The New York State Deanery conducted a Family Conference and Youth Retreat from 13 January (Friday) through 15 January (Sunday) at Greek Peak Resort near Cortland NY. Bishop Michael was present for the retreat program which was attended by over 100 participants. In keeping with His Grace's vision of expanding ministries within the diocese, the theme of the three-day retreat was: “Depending on God.”
On Friday, Bishop Michael hosted a dinner for deanery clergy, Matushki, and diocesan diaconate formation program students. The evening concluded with a reception and retreat for all participants.
During "fireplace chats with the bishop" many contemporary issues -- as well as topics of ministry/outreach and evangelization -- were discussed in depth. Bishop Michael reiterated that the world in which we live is growing more and more complex: war in the Middle East, civil unrest at home, political debates, ethnic conflicts, and countless uncertainties. Many adults are asking, “What is going on? Where are we going? What will become of us?” Our youth and teens confront the same issues in addition to the countless insecurities and cravings for acceptance, clarity, reassurance, affirmation, direction, and guidance. The culture of drugs, alcohol, sex, peer pressure, and fashion can plunge our young people into a sea of confusion ... desperately seeking answers. While the Church has answers, the sensitivity needed to “listen” and the appropriate words to offer guidance that can he “heard” is all-too-often lacking. It was encouraging and inspiring to witness both the capacity to listen and the ability to communicate which His Grace brought to the gathering.
Our youth hold a special place within the Body of Christ. On the one hand, they are the “future” of our Church -- destined to carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ after their elders have entered into eternal life. The babies baptized today are tomorrow’s priests, bishops, church school teachers, choir members, monastics, parish council members, and faithful Christian parents. In addition, our youth (especially teenagers and college-age young adults) play a vital role in the “present” life of our Church. This reality must be recognized and celebrated if we are to take seriously the mission of growing Orthodoxy in North America. Parents, clergy, youth ministers, and faithful parishioners have a duty to remind our youth of their important place at Christ’s table; and, a responsibility to nurture, protect, and educate them by every means possible so that they will remain -- grow, mature, flourish -- in the Body of Christ.
This three-day retreat was an opportunity for families and youth to discuss and share their problems, hopes, fears, and joys; to listen to talks by their bishop, priests, lay ministers, and peers; to react and interact openly and honestly. The hope of such a gathering is to build a sense of community and reveal an icon of the Church as a family of faith -- truly, the Body of Christ. The three-days were an occasion ... at least a starting point -- toward creating “bonds” of friendship and Christian community.
Given his extremely busy schedule, the presence and active participation of Bishop Michael in the three-day retreat is evidence of his commitment to nurture and care for the spiritual lives of our youth and families. The participants expressed their sincere gratitude to His Grace for his meaningful presentations; his openness and responsiveness; his vibrant and living faith; and his example of “love for one another” that reveals our life in Jesus Christ.