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by Father Innocent, Abbot, St. John's Monastery

Orthodox LIFE School 2018

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This oft repeated adage carries a practical truth that can rightly be called common sense. Yet how often do we, as a Church, fall short in heeding this practical advice? We fall short, most particularly, in how we teach, equip, and prepare our young people to assimilate the life of the Church and stand firm in the Faith as they enter an independent life in the world. 

In his address at our last Diocesan Assembly last year, His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin, warned us of the increasing loss of young adults from our parishes. He described the now familiar pattern of seeing a child grow up in the parish, come to services, graduate from high school, and leave home for college never to return to any Orthodox parish thereafter. This sad trend leaves our parishes bereft of the strength and vitality of our young. More pressingly, it drastically reduces the number of young people who choose a priestly vocation and go on to seminary. We face a dilemma: many older parish priests seek retirement only to discover there are no younger priests to replace them. We can blame ourselves for delivering a shallow spiritual life to our young people with the resulting scarcity of vocations and continuity in Church life, altogether. Clearly, Sunday morning spiritual life alone is insufficient to strengthen and fortify a young person launching out on his own. It is imperative that we give the fullness of the faith to our young so that they can live in it and thrive on their own. Without this foundation, we are “planning to fail.” More than ever before, the world has become a spiritual meat grinder that destroys young souls. Yet, there is hope.

Having passed through Great Lent and Holy Week, we have been blessed to participate in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil on several occasions. One of the prayers which the priest prays after the consecration of the Gifts is an entreaty to God to, among other things, “guide the young.” This is an excellent thing to ask for! I am personally thankful that St. Basil included this. Yet how can we cooperate with God in this good entreaty? There are several practical ways to do this.

First, young people are strong and have much energy, but they lack experience. Those who are older and more experienced need to come alongside them, create an atmosphere of good will, and sincerely tell them the important lessons they have learned in life. They need to tell them that a life lived for God is challenging yet exciting — and completely fulfilling. This is done well when any down-talking or holier-than-thou attitude is absent. There has to be sense that all of us, both young and old, are on the same journey as equals. Second, in the midst of a society where God and the way of virtue are absent (at best) or blasphemed (at worst), young people need peer support. Orthodox young adults who sincerely want to serve God are few and far between. They need to find each other and stay in contact with each other. We need to give them the opportunity to do this. We need to create meetings, retreats, and other events that are relevant and meet the actual need. Third, we need to include them in active ministry in the parishes. Choir directors, youth leaders, parish treasurers, parish counsel members, and other ministry leaders should actively invite young people to come alongside them and be mentored. When it is time to “pass on the baton” they will be honored to take over. Finally, young people need to visit monasteries. If they are going to live the life of the Gospel, they must witness a way of life that clearly models this. They must have a consciousness of being a part of something that is “not of this world” that assures them that they are OK to be different. 

This year, the Orthodox LIFE School will again be hosted at the Monastery of St. John. Last year's event went well and was a great blessing to many. If you are an Orthodox man or woman between the ages of 18 and 35, consider coming to this event. You will meet and interact with a number of wonderful, influential Orthodox speakers who will inspire you to stand firm in the faith and lead an exciting life in the service of Christ and His Church. You will meet many like-minded young people who face the same challenges as you. If you are a parish priest or leader in the community, encourage your young adults to come. In light of the need to “keep 'em in the Church” this needs to be a high priority. When we look at the wild madness of this fallen world, things seem bleak. But we must always remember that our Church gives us that which is more powerful than anything that the Devil will hurl against us. “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.”

Here are some comments from last year's participants:

“[The Orthodox LIFE School] has given me a spiritual place to retreat to, as well as a sense of community.”

“Amazing how the main personal questions I have been asking were all addressed by [the speakers] in one way or another. It was a week of sanity! Come as you are... questions and doubts included, and let’s dive into this hot mess!”

“A perfect balance between prayer, talks and work. Amazing speakers and fellowship with everyone. I want to come back next year! This week will stay with me for a long time.”

“I believe I am closer to finding my path in life, and that I will look back at this week as a turning point. It has been a very eye opening experience!” 

(NEW - 5/7/18)

“I greatly enjoyed being able to be a part of Orthodox Life School this past summer, and God-willing will be able to do so again. Getting to work alongside my fellow students, as well as the monks was a beautiful experience and tied together everything we talked about throughout the week. Each day we would listen to and ask questions of a speaker, work in the garden, or candle shop, and most importantly were able to attend Liturgy and/or Matins daily. We were given a unique look into monastic life and a better understanding of what it means to live out our faith. I made many friends while partaking in all that this week entailed, and I hope that Orthodox Life School will continue on helping young adults progress in understanding and love of God, our Church, and each other.”

​​​​​​​​​Victoria Ramos, Sonora, CA

​“Words cannot describe how important that week was for me. I can honestly say that the very course of my life has beenchanged. Now instead of wasting my time on unimportantsubjects, I can focus my attention on the Only One Who matters. This week changed the way I see myself; it explained my inner struggles and brought me closer to God. I went through a true re-birth in Orthodox Faith, something I thought was never possible. Thank you for your guidance, your kindness, and all the laughs you shared with us.”

​​​​​​​​​Polina Novitskaya, Phoenix, AZ 

Download this year's flyer here.

Download a list of speakers and schedule here.

Online application here.

Monastery link for retreats.

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