The XVI Annual Saint Herman’s West Youth Conference was held from December 26-30, 2022.Being supported by several diocesan clergymen and many youth counselors, the conference hosted just under 50 youth of the Western American Diocese at Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in Youngtown, Arizona.
The conference met its aims by providing educational and social opportunities for our diocesan youth. Lectures, panel discussions, workshops, and exposure to a broader range of clergy and peers heighten an Orthodox formation in our youth and provide them with a much-needed authentic, spiritual context, as their young and fresh minds are forming opinions, coming to conclusions, and establishing convictions about the path they will take in life.
With the blessing of His Eminence KYRILL Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America, diocesan clergy gathered around His Grace JAMES Bishop of Sonora, who presided over the conference.
Two holy icons graced the occasion: the holy myrrh-streaming “Iveron-Hawaiian” Icon of the Mother of God, and a new, official icon of Saint Herman of Alaska the Wonderworker, the heavenly patron of the Youth Committee of the Western American Diocese. The icon of Saint Herman had been imbedded with a particle of his honorable relics and was inaugurated at this conference. The holy image had been commissioned by the All-Saints Russian Orthodox Church of Las Vegas and the holy relic was bequeathed by His Grace Bishop Nicholai (Soraich).
The key-note speaker for the event was Priest George Kaplanov, a cleric of the Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco, CA. Father George, having two degrees, one in Psychology and one in Theology, presented two lectures to our youth. In the first lecture he gave a comparison between Psychology and Orthodox Spirituality, explaining where there are parallels in the two disciplines and where there are differences. His second lecture was drawn from the book “The Art of Salvation” by Saint Theophan the Recluse and the latter’s approach to the psychology of the soul.
The lectures presented by Father George Kaplanov, typically evoked many questions in the minds of the youth. Both the clergy panel sessions and a counselor panel provided an opportunity to address questions with which our youth are wrestling. According to one of the participants, the questions asked were “deep and existential, touching on subjects such as sin and death, and on how to live as an Orthodox Christian in a secular world. The clergy addressed the questions ably referring to each other’s answers. And in so doing, they collectively reinforced the teaching of the Church.” The counselors’ panel was of equal interest for the youth. This panel consisted of the youth participants’ older peers, who are committed Orthodox Christians and have experience in how to integrate their relationship to God and the Church with their daily life in the world. Their responses to the questions were laconic and sometimes humorous.
The practical side of Orthodox spiritual life came through in the workshops: choir rehearsals, the readers’ workshop (Priest Daniil Milwood , lead) and the acolyte workshop (Reader Pavel Kassianik, lead). In addition, the youth labored physically on a project on the back side of the Christ the Savior Orthodox Church working on a processional path. They cleared away rocks down to bare earth and set forms for pouring concrete. Rain on the following day did not permit the completion of the project. But a very good start had been made. The “Iveron-Hawaiian” Icon streams myrrh in such copious amounts that very often it requires more than one person to collect it. In this case, eight young people had the blessed experience of gathering cotton soaked in myrrh into packets.
The culmination of the conference was the All-night Vigil and the Divine Liturgy performed in memory of St. Herman of Alaska the Wonderworker. His Grace JAMES Bishop of Sonora presided. Concelebrating with him were the clergy who supported the 3 day conference: Archpriest Peter Perekrestov, Archpriest Alexei Kotar, Archpriest Michael van Opstall, Priest Christopher Horsley, Priest Daniil Milwood, and Priest George Kaplanov. Clergy who did not participate in the conference but concelebrated with Bishop James were Priest James Nemkovich, Priest Michael Vallecillo, Protodeacon Paul Bilibin, Deacon Joseph McPherson.
The choir conductors for the conference were Morgan Maudiere and Juliana Wojtenko. Both have completed the first year at the Synodal School of Liturgical Music. Two choirs were formed which sang the vigil and Divine Liturgy antiphonally. Morgan conducted one choir in English and Juliana conducted the other in Church Slavonic. Both choirs were praised for their excellent performances.
Many thanks to Archpriest Michael van Opstall, Chairman of the Youth Committee of the Western American Diocese and all of his helpers. Thanks are also extended to the parish of Christ the Savoir Orthodox Church in Youngtown, AZ, and to its Rector Priest Christopher Horsley for hosting this event. Matushka Natalie Horsley and all of her helpers added some very special touches, greeting participants with posters throughout the grounds and gifts for everyone to take home. Acknowledgment and thanks go out to Alexi’s Grill & Catering for sustaining our youth and conference staff with tasty and nutritious lenten fare.
Summarizing the conference His Grace Bishop James said: “… after the talks and all there was an opportunity to have some good talks with the young folks. I think that good seeds were planted in this event that will bear fruit. We have dedicated clergy and laity who all strove to make this conference a success.”