St. Herman Conference 2015

The Youth Committee of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America recently held its annual St. Herman Youth conference near Dallas, Texas in cooperation with the local St. Nicholas parish. Begun with the blessing of His Grace, Bishop Peter, this annual event fosters friendships among Orthodox youth and provides them much-needed spiritual nourishment.

Hailing from 11 states and two dioceses, 32 young people assembled on Monday evening, December 28; some had driven for over 30 hours – through flood waters and snow – just to see each other! The primary events of the conference were held at the YMCA Collin County Adventure Camp facility in Anna, Texas, not far from St. Nicholas church in McKinney, Texas.

After dinner and a Moleben for the Start of Any Good Work, the group took some time to get acquainted. Before long, it was time for evening prayers and setting up sleeping bags in the retreat center’s cabins.

Tuesday offered the main course of spiritual food: an examination of Orthodox Christian marriage, both in theory and practice. The discussion began Tuesday morning with an overview of the wedding service by Fr. Daniel Marshall.

Then Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov delved into the theology of this mystery in his talk: “A Sacred Union: The Purpose & Nature of Marriage.”

After dinner Tuesday night, Matushka Elizaveta Temidis reflected on the day-to-day components of married life in a slide presentation entitled, “Sanctifying the Home.” Each talk was followed by questions from the youth; a lively discussion ensued.

Tuesday afternoon activities moved outside: the group rotated among archery, zip lines, a climbing wall and a challenge course. The air was brisk, nerves were tested, and friendships blossomed. The day ended with an engaging question and answer session and small discussion groups.

Wednesday took the group away from home into Dallas to see St. Seraphim Cathedral and its iconography. Archimandrite Gerasim, Administrator of the Diocese of the South (OCA), provided a detailed tour of the cathedral’s frescoes, which are almost complete.

Next on the itinerary was Nativity Monastery outside of Dallas in Kemp, Texas, a small community of nuns. After a prayer service, the youth labored to clean and paint a fence, plant bulbs, clean the monastery trapeza, and dig out drainage ditches.

Returning to downtown Dallas, the group toured the Sixth Floor Museum, not far from the site of President Kennedy’s assassination, and enjoyed dinner at a restaurant. Arriving back at the camp well after dark, a night hike offered joys far from the lights of the big city: plentiful star gazing, a serenade by a creek and a few night critters, including Evening Prayers read by flashlight on a bridge beneath the open sky. After a 16-hour day, sleep came easily.

Thursday provided another substantive spiritual meal: Bishop Peter retold the life of St. Boniface, whose feast would be served that night and the next morning. His Grace’s vivid description of the saint’s martyrdom 1,725 years ago brought that event and its spiritual dimension to life.

Before lunch on Thursday, the group continued its major assignment: preparing to sing and read all of Vespers, Matins and the Hierarchical Liturgy for St. Boniface. This sizable task was accomplished under the guidance of Larissa Sander and Fr. Deacon Alexander Petrovsky, Chairman and member, respectively, of the Diocesan Liturgical Music Committee. While a few of the youth were active members of their parish choirs, the majority were neither regular church singers nor experienced readers. The choir rehearsed each day during the conference, for a total of just three and a half hours.

After lunch, rector of the host St. Nicholas parish, Fr. Seraphim Holland, applied the lessons he has learned while conducting prison ministry to the married life, to great effect: no small amount of humor combined with a series of poignant letters written by inmates to the youth at the conference and stories from his time visiting behind bars. In turn, the youth prepared notes and pictures to send back to the inmates. The youth then learned about the substantial financial support which the Fund for Assistance ( http://www.fundforassistance.org/ ) annually provides for the DCMA St. Herman conference and other charitable causes within ROCOR. This aid funds scholarships to the conference and helps keep the overall cost reasonable. We are grateful to the FFA for this funding.

Vespers was served in the late afternoon, followed by dinner and a highly-entertaining talent show. Matins for St. Boniface rounded out the night, during which everyone made their confession. After a short New Year’s moleben, the group packed up their bags to leave in the morning and gathered around a bon fire.

Breaking camp early, the conference shifted venues to the recently-constructed St. Nicholas Church in McKinney. From the initial greeting of His Grace, Bishop Peter to the last note of the Hierarchical Liturgy, the gathered youth sang beautifully and prayerfully under the direction of Larissa Sander. The assembled clergy included archimandrite Gregory (Hermitage of St. Arsenios); priest Seraphim Holland (St. Nicholas parish), priest Daniel Marshall (St. George parish, Cincinnati, OH), priest George Temidis (Holy Virgin Nativity Church, Mahopac, NY), deacon Nicholas Park (St. Nicholas parish), and deacon David Companik (St. Jonah parish, Spring, TX). Bishop Peter gave an inspiring sermon. Following the Liturgy, the conference enjoyed a delicious meal, prepared by the St. Nicholas parish sisterhood.

With hearts and souls – and stomachs – full to overflowing, the gathered youth reluctantly departed, giving thanks to God for another inspiring St. Herman conference!

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