From Saturday, December 24 through Monday, December 26, the parish of St. Jonah's Orthodox Church in Spring, TX, together with the Youth Committee of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America, hosted the annual St. Herman's Youth Retreat. His Grace Bishop Peter was present for the duration of the retreat, and many of the youth thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to spend time and interact with their hierarch.
Conference attendees numbered almost thirty. A large group from multiple parishes in the north - Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Goshen, IN and Wausau, WI - all met at Chicago's Union Station on Friday the 23rd and embarked on a twenty-two hour trek by train and bus to reach Houston. They were accompanied by Fr. Daniel Marshall, rector of Holy Virgin Protection Orthodox Church in Goshen, IN. Arriving in Houston on Saturday, the group was met by Fr. John Whiteford, rector of St. Jonah's, and transported to the Cramer Retreat Center where lodging was provided. Afterward, the group from the north eagerly met with their Orthodox counterparts from the southern states over an evening meal at St. Jonah's parish hall. Together, they heard a lecture by Deacon Innokenty Reichert about the Orthodox Christian view of death and afterlife.
That night, All-Night Vigil was held at St. Jonah's Church. Bishop Peter presided, accompanied by priests Fr. John Whiteford, Fr. Ilya Marzev of St. Sergius Cathedral in Parma (Cleveland), OH, and Fr. Daniel Marshall. Vladika was assisted by two deacons, Dn. Nicholas Park from St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in McKinney (Dallas) TX and Dn. Innokenty Reichert of St. Jonah's. A good number of conference participants also assisted as altar servers, while others joined the choir to praise God in song. Fathers John, Ilya and Daniel heard confessions throughout the evening, so that many people were able to receive the Holy Mystery of Communion on the following day.
At 9am on Sunday, the Divine Liturgy began with the Greeting of His Grace Bishop Peter. Joining the assembled clergy was priest Fr. Cassian Sibley, who received the right to wear a kamilavka as an award during the Small Entrance. After Communion, Bishop Peter delivered a sermon mentioning both St. Herman and the Holy Forefathers of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. The festal meal commemorating St. Herman of Alaska was hosted by the St. Jonah's parish sisterhood and volunteers, during which the conference attendees mingled with parishioners. In the afternoon, the youth had the opportunity to enjoy periods of sports and recreation as well as listening to an edifying lecture by Fr. John, On the Study of Holy Scripture. Later in the day, before and after supper, Vladika and the assembled clergy fielded questions from the youth at an open panel discussion.
Early on Monday, after morning prayers and breakfast, the youth group and accompanying clergy set out on the much-anticipated field trip to Galveston, TX. They arrived first at Saints Constantine and Helen Serbian and Russian Orthodox Church, established to serve the pan-orthodox community in Galveston in the year 1895. They were met and warmly greeted by the rector of the parish, Protopresbyter Srdjan Veselinovic and historian Mimo Milosevich. Mr. Milosevich spoke about the history of the parish, and described with particular reverence the personal history of Archimandrite Theoclitos (Triantafilides), its first rector. Fr. Theoclitos was both a pious and a highly educated man who had been selected by Emperor Alexander III of Russia to tutor his children, among them the Tsar Martyr Nicholas II. Later, when Fr. Theoclitos was selected to serve in distant Galveston, the Holy Tsar blessed him with the gift of a family Gospel. This relic and Imperial treasure remains at the church today.
Fr. Srdjan graciously treated the conference participants to lunch at the church hall. After lunch, the youth, clergy and Vladika all went down to the beach on Seawall Boulevard and saw the Gulf of Mexico. They also had the opportunity to do some shopping and sightseeing in Galveston's historic district, known as the The Strand. Returning back to St. Jonah's, the group stopped at Space Center Houston and learned about the history of the United States Space Program.
That evening, after the delicious meal at the parish hall, the participants were enamored by Bishop Peter's recollections of St. John the Wonderworker of San Francisco. In his youth, Vladika had the great blessing of knowing St. John and serving in the altar for him. His recollections are priceless, vivid memories in which Vladika described the holy man as a real human being who achieved sanctity in his life.
Photos from Monday
Monday evening concluded the official portion of the Youth Retreat. The participants from the north said farewell to their new friends and returned to their lodging. The following morning, before setting off on the trek back to Chicago, the group was also treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of Reliant Stadium, home to the Houston Texans football team.
The Youth Committee of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America expresses its sincere gratitude to Fr. John and matushka Patricia Whiteford, Deacon Innokenty and the many parishioners and volunteers at St. Jonah's Orthodox Church for their warm and gracious hospitality! It was an honor to spend these days with you and to pray together. May God, through the prayers of our Venerable Father Herman, continue to lovingly guide your parish and the youth of our diocese!
Glory to God in all things!
Reader Nikolai Lochmatow