Protopriest Yaroslav Belikov
"The Experience of the Spiritual Training the Youth in the Organization of Young Russian Scouts"
Our organization gives preeminence to the question of training the youth in the Orthodox spirit.
It is precisely for this reason that the Solemn Oath begins "I will fulfill my duty to God…"
The first rule begins: "A scout is faithful to God…"
The syllabus of the scout ranks starts with knowledge of the Catechism, and begins with the learning of prayers. Mention should be made of the beginning of gatherings, assemblies of scout-masters, and the beginning and ending of the camp day. The significance of Orthodoxy in our system of training for the youth is fundamental, and we are all quite well aware of it.
We all know what should be said and what should be conveyed. The question of pedagogy lies precisely in how, where and when to say this so that our youth may easily accept and assimilate it.
All of us know very well that what is said at the wrong time or not in the right way may produce among minors a result that is opposite to what is desired, and each of us can cite examples of this from his own experience of working with children. The question of religion is so delicate, personal and intimate, that many adults avoid it. And things become even worse when an improper approach to the teaching of religion to the as-yet-unformed young soul can result in apathy, cynicism or an attitude toward true spirituality that is negative to a greater or lesser degree.
Today, we would like to share our experience of the spiritual training of young people in ORIuR.
As experience shows, the work of an individual unit depends largely upon the personality of the leader of that unit: its energy, the regularity of its gatherings, hikes and camp, the mood around the campfire, relations between all the participants in projects and games, etc. This also concerns religious training: much depends on the scout-master's spiritual cast of mind with regard to the spiritual work of the unit. However, one must also not forget the role of the priest, or clergymen, with whom the scout-master must work. Much also depends on the priest: his skill and interest in working with children, his leadership ability, the time spent by him, as well as his relations with the unit's scout-masters.
For this reason it is essential to examine the role of the principal active persons.
Firstly, the scout-master's personality and spiritual cast of mind.
Spiritual growth is defined by the scouts' prayer: "O God, grant that I may be better today than yesterday." Spiritual growth and self-perfection, participation in the sacraments of Confession and Communion, struggle with personal sins and the passions, are basic principles of Orthodoxy. All Christians, including our scout-masters, must evince concern for their own spiritual health and growth. The Christian must himself yearn for God, to participate in the life of the Church through taking part in the Church's divine services, sacraments and parish life. Unfortunately, after seventy years of militant atheism, many of our parents have no conception of God, the Church or the soul, and thus we find ourselves in a situation where the majority of us were raised in spiritual darkness. For this reason each of us is obligated to undertake our own spiritual self-education, if possible under the guidance of a spiritual father. Thank God, spiritual literature is now available, and one is no longer persecuted if one goes to church. The necessity of the scout-master having a spiritual upbringing is obvious and need not be addressed in depth in our analysis.
It is more difficult for lay people to understand the position of the spiritual father of the unit.
The priesthood is not a profession, but a vocation. The priest celebrates the divine services on Sundays and feast days, and many priests also perform them on weekdays: he baptizes, marries, buries, visits the sick, the elderly, those in prison; he is summoned to hospitals, and receives telephone calls at all hours of the day and night to answer important questions as well as those that are petty and inane. The priest can be called in by the bishop for any reason, and when this happens he has to drop everything he is doing. At the same time, the priest is also a husband and father. He has to provide for his family, and often the salary offered by the parish is insufficient, and he has to earn his daily bread. And let us not also forget that the priest is a man, with all the usual human needs and demands, such as, for example, the need for rest, affection, repentance, and the satisfaction of personal interests.
Priests, like scout-masters, are of different sorts, and to find a suitable priest who is agreeable and capable of working with young people in a scout organization is not so easy. Priests have various personal interests: some love scholarly work, theology; others are more adept at administrative and organizational work; yet others are ascetics and men of prayer; and still others work well with the sick and elderly. Finally, there are those who have the ability to work with the youth. One would think that all priests must in fact occupy themselves with all these tasks: they must all visit the sick, pray and celebrate the divine services; they must all, to a certain degree, concern themselves with administrative matters; they must all constantly renew their theological knowledge. Naturally, each will gravitate toward what interests him most. And for this reason the priest who is interested in working with children and young people, who has the gift of pedagogy, makes the best chaplain.
Rare is the man who, when asked, openly acknowledges that he is unable to work with young people or that such work holds little interest for him. Therefore, before asking a priest to become a spiritual father for scouts, one should investigate how he interacts with children, and how young people react to him. One could first ask him to hold a conversation with children, and while he does so observe how they relate to him. It will be far more difficult to replace him later.
The priest is always connected to a particular parish. There are no "supply priests.” According to the canons of the Church, the priest is ordained for a particular parish: he can be transferred to another parish, or he can be a retired chaplain. Sometimes, he can serve in other parishes, having received the requisite permission, or be the spiritual father of various organizations, or visit hospitals and prisons. If the priest retires, he no longer has the right to serve or perform services of need if he does not receive permission for this from his bishop; going into retirement, as a rule the priest is "assigned" to some parish, and then he has the right to serve only in it. But a priest is always bound up with a particular parish. In choosing a spiritual father for the unit one ought also to pay attention to that priest's parish. The head of the unit should develop a relationship with the priest and his parish. And subsequently, the troop as a whole, and each scout, should also have a close relationship with this priest and his parish.
One area that the scout-master rarely considers, most often because he is unaware of it, is the diocese and the diocesan authority, i.e. the leadership to which the priest himself is responsible.
The priest is, in the literal sense of the word, the representative of his bishop. The bishop is the ruler of his own diocese—the diocesan administrator, the spiritual leader and judge. All the divine services and sacred actions the priest performs in the name of his bishop, and he is under his complete control. All non-standard actions are to be performed by the priest only with the special blessing of his bishop, e.g., second marriages, the reception of non-Orthodox into the Orthodox Church, the performance of a funeral for a suicide. Even the performance of services of need outside the boundaries of his own parish cannot be done without the bishop's blessing. Traveling beyond the borders of the diocese, a priest must receive permission from his own bishop, and to serve in another diocese he must receive permission from the local bishop. (Thus I, for example, received a document from my own Archbishop of Western America, and to serve in Moscow I must present this document to the local bishop, i.e., His Holiness the Patriarch, or his vicar.) Several dioceses have special programs for working with young people, with one or more priests given this responsibility. For this reason, it is essential to familiarize oneself with the structure of the diocese, to determine whether it has such a program, and if it has, if it is possible to approach the administration for a spiritual father. It can happen that the man who heads such a department is a priest for whom working with young people is not a burning issue, but who is nevertheless zealously attached to his position. He is quite capable of placing obstacles in the path of the would be chaplain. The matter calls for tact if it is to be resolved. If there is no program for work with the youth, one must then speak with the bishop and receive his blessing. It is best to ask the interested priest himself to contact the bishop directly, or to approach the bishop through that priest.
There are also different kinds of bishops. The situation in the Diaspora is in many respects not comparable to the situation in Russia; however, the principles of approach must be similar. In their personal attitude toward scoutism, bishops have an underlying note: on the one hand, we have had bishops who have gone to the summer camp and spent as much a two weeks there, holding constant conversations with the children, the scout-masters, performing the divine services, hearing confessions, conversating about personal problems with those in need of such; on the other hand, we have also had bishops who not only declined to show up for camp, but who even refused to permit their priests to cooperate with us in any way. More often than not, the bishops' attitude toward the work of the scout movement is positive but not active. Bishops who view our work negatively are unaware of and do not understand the principles of ORIuR's work Whatever the attitude of the local bishop, one must treat it with fitting deference. A good practice is to maintain contact with the bishop: if he is unfamiliar with the organization, its objectives and methods, one should inform him of those at length, show him the results of the work, invite him to events no less that twice a year (and not take offense if he is always unable to come). With such an approach, the bishop will not hinder the priest from carrying out work with the children, and will more likely assist him. This will also help attract new children to the organization.
There are also definite obstacles encountered in spiritual education. Let us turn our attention to four of the most prevalent.
Firstly, when scout-masters are unspiritual persons. For them the laws, prayers and religious program are only traditions, pious customs, and not principles for one's personal life. For them religion among the scout ranks is just one among the subjects children have to take, no different from all the rest. This concept of religion, unfortunately, infects the entire unit. Such a scout-master feels no need to socialize with the priest, at times himself teaches the religious program—but it is about religion, and in no way spiritual itself. The children, it is understood, receive nothing for their souls but a few dry facts about religion.
Secondly, lack of understanding of the Faith on the part of the parents. Parents question the necessity of spiritual training, actively or passively hinder any manifestation of religion among their children, and incite them against the Faith and the clergy. Such children in turn have a pernicious influence on their peers. In such cases it is best that the priest focus his attention on such a child, and the priest, entering into contact with the family, should try to exercise a positive influence on it. Speaking in general, it is a great mistake in the spiritual training of children to show attention to the child alone while ignoring the family as a whole. This is observable not only in youth organizations, but in schools as well. A positive religious influence, which children receive with their training, is totally neutralized at home if un-spirituality is dominant there. More often than not, parents say that prayer, the commandments of God, are kept there, but in fact they are not observed, not utilized. What happens in the soul of a child one need not explain. For this reason, it is essential to carry out spiritual work with the parents as well.
Thirdly, if there is a problem in cases where certain scout-masters do not value the significance of the priest in the task of the spiritual training of children, they take it upon themselves. "I came up through the ranks, I sometimes attend church, listen to the sermon, I have even read the Gospel (!); so I know enough to teach my own children." Without saying anything about the level of his knowledge, one must add that the priest sees much that laymen do not see: a child's personal problems, problems in his family, in his relations with others; and he can if not help, then at least speak with or direct the child. Moreover, from religious interaction with the priest, the child begins to develop trust in him, an understanding that the priest is human too, that it is possible to share with him one's most hidden secrets and thoughts. Such a warm relationship can remain life-long, and this is also the most valuable in spiritual training. A connection to the priest binds children to his parish, the divine services, the sacraments, the feasts of the Church. Faith becomes not an amassing of theoretical knowledge, but part of life.
Fourthly, a serious obstacle is the accusation that ORIuR is Masonic, that the roots of the organization lie in Masonry, that it prepares cadres for induction into the Masonic lodges. This accusation is based, on the one hand, on the fact that the scout movement shares certain principles with Mastery, and on the other hand, on the fact that several of its leaders were or are Masons. Without delving into the question of Masonry, which does not concern our report, let us say that the Orthodox Church condemns Masonry and forbids Orthodox Christians to be Masons; and if any of the leaders is a Mason, the organization is not to blame; that is his own private affair. One could say, for example, that the concept of universal brotherhood of all scouts is more likely the Christian idea of brotherhood in Christ, which was borrowed by the Masons from Christianity, and not vice versa. The "forest name,” is not a replacement for the name given at baptism, but a game. One can explain all our traditions one by one, but there are people inveterately opposed to scoutism, and they will always search for fresh reasons why not to support our movement. Some respond well to simple explanation; others cannot be persuaded by any reasoning.
Now when we have found a suitable priest, having established contact with the parish and the diocesan authorities and overcome the main obstacles, we proceed to the work itself.
It is necessary to acquaint the priest in detail with the principles of ORIuR, with our principles for training the youth, with the system of ranks, in particular with the spiritual objectives of each rank. Having appointed him chaplain of a unit, he should be given lessons for the religious training of the ranks, so that he himself may conduct these lessons, or may appoint for this a competent person who may conduct the lessons under his guidance and oversight. It is nonetheless desirable that examinations in Catechism be conducted by the priest himself. This is not simply an exercise in authority, but to check whether the child understands what has been taught. The priest ought also to be invited to staff meetings, to provide input into changes in the calendar, so that no project is undertaken during a great feast, or a hike during the Great Fast, when conflicts may arise over food.
Mention should be made of the work of the unit in its priest's parish: participation in processions, serving as altar boys, chanting on the kliros, honor guard duty at the plashchanitsa, cleaning the church before a feast, helping with remodeling tasks. Children learn to love their own church, develop a lively understanding of the divine services, and become aware of the needs of the parish.
In 2007, the VAO organized a pilgrimage to the Holy Land—it was the first time most of the children had been in the place where the Savior lived, preached, died on the Cross and rose from the dead. The impression made was indelible.
Thus develops the spiritual life in the children, the understanding that religion does not consist of abstract knowledge, but is born from the heart, surrounds us constantly, and leads us to a living fellowship with the Lord God.
It is even better when the parish school cooperates with ORIuR. In the Diaspora there are many instances of this. Before we cite a concrete example, we need to understand the conditions of parish schools in the Diaspora. The goal of the parish school is the raising of children in an Orthodox Russian spirit. This is achieved through learning the Catechism, the Russian language, the history and geography of Russia, and Russian literature. Depending on local availability, Church Slavonic, singing (both spiritual hymns and Russian folk songs), folk dancing and Russian culture may also be taught. This sounds good, even very good, but if one looks at the schedule the matter turns out to be far more difficult that it might seem. The entire program must be taught on Saturday, since attendance at local schools is mandated on weekdays, and on Sundays there are divine services to attend in church. Most Russians in the Diaspora live quite a distance from the church and the Saturday school, and on weekdays it is impossible to travel for lessons. This accounts for 4-6 hours on a Saturday, for approximately thirty Saturdays per year. You do the calculation. Nevertheless, the program functions! It is a very interesting fact that those who finish our parish schools become, in a short time, active laborers in the Russian Diaspora.
This is further helped by the fact that the program of parish schools coincides to a great extent with the theoretical lessons of the scout ranks. Moreover, the children are already assembled for school, and in many places scout meetings are conducted immediately after lessons in school.
The Sts Cyril and Methodius High School, in San Francisco, was founded in 1927, and achieved the status of high school in 1948, when the syllabus was reorganized on the pattern of pre-Revolutionary gymnasia. In June of this year, my son completed his studies there, as a member of the 56th graduating class. Mikhail Danilevsky was in the first class of our high school. At this time there can be found among our alumni one bishop, several priests, deacons and monastics, several matushki, ORIuR scout leaders, and the chairmen and active participants of various social organizations. You have encountered many emigres, and I am quite certain that with rare exceptions they have all studied in parish schools. All of these positions are voluntary, i.e., they are unpaid. This is proof that parish schools elicit genuine love for the Church and for Russia. One should in nowise minimize the significance of training in the home, for if there is not a profound understanding of the necessity of this training in the family, parents would not send their children to a Russian Orthodox parish school, would not make room in their homes for this; and under emigre conditions this is a titanic, one might even say heroic, task. On the other hand, many parents unfortunately decide not to send their children to parish schools. Rapid assimilation is inevitable, and I am sure you have likewise encountered such representatives of the Russian Diaspora.
Today, about half of the pupils of the Sts Cyril and Methodius High School are scouts. In the high school itself, several parents are aware of the scouts and enroll their children; and on the other hand, several scouts are aware of the high school and enroll their children in it. Since the syllabus of the high school is very similar to the syllabus of the scout ranks, to the extent that the children pass the courses of the high school, I, as a scout leader, give them exams that are beneficial for their scout rankings. Thus, after completion of the second class (at age 10), they, for example, have gone through the New and Old Testaments, know many prayers, i.e., they have passed through far more than is required of them for the third scout rank. They have also passed the full course of Russian history, and I administer these tests to them. In the third class they study the divine services in Catechism, the exam for the second scout rank. And so forth. It remains for the children to pass the history of scoutism and the entire practicum, and when they have returned to camp, they do not have to sit through tedious lessons at a desk. Thus, everyone gains: the children pay closer attention in school, and at camp they are concerned only with nature and fun.
Of course, it is very convenient that the scout building in San Francisco, where work is done in the winter months, is just across the street from the cathedral. And, naturally, this is not by chance: it was intentionally planned fifty years ago. After studies at the high school, the children go to the scout meeting. I always try to be at each meeting, although this is not always possible. However, I never miss solemn gatherings. I try to attend staff meetings too, although this also is not always possible: they are scheduled during school hours at the high school (it is very convenient to bring the children to school, and then to go to the meetings; but I for one have to teach the children at that time). The scouts help with the cleaning of the church when there is a general cleaning; they stand as honor guard by the plashchanitsa, and take part in fund-raisers to benefit the cathedral.
Personal example is very helpful: the current Senior Scout-master and his predecessor both sing in the cathedral's hierarchal choir; the choir director is a scout-master; the former division leader is an ordained subdeacon, who oversees the altar boys in the cathedral sanctuary. One may cite many other similar examples.
During summer camp, we consecrate the camp-site and the tents when the camp is opened. We try to spend as much time in the camp, intentionally doing the work of setting up beforehand, so that the whole period of time may be ready for every sort of meeting. Now, in the camps of the Diaspora, half of the participants are old emigres, half are people who have arrived recently from Russia. All are in need of spiritual nurturing, and each requires something different. Here everyone has time to reflect on life, to prepare with a priest (telephones, e-mail and text messaging are inaccessible). The work of spiritual interaction with the children—conversation around the campfire and after the campfire—we consider to be the most beneficial and serious—including conversations during lessons, personal conversations with the children, with the leaders, with parents.
The Divine Liturgy is celebrated in the open air (at Novy-Pavlovsk a beautiful chapel has been set up), and in California there is a plan to build a permanent chapel. On the eves of feast days there are conversations about confession, about the divine services. The children and the majority of the scout-leaders make their confessions and receive Communion.
In our view, the most important this is that the children become accustomed to seeing a priest and interacting with him; they see that it is possible to converse with the priest on all sorts of subjects; they being to understand that the spiritual aspect of our life is life itself, and not sporadic episodes therein.
In conclusion, we would like to wish our leaders never to forget the purpose of our work: the spiritual, patriotic and physical training of our youth.
To realize the task of spiritual development to the greatest extent, both for ourselves and the children, we desire to find priests interested in working with the youth, in cooperating with ORIuR.
May God grant that tomorrow will be better than today.