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SOYO Reaches 40: 40 Years of Raising Generations of Disciples & Leaders

By V. Rev. Dr. Joseph F. Purpura

Forty years ago, the WORD Magazine recorded that during the Miami Convention of 1969 NAC (Teen) SOYO under the direction of his Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP elected its first President Mr. Robert Laham Jr. The teens were previously a committee of (Senior) SOYO (Senior SOYO is currently known as the Fellowship of St John the Divine). His Eminence with the help of Helen E. Rihbany, the National Teenage Chairwoman of Senior SOYO, set the following as priorities for this Teen Movement in the archdiocese, as found in Helen’s report to the General Assembly.

Religious: That the teens would learn the I. theology, dogmas and history of the Church. That they would participate in panel discussions between themselves and the bishops and clergy of the archdiocese covering a wide range of issues affecting their lives.

Charitable: We must teach these future leaders of II. the Church and community ‘that what they send into the lives of others returns into their own.’ The charity work was a directive from his Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP who established charity as part of the heart of the youth movement of the archdiocese.

Cultural: This area serves two functions. III. Beyond keeping teenagers together, it broadens their knowledge.

Social: “This is good because it keeps our young IV. people together.” SOYO places a high value on Orthodox Christian socializing, in the knowledge that it maintains our cohesion as a community.

We must strive to actively incorporate the works of the young in the total calendar of the church and endeavor to listen to them… If we fail to fulfill our youth’s desire to be involved in active and meaningful matters, then we have failed our greatest hope for the future of our church and traditions.”

One of the first acts of the newly elected NAC Teen SOYO President Robert Laham Jr. was to present a check in the amount of $3,302.75 to his Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP from the teen SOYO charity Fund. His Eminence sent the money collected by the teens to needy orphanages. From the beginning his Eminence instilled in the hearts and minds of our young people the need to reach out and minister to the poor.

In 1970 his Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP summed up the importance of SOYO. He wrote, “SOYO must move upward from man to God and forward from man to man, and that this movement must be expressed in concrete spiritual experiences and humanitarian actions. If SOYO is to realize its spiritual goals, the SOYO members must first become fully aware of their mission in history as living members of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

The Orthodox Church through her rich mystical life and glorious liturgical traditions can generously enrich our lives and provide us with this deep sense of ‘holy.’ Self –awareness through meaningful participation in the sacramental life of the Church ultimately leads to a definite commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. When I see Christ, I see man and when I see man, I see Christ.”

Over the past forty years of teen SOYO, the youth movement of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America has strived to spread the good news, keep young people in the Church, and to reach out and minister to the poor. From the beginning teens across the archdiocese frequented soup kitchens, orphanages, senior citizen homes, visiting the elderly in their homes, hospitals, homeless shelters and so many other places where people in need were to be found. Thirty years ago, ten years into the life of NAC Teen SOYO, our teens were so moved by the gift of an Antiochian Village camping experience that they established NAC Teen SOYO Special Olympics to provide the same opportunity to the Special Olympic Athletes of Pennsylvania. Over these thirty years our teens have raised over a $700,000 for Special Olympics and have hosted nearly 3,000 Special Olympic Athletes at the SOYO Special Olympics training camp. Throughout the forty years of NAC SOYO our teens continued to expand their ministry and outreach to the poor and needy. Care for those in need continues to stand as the heart of teen SOYO. In an effort to further raise the level of outreach, five years ago our teens gave their financing and support to give life to Orthodox Youth Outreach “OYO”, a ministry of NAC Teen SOYO. Through OYO and other SOYO efforts, teens across North America reach out to those on the streets and shelters of our cities to bring companionship, food, clothing and the love of Christ.

Forty years following the establishment of NAC SOYO, teens across this archdiocese lead in so many areas of Church life in fulfilling the Good News of the Gospel. Teens have committed themselves to “Living the Orthodox Faith in Christ, through Worship, Witness, Service and Fellowship.”

Each SOYO year now starts with “SOYO Leadership Conference” in July, where all of the Diocesan and NAC SOYO Officers, Spiritual Advisors and Youth Directors come together to develop their leadership skills, design their diocesan and North American SOYO year and programs and to develop a deep sense of community among the SOYO officers of the archdiocese Youth Movement.

Once the School year starts SOYO members find themselves teaching in the Church School, serving in the Sanctuary, singing in the Choir, Chanting, reading in Church, and many other activities that fully integrate them into the life of the Church.

October, established by Metropolitan PHILIP as Youth Month, finds our teens reading the epistles, giving sermons, passing the collection trays in Church, raising awareness of their ministry to the Special Olympic Athletes and raising the nearly $50,000 annual funds needed for SOYO’s Special Olympics Ministry.

November and December are typically active months for our teens as they can be found anywhere and everywhere working to fulfill the Gospel commands, whether that be participating in the worship life of the Church, bearing witness to Christ to their peers, people on the street, and across the community. It is a time of many SOYO meetings, retreats, gatherings and fellowship.

January, known as SOYO Education Month finds our teens teaching their fellow teens and parishioners of the “Sacred Gift of Life.” Our teens’ concern for the unborn and the needs of unwed mothers has motivated our young people to teach on alternatives to abortion and to recognize the need to help those who have chosen life for their children. In January of 2010, SOYO will expand its teaching to include the importance of chastity and purity as children of God and as a means towards healthy marriages and families. January also finds our teens raising funds for SOYO’s Youth Worker Education Fund” to support scholarships for parish Youth Workers seeking to increase their education in youth ministry through the St. Stephen’s Youth Ministry Concentration. Our teens have raised over $125,000 to date and seek to establish a $250,000 endowment for parish youth worker education. You can help celebrate SOYO’s 40th anniversary by making a contribution to this fund.

February traditionally finds our NAC and Diocesan SOYO officers at the Antiochian Village participating in the SOYO Midwinter Meetings – a time to check on the progress of our ministries and the work of our diocesan SOYO. Often this works as a mid-year boost to our efforts to serve our young people and the Church.

March and April find SOYO members deeply engaged in our Great Lenten effort through retreats and ministry to others. A highlight of SOYO’s journey to the empty tomb is the Great Friday Vigil where teens take turns reading from the Scripture from Friday afternoon until the Resurrection services of Pascha. For many this reading and reflection at the tomb of Christ opens so many hearts and minds to how much closer to Christ each has grown through the SOYO year.

May and June find our teens across the archdiocese at their Parish Life Conferences, reporting on their year’s activities, setting new goals and electing new officers. It is always a joy to watch how our teens, with such great love and concern, pass on leadership responsibility to each new generation of upcoming teens.

SOYO as the youth movement of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America has flourished over the past 40 years into a vibrant youth movement that moves the lives of our young people closer to Christ and His Holy Orthodox Church. SOYO is the vehicle to keep our young people in the Church and most importantly committed to Christ. We thank the tens of thousands of teens, thousands of advisors and multitude of clergy, parents, and hierarchs that have supported and ministered to SOYO over these past 40 years. We thank his Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP for the trust he placed in the hands of the teens of this archdiocese 40 years ago that gave our teens the freedom to express their love for Christ and His Church. We especially ask for your continued support and prayers as SOYO moves into another decade of service to Christ’s Holy Church.