Orthodox Teens Enjoy Third National Retreat

teen201310More than 40 young people between the ages of 14 and 17 years from many parts of Australia enthusiastically attended the third Teen Retreat organised at the end of 2013 by the Sydney Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). The organising committee was a team of young people and with the help of clergy they put together a fine, well-catered retreat.

This year’s retreat followed a successful retreat for this age group in 2012 with many of the same young people attending for the third time and encouraging their friends to attend also.

The overall aim of the retreat, held in a tranquil bushland setting just south 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, as well as enlightening talks about the structure of Orthodox worship, 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 2012 retreat. The medical doctor who attended the retreat, along with clergy and chaperones, was a reassuring presence in dealing with minor problems.   Lively discussion groups tackled many questions that caused young people concern, including how to reflect Orthodox Christian values in an increasingly secular world, the importance of honesty and integrity, 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. This year another feature was added where a panel of young people also answered questions from clergy and guest speakers. This was a popular feature which proved both insightful and often humorous as young people explained their view of many of the things that gave rise to concerns in the older generation. It was heartening to the older generation to see that young people did acknowledge their concerns as legitimate and encouraging to the younger generation that older people could see their point of view also.

Another very popular feature was the annual talent quest held on the last night of the retreat. With only one afternoon for preparation, delegates demonstrated their ingenuity in showcasing their talents with minimal props available and all items were notable for originality and talent! 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 young people hovered to read and buy the books they were interested in – provided at very affordable prices due to the donated subsidies!

The venue also provided a fine fasting menu which included a plentiful supply of fresh fruit daily, fish, vegetarian casseroles, salads and vegetables. The staff commented that they found our group well-behaved, very well-mannered and appreciative.

The beautiful gardens and bushland setting provided a wonderful venue for recreational activities which included ball games, swimming in the pool, sporting competitions and plenty of social fun. Good weather was welcomed and a visit to the nearby beach on one day was also enjoyed by all with a picnic to round out the day! On the last day, a cool change with gusts of gentle, misty rain was also welcome as delegates prepared to head home.

The young attendees were enthusiastic in their response to the retreat and said they were looking forward to coming to the next one in 2014. Young delegates commented that they had found the retreat helpful and informative and also a wonderful way to meet other young Orthodox people from different parts of Australia. With today’s technology keeping in touch would be easy!

Overall, the retreat provided a wonderful opportunity for young people from all parts of Australia 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.