First St. Herman\'s Youth Conference \'Midwest\' held in Michigan
In Michigan, when you tell the story of some great events it is customary that those events coincide with unusual and remarkable weather conditions. The very first St. Herman’s Youth Conference “Midwest” was no exception. As young adults (as well as their parent drivers) from Chicago, Cleveland, parts of Michigan and even further ends of the country headed to the retreat camp “Michawana” in the middle of the woods they encountered both snow and rain, mud and ice, and such a portentous amount of fog that one might think this was the start of an epic! In truth, this St. Herman’s conference was both a joyful and humble event, stimulating to young hearts and minds, nourishing to their souls, and incredibly taxing and fulfilling to all those who made it possible.

Although St. Herman’s Youth Conferences have been taking place for a long time, traditionally held around the feast day of St. Herman, which falls on Christmas day by the Gregorian Calendar, this is the first  time in their history that a separate “Midwest” location has been held.  Usually lasting about a week, the conference was shortened to be able to welcome more high school and college students. The 2008 Midwest conference was held from the 26th to the 28th of December, at the Michawana Retreat Center near Hastings, MI and at St. Herman’s Orthodox Church in Woodbury/Lake Odessa. It was made possible by clergy from our diocese, who guarded and guided the participants: Fr. Ilia Marzev from Cleveland, Chairman of the Youth Committee; Fr. Gregory Joyce from Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Fr. Michael Carney from the host parish, as well as Alex Petrovsky, choir director from Cleveland, who did a great deal to organize the event and keep everything ticking.

The heart of the conference was, other than the participants of course, its three speakers. The first to present was Nikolai Breckenridge, a young man himself, who is currently enrolled at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary. He spoke about his own path to Orthodoxy from his former Episcopalian Church. He told the story of how he came to the Orthodox faith, and of his discovery of the tenets of Orthodoxy that particularly strengthen a young person seeking to come closer to Christ our God. He spoke both with the wisdom and logic of a seminarian and the emotion, conviction, and experience of a young man in his 20s, easily relating the importance of the struggle of faith to modern young lives.

Kathryn Saclarides, also a young woman whose brother attended the conference with her, made a beautiful presentation about service in the Orthodox Church beyond Church services. She related her experiences in Albania, recounting the struggle of Archbishop Anastasios who did so much to rebuild the Church there in the 1990s, and in Ethiopia, where she worked with the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) anti-AIDS projects. Besides showing various ways that high school and college students can serve the Lord through their involvement with communities worldwide, Kathryn stressed that spiritual poverty is everywhere around us and Service need not start far from home.

Our last speaker was Matushka Anna Lardas, a leader in her parish and mother to several teenagers. She spoke openly, warmly, and humorously about the personal life of an Orthodox Christian. Through her stories she reminded the many young people sitting in front of her of the sanctity and role of marriage, and the very realistic expectations that the Orthodox Church holds for all Christians, no matter that they are the Facebook and Britney Spears generation.

After spending two days getting to know each other and listening to some very wise words, the conference ended with a Saturday night Vigil and Sunday Liturgy at the small St. Herman’s parish. A humble parish it certainly is, but also rich in beauty and spirit. The community of St. Herman’s has been serving at their current building a little over two and a half years, all the while renovating the building. Matushka Darya Carney of that parish, who is an iconographer, has been building up the iconostas, while a generous gift from a reposed parishioner made possible the raising of a cupola this past summer. The parish had just been visited by Bishop Peter the previous week, for the feast day of St. Herman.  With the added presence and voices of the attendants of the conference the church emanated God’s love and mercy and the glory of His holy Liturgy.

In all, the 2008 St. Herman’s Conference ‘Midwest’ was a great success. If the events of the conference taught anything, it is that there is so much more that can be learned from one another. From clergy, to participants, to speakers, the success of this conference built a strong foundation which demonstrates the importance of bringing Orthodox youth together to strengthen each other in the struggle of the perseverance of faith in their daily lives. It is the hope that next year will be an opportunity to grow, with the guidance and through the strength of our One Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Alesia Sourine - Participant
St. Herman's Orthodox Church, Lake Odessa, MI


St. Herman's Youth Conference reflection

The St. Herman’s Youth Retreat was a wonderful chance for me to remove myself from much of the secular distractions that fill my life on a day to day basis and to focus on the only thing that is truly important: the Church.  Some of the lectures opened my eyes to how to better live as an Orthodox Christian in modern society, which I generally find to be very difficult. For example, one of the lectures was on service outside of Sunday church and where and how that can be done.  It was inspiring to see what the speaker, Kathryn Saclarides, had done to help the poor, and what others have done and continue to do.  Overall, this was a great opportunity to be surrounded by other orthodox youth and knowledgeable, approachable adults and clergy.

Laura Roach - Participant
St. Innocent's Parish, Wheaton, IL

St. Herman's Youth Conference 'Midwest'
Snow tubing at the St. Herman's Youth Conference

St. Herman's Youth Conference 'Midwest' - 12/26/08


(40 images)

Snow tubing at the St. Herman's Youth Conference
Fr. Gregory Joyce
Reader Nikolai Breckenridge
Kathryn Saclarides with an Ethiopian Orthodox liturgical umbrella
Ethiopian Orthodox Icons
Matushka Anna Lardas
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