With the blessing of Bishop Michael, under the direction of Father Jason Vansuch (Chairperson, Department of Youth Ministry), teenagers gathered for an overnight retreat 19-20 April at Holy Resurrection Church in Wayne NJ. This has become an annual tradition for 7th-12th grade students during their Lenten journey to Pascha. Parishes from Long Island, Manhattan, and throughout New Jersey were represented.
The theme of the retreat was “Keeping it Real: Isaiah 41:10.” Session topics focused on contemporary issues facing teens every day of their lives and how God and our Orthodox Faith can help them persevere through anything.
“Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; Yes, I will help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
Participants arrived on Friday evening and were greeted with pizza and icebreaker activities. This was followed by a movie: “The Blind Side.” Shortly before midnight, Bishop Michael made a special appearance and spent an hour with the group, fielding questions and reminding them to keep God close to their hearts when faced with difficult situations. After saying evening prayers together, it was off to bed.
In honor of the 5th Saturday of Great Lent, Father Jason celebrated an Akathist to the Theotokos on Saturday morning with the teens singing the responses. Three learning sessions followed: (1) God and Fear, (2) God and Hope, and (3) God and Love. Each lesson expanded on the Church’s understanding of fear, hope, and love. Examples were drawn from Holy Scripture as well as real-life experiences. Intermittently, participants broke-out into small groups led by Father Jason, Sub-deacon Mark Federoff, Juliana Mecera, and Danielle Geeza. The teens were given the opportunity to reflect on current circumstances in their lives, the choices they make, and how they can center themselves in God when serving others, the Church, and nurturing their own spiritual well-being.
After a few riveting rounds of “Orthodox Jeopardy” and “Catch Phrase,” the event concluded with Vespers. “It truly was a great weekend,” said Danielle Geeza, “spent in prayer, fellowship, education, and fun!”