Third Annual Youth Conference
The Third Annual High School Youth Conference
of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North & South America
August 6-10, 2008

Hollywood vs. Holy Wood: The Power of Image

Glory Be to God!

The third annual youth conference was held on the beautiful campus of the University of Southern California in sunny Los Angeles. Forty-two Orthodox teenagers arrived from across the country throughout the afternoon on Wednesday August 6, 2008. Some saw Lindsay Lohan at the airport, some saw the cast and crew of The Office, which was taping in our dormitory when we arrived, some even had to deal with flight diversions to Music City USA (YeeHaw) and delays. Eventually, everyone arrived safe and sound thanks to the capable hands of our airport chauffeurs Father Nikola Ceko, Father Norman Kosanovich, and Chris Rocknage. Navigating the streets and freeways of Los Angeles is a challenge, and Father Norman has become very capable during his eight years in LA…even with a full 15 passenger van!

Participation was balanced and each region of the country was represented well with 20 teenagers from the Eastern Diocese, 15 from the Western diocese, and seven from the MidWest. It was also balanced well between girls (23) and boys (19) with seven chaperones and five priests in attendance. Additionally, 24 teens had attended a previous youth conference either in Detroit (2006) or Chicago (2007). Finally, there was a good balance in ages of the participants:

14 - 7
15 - 7
16 - 12
17 - 13
18 -3

Registration at the dormitory at USC took place on the sidewalk in front of the lobby in the beautiful California sunshine. After registering and getting settled into their rooms the participants enjoyed free time on campus going to the bookstore, exploring the grounds, and catching up with friends they may not have seen for a year. Upon conclusion of registration, His Grace Bishop Maxim joined all the teens for the first of many treks across campus to the cafeteria for dinner.

After dinner, the teenagers and His Grace stopped for pictures at a few locations on campus. Upon arrival at the dormitory, everyone present for the conference gathered in the lounge where His Grace addressed them. He extended a warm welcome from the Western Diocese. Then he spoke about St. Paul’s teachings to the Corinthians regarding receiving one another. He helped everyone understand what it means to receive each other and the importance of loving each other. His Grace then fielded questions from the participants about various topics. Upon conclusion of his remarks, each teenager received a blessing and an icon of Christ the Pantocrator with a prayer on the back.  
At the conclusion of the session with Bishop Maxim, the University sent a representative to review campus safety and security. After welcoming the participants to USC, the officer provided an overview of the services available on campus to keep guests safe. The important information was well received by the attendees.

The final organized event of the first day was an orientation and ice breaker session run by Father Stevo Rocknage, chairperson of the Youth Ministry Committee.  Fr. Stevo explained to the teenagers the structure of the conference and reviewed important information about the schedule, activities, goals, and interaction necessary to make the conference a successful event. Then he had the teenagers participate in an ice breaker activity designed to help them learn facts about their peers. The lighthearted activity went a long way towards getting them to interact with each other and start the seeds of new friendships. The first day’s activities came to a close with evening prayers, led by Father Dragan Petrovich from Indianapolis, IN.

The second day of the conference began with morning prayers, followed by another trek across campus to enjoy breakfast at the cafeteria. Upon returning from breakfast, several teens and a few priests became stuck in one of the dormitory elevators, requiring them to be rescued by campus security. After a hot and sweaty period of time, they were successfully rescued and everyone gathered to hear our first presenter of the conference, Father George Taweel.

Father George is the co-founder and partner of TLC Entertainment ( and is a writer and director in the entertainment industry with over 35 years of experience. He is well known and respected in the entertainment community. His company, TLC Entertainment, specializes in creating, producing, directing, writing, and distributing all forms of family entertainment. Father George is working very hard to bring Christian values back into Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

The topics of Father George’s discussions were Christians in Hollywood and The Power of Image, divided into two separate sessions on Thursday morning and afternoon.  During the first session Father George explained how Hollywood is the most significant cultural influence around the world. He talked about the history of television and how he got his start in the entertainment industry and then built on that to become successful in Hollywood. An additional component of this first session was a discussion of his role as a member of the Orthodox clergy in Hollywood. He was recently ordained a priest after being a deacon for ten years. He spoke about his obligation to pass on the unadulterated faith to the next generation of Christians, similar to how a relay runner hands off a baton to the next runner in a race, in a way that the next generation can understand.

Father George concluded his first session with a discussion about prayer in entertainment. He described prayer as a broadband connection directly to God, and spoke very well about how prayer ascends into the 8th day, which is the never ending day of the Kingdom of God. This visual representation was very effective. After discussing the importance and power of prayer he showed a collection of movie scenes in which the characters were praying to God. This was followed by a clip about the National Media Prayer Breakfast, an annual event organized in 2004 to pray for the “leaders of global media who wield tremendous influence” ( This Christian event is an effort to bring God’s influence the decision making of the most important people in the entertainment industry. Along with the breakfast, Father George spoke briefly about the Media Leader Prayer Calendar (, a daily prayer calendar for influential people in the media industry. His participation in this event and his efforts to bring Christian values back into Hollywood is an inspiration of all participants in this year’s Youth Cocference.

Lunch for Day 2 took place in the cafeteria, after which the group congregated again in the common area for the second part of Father George’s presentation. He began the second session with some statistics about Christianity and the media in America. These statistics helped to put some perspective around the influence the Christian Church, the Orthodox Church, and media have on individuals in American society. The average Christian gets 50 hours per year of exposure to influences from the church, but 3,500 hours per year of exposure to media influences from various sources. This 7,000% difference compounds the church’s difficulty in trying to impact society. This discussion was followed by an explanation of the rating system for the entertainment industry.
During the afternoon break the participants were served soda, candy, and fresh popped movie theater popcorn. The final portion of Father George’s presentation ended with a discussion about some current movies, books, and television shows and how they fit or counter Orthodox beliefs and teachings. Some current media discussed included The Dark Knight, The DaVinci Code, Disney animation projects, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings. At the conclusion of the afternoon session the youth participants were provided bright neon green tee-shirts as gifts from the committee to remember this year’s conference.

Evening festivities consisted of a dinner and pool party at the home of Laurie and Steve Burge in San Marino, CA. Laurie, a youth ministry committee member, graciously opened her doors to the entire group, and provided a catered authentic Mexican dinner.  The Burge’s patio and pool were the perfect setting for a fun-filled relaxing evening away from campus.

After dinner Father Stevo led a discussion with the teenagers about how the Youth Ministry Committee can improve the annual conference, “Our View”, and the general activities for youth in our parishes across North and South America. Laurie then presented a birthday cake for two of our participants, Kyran Alexander from Pheonix, AZ, and Chris Radanovic, committee member from Steelton, PA. Everyone then returned to USC and turned in for the night after a long day.
After morning prayers and breakfast on Friday August 8, Father Dragan Petrovich from Indianapolis, IN presented the third session of the weekend. Father Dragan spoke about the power of prayer and its positive influences. He then focused his discussion on St. Patrick of Ireland and the Lorica of St. Patrick. He spoke about the miracle of St. Patrick and the fire where St. Patrick proved that his God is the true God.  

Father Dragan gave two special gifts to each of the youth present at the conference. First he gave a beautiful prayer book titled Orthodox Daily Prayers which included morning, evening, and various prayers. Notable is the inclusion of the Lorica of St. Patrick which Father Dragan discussed in his presentation. The second gift from Father Dragan was a wooden cross that he had specially made in Serbia. The cross bore the inscription “Youth Conf 2008” and will be a wonderful reminder to all of this year’s participants of the conference.

After lunch on Friday everyone boarded busses and travelled to Universal Studios.  As a full group, they participated in a tour of the Universal Studios back lot, where many very popular movies were filmed. Some of the exciting parts of the tour included a special effects scene with two cars from The Fast and the Furious, a flash flood, an earthquake experienced from inside a Los Angeles subway station, a shark attack, and a very close call with a knife wielding Norman Bates (from Psycho). The group also had the opportunity to see some fantastic sets on the back lot including the plane crash set from The War of the Worlds, the shark sets from Jaws, and a row of famous cars from movies across time. The tour had to go silent several times because of filming of the popular television show Desperate Housewives in a few studios throughout the back lot.

At the conclusion of the back lot tour, the teens broke up into smaller groups with a chaperone to ride rides and see other attractions throughout the park. With strict instructions to be at the busses by 5:00, everyone dispersed for a good time. Some groups went to ride rides, like The Mummy and The Simpsons. Some groups went to see shows like Special Effects Stages. Father Dragan Petrovich, from Indianapolis, IN was selected to participate in an acting demonstration. When asked if he could read English, his response of “malo” drew laughs from the crowd. Needless to say, Father Dragan was not a very good actor and should probably keep his day job.  One group, chaperoned by committee member Chris Radanovic, went to ride the Jurassic Park ride. After waiting in line for over an hour, riding the ride, and getting soaked (yes, they really mean it when they say you WILL get wet on this ride), they finally made it back to the busses at 5:30pm, 30 minutes after the instructed meeting time. Luckily, the other groups were shopping and taking pictures, and probably did not notice who showed up late.

The busses then departed Universal Studios and returned to USC for dinner, followed by the fourth session, “Personal Relationships in a Dot Com World” presented by committee member Becky Kesic from Washington, DC. Becky engaged the teens and led an often animated discussion about types of relationships, types of communications, and whether technology can enhance a relationship. She also demonstrated the importance of face-to-face communication and how this cannot be replaced by technology. Becky then discussed the dangers of electronic communications including people providing false information about themselves or another person and hurting people. She then moved on to talk about the impact media and technology has on what ages teenagers have relationships and become physical. Becky gave the teens six questions they should ask themselves when they are faced with difficult decisions about their actions:

1.If you were to ask Jesus if this was ok, would he say “yes”?
2.Are my actions and words affecting my future and the future of my loved ones in a positive way?
3.If my thoughts were made into a movie, would I invite my parents to watch it?
4.If my actions and words were broadcast on the 5:00 news, would I be embarrassed?
5.Have I spent quality time with God today?
6.Is this relationship in my life helping me or hindering me?

After a short break, Becky concluded with an exercise where the teens broke up into five groups. Each group was given a scenario and the group had to answer questions and discuss each of the scenarios. Then they presented these scenarios and their responses to the rest of the group.
The teenage participants were given two additional gifts at the conclusion of Becky’s presentation. First, a book titled Hear Me, A Prayer Book for Orthodox Teens compiled by Annalisa Boyd. This prayer book from Conciliar Press contains daily and special prayers organized specifically for a teenager. The second gift was a booklet, Which Came First: The Church or the New Testament, another Conciliar Press publication by A. James Bernstein, a Jewish convert to Christ, outlining the author’s personal journey towards understanding the New Testament.

The evening concluded with evening prayers followed by free time. Natasha Trajkovich, from San Diego, CA, became the official conference ping pong master when she defeated three priests (Fr. Dragan from Indianapolis, Fr. Bratso from San Diego, and Fr. Djokan from New York City) as well as six boys before losing her first game.  Congratulations Natasha! Forty-two very tired teenagers once again turned in after another long day of activities.

The fourth, and final full day of activities, began with a Pan Orthodox Youth Festival held at St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Christian Cathedral in Los Angeles. The teenagers were warmly welcomed to a continental breakfast and given the opportunity to mingle and meet other teenagers from Orthodox communities all over the Los Angeles municipal area. The teenagers participated in two exercises designed to break the ice and interact with the other teens. The first exercise was titled “Getting to Know You” and consisted of a human treasure hunt where the participants had to get signatures from other teenagers who met certain qualifications such as, someone who attends St. Nicholas church. The twenty minute exercise had all the teenagers interacting with each other and learning about each other very quickly. The winner of this exercise was Sarah Nezich from Detroit, MI and third place was awarded to Savo Majstorovich from New York, NY. Congratulations Sarah and Savo!

Following the first exercise, Father George Taweel once again presented on Hollywood vs. Holy Wood: The Power of Image. A notable difference in the Saturday presentation included some behind the scenes looks at the making of The Kids Ten Commandments, an animated production by Fr. George’s company.

The second exercise consisted of a sheet of 30 questions, 15 about Hollywood and 15 about Holy Wood. This was a test to see who could answer more questions correctly. The teenagers were able to discuss the questions with each other and then found out which topic they knew more about, the entertainment industry or the church.

Following Father George’s presentation all of the teenagers congregated in the church for a beautiful Akathist to St. Herman of Alaska and some inspirational words from His Grace, Bishop Joseph, Bishop of the Antiochian church in Los Angeles and the West.  The group then boarded the bus to return to USC.

After dinner on Saturday the teenagers congregated in the common area of the dorm to complete some final requirements for the retreat, a survey of their opinions of the experiences from the week, and a paragraph about their experiences to be printed in future editions of “Our View”. They were given free time to relax, mingle, play basketball, pool, ping pong, or just hang out with new and old friends. As dark fell over the campus everyone was given a special treat, a slide show of pictures taken of the conference organized by Andreana Ceko from Los Angeles. The wonderful slide show, put together over a four hour window that same day, went through dozens of pictures taken by Father Nikola Ceko and was put to music. Some great pictures of the week’s activities were included, but perhaps the funniest pictures were of Alex Osman from Aliquippa, PA looking at the girls sitting on either side of him. Special thanks to Andreana for organizing this beautiful slide show. Following the slide show the teenagers were treated to ice cream sundaes and evening prayers before calming down and turning in for the final night of the conference.

Sunday morning check-out took place at 8:00 am, after which everyone boarded a bus for St. Stevens Cathedral in Alhambra, CA, for Matins and Divine Liturgy. The beautiful service took place in the magnificent church and was very inspirational. Alex Osman did an exceptional job of chanting the epistle during Divine Liturgy. After Liturgy, everyone congregated in Father Nikola’s backyard for In-N-Out Burgers for lunch. This southeast chain of burger restaurants (California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah) was the perfect meal for 42 teenagers to complete their conference. After some tearful goodbyes the bus for the airport loaded up and everyone went their separate ways, full of memories of inspirational activities and new friends, and the anticipation of next year’s conference to be held in the Eastern Diocese.

The Youth Ministry Committee of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America would like to thank the following for making this wonderful conference possible:

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 Maxim and the people of the Western American Diocese for opening their doors and hearts and hosting this year’s conference.

His Eminence Metropolitan Christopher, His Grace Bishop Dr. Mitrophan, His Grace Bishop Longin, and His Grace Bishop Georgije for their support of these conferences and all of our youth ministry activities.

Father Nikola Ceko and the staff of St. Stevens Cathedral for assisting with the local planning and coordination for the retreat.

Father George Taweel, Father Dragan Petrovic, and Becky Kesich for preparing inspirational presentations to help the teenagers grow in their faith.

Our chaperones: Nancy Cora, Zora Lytkowski, JoAnn Gummo, Becky Kesic, Brian Hayden, and Chris Rocknage who tirelessly worked with our youth, coordinated activities, and demonstrated their love for our children - our young Church.

The University of Southern California and the staff of Pardee Tower for being gracious hosts and providing a fantastic facility for our conference. Their assistance throughout the week was critical to the success of the conference.

The Burge’s for opening their beautiful home to 42 teenagers and several adults. This activity was a high point in the conference and will be remembered fondly by everyone who had the pleasure of attending.

Serbian Orthodox Church

Official website of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North, Central & South America.
Any reproduction of content from this site must be quoted in its entirety with the source cited. ©2019.  All rights reserved.