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Lenten Retreat with Bishop John Inspires SOYO Youth

By Nadia Oleinik

My name is Nadia, and I am a thirteen year old Orthodox Christian. I have attended the St. George Norwood parish ever since I remember. This is my first year in Teen SOYO and the first year I traveled to New Hampshire for the annual Lenten Retreat. It was one of the most enlightening experiences I have had as an Orthodox Christian.

The retreat is an event that occurs each year during the Lenten season. Teens from parishes all over New England come together to bond with each other, listen to the speaker, reflect upon their faith, and strengthen themselves through worship and communion. This year we had the honor of having His Grace Bishop John amongst us throughout the weekend to guide us and answer our questions. This year’s speaker was Katrina Bitar, past SOYO member and director of the YES program speaking on the theme of “Heroes of the Old Testament.”

The first evening of the Lenten Retreat started with briefly meeting each other in the cabins. Many of the teens already knew each other from previous retreats and events. Then we came together for the Salutations to the Theotokos service. The evening continued with an introductory talk by Katrina. We talked about the theme of this Lenten Retreat. Katrina introduced us to her three presuppositions that were necessary for the proceeding sessions:

- God makes good in all of His promises.

- God desires for us to be in a relationship with Him and each other.

- God’s people both deny and bring Him glory through word, deed and thought.

We discussed how all these presuppositions were true. “I would like everyone to be honest with God and each other and build a relationship with Him,” Katrina said, “I want everyone to really know who God is.” And thus began the Lenten Retreat.

The second day was probably my favorite. We started off the day with Matins, breakfast, and a discussion with Katrina. We talked about the heroes of the Old Testament and strong followers of God. She related these stories to our modern lives and what it means to dedicate our whole selves to God. Just as the heroes, we learned to give ourselves to God, through trust, honesty, and faith. The way to follow the scripture does not necessarily mean separating ourselves from the world. On the contrary, God wants us to form relationships with others and see Christ in them. Then came the most important part of the discussion: how we should avoid evil, embrace the world, and bravely stay on the narrow path toward God. “Don’t put something in your eyes or ears that you don’t want God to see in your heart,” Katrina said. We should not try to distance the world but remember that our foundation is within God.

In the afternoon, we had lunch, played volleyball, basketball, and painted plates. After vespers, we met with Katrina and Bishop John who avidly answered our questions. We gathered for a campfire and made s’mores. For the final meeting, the girls and boys separated to discuss more personal topics. Bishop John met with the boys and Katrina, with the girls. The questions were asked from the perspectives of young adults. It was great to share our worries with Katrina and receive her supportive advice.

On Sunday morning, we prepared ourselves for liturgy and communion led by our Bishop John. We were all sad to say our goodbyes after breakfast. I was so sad to leave such an amazing and energetic group of friends and I cannot wait to see them again next year.

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Liturgy with Bishop JohnLiturgy with Bishop John