2017 Lenten Teen Retreat.
Over 50 attendees participated in the Annual Lenten Teen Retreat from March 10-12, 2017 at St. Basil Academy in Garrison, New York. This gathering of teenagers formed the largest Teen Retreat that the Diocese of New York and New Jersey has ever held!
Throughout the weekend, teenagers contemplated and explored the theme, “The Challenge: Who Are We Called to Be?” through various discussions, presentations, and activities. The keynote speaker and leader for the discussion was Greg Fedorchak, Ph.D. Candidate at Cornell University and President of the Cornell Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF).
On Friday evening, participants gathered together to reconnect with old friends and make new friends through icebreaker games. Once the majority of participants arrived, Evening Prayers were led by Archimandrite Anthony Falsarella (Chaplain, Saint Basil Academy). While surrounded by beautiful iconography in the intimate chapel, teens took turns chanting the prayers, and Archimandrite Anthony delivered a very enthusiastic and inspiring homily to kick off the theme of the weekend.
The Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was served on Saturday morning by His Eminence Archbishop Michael with concelebrants Archimandrite Anthony, Archpriests Alexey Karlgut (Ss. Peter and Paul, Endicott), Timothy Holowach (Ss. Peter and Paul, Endicott), Stephen Evanina (St. Gregory the Theologian, Wappingers Falls), and Archdeacon Michael Suvak (Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection, NYC). Upon Archbishop Michael’s arrival, Eva Czukkermann (St. Gregory the Theologian, Wappingers Falls) and Matthew Waskiewicz (St. John the Theologian, Shirley) greeted him with the traditional bread and salt. An army of altar servers vested His Eminence with guidance from Subdeacon Nilus Klingel and Reader Matthew Ortiz (Mother of God Church, Princeton).
After Liturgy, participants enjoyed a delicious brunch, then headed over to the Academy's library lounge which provided a relaxed setting for Greg’s first talk: “The Challenge.” The session opened up with Greg talking a bit about his personal life and his experience growing up in the church, then segwayed into a discussion of examples of Biblical heroes who "got the call" including Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Apostles Peter and Andrew, and The Theotokos.
Greg explained that "each of these men and women had a calling. A vocation. It’s what we’re all after. Who are we and what are we to do with our lives? What extracurriculars should I focus on? What college should I go to? Should I get a part-time job? Where? Sometimes life feels more like a problem to be solved rather than a mystery to be lived."
Participants were asked to break into groups to brainstorm and discuss 1) What is the vocation we all share?; 2) How committed are you to your faith and to serving the Church?; and 3) What are areas that you excel at and where can you improve?? After discussing and sharing with the larger group what they came up with, the teens stretched their legs and released some energy in a round of Orthodox Olympics! Scripture verses served as clues, and teams competed against each other in various athletic challenges. The pink team reigned supreme having completed all 7 stations first.
Next, Greg addressed the second half of the weekend’s theme: “Who are we called to be?” He asked participants to reflect on who they are called to be and what are we called to do; where are we called to go; what is God’s will for my life, and how can I be sure of it?" Discussions again followed in their smaller groups, and then shared with each other. His Eminence Archbishop Michael offered some insights to the topic, and Greg concluded the session with a summary of the discoveries that the teenagers made: "Many of us spend most of our time pouring ourselves into something that when we inevitably die will not care anything about. We’re not called for productivity. We’re not robots or cogs in a grand machine. Our calling is much greater. We are called to partake of the divine nature. Not just admire the divine from afar, but to actually experience it. To unite ourselves to it and to have it transform us. We are called to serve. To sacrifice. To love God and our neighbors. To be a light and a signpost for those who are lost. We are joyful people of the Resurrection, called to give glory and thanks to God for all things."
Talk about empowering words... seriously. Greg left such an impression on these teens.
After some free time and snacks, Great Vespers was served. The angelic choir of participants was directed by Fr. Stephen Evanina.
A very competitive round of Orthodox Jeopardy got the teens a bit rowdy after dinner, but their enthusiasm carried into the evening when they finally got their coveted Q&A session with Archbishop Michael. After fielding the diverse and intriguing questions, Greg had an opportunity to entertain the group by sharing his experience about traveling to Mount Athos while studying abroad in Greece. This was a valuable segment of the retreat, to hear the wisdom and theology of the Orthodox Church offered by His Eminence, and to hear Greg’s witness of his experiences on Mount Athos. Following this interesting session, participants chose various activities (games, movies, or fellowship) before retiring for the night.
On Sunday, we commemorated St. Gregory Palamas at the Divine Liturgy for the second Sunday of Great Lent. Participants began to prepare for their journeys home following breakfast. Good byes seemed to be filled with a sense of spiritual renewal and fellowship with new friends that indicated more of a “until next time” than a true farewell.
When asked about her retreat experience, Octavia Feliciano, a sophomore in high school and first-time participant in our diocesan retreats from Christ the Saviour Church in Paramus, NJ, shared the following: "When I first learned of the Lenten retreat, I was hesitant to go. When I made the decision to attend, I was glad I did. It was a wonderful experience and I learned a lot!"
According to our guest speaker,"The weekend at St. Basil's Academy spent with Archbishop Michael, the other clergy, the retreat volunteers and coordinators, and of course, the teens, left me refreshed, encouraged and inspired. It also left me asking: Why did I never go to these as a teen growing up in the Church?” said Greg Fedorchak. “What an incredible opportunity for all involved! The teens were so much fun. I was impressed by how comfortable they were being themselves, how they were able to let loose and have a great time, all while maintaining a reverence for God and for the Lenten season. I was struck by the richness and authenticity of their faith. It really does offer tremendous hope for both the future and the present of our Church."
“When we hear feedback such as this from Octavia and Greg,” says Danielle Geeza (Department of Youth Ministry), “it proves to the Department and our Diocese that our youth programs do have an impact on those who actively participate, and that we are doing something right. When I observe the ways in which these teens interact with one another it is evident that Christ is working through them, whether on the basketball court or next to each other at the choir stands. It is He who helps cultivate friendships and makes weekends such as this one a success. It is my joy and honor to witness this year after year- and now after attracting over 50 attendees, we have to keep the momentum going!”
The Youth Department would like to thank all the participants, chaperones, clergy, and Saint Basil’s staff for their involvement in such a blessed event.
Please plan to attend next year’s retreat to be held March 16-18 with guest speaker Archpriest Andrew Stephen Damick!