Friday, December 30, 2011

St. Herman’s Youth Conference: Ottawa (Part II)


The first several days of syezd were fun, but things really started to pick up on Sunday. In the morning, we took several buses to the Protection Church in Ottawa, which I think is an example of good, traditional Orthodox church architecture. The church reminded me of the churches I’ve studied for my church architecture paper, especially churches in the Novgorod and Vladimir regions. The interior was a very large space, with four piers towering over the nave, making the usual cross-in-dome plan. The western piers also helped support a gallery (the choir loft). The square nave and piers create a sense of verticality which is complemented by the multi-tiered iconostasis, which had excellent icons executed in a traditional style. Unfortunately, the vaults and cupola of the church were bare; the ceiling was covered in blue paint. Hopefully someday, when the church has enough funding (and a skilled iconographer), the blue paint will be replaced with beautiful frescoes.

The Great Entrance.

The liturgy was hierarchal, and at least ten or so priests and deacons assisted Metropolitan Hilarion and Archbishop Gabriel. Their presence combined with the many youth in attendance made the service feel very lively. Most of us received Holy Communion from one of the three chalices which came out. At the end of the liturgy, we all had a group photo.

The trapeza meal was filling, and it was nice to sit and talk for a bit. After the meal, the guys helped clear the parish hall and set it up as a food bank. The Ottawa church sponsors this and other projects; it also owns a retirement home and runs a church school. During the last Great Lent, I went up to Ottawa to participate in an annual fundraiser the parish holds for an orphanage in Ukraine. It’s very nice that the parish is active, and I think that’s why it’s doing well.

Afterwards we went back to the hotel. We had a little time for some activities (mostly Silent Ninja) before coming back for the group discussions.

Actually, it wasn’t so silent.

When we got back, Reader Nektary, the guardian of the Hawaiian Iveron icon, told us how he discovered the icon, and about the miracles the Mother of God has done through her Icon.

There was little time left for small group discussions, so the priests got together in a panel and answered questions that we wrote for them. I liked Fr. Vyacheslav’s answer to the question, “When is the right age for dating?” He told a joke: “A realtor is showing a couple around a house, and is explaining all its features. The couple listen excitedly. Finally, it’s getting close to the end, and the house seems to be just the right fit for them. The realtor then asks them, ‘By the way, what sort of hobbies do you have?’ They answered, ‘We like going with realtors to look at houses on the weekend.’” The point of the story being that whether you’re is 16 or 40, if you’re not ready to settle down, you shouldn’t get involved in a romantic relationship.

Some of the other questions got more compact answers. Fr. David Straut got: “Is it okay to party in college?” “No,” he said. “Next question!”

After the discussions we sang an akathist in front of both the Iveron and Kursk-Root icons. Unfortunately, the Iveron icon had to leave with its guardian the next day, but the Kursk-Root icon was staying.

We then had dinner and free time, which was spent going out in the snow. I had my first snowball fight!


After prayers and breakfast, we all got on buses headed to downtown Ottawa. There, we looked around the ByWard Market. Some of us, led by Alex Cooley, went Christmas caroling. We then had a tour of the Canadian Parliament. I loved its Gothic architecture! The exterior was interesting, and featured a giant beaver guarding the entrance-way. The tour was short but informative.

Mr. Beaver guards the Parliament.

We returned to the hotel, had lunch, and remained in the conference hall for the last lecture, which was given by Nicholas Chapman, who happens to be my boss at the monastery bookstore. Nicholas gave his lecture on Colonel Philip Ludwell III, one of the first Orthodox converts in America. Ludwell, a relative of George Washington and connected to many of our Founding Fathers, converted when he was only 22 years old. He wrote several books on Orthodox teaching and piety, and led a small Orthodox community in Williamsburg, Virginia.

We had a little bit of free time afterwards before the final banquet. I got signed up for the talent show. As I put on my red vest and tie, I started worrying about what to do. I had brought my ukulele all the way from Jordanville to Ottawa, and like Chekhov’s gun, it was aching to be used. Suddenly, in my head, I heard a familiar tune:

Five foot two, eyes of blue,
But oh what those five foot could do!
Has anybody seen my gal?

I quickly googled the song (“Five Foot Two”) and found a site with tabs. I practiced playing it while lending the computer to some girls who were practicing a Serbian kolo.

The talent show was pretty hilarious. It was MC’d by four of the guys calling themselves SHEEEPS: The St. Herman’s Envious, Energetic, Emotional Poetry Society (or something to that effect). The SHEEPS came out to recite some haiku in between acts, including:

Syezd is over, he's home
Ten new female Facebook friends
Which one is the One?

I was introduced as the “Hilarious Hawaiian.” I can’t speak for my strumming skills, but I guess people liked it, which was good for a few minutes’ practice. I also sang with Anthony and one of the SHEEPS an Irish wedding tune called “Mary’s Wedding,” in honor of the recently engaged Maria and Michael.

And thus, we finished syezd. I’m very grateful to everyone who organized the event, as well as Fr Stelian Liabotis and Fr Alexis Pjawka for inviting us to Ottawa!

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