With the blessing of His Eminence, Archbishop Peter, the diocese’s annual St. Herman Conference took place December 26-30 in Cincinnati, Ohio, hosted by St. George Russian Orthodox Church. Converging from all over the diocese – from Texas to the upper peninsula of Michigan and from Chicago to Tennessee and parts between, 42 youth assembled at the YMCA Camp Kern to nurture their faith during winter break. Chaperones, speakers and organizers swelled the group to 60! – a record in the decade we have been holding our own diocesan conference.
Speakers addressed the current issues of gender and identity. Matushka Elizabeth Philo, from St. John Orthodox Church in Kennewick, Washington spoke on “The Golden Path; what it is to Be a Woman in our Modern Age.” Professor Edward Novis from Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, New York followed with two talks: “The Modern Obsession with Gender” and “The Orthodox Understanding of Identity.” Fr. Nicholas Park concluded the talks on the last day of the conference, amplifying Prof. Novis’ second talk with the goal of answering specific questions the youth has posed throughout the conference.
The talks were followed by roundtable and small-group discussions led by Vladyka Peter, along with the speakers as well as the assembled chaperones and guests: Fr. George Lardas, Fr. Seraphim Holland, Fr. Michael Carney, Fr. Chistopher Stanton, Fr. Leonty Naidzions, Fr. Daniel Marshall, Fr. Deacon Alexander Petrovsky, Mat. Ann Lardas, Mat. Rachel Rose, Larissa Sander, Maryna Orzhynska, Demetra Durham and Zhanna Skalitsky. The talks can be watched on the Diocesan YouTube channel or listened to on the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church website (www.orthodox.net/sermons/index.html#S158).
After nourishing spiritual understanding in the youth, the conference provided an opportunity for active good works: the entire group volunteered at Matthew25 Ministries, a local charity which repurposes damaged industrial products and other donated items to meet the needs of the poor throughout the world. Some of the group salvaged latex paint from partially used buckets of paint, while others sorted used medicine bottles. The group followed this with a visit to a trampoline park.
Prior to services for the Holy Forefathers at St. George parish, a variety of activities exposed the youth to various liturgical arts. Hieromonk Paisios, Monk Edward and Monk Nicholas from Holy Cross Monastery explained how incense is made and then gave the youth a chance to make their own! Kurt Sander reviewed the basic elements of iconography and then instructed the group on how to create a simplified icon of the Theotokos, including a gold-leaf nimbus. Fr. Deacon Alexander Petrovsky and Demetra Durham walked the youth through prosphora baking – and their prosphora were used in the liturgy the next day. Fr. Daniel Marshall explained the basics of photographic composition. The group then turned their photographer’s eyes to the beauty of the parish.
Throughout this time, Larissa Sander, chairwoman of the Diocesan Liturgical Music Committee, had been preparing the entire group to sing the entire Vigil and Hierarchical Liturgy – without assistance from a group of experienced adults! With just three rehearsals, the full choir wonderfully chanted the services, glorifying God and the Holy Forefathers with their voices. The conference participants read their own pre-communion prayers prior to Vigil, during which time they confessed.
Archbishop Peter presided at the festal services along with 9 priests and 2 deacons. The local and visiting clergy were joined by the diocesan dean, Archpriest Ilia Marzev and Deacon Matthew Kaminsky. Subdeacons for the services were Adam Gedney and Rassophore Monk Nicholas, assisted by Jacob Ponomarenko and parish altar servers. The St. George parish sisterhood prepared delicious meals both Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.
After the festal services, Jerusalem Stanton taught Contra Dancing to the group and then Zhanna Skalitsky and her daughters, Daria and Dorotea, led everyone in traditional Russian games. The evening concluded with a conference favorite: the talent show!
The labors of many individuals, both on the Diocesan Youth Committee, the Diocesan Music Committee and at St. George parish helped put on this valuable conference. May God richly reward them all! We are also very grateful to the St. John Kochurov Society, the Fund for Assistance, the Diocesan Youth Fund and various individuals for their generous financial support, without which the conference could not be held. Many participants received scholarships and support was given to help others drive the 6 to 16 hours to reach Cincinnati.
The entire group is looking forward to meeting again next year – and, God willing, before that. Archbishop Peter announced at Vigil that he will be leading a Youth Pilgrimage to the Holy Land August 2-15, 2020. Details will be forthcoming.
Priest Daniel Marshall, Chairman, Youth Committee