News and Events - January 2018

NEWS AND EVENTS - Monday, January 1, 2018

By Tanja Samardzija

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The Winter Youth Retreat was once again a great success.  Over 120 participants (maximum capacity reached and other people were politely being turned away but they were still coming as guests during the day)  gathered at the New Gracanica Monastery to experience and learn more about their faith while enjoying the fellowship of others.  Thanks to the blessing of our bishop Longin and protection of The Mother of God, the participants had the opportunity to attend lectures, discussions, church services and visit the game room that held a variety of activities.  On the first evening, participants met their roommates and lined up for dinner to further get to know each other.   The orientation then educated the participants regarding the schedule and rules for the week.  Everybody introduced themselves individually and then proceeded to the church for an Akathist service.  After the service, participants sat in the circle and had the opportunity to share their most difficult moments of 2017.

​On Wednesday, we all attended a service during which water was blessed and every participant was soaked with and given holy water, an icon of St. Mardarije and a bracelet with the acronym of the Jesus prayer.  After the service, we had breakfast while listening to the reading and were paired up for Serbian anti-yoga.  The participants therefore, had the opportunity to continue meeting new people.  Fr. Dragan then read a letter sent by Dr. Suzi Cekarmis  that emphasized the importance of each participant valuing his/her personhood.  This can be done by taking care of ourselves spiritually, physically and emotionally.  We continued to discuss the importance of differentiating our own thoughts from those that come from elsewhere.  Popadija Biljana began teaching the liturgical music in order to prepare for Divine Liturgy.  After the music lessons, participants ate lunch and had a few hours of free time before the Holy Unction service. The Holy Unction Service allowed the participants to be anointed 7 times while also listening to 7 epistles and gospels - for healing of soul and body.  Dinner followed the service along with a presentation by Fr. Serafim during which he talked about his trip to Jerusalem.  This led to a discussion panel of Fr. Serafim, Fr. Marko, Fr. Nikola, Fr. Alexei, Fr. Mile and Fr. Dragan, during which participants asked a wide variety of questions. 
The following morning, prayers were held in the hall and participants listened to readings throughout.  Afterwards, the participants bundled up for anti-yoga and had the opportunity to introduce themselves to more people.   Teta Biljana continued teaching the participants how to sing liturgical music and even included songs such as “Hajte Braco” and “Usnila je DubokSanak” a song about Kosovo, as we do every year. Fr. Marko gave his silent presentation during which participants were instructed to choose their favorite quotes and discuss them in their small groups after the presentation.  Lunch was then served and free time began soon after during which,participants sang and played the piano, recorder, guitar, enjoyed activities in the game room and socialized with friends outside.  The participants then prepared themselves for the vigil and confession.  Fr. Dragan explained the importance of preparation for Holy Communion and answered any questions prior to the confession.  The last presentation of the day was given by Dr. Tatiana, Katarina and Sandra.  Dr. Tatiana discussed the science of habits and how to break or make habits.  She explained the importance of being conscious of our bad habits in order to change them. Katarina continued by discussing the topic of fasting, why we fast, when we fast and how we fast.  She explained how fasting is a tool that we should use to become more self-aware during various feast days and fasting periods. Lastly, Sandra explained the importance of making a habit of prayer and the meaning of the Jesus prayer especially.  A common theme among all of these subsections is the need for a support system.  Having a spiritual father, parents or siblings is vital to success in achieving our new goals for the New Year.  After a question/answer period, we prepared for bed in order to be well rested and ready for the Divine Liturgy.
We began Friday with Divine Liturgy, and all participants partook of Holy Communion after having prepared through confession and fasting.  Fr. Dragan then used the drone to take a group picture outside of the church of all the participants - we are calling it: the largest human player wrote ever.  His Grace Bishop Longin, held a discussion allowing the participants to ask questions.  A few of the questions included topics such as the future of the OCAchurch, the most astonishing miracle witnessed by Bishop Longin as well as the importance of finding a spouse that is either born in the faith or willing to learn about Orthodoxy and accept the faith.  Overall the common theme remained to stay close and active to the church.  After the discussion, free time followed.  The last presentation of the retreat discussed marriage, monastic life, and the various priests and popadije gave advice based on their own experiences.  Participants were divided into smaller groups in order to further ask questions.  Afterwards, the talent show began and participants shared their gifts related to singing, playing the guitar and comedy.  Participants then had free time for the remainder of the night. 
On the last day, Fr. Dragan once again paired up participants for Serbian Anti-yoga and followed with a discussion on feedback for the 2017 Winter Youth Retreat.  Overall, participants expressed enjoying the entire retreat and hope to return next year. 

PS it was especially nice to be woken up by church music and the smell of incense every morning – Priests were incensing all the rooms as one of the helpers was playing church music on the jukebox.

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