The 17th Annual Nativity Readings held at Metropol Hotel in Moscow on February 16, 2009, included a conference on forms and methods of youth ministry (“New Forms and Methods of Work With Youth: Orthodox Youth Organizations and Projects”), chaired by His Grace Bishop Feofilakt of Bronnitsa, President of the Moscow Diocese’s Commission on Youth.
Speaking at the event were Bishop Feofilakt; Hieromonk Serafim (Petrovsky), Vice President of the Synod Youth Department; Protopriest Andrei Sommer, Vice President of the Synodal Youth Department of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and Protopriest Maxim Kozlov, Rector of St Catherine’s Church at Moscow State University.
Vladyka Feofilakt noted that youth ministry in the Church is first of all missionary work, which demands not only contemporary forms of communication but professional training. Vladyka recalled the words of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, spoken on the feast day of the Meeting of Our Lord, that today, each parish must have a specialist on catechism and youth ministry, and that if necessary, church communities must provide material support for them.
Vladyka Feofilakt feels that every institution of higher education should have, if not a church, then at least an Orthodox community which would witness the Truth before members of their age group. For this reason, one of the most urgent challenges, according to Vladyka Feofilakt, is to nurture creative and charismatic leaders for such groups.
Fr Andrei spoke about the experiences of Orthodox youth in the diaspora. One of the more effective methods of working with ROCOR youth, according to Fr Andrei, is holding youth conferences of various sizes (from all-diaspora conferences to meetings within individual deaneries), which are devoted to a specific topic. The youth not only hear lectures but hold workshops. Workshops address parish life, just as parish schools do: young people learn liturgics, Church Slavonic, etc.
Fr Andrei also proposed the idea of forming a social web network along the lines of Odnoklassniki [“classmates”] Vkontakte [“in contact”] and FaceBook, which would unite Orthodox youth throughout the world.
Fr Serafim offered surprising methods of working with youth: leaving some churches open and accessible in later hours, doing missionary work in these churches by holding divine services, night-time molebens and Liturgies. In his opinion, no means should be overlooked in working with youth, including forms of art, culture and sports.
Fr Maxim concentrated on what he called “the negatives,” the “underwater rocks” that are obstacles the Church faces in working with young people.
First of all, we should not treat young people with kid gloves, for the soul of a babushka is no different from the soul of a young person, this is not good for the youth nor the Church itself. Secondly, youth ministry should not ignore the Heavenly Kingdom nor mankind itself: “the goal of the spiritual life, towards which we must strive, is without a doubt the salvation of the soul, but we are dealing with living people, not easily-trainable robots.” Fr Maxim feels that the matter of finding a common language has not yet been resolved, yet we must avoid the two extremes: oversimplification and moralizing.
Fr Maxim feels that an Orthodox television network broadcasting on a central channel during prime time would have great missionary effect. In order to establish one, Fr Maxim said, we must use all available resources. It content should be vibrant, earnest and honest.
Some of the proposals evoked lively debate: the idea of an Orthodox social network found supporters and also skeptics who feel that existing social resources are sufficient.
The idea of Liturgies geared towards youth or children was also controversial: as attractive as that goal appears, it may prove to be an unwise reduction of divine service.
A series of other lectures rounded out the conference, in which participants shared their experiences and discussed the great deal of work they face, especially since 2009 was named “the Year of Youth.”
The next day, the missionary program of the Nativity Readings was held at the Church of St Tatiana. The lectures concerned the theme entitled “Experience and Possibilities in Youth Missionary Work.”
Fr Andrei was the first speaker. In his opinion, the existence of the Orthodox Church in a heterodox environment is in and of itself a powerful form of witness of the faith for outsiders. Cooperation, speed and effectiveness among the youth is especially strong, and these must not be ignored in preserving and dissemination Orthodox traditions.
Priest Igor Palkin of St Tatiana Church, a professional photographer, shared his experiences as head of the Pozitif Photography School under the auspices of the Moscow Diocese. The school is open to all, offering the fundamentals of photography (on a tuition basis for beginners) and documentary photography (through scholarship based on creative competition). Application information is distributed throughout colleges. The school now teaches 40 students, of whom 30 are not church-goers. “Unfortunately, I did not find churchgoing professional photographers,” said Fr Igor, “that is why I invited teachers from the best photography schools of Moscow without consideration of their church attendance.” The problem lies in avoiding making the school a place unrelated to faith. But there are other missionary possibilities for its participants. For example, assignments are given to make a photo-documentary of people in various professions, but all of these are people of great faith. By meeting them, beginners can learn about the Orthodox faith. “Respect for someone’s profession supports trust for him as a member of the Church,” said Fr Igor.
Priest Daniel Sysoev, Rector of the Church of Prophet Daniel in Kantemirovskaya, told of the problems of building a missionary youth center. Fr Daniel believes that a system of teaching catechism to a newcomer to church must precede missionary work. Most often, a curious person will ask a question of another parishioner who appears experienced rather than the priest himself. It is important to further the teachings of Christ and call things by their proper name—intriguing words of the Church as a pillar of culture and patriotism have nothing to do with missionary work. Consistent study of Holy Scripture along with parishioners must be a part of the parish priest’s work.
Dmitry Igorevich Serov, representative of the Missionary Department of Moscow Theological Academy, also spoke, noting that before determining a target for ones mission, the status and interests of the audience must be understood.
Professor Walter Schpecht of Germany told of “mobile work” with youth. One must set a clear-cut, strict ideological base for this. Social workers are needed. The German professor's lecture drew a great deal of interest and intense debate.
Nikolai Filippovich Mariashin, Head of the Physical Education Department at St Tikhon Orthodox Humanitarisn Institute and teacher at the Orthodox Tradition High School in Moscow, told of the important role sports play in working with Orthodox and lay youth.
The youth group “Joy in Old Age” told of its missionary work, assistance to invalids and the elderly in nursing homes. The group is a small team of some fifteen people, enthusiastic students of Moscow who believe in good deeds and in people. Their goal is to let those who live in nursing homes and veterans' shelters know that they are not alone, not forgotten, that they are needed. More on their work is available on their website: starikam.ru.
In conclusion, Fr Maxim said a few words about his missionary visit to Kolychevo and the good relationship the young parishioners of St Tatiana’s Church had with the youth of ROCOR.