On June 27, 2014, the 13th All-Diaspora Russian Orthodox Youth Conference will be held, titled “In the Footsteps of St John of Shanghai,” which is expected to draw young people from all over the world. Protopriest Andrei Sommer, Vice President of the Synodal Youth Committee of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, answered questions about the forthcoming event:
The next All-Diaspora Conference has drawn serious interest among young people not only living in the Russian diaspora, but in Russia and the countries of the CIS, and so while I was in Moscow for the Nativity Readings, I was beset by many people with questions. I was happy that this was probably one of my busiest trips to Russia with regard to working meetings with our partners and benefactors, and making new acquaintances. I had fruitful meetings with Rostislav Vadimovich Ordovsky-Tanaev Blanco, President of Rostik Group Corporation; Alexander Petrovich Panas, Director of Gazprombank, and with Maksim Tarintsev, a lawyer with Russian House International. We tried to resolve the problem of covering expenses for some of the young participants in the conference, which has always been a tradition with All-Diaspora conferences. I was also glad that the chairmen of two Synodal departments of the Moscow Patriarchate agreed to participate: His Grace Bishop Panteleimon of Orekhovo-Zuevsk, who is in charge of social service and charity; and His Grace Bishop Ignaty of Vyborg and Priozersk, head of their youth department. His Grace Bishop Iona of Obukhovsk (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate), the editor of the popular periodical Otrok [“young person”], will also participate, as will Fr Nikolai Mogilevsky, Vice President of the Youth Department of the UOC. The Russian Orthodox press will send Sergei Chapnin, Editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate and Tserkovny Vestnik [“Church Herald”].
- Fr Andrei, from what countries will young people come to the conference? How does one register?
Registration forms have already been submitted by young people from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, the USA, Australia and Western Europe; a total of 8 countries will be represented so far. Any Orthodox young person who wishes can participate. To register, visit the official website of the 13th All-Diaspora Youth Conference.
- The conference will coincide with an important event in the life of the Russian Church Abroad: the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the glorification of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco. What were you able to accomplish during your recent visit to San Francisco?
There is an active local youth committee which is organizing fundraising luncheons after Sunday Liturgies to help youth coming from abroad.
His Grace Bishop Theodosius of Seattle, who is the coordinator of the All-Diaspora Conference, and I met with Sergei Viktorovich Petrov, Consul General of the Russian Federation in San Francisco, and we discussed coordinating our efforts. Our proposal was also approved by the Russian Ambassador, Sergei Nikolaevich Kisliakov. The Congress of Russian Americans will join the Russian Consulate in organizing a talent show in San Francisco’s Russian House.
- Have you met any obstacles yet?
A problem arose where we least expected it. The pilgrimage portion of the event includes a visit to the site of the first visit of Russians to land on the American Pacific coast, the legendary Fort Ross. The problem was that it turns out that Fort Ross, a National Park of California, is now only open on weekends. Meanwhile, we have divine services scheduled for Saturdays and Sunday, and the drive to Fort Ross is 2 ? hours one way, so we wouldn’t have had enough time. Thanks to Natalia Georgievna Sabelnik, President of the Congress of Russian Americans, we made an agreement with the park’s directors to open it for our group on a weekday.
- Has it been established which social and charitable organizations the young participants will become acquainted with?
I can tell you about two so far. There is a senior center in Castro Valley, CA, which contains a chapel dedicated to the memory of St John of Kronstadt. There is also St Anthony Charitable Mission run by Franciscan monks. We decided to include this charity since it deals with various real contemporary social problems. We should note that its first charitable project was a soup kitchen, which opened a century ago. They feed over 300 persons every day (40% of all the free meals available in SF!). Today the mission is broadening, and another brand-new kitchen will soon be built, costing $22.5M—incidentally, 94% of the cost has already been raised!
St Anthony Mission is in one of the worst neighborhoods in SF, the Tenderloin District (like New York’s Harlem), and naturally it is geared towards the poor, including Russian immigrants. The mission has a clothing-distribution center, a workshop for repairing electronics and computer classes; a legal aid service, specialists provide free consultation services on legal affairs and guidance in obtaining social benefits, and they help register children in school.
Our main challenge is to make the center’s experiences accessible. I believe that Vladyka Panteleimon is also interested in visiting such places, and drawing on their experiences in order to put them to use in Russia. The youth will be able to visit charitable centers that are of particular interest to them.
- Will the practical aspects of social work be supported by theory?
Absolutely. For one needs not only desire to perform a good deed, but one must possess a professional approach. Every morning the youth will participate in missionary seminars—workshops. Their goal is to methodically develop plans, organizations methods, financing and actualization of dozens of social and charitable projects, including: free soup kitchen, food bank, Orthodox cafe, clothing-distribution centers, hostels for the poor, aged and for children; a clinic and chapel, a guidance center, a program for parish schools, Orthodox camps, website development, press relations, choir, Orthodox historical museum… Time will tell which of these will be taken up by our young people. They will be assigned to prepare presentations, which will not only be brought back to the kids’ home dioceses and parishes, but will be available on line.
I would especially like to stress that we are happy that we will have youth from Ukraine participating. We are closely watching events in that nation and prayerfully support our Orthodox brethren.