of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the U.S.A. & Canada
On Tuesday, August 7, 2007, the second Annual High School youth conference commenced. After enduring delayed flights, long drives, and heavy traffic, all attendees of the conference arrived at the beautiful New Gracanica camp in Grayslake, IL. The participants settled into their rooms and enjoyed a wonderful dinner prepared by the KSS. Several of the participants met each other for the first time and began to form friendships that may last a lifetime.
Of the 33 youth from across the United States who attended the conference, 16 attended the first conference in Detroit in 2006. The 17 new participants were quickly welcomed into the group and began making new friends immediately. The balance of 18 girls and 15 boys ensured that there were plenty of teens in each room to make new friends. Our Orthodox churches were represented from eight states including California, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The ages of the youth were nicely balanced at eight 17 year olds, eleven 16 year olds, eight 15 year olds, five 14 year olds, and one 13 year old. All four United States dioceses were represented at the conference.
V. Rev. Stevo Rocknage (McKeeseport, PA) led the participants and chaperones through introductions and an ice breaking exercise. The youth had to interact with each other and learn facts about each other on both a one-on-one basis and in small groups. The session ended with a discussion about “Walking the Path to Salvation” and the types of discussions and topics that the group would be involved with throughout the week.
Evening prayers took place in a small chapel in the dormitory and were followed by a late night of socializing and bonding. The exhausted participants turned in and spent their first night in their rooms.
The morning of Wednesday, August 8, started with wake up and Matins in the chapel officiated by Father Stevo. Breakfast was then served and the youth could be seen continuing to develop the new friendships that were initiated the previous evening. After breakfast the group was ready for the first presentation of the week.
V. Rev. Bratso Krsic (San Diego, CA) began the first presentation with some humorous video clips get the group loosened up and ready for a very spiritual discussion. The presentation “The Two Shall Become As One” focused on dating, courtship, marriage, and relationships. Discussions about the teachings of the church and the feelings and understanding of the youth ensued. Some discussions included whether dating has a purpose or is just for fun, the importance of abstinence, understanding the purpose and nature of marriage, and praying to God for guidance and help in choosing a spouse. The presentation was nicely balanced between active participation in meaningful discussions, group interaction, and prepared materials.
During lunch the conference participants were give the first of several gifts, a maroon shirt with the conference logo and dates. These shirts were generously donated by parishioners of St. Luke’s Serbian Orthodox Church in the Washington, DC area. After lunch a music rehearsal was held in preparation for the youth to sing responses during Divine Liturgy scheduled for Friday. The rehearsal was coordinated by Jelena Tosic (Chicago, IL) and Zora Lytkowski (Parma, OH), two councilors assisting with the activities for the week. Music rehearsal preceded a recreation period lasting until Vespers which was held in the magnificent church on the grounds of the New Gracanica monastery and officiated by Father Bratso.
Dinner brought the second gift for the youth conference participants, a booklet about the importance and the power of the Jesus Prayer. This gift was presented from the Youth Ministry Committee. Following dinner the second presentation of the week began. Father Stevo discussed “Using the Holy Spirit to Overcome Evil” which focused on temptation and the tools that God has provided to overcome it. Father Stevo then facilitated a very interactive discussion of six scenarios where the youth identified the temptations of each scenario and how they would handle these temptations in both groups (of peers) and individually. This discussion was very dynamic and many of the youth participated in meaningful conversation about how they would handle these situations and the church teachings that were applicable.
During recreation the participants went outside into the courtyard by the church, passed a lighted Frisbee around, and worked on a puzzle where several people were linked together and had to ‘unravel’ the knot they were in. This exercise required them to work together as a team and as a result they developed trust and further grew in their relationships. Recreation was followed by evening prayers in the chapel and lights out.
Thursday morning, August 9 brought our second full day of conference activities. The day kicked off with Matins, officiated by Rev. Dragan Petrovich (Indianapolis, IN), in the New Gracanica church. Fr. Dragan addressed the participants and discussed how it is their responsibility to participate in the living Liturgy through active listening, appropriate responses, and focusing on the prayers, readings, and priest instead of simply reading the service books. Additionally, Father Dragan brought forward a very special Cross given to the New Gracanica Metropolitinate by the monastics of Monastery Hilandar on Mount Athos. The hand carved wooden cross contained a sliver of the actual cross Jesus Christ was crucified on and was presented to the Metropolitanite in celebration of the reunion of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the U.S.A. and Canada.
Following breakfast the third presentation of the week began. The topic, “The Benefactor of Our Souls and Bodies” was presented by Father John Zdinak, Chancellor of the Diocese of Chicago and the Midwest of the OCA. Father John spoke with the youth about how we are all formed in God’s image and gave us the gift of free will, the freedom to choose how we live our lives. Father John spoke about how we use that freedom and what the consequences are of making the wrong decisions. The presentation then moved on to discuss how Christ prepared the way for the heavenly kingdom through his passion, death, and Resurrection. The second part of Father John’s presentation focused on the life choices that we make. He discussed the different choices that teenagers are required to make every day. Choices made at home and school, and with our family and friends. Then he discussed the choice of pro-life or pro-choice and the church teachings about abortion. He talked about choices made in our relationships, specifically the choice of abstinence and the damage that pre-marital sex can have in relationships. The group discussed school time choices like gossiping, cheating, and dealing with peers. Father John then completed his presentation with a prayer asking that “His will be your will – his choice be your choice.”
Lunch and a second music rehearsal took place after the presentation and Father Dragan spoke with the participants about the importance of confession and communion, encouraging the youth to participate in these sacraments while attending the conference. The remainder of Thursday afternoon consisted of free time (ping pong and playing outside), confession (for participants planning to take communion during Liturgy on Friday), and Vespers in the main church. The conference were blessed to have His Grace, Bishop Longin join them for the vesper service, officiated by Father Dragan.
Another delicious dinner was served by the KSS, after which the youth received their next gift from the youth ministry committee, a book about the Jesus Prayer and it’s importance to our faith.
Then the fourth and final presentation took place. Mr. Nick Radovancevic discussed how “Our Life is Not Our Own” in an emotional and thought provoking manner. Discussion included topics such as:
- What our youth consider to be the greatest obstacles to “Walking the Path to Salvation”
- How those obstacles can be overcome.
- We are made in the image of God.
- The importance of abstention and the impacts of premarital sex.
- Mr. Radovancevic’s presentation was very engaging with the teenagers and left a lasting impact.
Team Olympics, a recreational activity took place immediately following the fourth presentation. The youth were divided into three teams of 11 members each. They then participated in four team and one individual activities:
First, they all held hands crossed in front of them and had to untangle themselves into a circle without letting go.
For the second game, each team member had to successfully carry a balloon in between their knees the length of the room. Then they popped the balloon and tagged the next player.
The third activity was the individual activity, a bingo game where the youth had to identify people in the room who met certain qualifications and complete a bingo grid on their page.
For the fourth activity each team had to run to one end of the room, place their head on a bat, spin three times, and run back to the group.
The fifth and final game had everyone in the room place their shoes in a pile at the far end of the room. Each team member had to find their shoes and run back to the group.
After three team events all three teams were tied with one win each. The shoe race proved to be the tiebreaker. Congratulations team 3!
The youth then kolo danced for the remaining recreation time. When Djurjevdan came on every youth participant joined the circle, Evan Gummo was hoisted onto the shoulders of Alex Trbovich in the center of the circle, and everyone sang together. This was a beautiful moment during the conference where we saw the entire group as one instead of individuals or smaller groups.
Evening prayers was followed by a voluntary contemplation period where several youth and adults spoke candidly about questions they had. The clergy provided very insightful and understandable answers that all found useful. Everyone then turned in for the night after an exhausting and spiritually fulfilling, day.
Friday was the third and final full day of conference activities. The day started with the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy with His Grace, Bishop Longin. The officiating priest was Father Stevo. The clergy brought the table of oblation into the center of the church and everyone learned about the service of the Proskomedia performed by the priest prior to every Divine Liturgy. During this service the youth had the opportunity to pray for the living and deceased members of their families. This was followed by vesting of His Grace where the youth learned about the process of vesting a Bishop. Then an inspirational Liturgy took place where the youth used the music lessons they learned during the previous two days and sang all of the responses for the service. His Grace addressed the youth about the importance of their faith and this conference and welcomed them warmly to the New Gracanica monastery. The beautiful service provided yet another inspirational moment during the week that those in attendance will remember for a long time.
His Grace, Bishop Longin joined the conference participants for brunch, another delicious meal provided by the staff of the facility. After brunch we had the honor of planting a tree on the grounds of the monastery. The Red Oak was provided by the KSS and prepared by a wonderful volunteer of the local community. Father Stevo blessed the tree and each youth and adult present placed at least one shovel of dirt around the tree. Several youth completed spreading the dirt, assisted with watering, and covered the fresh ground with mulch. Then a picture of all the youth and adults was taken with the tree to remember the moment. A plaque will be placed on the tree to commemorate the conference. This tree will be something that our youth will be able to look at for many years in remembrance of this conference and the experience they had.
After a brief period for recreation the conference attendees loaded onto a bus and traveled to the Winchester Home, a nursing home in Gurnee, IL. For 90 minutes the youth served refreshments to the elderly, spoke with them, and assisted in transporting them around the facility. This service project was one of the most remarkable periods in the conference. Many of the youth participated in the type of service for the first time and came to understand themselves in ways they had never before contemplated. Likewise, a few of the youth were very comfortable visiting the patients and were an inspiration to the rest of the youth and adults.
The group left the nursing home and proceeded to Libertyville monastery, the seat of the Midwest Metropolitinate, and the home of His Eminence, Metropolitan Christopher. Upon arrival at the monastery, His Eminence spoke at length about the monastery grounds, how they have developed over the years, and his vision for the future of the monastery, seminary school, camp, and other buildings. Everyone then followed His Eminence into the church to view the recently completed frescoes. His Eminence took the youth throughout the church and explained all of the frescoes. He spoke about the historical importance of the monastery and its impact on the Serbian Orthodox Church in North America. Following the tour of the church all present venerated the tomb of St. Nikolaj located on the south side of the church. His Eminence thanked the youth for visiting Libertyville, spoke of the importance of the youth conference, and provided his blessings. The youth loaded onto the bus and returned to New Gracanica for dinner.
All participants were treated, yet again, to a wonderful meal provided by the cooks. Father Stevo thanked the cooks, Milica and Ratko, for the fabulous meals that they prepared throughout the conference. The youth and adults stood and thanked the cooks by singing Mnogaja Ljeta.
Dinner brought the final gifts of the conference for the youth. His Grace, Bishop Longin provided three copies of “Little Falcons” for each participant. Additionally the youth ministry committee presented a necklace with a shield bearing a cross and a phrase pertinent to what they learned at the conference and an icon. After dinner the group loaded up onto the bus again and traveled to play miniature golf. The youth (and adults) enjoyed playing golf on an 18-hole indoor course lit only by black light. The scenery around the course; golf clubs, golf balls, and hole features all glowed in brilliant colors under the black light. When the participants returned to New Gracanica we all prayed together at evening prayers. Father Dragan bid all participants a fond farewell as he was preparing to return to his parish. The teenagers started organizing their items to pack and then sat in the hall and contemplation area to get as much fellowship time as possible. They stayed up late and had cookies prepared by Jelena Tosic, a local chaperone who was a critical asset to the success of the week.
Saturday morning consisted of breakfast and heartfelt goodbyes for all of the participants, youth and adult alike, as they departed for their home communities. It is our hope that all of the youth will go back to their local parishes with the Grace of God and speak to their communities about this conference and the benefits that they received from it. It is our prayer that these wonderful youth will take this experience and remember it as they go through life and are required to make the hard choices that they face everyday.
The Youth Ministry committee would like to extend our gratitude to:
- The youth who attended the conference. These teenagers demonstrated the Glory of God over and over throughout the conference and instilled confidence and faith in the future of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North America
- His Grace, Bishop Longin and the people of the New Gracanica diocese for opening the doors to their monastery, allowing us to hold the conference at this beautiful location, and his support of this conference and the efforts to engage our youth.
- His Eminence Metropolitan Christopher, His Grace Bishop Dr. Mitrophan, His Grace Bishop Maxim, and His Grace Bishop Georgije for their support of the conference and all of our youth ministry activities.
- Father John Zdinak and Nick Radovancevich for coming to New Gracanica to speak with our youth and provide their guidance and the church teachings.
- Our chaperones, Brian Hayden, Rade Plavsic, Marko, Denise Pochan, Zora Lytkowski, Becky Kesich, and Jelena Tosic who tirelessly worked with our youth, coordinated activities, and demonstrated their love for our children and the future of our church.
- Jelena Tosic and Zora Lytkowski for coordinating music rehearsal and responses during Divine Liturgy.
- Obrad anc Becky Kesic, TSM Global Consultants, Marlene and Dennis Powell, and Milan & Danielle Kesic for donating the shirts given to the youth as gifts during the conference and worn in some of the pictures included with this article.
- Helen Runjo for coordinating use of the New Gracanica facilities.
- Mira Andjeljkovic from the KSS for coordinating the kitchen and food for the four days and for coordinating the tree planting that will be a lasting reminder of the purpose of our conference.
- Debby from Winchester Home for coordinating our time and activities with the patients of that facility.
- Milica & Ratko for cooking wonderful meals throughout the entire conference. Every meal was delicious and filling.
- Bill, who assisted with purchasing and planting the tree at New Gracanica.
I personally would like to thank my fellow youth ministry committee members.
- Father Stevo Rocknage
- Father Bratso Krsic
- Father Dragan Petrovich
- Father Radovan Jakovljevich
- Milan Radanovic
- Becky Kesic
- Alex Miskov
- Nikolaj Kostur
- Diana Burge
In Christ’s Love,