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NEW YORK: August 14, 2008
The First Official Youth Pilgrimage of the Russian Church Abroad to Russia Comes to an End 

Following the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II and His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, the wall of separation between the two branches of the Russian Orthodox Church fell, and new possibilities arose for brotherly cooperation for the good of Orthodoxy.

With the blessing of Metropolitan Hilarion, young pilgrims from all the dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia made a pilgrimage to the holy places of Russia and participated in an international conference called "Concord of Orthodox Youth" held at Kursk-Root Hermitage from July 17-August 8, 2008. 

The youth, who assembled in Moscow from all over the world, were accompanied by Protopriest Andrei Sommer, clergyman of the Synodal Cathedral of Kursk-Root Icon of Our Lady of the Sign in New York, and Priest Quentin de Castelbajac of Lyon, France. 

On the first day of the program, the young pilgrims visited Holy Trinity-St Sergius Lavra, where they prayed at a patriarchal service on the feast day of St Sergius of Radonezh. During the prayers before Communion, the young people of the Russian Church Abroad received a blessing from His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II, and then gave His Holiness an icon of St Jonah of Hankow, who was canonized in 1996. Approaching the icon, Patriarch Alexy said: "It is very important in these times, which are so difficult for Orthodox youth, to have their own heavenly protector, to whom they can turn in prayer in their sorrows and their joys." 

The following day, the young pilgrims visited the Kremlin cathedrals and met with young believers from the capital city from the following organizations: "Maronets," "Molodaya Rus'," "Voskreseniye" and "Sreteniye." 

At the Kursk conference, in addition to delegates from the Russian Church Abroad, there were young people from Belarus, Ukraine and other places in Russia—over 60 participants in all. 

The first day, the youth met with the Prior of Kursk-Root Hermitage, Hegumen Veniamin (Korolev), who led them on a fascinating tour. The second half of the week, the conferees became acquainted with one another, there were excursions to the churches of the city of Kursk, along with other holy sites where the young Prokhor (later St Seraphim of Sarov) lived and prayed. These places left a deep impression and brought to life much that they had previously read in books. 

During the evenings, the young pilgrims gathered at round tables for discussions and organized concerts of folk singing.     

The conferees visited Voronezh, where they venerated the relics of St Mitrofan, and of St Ioasaf in Belgorod. Here our youth made the acquaintance of the local believers, with representatives of the local government and social institutions, meeting also with EV Savchenko and movie director NS Mikhalkov. 

On the feast day of the Uncovering of the Relics of St Seraphim of Sarov, the youth prayed at Holy Trinity Cathedral at St Seraphim-Diveevo Convent, where they venerated the saint's relics, then visiting the holy sites of the region of Nizhny Novgorod associated with his life. 

Thanks to the Fund for Assistance to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Benevolent Fund for the Rebirth of Kursk-Root Hermitage, our Orthodox youth were able to visit their spiritual homeland (many of whom visited Russia for the first time) and receive a special blessing. 

Below are some words of the program's participants:  

Elizabeth Lapardin, Australia. 

At the beginning of the conference, it seemed that we are all different, but then we became better acquainted and came to understand that we have much in common. Soon we came to have genuine Russian Orthodox friends. People I hadn't known before became close to me. This, of course,, is because of the power of our Orthodox Faith. One of the main activities during the conference was joint prayer, which had a graceful effect on our common work. Many of us said so in the final days. It was prayer that unified us more than anything. In Kursk, I came to a deeper understanding of the meaning of CONCORD. From our conversations we saw that the Christian finds great joy when he serves his neighbor. Many of us noticed that the atmosphere of our conference enabled us to match our deeds with our words. It was sad to say goodbye to each other, but we left with the hope that we will once again meet and that our friendship would definitely bear fruit in the future. 

Kathryn Wolkov, New York.

For St. Seraphim’s feast day we made a trip to Diveevo. The bus ride there was 25 hours! This was because we made stops to several monasteries and churches on the way. We thought we would never get there! Instead of sleeping in tents like we were supposed to, we stayed at the pilgrimage center and slept eight people per room. During this trip, I really developed a want to become closer to God and realized that my life is flying by and it’s time to really get focused. The monasteries we visited made me realize also, that there is still a huge hope for Orthodox people. Living in America, I sometimes worry about the Orthodox people because it feels like there are barely any Orthodox left in America. And ROCOR is so small! But being in Russia and seeing the amount of faithful that are present at a single service, I developed a new hope and realized that God is really taking care of our Church 

Ksenia Sachevskaya – Canada 

Somewhere between our procession of the cross from the pilgrimage center to the monastery, to our 27-hour bus ride to Diveevo, we all found the need to ask questions. In getting to know one another, it was fascinating to see how different our views of each other were, compared to the reality. So many questions were asked of so many topics, and with each answer, I believe, a greater understanding of each other was formed. It was through accepting one another and gaining that better understanding that I believe we all gained a different view of our history, culture, and faith. It was this aspect of learning that added so much to the trip as a whole. This was a trip and experience of a lifetime. The enormous amount of gratitude that I feel, for having been given this opportunity, is inexplicable. I can honestly say that this trip has changed me as a person in so many ways and for that I will always be in debt to those who made it possible for me attend. I truly look forward to the future for more opportunities such as this one and for another chance to return to Russia to keep these doors of friendship and understanding open.  

Eugene Krassovsky, California. 

Right away I felt that this is my native people, and this is my country. Everything we were taught at home and in Russian School came to life. I did not want to leave, and I will definitely go back again. 

Andrei Muraviev, New Jersey. 

We saw the spot where the Kursk-Root Icon was originally found. One of the most interesting parts of the conference for me was that we were at the original home of the most significant holy icon of the Church Abroad – here we saw countless copies of the icon which I had venerated many times before. One of my strongest memories was of an elderly woman who approached me and was almost brought to tears because she met someone who had venerated the original icon. She said this was an incredible gift for her on her namesday, and asked that I pray for her at the icon.