NEW YORK: January 4, 2013
Witnesses to a “Common Eucharist”
The St Herman’s Orthodox Youth Conferences held in the US this year gathered over 150 participants. Clergymen discussed topics ranging from history to contemporary life with the young people. For the third time, these forums abroad were also attended by young Russians from Moscow.
From December 23-27, 2012, Orthodox youth from the Eastern American as well as Western American Dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia gathered for the traditional St Herman’s Youth Conferences. On the East Coast, the Church of St Panteleimon the Great Martyr in Hartford, CT, hosted the event, and St Nicholas Cathedral in Seattle, WA, was the host in the west. The East Coast has organized such events for almost forty years, while this is only the sixth year for such gatherings on the West Coast. A hundred young people gathered for the Hartford event, and 55 youth in the west.
St Herman’s conferences date back to 1973, when, three years after the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia canonized the saint of Alaska, Bishop Laurus of Syracuse and Holy Trinity gave his blessing for a first youth conference in his name. The first few years these gatherings did not take the form of a conference per se, they were rather pilgrimages which coincided with the feast day of St Herman, December 25 (new style). Young Russians would head for Jordanville, NY, to visit Holy Trinity Monastery. The first organizers were Hieromonk Ioanniki and Protopriest Gregory Naumenko, Rector of Holy Protection Church in Rochester, NY, now renowned throughout the Church Abroad but then only a seminarian. These pilgrimages were educational and edifying for young Orthodox Christians, just at the time when the West was celebrating Christmas as well as other anti-Orthodox events.
At the late 1970’s-early 1980’s, pilgrimages began to be held at other holy places of the East and West Coasts of the US. In the mid-1980’s, with the blessing of the Church hierarchy, various parishes of the Russian Church Abroad began to host the St Herman’s conferences. Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack, NY, was the first to welcome St Herman delegates in 1985. The next years they were in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Maryland, California, the District of Columbia and even in Canada.
St Herman’s conferences now draw young people ages 15-25. They are held at the end of December around the feast day of the saint, whose words could be the slogan for these gatherings: “For our own good, for our own happiness, we must promise ourselves that from this day, this hour, this minute we will strive to love God more than anything else and to fulfill His holy will.”
Four decades since the first St Herman’s gatherings, they continue to serve as a platform for drawing young people into church, educating them and allowing them an opportunity to socialize. The organizers always try to introduce new methods of educational and missionary work. Those interested in choral singing are given choir-director lessons, icon-painters can study that art, and young people learn traditional Russian crafts. But the main goals of these events then and now have been to broaden their spiritual horizons and deepen spiritual knowledge within the youth, including providing a better understanding of divine services and church prayer.
Young people from the Eastern Diocese and Canada gathered in Hartford on December 23. The main events were the divine services on the eve and on the feast day of St Herman of Alaska, led by His Eminence Archbishop Gabriel of Montreal and Canada, the President of the St Herman’s Youth Committee. Clergymen from the US and Canada ministered to the young folk. Singing at divine services was a choir composed of young conference participants under the direction of the young director Anastasia Serdseva. Protodeacon Serge Arlievsky also taught lessons in the art of singing.
Participating in this youth forum was also a group from Russia: members of the Department of Youth Ministry of the Moscow Patriarchate: Marina Antipova, Yulia Zavarykina, Polina Romanova, Vadim Kvyatkovsky, as well as Vadim Ioffe, organizer of an Orthodox children’s camp. They became acquainted with youth from abroad during joint missionary trips to Ekaterinburg and the All-Diaspora Youth Conference in Paris.
The St Herman’s experience is less mature in the West, but equal in quality, as it has been for the last five years. The forum was held under the aegis of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign,” brought by its caretaker, Priest Nicholas Olhovsky. The presence of the “Protectress of the Russian Diaspora” during meetings and divine services was a special joy for the participants and worshipers.
Especially noted at this conference was the fifth anniversary of the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Fatherland and Abroad. Youth ages 17-20 participated in this forum.
“Today’s conference participants no longer witness the conflicts which for decades darkened the relationship between the two branches of the Russian Church, depriving clergymen and believers of joint prayer and communing of a single Eucharistic Chalice,” said Protopriest Andrei Sommer, Vice President of the Synodal Youth Department of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and participant in Seattle’s St Herman’s Conference. “They live within their ministry and the ‘common Eucharist,’ and they are particularly happy to take part in the anniversary celebrations, and to hear the words of witnesses to those difficult decades of division.”
Protopriest Alexander Krassovsky spoke about the origins of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; His Grace Bishop Theodosius of Seattle, spiritual guide to the youth on the West Coast, presented numerous photographs and told of the difficulties and triumphs of restoring church life in Ukraine, about how young people are participating in this rebirth, about the reconstruction of churches, the acquisition of the relics of saints and about his own path to monasticism.
Archimandrite Irinei (Steenberg) gave an overview of the recent five-year period, noting the need for join missionary service between American and Russian youth. Continuing this presentation, Fr Andrei stressed missionary programs that the Synodal Youth Department invites youth to participate in. One upcoming event is a trip to Russia of a choir of youth assembled from US youth to participate in divine services and concerts to mark the 400th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty in 2013.
This year, most of the lectures in Seattle were in English, which helped visitors from English-language parishes to participate. Russian- and English-speaking youth actively participated in round tables, posing practical and even “uncomfortable” questions, answered revealingly by the priests. Of course, a no less important aspect of the conference was the opportunity these young people, who live in a heterodox world, had to socialize and get to know each other; singing together in church, and even singing Christmas carols in the parks of Seattle.
“Singing is a wonderful way to unite young people of the church with lay youth who wish to come to church,” opined Fr Andrei, who is actively organizing the choir trip to Russia.
The young people themselves organized and videotaped a divine service during the gathering, available on Facebook and YouTube:
It is early January, and both coasts of the US have endured the pre-Christmas rush. These were the very temptations that wise hierarchs and clergymen of the Russian diaspora sought to displace with the St Herman’s conferences. This is the fortieth year of the youth events dedicated to the memory of this American saint.
“One of the goals of the conference is to draw young people away from the commercial temptations of the Western Christmas celebrations,” continued Fr Andrei, “to concentrate their efforts in the spiritual Lenten period and the acquisition of new youth missionary skills, and of course to prepare ourselves together for the feast day of the Nativity of Christ, January seventh.”
Despite the fact that the event charges a registration fee, there are always many eager participants. Of course, parishes provide aid, and as always, the Fund for Assistance to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
For Orthodox youth in Russia, the Western pre-Christmas season can be compared to the New Year, towards which we as Orthodox Christians are to have the following attitude: the New Year should be greeted, but not celebrated. I know that in many churches in Russia there is a fine tradition of celebrating Liturgy on New Year’s night. Some parishes abroad have moleben services on New Year’s Eve. At the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady “of the Sign” in New York, the main cathedral of the Russian Church Abroad, we have a tradition of performing a new-year’s moleben on the so-called “old New Year.”