beneficial for the lover of truth--is
      defined by a vibrant love of knowledge and a pressing search for an
      integral and coherent world view, a search which is so much a part of the
      adolescent years. May God preserve us from leaving you in this state of
      curiosity. True, for many it resolves itself in a temporary cooling of
      faith, and in those educated in secular schools--even in a loss of faith.
      But this is not because our divine truth fears the light, fears examination
      and the test of reason. No, it happens in those sad, though unfortunately
      not rare cases when, through the corrupting influence of self-love and
      self-will, a soul has been predisposed towards seeking out means of easing
      the conscience and freeing itself from all moral obligations. But if this
      same youthful curiosity and thirst for knowledge is pure and sincere, if it
      does not close its ears to the inner voice of conscience and the promptings
      of his moral awareness, then that youthful boldness and independence of
      thought become not a hindrance for our young philosopher-theologian but, on
      the contrary, a decided advantage often lacking in an older scholar who has
      not taken care to preserve his mind pure and free of prejudice.

          One often finds among older people a tendency to be one-sided, to be
      conditioned by former errors which they don't wish to admit, or by personal
      animosity or friendship with advocates of some particular point of view, or
      simply by mental laziness .... A young person's thinking which is in the
      process of unfolding is free from this. If it remains cautious and
      preserved from high-mindedness it can always discover new, unnoticed
      aspects of a subject, and discover those mistakes which have become so
      conventional as to be accepted.

           But perhaps some of you might think: what you are saying justifiably
      applies to every other branch of learning, but not to theology. What sort
      of work is trere for independent thinking in this area where everything is
      already laid out, where one is left simply to memorize that which is handed
      down in generally accepted forms?

           Unfortunately, this kind of talk is often heard in our academies, But
      I assure you that, quite the contrary, no branch of knowledge is in greater
      need of independent, creative minds than theology .... Knowledgeable people
      are conscious of the persistent demand on the part of unbelievers and
      sectarians for theology to define the ethical value of our dogmatic beliefs
      and our canonical and ritual ordinances, for theology to give evidence of
      the link between the Creed and Christ's Sermon on the Mount, for it to
      demonstrate not only the lawfulness and truthfulness but the holiness of
      all we believe and of the order governing our spiritual lives,

           This is a lofty and inspiring task; it is also extremely difficult and
      has scarcely been broached by academic inquiry. So do not imagine that your
      intellectual energy, your desire for independent study, your hope to
      articulate something new--will not find worthy application in the field of

          And do you know what significance theological truth has for life today?
      It is immeasurably greater than in former times, at least with respect to
      church life in this country. Thirty years ago or more the theologian worked
      for a small circle of colleagues; for the majority of people, even among
      the educated ranks of society, his works were a luxury--not without
      benefit, of course, but something which was not deemed crucial to spiritual
      life. This is because the moral consciousness of society and obedience to
      the Church at that time were guarded primarily by the active asceticism of
      its spiritual leaders-those Christian heroes whose lives were an
      incarnation and expression Of the beauty and truth of God's revelation, who
      could say together with the divine Paul: "Be ye followers of me, even as I
      also am of Christ" (I Cor. 11:1)...

          Our times Suffer from a deficiency of such spiritual luminaries, and
      today the attracting power of Christianity--at least in Russian and
      European society--is concentrated in Christian teaching--its truth, wisdom,
      holiness and beauty. For this reason the work of a Christian pastor in
      relation to those of little faith or a weakly believing or unbelieving
      society is the work of a theologian educator. And that theologian who is
      able to explain the moral dimensions of Christian beliefs and precepts, and
      to demonstrate the vanity and deception of the moral foundations of
      opposing system s of thought, is more highly esteemed and more beloved in
      the eyes of society than anyone who has attained success in the secular

          We have been speaking until now about the natural, the human side of
      your calling, and about those gifts which your youth can bring to its
      advantage. But "unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who
      build it," and no gift of nature is sufficient to execute successfully the
      work of God if it is not joined by a cooperating grace. Natural talents can
      only generate positive impulses and shine forth with some good ideas; but
      to create with patience and love some work of wholeness, to elaborate some
      scholarly undertaking or, on a more practical level, to bring a youthful
      dream into a living reality, or to elevate a tender friendship of one's
      youth to the level of Christian brotherly love, to the level og a
      lone-suffering love of a teacher toward his student or of a pastor to his
      flock--these and similar podvigs of will and thought, podvigs rarely
      encountered in life, are possible only for those who labor not alone, not
      on their own strength, but with the help of Divine grace. Only such a
      worker can say with the Apostle: "I labored more abundantly than them all;
      yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (I Cor. 15:10).

          Grace is given according as one prays. Can one's youth work in favor of
      such podvig? Yes, and if you do not wish to trust my words, I would commend
      to you the words I heard more than once from our late hierarch, Archbishop
      Vladimir, who loved to ask young people for their prayers. "It is easier,"
      he said, "for a young person to ascend to God in genuine prayer than it is
      for an older person, for the soul of a youth is less oppressed by the world
      than that of someone well on in years if in his youth he was not diligent
      in prayer."

          This is perhaps the most valuable advantage of an unspoiled youth.
      Treasure it. If you wish to experience this period of youth at its best you
      must defend yourself through prayer from all those negative characteristics
      which commonly mark this stage of your life: dissoluteness, cynicism, and
      stubborn self-will which so rapidly destroy what is genuinely youthful in a
      young person's heart and cause him soon to become a worn-out slave of the
      mundane world, a stranger to the tender feelings of a young heart and to
      that eager love of knowledge. Unfortunately, these negative aspects mark a
      large number --if not a majority--of students in secular institutions.
      Forty or fifty years ago, when society was governed by a Christian
      worldview, every student was an idealist, an inspired worker in the
      enlightenment of society, someone with a broad education. Today, our youth
      are more apt to give in to the slightest promptings of their sensual
      desires; and if they are inspired by some endeavor in the field of
      scholarship or social work, this usually lasts no more than a year or
      two--if that long. They grow to disdain their religious heritage and, as if
      in the name of science, even deny the dogmas of the Faith. Hiding behind
      this denial we find not some theoretical disbelief or prejudice, but simply
      a moral torpor and a general heedlessness, a fearful turning away from any
      stirring of the conscience. And thanks to this lack of concentration, this
      torpor and dissoluteness--which are often fruits of a youth lacking
      religion and foreign to moral struggle, young people enter life not only
      morally weak but largely unenlightened, uneducated. Conversely, what an
      exemplary type of youth is produced by our theological academies, at least
      from among those of its students who utilize the gifts bestowed upon youth
      to work on their own moral perfection and to serve God and the Church. To
      give an example, Archbishop Vladimir followed the above described path from
      his student years and thereby brought great profit to the service of God
      and to the younger brethren. Furthermore, he was able to preserve a
      youthful disposition until deep old age. I'm sure that those of you who
      knew him will agree with this observation.

          And so, my friends, when you hear the holy Word of God or our sinful
      human tongue remind you again and again that from henceforth you belong not
      to yourselves but to God and the Church, do not let your hearts be seized
      by feelings of despondency and sinful self-pity, do not gaze enviously upon
      those youths who are free from such obligations and who spend their days in
      vain amusements; that is not youth but spiritual death and premature old
      age. The Lord has called us "to an inheritance incorruptible, and
      undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you" (I Peter
      1:4); He has entrusted us with tilling His vineyard and awaits from us
      fruit in its season. Amen.

      (Translated from the Life and Writings of Blessed Anthony, Metropolitan of
      Kiev and Galicia in 15 volumes compiled by Archbishop Nikon [Rklitsky]; New
      York, 1968)

      [1] equivalent to our college or university student, as distinct form the
      term 'pupil' used through the high school years.

      [2] What today's 'liberated' women see as the traditional, degraded model,
      Metropolitan Anthony rightly credits as one of the most noble Christian
      podvigs, for what is greater than to lay down one's life for another?
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