Wednesday, December 28, 2011

St Herman’s Youth Conference: Ottawa (Part I)

December is a pretty relaxing time for a seminarian. Classes wind down, the exam season begins, and then comes the home stretch—the pre-Christmas cleaning. Somewhere in the middle is the youth conference.

I was pretty stoked for this year’s syezd. The first conference I attended was in 2009 in Methuen, but I was only there for a short time. In 2010 the conference was in Jordanville, but of course as part of the local group I didn’t stay at the hotel with everyone else. So even though it was technically my third syezd, I was going to have the full conference experience for the first time.


We drove up on Friday. That morning, I finished my last exam for the semester, which was New Testament Greek. Later that afternoon, we set off. Three of us were going: My classmate Anthony, his sister Catherine, and I. On the way to Ottawa we listened to and sang along with an eclectic selection of music, which included Simon & Garfunkel (“I am a ROCK, I am an iiiiiiiiiiiiiiisland.”) and Hannah Montana (“I’m a rock star!!!”). The latter was made bearable with interspersed color commentary.

We met with some unexpected trouble at the border. The last time I went to Canada we had to go inside and explain ourselves. This time I tried to prepare. I wrote down the address to the hotel, had the three of us get our stories consistent, etc. But, when the border guard started questioning us, the following (slightly exaggerated) exchange happened.

Guard: “Do you have any guns, bombs, weapons of mass destruction, pepper spray, etc.?”
Catherine: “Uhhh…I have some mace. [takes out a tiny canister of mace, colored bright pink]”
Guard: “Yes, that’s a weapon. You know that’s not allowed in Canada, eh?”
Catherine: “I do now!”

Catherine had to go inside and surrender her deadly weapon. Thankfully I left my Hawaiian war club at home.

Those shark teeth are purely for decoration…really!

Several hours later, we finally arrived at our hotel. Anthony and I reunited with friends long unseen, and we unpacked and got settled.


Nobody goes to syezd for down time, as I discovered. After morning prayers, a moleben and a breakfast of muffins, we quickly got down to business. Fr Peter Jackson and Archbishop Gabriel of Canada both gave opening remarks. Like last year, Vladyka Gabriel gave the “X number of particpants, X/2 number of marriages” line, but also stated his great pleasure in hearing that one couple from last year got married and another got engaged. The two couples—friends of mine—started turning a little red.

We had quite a few guests at the conference. Metropolitan Hilarion was present over the whole weekend, alongside Archbishop Gabriel and many priests. Throughout the conference, we were also blessed with the presence of two wonder-working icons of the Mother of God: the ancient Kursk-Root icon, protector of the Russian diaspora, and the Hawaiian Iveron icon.

After breakfast we had two lectures. The first was done by Fr Vyacheslav Davidenko and was on spiritual role models. He used examples from the lives of saints to show how they converted people based on their holy way of living. For example, St Polycarp, the aged bishop of Smyrna, was sought after by some soldiers. They met the old man in his house and demanded to retrieve Polycarp. The saint replied that he would find Polycarp the next day for them. But first he took care of them, feeding them well and giving them lodging. After the morning came, the saint presented himself to them. The soldiers, impressed by the kind way he treated them, refused to arrest him, but St Polycarp pressed them to do their duty. This they did, and as a result they were all converted by him and shared in his martyrdom. Fr Vyacheslav entreated us to begin reading the lives of the saints in order to let them influence our lives today.

Fr Sergei Sveshnikov then gave us a talk on living life as a sacrament. You can find his talk at his site, here. He basically said that the whole of life could be transformed through prayer and attention. I really liked both lectures.

After the lectures we had some free time. My group mostly spent in the Hospitality Room (which through mispronunciation became known as the Hostility Room). Then came lunch, choir rehearsal, small group discussions, and finally prayers for communion. By the time we finished, it was time to go to church.

A bus took several trips to bring us all to the Protection Church in Ottawa. We had dinner in the parish hall. Then we had a full vigil service, with the hierarchs in attendance.

After we got back, we had some time to relax and play some rounds of Silent Ninja (which will require a post of its own). Finally we went to sleep, anticipating Sunday and the rest of the Conference.

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