A Nativity Fast youth retreat was held at St. Nicholas Convent in Constantia, NY from Friday December 24 through Monday December 27. Twenty young people from the ages of 12-20 stayed on the Convent grounds and took part in the retreat events.
Participants started gathering on Friday afternoon and that evening took part in an All—night Vigil to mark the feast day of St. Herman of Alaska. Divine Liturgy was served the following morning by Fr. Daniel Meschter.
The weather was cold but clear all weekend so following brunch on Saturday everyone was divided into three groups and took a hike through the woods on the Convent property. Their job was to find what they thought would be the most suitable location to build a small shrine dedicated to Saint Seraphim, a peaceful place of seclusion and prayer. Monday afternoon the whole gathering visited each site and mother Agapia chose the most suitable of the three.
Saturday afternoon Fr. Daniel Meschter presented an inspiring and informative lecture on the Mystery of Holy Communion. Referencing the canons, the writings of the Holy Fathers and the examples of such luminaries of the Orthodox Church as St. Paisios Velichovsky, St John of Kronstadt and Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky , Fr Daniel’s key point was that at each and every Divine Liturgy we attend we are invited to the Eucharist, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Thus we should make every effort to prepare ourselves before we attend Liturgy to receive Holy Communion.
To emphasize this point all prepared to receive Holy Communion on the Sunday Liturgy by gathering in the Convent chapel of St. Philaret to read the whole Rule of Communion, attending All-night Vigil, and going to Confession.
Sunday afternoon we were joined by Father Nikita Grigoriev and Father Nicholas Chernavasky. Fr Nikita, who among his many talents, is an accomplished classical guitarist, spoke about the strong influence music has on our lives, how deeply it makes an impression on our soul, and how involuntary this impression can be. That is, when we hear something it cannot so easily be blocked out. Therefore it is extremely important that we feed our soul with music that is edifying to the soul, that inspires us to the beautiful and not to that which is passionate, or filled with violent, discordant, or even ugly themes as is so much of modern music.
Later that evening everyone gathered in an informal setting for a discussion led by Fr. Nicholas Chernyavsky. A young priest, closest in age to many at that retreat, Fr Nicholas talked with the young people about the social pressures they face from their peers to drink or take drugs in order to fit in. Everyone appreciated Fr. Nicholas’ openness and frankness, and the discussion moved outdoors and all gathered around a bonfire late into the evening.
A blizzard and snowy conditions on the East Coast made it impossible for Monday’s scheduled speakers Fr. Gregory Williams and Maria Khoury to make it to the Convent in time for their presentations. In their stead Sophia Granger gave a talk and showed photos of her recent pilgrimage to Greece, Romania and Bulgaria where she visited many convents and churches of our sister Old Calendar churches in those countries.
Everyone then went outside to choose the site for the St Seraphim shrine, followed by some sledding. Then followed a talent show with a number of participants taking part.
All in all it was a wonderful weekend imbued with prayer and fellowship. God-willing there will be many more such events in the future.