Orthodox teens enjoy national retreat

teen_retreat_2012More than 50 young people between the ages of 14 and 17 years from all over Australia and also from New Zealand, enthusiastically attended the second Teen Retreat organised at the end of 2012 by the Australian Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). 

This year’s retreat followed a successful retreat for this age group in 2011 with many of the same young people attending for the second time and encouraging their friends to attend also. 

The overall aim of the retreat, held in a tranquil bushland setting just north of Sydney, was to provide this younger age group with the opportunity to take “time out” from their life’s routine to discover more about how to understand their Orthodox way of life, the relevance of Orthodoxy in today’s lifestyles and how to live the values that Orthodoxy reflects.

The five-day retreat offered a full program of talks, discussion groups and recreational activities.  Speakers introduced many topics of concern in our society, including the uses and influence of technology in today’s society, drug and alcohol issues, the problem of pornography in today’s world of the internet and permissiveness, relationships both within and outside the home, as well as enlightening talks about the structure of Orthodox worship, the history and art of Iсonography, how to understand and participate in Church services and the relevance of Orthodox values in young lives. Many of these topics were in response to the young people’s feedback after the 2011 retreat.

Lively discussion groups tackled many questions that caused young people concern, including the nature of spiritual warfare, how to reflect Orthodox Christian values in an increasingly secular world, how to deal with their doubts and fears and how to find the right direction in life.

A daily feature that proved very popular were the question-and-answer sessions where the questions posed by young people and put in a box during the day, were answered by a panel of attending clergy. As these questions were anonymous, many young people were able to ask questions without feeling self-conscious and gain the benefit of informative answers.

Also very popular was the “bookshop” provided by the organisers of the retreat, which stocked many interesting works from the Holy Fathers as well as a number of books about issues relevant to young people today. As the days went by, more and more young people hovered to read and buy the books they were interested in – provided at very affordable prices due to the donated subsidies!

The beautiful gardens and bushland setting also provided a wonderful venue for recreational activities which included ball games, swimming in the pool, sporting competitions and plenty of social fun. A visit to the nearby beach on one afternoon was also enjoyed by all. Enjoyment was enhanced by the frequent appearance of tame wildlife including some delightful wallabies that wandered about the gardens nibbling on leaves.

The venue also provided a fine fasting menu which included a plentiful supply of fresh fruit daily, fish, vegetarian lasagne and salads and vegetables. The staff commented that they enjoyed the challenge of providing a vegan menu and said they found our group well-behaved and appreciative. 

Luckily for everyone, there were no serious health issues or accidents and the  medical doctor who attended the retreat, along with clergy and chaperones, was a reassuring presence in dealing with minor problems.
The young attendees were enthusiastic in their response to the retreat and said they were looking forward to coming to the next one in 2013. One young delegate commented that the retreat she had attended last year had made a great difference to her life.

“ Before, I went to Church and always considered myself Orthodox and everything, but after being given so much information and understanding, I was going to Church a lot more, began singing in the choir and found that Orthodoxy had come alive in me” she said.  “I’ll definitely be coming next year and I’ll be telling more of my friends to come.”

Visitors from New Zealand were also very enthusiastic and planned to come again in 2013. Visiting clergy from NZ told about their retreats for young people also, especially the longer retreats they held every year in the South Island for small groups. Much discussion was held about the possibility of taking Australian teens to NZ on some future occasion to share their farm retreat and explore deeper spiritual issues.

Overall, the retreat provided a wonderful opportunity for young people from all parts of Australia and also from NZ to make contact with one another, gain spiritual knowledge and understanding, appreciate some new perspectives, and discover the many things they had in common as young Orthodox people living in Australia and New Zealand.

Nadia Crittenden.

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