On Friday, December 23, the 43rd Annual St. Herman’s Youth Conference opened at Holy Trinity Church in Vineland, NJ. This year, over 120 young people are taking part in the conference from the Eastern American Diocese, as well as some traveling thousands of miles from faraway Canada and Australia.
After Morning Prayers, the chairman of the St. Herman Executive Committee, Archbishop Gabriel of Montreal & Canada, greeted the attendees. In his remarks, he rejoiced over the number of registered participants after pandemic restrictions across the world have been finally relaxed. He noted the life and legacy of His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral; +2022), drawing similarities to how the reposed First Hierarch was involved in Church life from a young age, and the large contingent of youth present also interested in deepening their love for the Church.
The morning’s keynote address was delivered by Matushka Maria Naumenko, entitled "The Church: Our Link to Ultimate Reality," in which she discussed the importance of participating and serving in the Holy Church. Following resounding applause, the young people broke up into smaller discussion groups led by the clergy. Senior clergy were able to give invigorating discussion on Holy Confession and the order of the divine services, while others focused on more specific issues, such as being Orthodox while attending university, or the various paths of young monastics.
Facing the fierce December cold, everyone scurried across the street to Holy Trinity Church, where the sisterhood prepared a sumptuous lunch in the hall. After lunch, the day’s second keynote address was delivered by Subdeacon Eugene Fitzpatrick, during which he described his unique path to Orthodoxy. Additional discussion groups continued throughout the day.
In the evening, a panihida was held in the church for the ever-memorable Metropolitan Hilarion.
After dinner, the traditional talent show was held, where attendees showcased their various talents, ranging from singing and playing instruments to many more.
On Saturday morning, the work of the Youth Conference continued. The morning began with two lectures, entitled "Seek First the Kingdom! How I Heard the Call to Serve," by Hieromonk Theodore (Stanway; cleric of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY) and "Virtuous Life as a Service to the Church" by Priest Daniel Franzen (cleric of the Mid-American Diocese).
The day continued with additional discussion groups until all gathered in church to read the Canon of Preparation for Holy Communion before the Resurrectional All-Night Vigil, officiated by the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Nicholas of Eastern America & New York.
On December 25, the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers and feast of Venerable Herman of Alaska, the St. Herman Youth Conference continued in Holy Trinity Church in Vineland, NJ with hierarchal Divine Liturgy, celebrated by the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Nicholas of Eastern America & New York. Co-serving with His Eminence was Archbishop Gabriel of Montreal & Canada and local and visiting clergy.
During the Hours, parishioner Kyril Kavetsky was tonsured a reader.
Leading the choir of conference participants was Protodeacon Serge Arlievsky (cleric of Holy Dormition Convent "Novo-Diveevo" in Nanuet, NY). Adorning the icon stands throughout the church were flower arrangements created by the youth during the conference.
The church was filled with parishioners and local pilgrims who came to lift up their prayers before the Protectress of the Russian Diaspora – the wonderworking Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God.
Before Holy Communion, Fr. Theodore delivered a sermon on the topic of the Sunday Gospel reading, as well as the life of the patron saint of the youth conference – Venerable Herman of Alaska.
Upon conclusion of Liturgy, Metropolitan Nicholas greeted Archbishop Gabriel, the gathered clergy, and conference participants, urging them to remain steadfast in the Holy Orthodox Faith.
A group photograph was taken on the steps of the church, after which all once again gathered in the church hall for a luncheon.
The conference was made possible by a generous grant from the Fund for Assistance (FFA) to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which has been faithfully supporting the three St. Herman Conferences held every year in December: on the East Coast, in the Midwest, and on the West Coast, as well as by donations from the Eastern American Diocese and several parishes, who support this work with the youth with an open heart.
In the second half of the day, conferencegoers were able to develop questions on the topic of ecclesiastical and social issues.
A final banquet was held in the church hall masterfully prepared by the parish sisterhood. A bonfire was held outside, with youth embracing old and new friends before heading to their rooms and departing back to their home parishes early Monday morning, December 26.