By Diana Szelei
Grayslake, IL - By the blessing of Bishop Longin, and the hard work of the Diocesan Youth Department, the first Annual Winter Youth Retreat of the Serbian Orthodox Midwest Diocese was held at the Monastery of New Gračanica from Monday, December 26th through Thursday, December 29th, 2011. The theme of this year’s retreat was “Reborn This Way”. Youth from several Great Lake states, as well as Arizona and Canada, came together to deepen their understanding of our Orthodox faith and strengthen their relationships with like-minded peers. The retreat included presentations and discussions related to important topics that our youth face every day. Recreational and fellowship events enabled our youth to interact with other high school students from throughout our Diocese.
The retreat began on Monday evening with an Akathist to the Mother of God asking her to guide and protect all retreaters and staff during their time together. A time of fellowship, which included activities and snacks, followed the Akathist. The evening ended with “Contemplation” with Fr. Serafim (Baltic), a much beloved camp time tradition where retreaters receive an Orthodox perspective on their questions about faith and life. Participants then went to their rooms to settle in and prepare for the fun filled days ahead.
Tuesday morning started with Morning Prayer where retreaters participated in reading the 1st Hour. Following breakfast, Dr. Helen Creticos Theodoropoulos of Loyola University Chicago and St. Sava Serbian Orthodox School of Theology, presented a lecture on the similar struggles that the early Orthodox Church and today’s Orthodox Church face and the ways the Holy Fathers directed the church to stand strong in their faith in the face of these struggles. Tuesday afternoon was full of fellowship that included organized group activities, learning new church hymns, and free time. Following the reading of the 9th Hour and dinner, participants visited Bishop Longin’s home and enjoyed Lenten Hot Coco and a talk with Fr. Milorad Loncar about our beloved Bishop Longin.
The reading of the 3rd Hour opened up Wednesday’s program. Following breakfast, participants were involved in a community circle, led by Dn. Marko Bojović, where they each shared “Why is it awesome to be Serbian (Orthodox).” The retreaters shared from their hearts many reasons why they love their faith and their culture. The afternoon was reserved for more fellowship activities.
Additionally, Fr. Dragan Petrović, Director of Diocesan Youth Department, lead a discussion on confession, communion and Divine Liturgy. This helped prepare retreaters for the Sacrament of Confession that immediately followed the discussion. After dinner the youth participated in a service project where they wrote letters to the needy and poor. These letters accompanied hats, gloves and scarves that the youth brought to the retreat as an offering of love towards those in the community who are less fortunate. All of these items were given to a homeless shelter in the Chicago area. Wednesday’s program ended with the reading of the Communion Cannon in preparation for Divine Liturgy the following morning.
Divine Liturgy was the focus of Thursday. The fullness of Orthodoxy was present as all retreaters participated in the service by praying, as well as assisting the clergy and cantors. Glory be to God, all retreaters who were able also partook of the Sacrament of Communion.
With the end of Divine Liturgy, the first annual Youth Winter Retreat of the Midwest Diocese came to a successful close. The presence of Orthodoxy and fellowship throughout the retreat was not only consistently evident by the relationships and interactions of the youth, but also by the way the participants parted from one another as they made their ways back home to family and friends.
The participants, as well as the Diocesan Youth Department, would like to thank the awesome counselors, who organized and led the fellowship activities, and the KSS, our dear and good sisters, for provide tasty Lenten meals and snacks. Additionally, they would like to thank those who made specific financial donations to the Diocesan Youth Department. These donations went directly to supporting the retreat. Finally, they would like to thank the parents and families of all participants for allowing the youth to be involved at the first Annual Winter Youth Retreat of the Serbian Orthodox Midwest Diocese.
We hope and pray that all High School aged youth will plan on being with us in the year 2012 (Dec. 26-29, 2012)!