WESTERN AMERICAN DIOCESE: October 8, 2013
Preparations Begin for the 13th All-Diaspora Russian Orthodox Youth Conference
The 13th All-Diaspora Russian Orthodox Youth Conference is scheduled to be held on June 27-July 4, 2014, in San Francisco, CA. The forum will be devoted to missionary service through charity, and will coincide with a meeting of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, as well as the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the canonization of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco. Although preliminary work has begun at the Synodal Youth Department in New York for the last several months, work in earnest began in San Francisco in October. Protopriest Andrei Sommer, Vice President of the Synodal Youth Department, talks about the event:
- It is obvious that the location of the forum, the 13th All-Diaspora Russian Orthodox Youth Conference, was not chosen at random. In the early 1950’s, a remarkable man arrived on the West Coast of the United States, whose title after his canonization was to become “of Shanghai and San Francisco.”
In 1949, Mao Tse-Tung, the Chinese leader, tried to evict all foreigners from the country. This was a time when many Russians lived in Shanghai, as well as people of other nationalities. Several thousand Russians who could not afford to immigrate to another country found asylum on the island of Tubabao, near the Philippines. Vladyka John (Maximovich) was with them, providing spiritual support. Every day before going to sleep, he walked around their camp and prayed. While the Russians lived on the island, not one storm hit it. There was an orphanage there which St John had established back in Shanghai. Vladyka John was able to bring some of the Russians, including the orphans, to the USA. He chose the state capital of California as the site for the orphanage.
Last spring, while in San Francisco for the presentation of my book “From West to East,” which is about missionary service in the Russian Church Abroad, the local youth expressed the desire to hold the next youth event in their city. It was a great idea! I remembered my very first missionary project—organizing a youth conference in San Francisco, in fact, in 1988 to mark the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus.
Led by His Grace Bishop Theodosius of Seattle, we performed a moleben before a good work in front of the reliquary of St John of Shanghai, seeking his blessing for our proposed conference. Then the local youth committee and I discussed the organization of the forum. We set up a committee of 18 people under the direction of Vladyka Theodosius.
- Fr Andrei, will the local community take part in the preparations for the conference?
- I really hope so. I was able to meet with the Vice Consul General of the Russian Federation in San Francisco, Mr Alexei Kovalenko-Narochnitsky, and with Mr Nikita Buick, head of Russian-American Community Services, who, by the way, served as a subdeacon under St John. We also hope that the older students of St John of San Francisco High School. We had a working meeting with its director, Ms Maria Prokopenko.
- Humanitarian work and social service as a form of missionary service in today’s world: how important is the youth conference for these goals for the young people of the Russian diaspora, Russia and the CIS states?
- Unfortunately, the concept of help for one’s neighbor and charitable work has not gotten the attention it deserves in recent times. Foremost was the preservation of our faith and witness to Orthodox Christianity among the heterodox, wherever Russian live. There are those who think that charitable work in the overtly wealthy land of America is unnecessary. This isn’t true. The idea of social service is help for the poor and needy was important to St John—he lived to serve his neighbor. Those who knew him remember that he would travel all the way across town to tend to a needy person, perform a moleben, he would actually take his shoes off and give them to someone in need. To this day he serves as an example for us all, and this inspiration is important for today’s youth.
We have many examples of other ascetics: Fr Sergei Shchukin, who as a young man organized a free soup kitchen. If we look at Americans, we see the work done by members of other confessions, companies, private individuals, who in addition to their own work provide free meals. This experience, as well as that of other directions of social service, must be summarized, disseminated, selecting the best means and train our youth to bring into their parish life, their missionary projects.
There was a time when we needed to build churches. Today we Orthodox Christians do indeed need to bring witness of the love of Christ as our active help to our neighbors. That is why we decided to concentrate on this at the 13th All-Diaspora Youth Conference.
- What can young people expect at the conference?
- To a certain degree, the San Francisco event will be a continuation of the 2011 forum in Paris. Such forums as conferences, meetings, workshops, lectures and discussions with renowned church figures and social activists working in charity are a revelation to those who attend for the first time. I’d like to note that a guest from Moscow, Lia Smirnova, participated in the youth meeting in San Francisco; she is in charge of the section of the Synod Youth Department of the Moscow Patriarchate that deals with young people abroad. Protopriest Boris Henderson made a proposal for creative workshops.
The delegates themselves will organize a cultural program, which is always an integral part of the All-Diaspora Conferences. A special treat for the participants will be a field trip to a favorite site for Russians—Fort Ross, where the first Russians settled in North America.
In conclusion, I would like to say that we will announce registration for this event this year, in November, by visiting the official website of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, www.synod.com. The page will provide all the information, and upon registration, invitations will be issued.
We hope that young people both in the Fatherland and abroad, who were born and live outside their historic homeland, the 13th All-Diaspora Youth Conference will serve to strengthen their bonds will the traditions of Orthodox Russia, deepening their knowledge and experience in organizing charitable missionary work all over the world, wherever Russians live.