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Protopriest Andrei Sommer: “Our youth is the best witness of living Orthodoxy.” 

For the second year now, Orthodox youth from the parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is departing on a pilgrimage as part of the “Concord of Orthodox Youth.” This year the itinerary includes not only Russia but Ukraine and Germany. 

As the days of the pilgrimage draw near, we spoke with the Vice President of the Synodal Youth Department, Protopriest Andrei Sommer, about this event. 

- Reverend Father: Last year, a group of ROCOR youth visited Russia and saw its holy sites. This year, which was designated the Year of Youth in Russia, the schedule is especially full. One could say it is unique, since the pilgrimage will coincide with a youth conference. Who were the organizers of this year’s event? 

- This year, the trip’s organizer was the International Foundation of Slavic Literature and the Kursk-Root Hermitage Foundation. The aim of this trip is to acquaint the youth of Russia, the Orthodox countries of the old CIS, and Russian youth from the diaspora with the holy places of Russia. 

Last year, when President Dmitry Medvedev visited the Kursk-Root Hermitage, he was told of the youth pilgrimage from abroad to Russia. He expressed his approval, and this year, the Year of Youth, it was decided to organize a large event with the participation of youth from the dioceses of ROCOR from different continents—Europe, Australia and North and South America. 

It took almost six months to develop the program, in which representatives of the Synodal Youth Department of the Russian Church Abroad participated. 

This year we invited about 20 young people aged 18-25. Most of them are descendants of Russian emigres of the third generation. They are all college students and active participants of their parishes; they know the culture of the homeland of their ancestors, and of course speak Russian.  

It is worth noting that most of the young pilgrims are visiting Russia for the first time.  

That is why we have been so diligent in planning this pilgrimage. Taking into account that we live on different continents, every two weeks we hold videoconferences between America, Europe and Australia; we discussed presentation materials, choosing photographs and even held “virtual” choir rehearsals. 

I will be providing spiritual guidance during the trip with Protopriest Gabriel Makarov, Head of the Youth Department of the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand. 

- Fr Andrei, what exciting events await the pilgrims? 

- The official portion of the trip, which was named “Friendship of Orthodox Youth,” will last from July 10 to August 1. But the program begins earlier; on July 8, in Moscow’s Uspensky Cathedral in Putniki, we will serve a moleben to Blessed Princes Peter and Fevrony the Miracle-workers of Murom, who are venerated as the protectors of families. We expect that over 350 young worshipers from Russia and the “near abroad” alone will attend this service. 

We will then proceed to Kursk, where, with the blessing of Archbishop German of Kursk and Rylsk, the Conference will open with a procession of the cross to the place of the discovery of the Kursk Icon of the Mother of God, along with a painted copy of it. We will also participate in divine services, visiting the holy sites of the Kursk region, socializing with the young people of Ukraine, Belarus, Moscow and Kursk. We also plan to meet with Vladyka German and Hegumen Veniamin, Prior of Kursk Hermitage. 

Exactly two days later we will depart back to Moscow, and then fly to Germany. 

The German leg of the pilgrimage, in which Vladyka German, Archbishop Sergii of Ternopol and Kremenets and Archbishop Feodosy of Polotsk and Gluboksk will also participate, was blessed by Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany. There we will venerate the holy icons and historic sites of Munich, Stuttgart, Darmstadt and Wiesbaden, and, of course, meet with the local Orthodox youth. 

With the blessing of the Synod of Bishops, the Miracle-working Kursk-Root Icon will be brought to Germany from Canada. Many of the young people will have their first opportunity to pray before this most venerated icon of the Russian emigration, and will participate in a moleben. 

After three busy travel days, we will return to Russia, where we will celebrate the feast day of St Sergius of Radonezh in Holy Trinity-St Sergius Lavra. After the festive Liturgy and moleben there, our group will be received by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, who will give his Patriarchal blessing to the youth and have an informal discussion with them. 

We will also meet with the students of the Theological Academy, and the next day we will visit the churches of Moscow. 

No less interesting and intense will be the St Petersburg part of the pilgrimage. We will get to know the Northern Capital by first visiting the Fortress of SS Peter and Paul, where the pilgrims will be greeted by the symbolic firing of cannon, and a pannikhida at the tombs of the Russian emperors. 

On July 21, we will participate in a hierarchal Divine Liturgy at Kazan Cathedral on the feast day of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, a great holiday for all Orthodox Christians of every continent. We will also visit Tsarskoye Selo, Peterhof Palace, St Isaac Cathedral, the Savior-on-the-Blood Church; and we will meet with Bishop Nazary, Abbot of St Alexander Nevsky Lavra, and the seminarians and members of its Academy. 

Before we depart for Kursk, we will visit the Chapel of St Xenia the Blessed in Smolensk Cemetery, and the Monastery of St John, where the relics of St John of Kronstadt are, the centennial of whose death was celebrated everywhere in the diaspora last year. Also scheduled are other youth events, conferences and symposia.  

At every holy place, the youth will sing molebens and pray for their families and friends.

 

In Kursk, each delegation group will make a presentation, offer their national dishes and sing songs. The Conference will host round tables, meetings and cultural events. All this will help the young people get to know each other better, and learn about the life of Orthodox parishes in various parts of the planet. 

From Kursk we will head for Ukraine, where there will be ceremonies celebrating the memory of St Vladimir, the Baptizer of Rus, on July 28, and we will meet with His Eminence Metropolitan Vladimir and visit Pochaev Lavra. 

- Fr Andrei, let us return to the St Petersburg part of the pilgrimage. In May, the Orthodox youth of the Eastern American Diocese and of the City on the Neva River held a memorable, three-hour videoconference under the auspices of the academic society “Pokrov.” During the discussion, there was a series of very interesting proposals for joint activities. Will these projects be discussed during your visit to St Petersburg? Were any of the delegates also participants in that videoconference? Are actual meetings between them planned?  

- Yes, Andrei Muraviov and Elizabeth Stepanov are coming with us. 

One evening we will meet with the student members of “Pokrov” and other college-age youth of St Petersburg. I hope to discuss other joint plans, in particular, a visit to St Petersburg during the feast-day celebrations of St Tatiana, which is also considered a student holiday in Russia, in January of next year. 

- Fr Andrei, your trip is not limited to visiting the holy sites of Orthodoxy, for its aim is much deeper, isn’t that so? 

- Of course. In St Petersburg, for example, after divine services, we will meet with the administrations of the municipality and the oblast, with Governor Valentin Matvienko, and in Moscow, with Georgy Sergeevich Poltavchenko, the Plenipotentiary of the President in the Central Region, along with other famous cultural figures such as the director Nikita Sergeevich Mikhalkov.  

Of course, we will visit the Hermitage Museum, the works of which we only came to know through books because of the Iron Curtain.  

There will be meetings with the press, at which our youth will talk about the countries they live in, how they preserve their national and Orthodox traditions so far from their historic homeland.

 

Most importantly, our youth will have the chance to learn about various aspects of life in Russia, they will try to reveal the fullness of life in Russia, both its ecclesiastical and civil sides.  

In my opinion, this is very important. Among the members of the group are certainly future priests and those who will work in various spheres and occupy all kinds of posts in civic life, diplomats, economists, businessmen, historians, teachers…  

- Fr Andrei, can one hope that such Orthodox trips become a tradition?  

- That is our hope. The actual programs of such endeavors might change, but the essence and goals will remain the same. After the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion, the main mission of young people in the diaspora is to return to the homeland and talk about how they ended up outside the border of the land they love; how they survived in foreign lands and amidst people of a different mindset, preserving their Russian culture and Orthodox Christianity.  

Now there is a great deal of work with the Youth Committee of the Moscow Diocese, to include Orthodox youth from abroad in such large events as the recent post-Paschal meeting of the Patriarch with youth. 

I would also like to thank our Fund for Assistance to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia for its assistance in organizing this trip. They paid the airfare of the pilgrims, giving many young people who otherwise could not have afforded it the opportunity to participate in the Conference and pilgrimage, and set foot on their historic homeland. 

Tatiana Velelkina
New York