With the blessing of His Eminence, Archbishop Peter, the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America hosted the annual St. Herman’s Youth Conference from December 26-30, 2018, gathering at Camp Duncan in the Chain O’Lakes resort area north of Chicago. Thirty-three youth gathered from the far reaches of the Mid-American diocese in the spirit of camaraderie and seeking spiritual nourishment.
The conference opened on the evening of the 26th with a Moleben for the Beginning of Any Good Work, followed by icebreakers and other activities which gave the youth an opportunity to make new friends and reconnect with old. Daily prayers were said together by the gathered youth every morning and evening of the conference.
The next morning, the main portion of the conference began with a talk by Archpriest Mark Mancuso of St. Elizabeth Church in Columbia, South Carolina. His talk, “An Ode to Ezekiel Bulver: C.S. Lewis as our Ally in the Culture War,” highlighted how the writings of the well-read author can be used as an aid in discerning what is being presented in school and society. In the next session, Archbishop Peter presented a historical overview of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in preparation of the centennial celebrations in 2020. The third presentation of the day was given by Demetra Durham of St. Jonah Church in Spring, TX, and was entitled “Finding Peace in the Midst of Struggle.” She gave the youth examples of struggles in her life and how prayer and trust in God helped her through these difficult times. All three talks led to an evening round table discussion, with Fr. Mark and Demetra being joined by Fr. Daniel Marshall, Fr. Michael Carney, Fr. Seraphim Holland, Fr. Christopher Stanton, and Fr. Nicholas Park, all interacting with the youth to answer questions that had been presented throughout the day. The evening ended with smaller breakout sessions in which specific questions were addressed and the participants could interact at a personal level.
Every year, the St. Herman’s Conference finds a local organization to visit and volunteer at, giving the youth a first-hand experience in serving others. On Friday, the participants traveled to Home of the Sparrow in McHenry, IL, a shelter and transitional housing service for women with families in need. Here the youth learned about the services offered to the community, then worked throughout the day at the facilities assisting with various needs. Following this good work, everyone was treated to a bowling outing followed by dinner at a local restaurant. Later that evening, the participants held a talent show that included singing, playing instruments, dancing, and comedy, among other acts. All the activities of the conference were enhanced by a group of volunteers that took time from their own schedules to organize and spend these days with the youth. We are especially grateful to Nina Bernardi, Zhanna Skalitsky, Marina Orzhynska, and Matushka Rachel Rose for their dedication to this conference and invaluable assistance.
On Saturday morning, Fr. Nicholas Park of St Nicholas Church in McKinney, TX, began with a talk entitled “Science and Religion: Friends or Foes” in which he addressed how science is presented in school, how the church views science, and how to use Orthodox teachings to discern what is being taught. The last presentation of the conference was by Fr. Nikolaj Kostur of Holy Resurrection Serbian Cathedral in Chicago. He spoke of the life of the recently glorified St. Mardarije of Libertyville, as well as the process of canonization and uncovering of his incorrupt relics.
One of the unique features of the Midwest St. Herman’s Conference is that all the youth actively participate in the services by singing in the choir. Many of the young people in attendance who have never sung in church before leave with a desire to serve in this vital ministry, inspired by their participation in the choir. Throughout the conference, Larissa Kaminsky Sander, the chair of the Diocesan Liturgical Music Committee, led rehearsals in which the teens were taught basic singing technique and rehearsed the music of the services, as well as liturgics and the depth of Orthodox hymnography. The culmination of this was the singing of the All-Night Vigil and Divine Liturgy for the conference under her direction. The vigil service was held at the camp and sung by all the participants, making for a joyful and prayerful raising of hymns in a rustic setting.
The conference was concluded on Sunday, December 30, with Divine Liturgy at St. Sava Serbian Monastery in Libertyville, IL. The monastery was built by St. Mardarije and are home to his relics, which the youth learned about the previous day. The Liturgy was again chanted entirely by all the conference participants, and served by the conference clergy and the monastery clergy, Fr. Seraphim (Milojkovic) and Fr. Petar Sailovic. Following the Liturgy, a festive meal was held at the nearby New Gracanica Monastery, followed by a tour of the beautiful monastery cathedral by Fr. Seraphim (Baltic), after which the long process of saying goodbye to old and new friends began. The Diocesan Youth Committee would like to thank His Grace, Bishop Longin and the Serbian Diocese of New Gracanica and Midwestern America for their brotherly hospitality and opportunity to hold the Liturgy in the monastery before the relics of St. Mardarije. Through his prayers, may the youth witness their Orthodox faith in this land and draw nearer to the Almighty Savior.
The Youth Committee would also like to thank the St. John Kochurov Society of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America, the Fund for Assistance to ROCOR, and the parishes of our diocese who donate to the Youth Fund for their support of this conference. Every year the fruits of the gathering are great and the youth return home strengthened in faith. One of the participants commented, “St Herman Conference is a wonderful experience, bringing you together with others like you. I had the chance to strengthen friendships and faith, and look forward to this every year to come,” and another, “I've attended three conferences at this point and I can attest that they have made me a better Christian. It gives me the strength to live my faith and has given me so many friends. The St. Herman's conference is the grace of God working in my life and I will forever be grateful for it.”
-submitted by Fr. Alexander Petrovsky