Our youth are the future of the Church and it is our common responsibility to encourage, nurture, and care for them. With this goal in mind, the Youth Committee of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America recently held its annual St. Herman Youth conference in Cincinnati in cooperation with the local St. George parish. With the blessing of His Grace, Bishop Peter, who was participating in youth conferences in the Australian diocese at the same time, His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah (OCA) attended the conference and led the hierarchical services.
A record 44 young people assembled in Cincinnati on the afternoon of Friday, December 26, coming from 11 states and three different dioceses. The primary events of the conference were held at the YMCA Camp Kern facility, just a few miles away from St. George’s new church in Loveland, Ohio.
Following a moleben for the start of any good work, the group immediately began one of its primary tasks: mastering the music for the Divine Services. Under the skillful direction of Larissa Sander the youth – many of whom had little choral experience – beautifully sang and read the entire vigil and hierarchical liturgy; all of this was accomplished after just 3 hours of rehearsal! Larissa Sander and Fr. Alexander Petrovsky both played essential roles in the planning and execution of the conference. A presentation on the life of St. Herman and activities to help the group become acquainted followed on Friday evening.
Saturday morning began with the first of two talks by Sr. Dr. Vassa (Larin), on the conference theme: “What does the Liturgy do, and why?” Sr. Vassa had flown in from Vienna, Austria where she lectures and writes about Byzantine liturgics. She wove a wonderful sense of humor with insightful observations into her presentation, just as she does on her popular YouTube programs, “Coffee with Sr. Vassa.” Questions from the audience followed.
After lunch, the youth learned about the challenges facing the students of the schools in the ROCOR Haiti Mission. Each participant created at least one Christmas card which will be sent to Haiti, along with a gift of a small paper icon. The conference is also supporting these students with a donation to Haiti Orthodox Family Relief (www.haitiorthodoxfamilyrelief.com/) and funds collected from the parish following Liturgy on Sunday.
Everyone changed for Church and drove to St. George parish, where Alena Plavsic, Development Manager of the Fund for Assistance to ROCOR (www.fundforassistance.org) explained the kind of support FFA provides to youth events like the St. Herman Conference. The generous support of FFA donors allows this conference to assemble a strong group of speakers and offer interesting activities, while keeping the cost to participants reasonable. Several scholarships were also provided through the support given by FFA.
A workshop on Liturgical arts was next on the agenda. After dividing into three groups, the youth created their own icons, made prosphori and examined the Church architecture from behind the camera. Special thanks to Kurt Sander, Martha Baier and Michael Ilyinsky for leading these activities! After dinner, Sr. Vassa gave the second part of her talk, which was also attended by St. George parishioners and local guests. The festal hierarchical Vigil, led by Met. Jonah, concluded the evening. All the participants came for confession and took turns reading the pre-communion prayers after the service.
On Sunday morning, the youth choir showed itself fully up to the task of singing a hierarchical Divine Liturgy. Met. Jonah was met by the assembled clergy: archpriest Paul Bassett (St. George parish), archpriest Gregory Joyce (St. Vladimir parish, Ann Arbor, MI), archpriest Victor Boldewskul (Church of Epiphany, Roslindale, MA), priest Michael Carney (St. Herman parish, Lake Odessa, MI), priest Daniel Marshall (St. George parish), priest Leontiy Naidzions (Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral, Chicago, IL), deacon George Temidis (Holy Virgin Nativity Church, Mahopac, NY), and deacon Alexander Petrovsky (St. George parish). Met. Jonah gave an inspiring sermon. Following the Liturgy, the conference enjoyed a delicious meal, prepared by the St. George parish sisterhood, under the leadership of Helen Kaminsky.
After a short drive back to camp Kern, the youth took turns speeding down a zip line, developing their skills at archery and ascending to the top of an observation tower. Though the weather was cool, the thrill of the activities kept everyone warm. After dinner, Met. Jonah spoke about “What the Monastic Life Can Provide the World.” A lengthy question and answer period ensued. The youth dividing into groups by gender for round-table discussions with all the assembled clergy and guests. Though the hour was late after these lively sessions, volunteers entertained the group with a talent show. From piano to poetry and guitar to stand-up comedy, the conference participants put their considerable talents on display. The clergy and guests even presented an improv comedy skit.
Monday morning and the last day of the conference came too soon. The busy schedule began with Fr. Michael Carney’s inspirational talk, “Meeting God” and continued with a combined round-table discussion. After a meal, a quick clean-up and a Thanksgiving Moleben, the youth said their good-byes and departed for their homes. Talk of meeting again next year was often heard. As one participant wrote in the conference evaluation,
“I was surrounded by only Orthodox people, making it feel like I was at home… I got to talk to some very wise people who gave me useful advice on how to live my life.”
Once again, it was an inspirational St. Herman’s Conference. Thanks be to God!