When 2 or 3 or 45 are gathered in His name, Christ is there. As 45 #ssppglen GOYAns, GOYAlums, and Young adults leaders, gathered this weekend at the St. Iakovos Retreat Center, surely, we felt the joy, love, and grace of Christ in our midst!
I always leave our retreats with a sort-of high, a newfound energy, a deep-seeded inspiration, and the scripture verse that I amended above, rings true in my mind; I believe we all partake in a truly tangible experience of Christ’s presence during these gatherings.
There are few things that bring me more joy than a room full of teenagers, discussing, reflecting on, and digging into their faith, a chapel full of teens chanting along to a candlelit Akathist service, a field full of teens decked out in glow in the dark paraphernalia playing a most vigorous game of capture the flag, or a cabin full of teens sharing their hearts and even tears, opening up about the struggles of high school life. In these moments, Christ is present, joy is experienced, love is exchanged, grace is felt, and lives are slowly transformed!
Our theme for the weekend was, “I believe, help my unbelief”. We explored our belief in God and reflected on what we believe, why we believe, and when we struggle to believe. We discussed how belief is a verb – the acting out of our faith. We talked about what that looks like in our lives and perhaps what it could look like going forward.
In between our three sessions, we gathered in worship Friday night for Akathist, Saturday morning for Orthros, Saturday evening for Vespers, and Sunday morning for Divine Liturgy. All of the participants contributed to making these services so uplifting, filling the chapel with their voices and prayers, chanting along to the services, and insisting on singing their favorite hymns at the close of each service.
On Saturday, we learned about the miracle of Koliva and the significance behind the boiled wheat and the memorial service. When we commemorate our loved ones, we do so out of a belief that their souls are still with us and with God and we pray that their memories be always in the mind of our Lord. Each of the participants wrote a list of their loved ones who have passed away and Fr. Kosmas commemorated each of them in a memorial service following Divine Liturgy on Sunday.
And of course, per tradition, throughout the day on Saturday, everyone competed in the exciting, competitive, and always entertaining, “Game of GOYAns”. The competition consisted of an extensive scavenger hunt all over the camp, skit night where each skit was judged for creativity, humor, and thematic relevance, and finally, the much anticipated, glow in the dark capture the flag! You have never played capture the flag until you have played Fr. K’s glow in the dark version! Seriously though, Peter Savas claims it to be in the top 8 experiences of his life thus far! One could suppose that perhaps his life has not been that exciting, but we would argue that glow in the dark capture the flag really is, just that awesome.
We ended our jam-packed Saturday with a bonfire and s’mores, games, a little March Madness, sporadic dance parties, and a lot of laughter. As we packed up and headed home Sunday after brunch, there was a definite energy present on the bus ride back followed by a subtle sadness as everyone departed back to their regular routines of life.
These weekends really are transformative. The concentrated time spent away from the regular busyness of life, distance from our technology, extended time in fellowship and worship, really leaves a lasting impact. We are reminded of our home in the Church and our deep bonds with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is my hope and prayer that we all carry this impact beyond the weekends we spend together in Wisconsin and allow the joy, love, and grace we so acutely experience during these gatherings to infiltrate all that we do.