Protopriest Andrei Sommer:
“Today’s Youth Must Follow the Lead of the Apostles”
On October 15, 2011, the Synodal Youth Department of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia held a youth symposium devoted to the missionary work of St Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomensk, Illuminator of America, and to missionary work in today’s world.
This was the third such symposium held at the Synodal residence of the First Hierarch of ROCOR. The first one, held in 2008, was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the death of St John of Krontstadt. Last year, the topic was the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Russian Church Abroad.
According to custom, the symposium opened with a moleben in the Cathedral of Our Lady “of the Sign” before the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God. A reliquary with the relics of St Innocent was brought especially for this event from the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America. His Grace Bishop Jerome of Manhattan, Vicar of the Eastern American Diocese of ROCOR, blessed the participants with little icons of St Innocent blessed over his relics.
The Vice President of the Synodal Youth Department, Protopriest Andrei Sommer, shared his thoughts on this event:
- Fr Andrei, can you explain why this symposium was special?
- This year, it was decided that the symposium would take a form commonly used as early as the 1950’s by the St Vladimir Clubs. By that time, a great many of our compatriots had already moved from Europe to America. The adults and their children found themselves in an alien land. Then, with the blessing of Metropolitan Anastassy, the First Hierarch at the time, they began to organize a network of St Vladimir Clubs, the aim of which was to educate the younger generation in the Orthodox faith, provide social help. Without the Orthodox Church, they would have been in real danger of assimilating, dissolving in the local societies, losing their roots, their culture, and everything that we call “Russianness” on every continent of the world.
The first clubs continued with the blessing and spiritual guidance of Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky), Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky), Bishop Averky (Taushev), and a renowned missionary who did a great deal of work with youth, Protopriest Sergei Shchukin.
Seventy years have passed since then, but the topic of assimilation has not lost its importance today, not only for those who were born in America, but those who have recently arrived. For this reason we decided to hold this symposium on a smaller scale. We were able to raise and discuss many practical questions, which will become guiding points in taking action for the Synodal Youth Department, and for the participants themselves.
- The main lecture of the symposium seemed to resonate, I would say it set the tone for the rest of the meeting. The topic of missionary work as exemplified by St Innocent of Moscow, I think, has long ago awaited attention among the young generation today.
From 1842 to 1828, during the first four years of St Innocent’s ministry in Russian America, he developed the first Aleutian grammar with an Aleutian-Russian dictionary, he established the Aleutian alphabet, the Gospel of Matthew was translated into Aleutian, and part of the Gospel of Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, a short Catechism, a history of the Church, as well as several sermons.
During his time in America and after, as a hierarch, he concentrated on education, so wherever he went he founded schools, compiled textbooks and personally taught church and lay subjects and even trades.
Over a hundred years later, the example of St Innocent, Apostle of America and Siberia, forms a spiritual bond between America and Russia and is especially close to our youth, who live in America and carry on to the best of their abilities their Apostolic efforts far from their historic homeland.
We invited Hieromonk Cyprian (Alexandrou), Dean of and teacher at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY, to be the main speaker; he is a native of Australia, though he spent a good amount of time in Greece. Fr Cyprian does a lot of youth work, and was a founder of the monastery’s internet site. His talk on his life and work was not so much a lecture as a discussion with the young people about what a true missionary should be and how he can bring the light of faith in Christ to the world.
Fr Cyprian examined and discussed a work by St Innocent titled Directions Down the Path into the Kingdom of Heaven, still relevant and crucial in our time, with the youth. This was written by the saint during his time as Bishop of Kamchatka, the Kuriles and Aleutian Islands. This brochure covers Christian life, which in an abridged and concentrated form describes the main things one must know, and how a Christian must live regardless of the country or continent he lives on. This, one of the finest works of the hierarch, first written by him in Aleutian, and enjoyed dozens of editions in various languages of the world.
It is in this brochure that the personal qualities of this preacher and missionary are revealed. The speaker examined them with the listeners. I think that it is worth mentioning them. These are purity of heart and chastity, humility; attention to the voice of God; prayer; daily self-denial; the reading and attention to Holy Scripture; the Mysteries of the Church and most of all Holy Communion. Without these, any preaching is in vain.
As St Innocent wrote: “Every Christian soul is filled with the Holy Spirit, the main thing is not to drive Him away with one’s sins.” Our young people should all remember this, no matter where in the world they live. The most important thing is that the Orthodox Christian lived an exemplary Christian life.
- It is good that the bulk of the symposium was on practical topics...
- I would say that two-thirds of the symposium was on practical matters. There was a workshop. I should clarify that we started to use this method of youth work after July’s 12th All-Diaspora Youth Conference in Paris.
We showed the young people the work we have done over the last year and the new projects the Synodal Youth Department is developing. The news that a new project was launched just before the symposium was met with excitement—a website called YouthTube at www.youtube.com (http://www.youtube.com/user/SynodYouthTube?feature=mhee). Alena Plavsic, Program Coordinator of the Fund for Assistance to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia talked about the Fund’s work and how money is collected and distributed. During the symposium, Alena proposed that the youth themselves make telephone calls to donors and ask that they support the youth programs, which was enthusiastically taken up by the participants.
The kids had a lively discussion on the directions of missionary work they were interested in, and the frameworks within they wished to use their talents, to become a moving force in their parishes, and actively help their parish rectors.
- One of the projects that drew the most interest was the beloved pilgrimages…
- Of course, it is easy to understand the trips to the Holy Land, Egypt, Solovki… And now the Holy Land is the place our youth most expressed a wish to visit during one of the Twelve Feasts, to pray there, and if they received blessing for it, to help one of our monasteries in Palestine.
The young people also expressed interest in publishing, developing websites, through which they could find a wider audience to disseminate information about such contemporary sins as drug abuse and suicide and to help those who are troubled.
I would like to say that the practical work sometimes reminded me of confession, when the kids would talk about what is in their souls, what problems cause anxiety in their friends not only in church but outside of it, where they work and study: how is one not to flaunt one’s faith, but not hide it; how not to offend those of other faiths with whom you work or study; how the Orthodox youth must approach the matter of sex.
It is a joy to see that in America, materially more comfortable than Russia, our youth has not lost the sense of compassion and expressed willingness to participate in social programs—work with the poor, homeless, visiting the sick in hospitals. The main thing in my opinion is not to restrain, or extinguish the good-hearted intentions of the youth to work towards the good of the Church, to encourage and not stifle initiative. All this work must, however, be done with the blessing and supervision of their parish rectors.
Of course, our symposia do not compare in scope to the conferences, but such frequent meetings of youth give them the opportunity to learn and internalize new ideas and new ways of working, to coordinate projects, and mostly, they provide the seedlings that the young people will bring back to their parishes and try to inspire missionary work.
The questions we touched upon at the symposium which excited our young people I will also raise at a conference to be held in Atlanta, which include youth groups from various jurisdictions which participate in the Assembly of Canonical Bishops of America.
- Has the composition of the symposium changed this year?
- This year, it was mainly seminarians and activist youth from the parishes of the Eastern American Diocese that participated. This is youth from the Church, those to whom missionary work is dear, those who always participate in our events. We are happy that young people from Brooklyn participated, who had come to America from Russia and the countries of the CIS. Many of them came to life in the Church here, some were baptized in America. Their parents came to America for different reasons than those of the first waves of immigrants. But both they and their children face the same problems, especially assimilation in a non-Russian and heterodox society.
Unfortunately, the churches in Brooklyn, for one reason or another, don’t yet have youth groups where they could concentrate their efforts, and not simply attend services. I think these are the people we must work with. Many of them came to us themselves, and tomorrow they will bring their friends to missionary work. To each, the Lord gives a special mission.
They also had time to socialize. An outdoor barbeque was offered halfway through the symposium, prepared by the sisterhood of the Synodal Cathedral. New ideas were spawned during these informal conversations, sometimes pointed questions were asked which were noted for further discussion and action.
The youth symposium ended with all-night vigil, at which the young participants sang and read.