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Youth is “For Life”! 

On July 9-18, 2012, the Third International “For Life”  Conference will be held in Moscow. With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, 50 young people from the parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will also participate. 

The Vice President of ROCOR’s Synodal Youth Department, Protopriest Andrei Sommer, tells us about preparations for this youth pilgrimage to Russia, which will also mark the 5th anniversary of the reconciliation of the Orthodox Church in the Fatherland and Church Abroad.  

- Fr Andrei, tell us about the main event the young people from the Russian diaspora will be participating in.  

- From July 10-12, the International Festival “For Life,” meant to defend family values, will be held in Moscow. The first such event was held in 2010 and gathered three hundred participants from the movement to defend life from seventy cities of Russia and eight nations of the world. 

This festival is being supported by the Synod Department of Charity and Social Service of the Moscow Patriarchate. Its goal is to bear witness before society on the importance of Orthodox family values and the consolidation of positive forces of the Church and society for the resolution of demographic problems.  

The first event included representatives of one hundred ten dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church and ecclesiastical and social organizations of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The round tables, meetings, benefit concerts and open-air actions in support of family values included renowned public activists, journalists, writers, artists and members of charitable groups.  

Taking into account the success and importance of the event, it was decided to make it an annual event and to expand its international character. Last year, at the second festival, Orthodox representatives of various Local Churches of the “far abroad” did attend. This year, “For Life 2012”  will include youth from parishes of the Russian diaspora of the united Russian Orthodox Church at the invitation of His Grace Bishop Panteleimon of Kaliningrad, Chairman of the Synodal Department of Charity and Social Service and with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia,. His Grace Bishop Theodosius will head the delegation.  

- Your youth participated in the restoration of Russian monasteries, including Solovki.  This year volunteers will work on social programs. Who had this idea? 

- A volunteer group of our young people will help with social programs in Moscow as part of an agreement with the Department of Charity and Social Service of the Moscow Patriarchate. This includes work with children in orphanages and old people and in hospitals, with our kids helping out and also staging performances. The idea was born with the young people themselves at the 12th All-Diaspora Youth Conference held in Paris last summer, and then echoed frequently at a youth symposium held last October in New York, as well as local parish youth meetings. It is noteworthy that the idea did not come from above, but from the young people themselves. 

This will be the practical part of our trip, which we need to bolster with theory. On July 16, the delegation from the Russian Church Abroad and leaders of social-service organizations will organize a symposium.  

- ...which is planned to be held at Christ the Savior Cathedral with its clergymen?  

- Yes, these are events, including participation in the “For Life” Festival, which we consider very important, for this is an enormous scope of activity our youth will be involved with in the future. Decades after being formed, the Russian Church Abroad was preoccupied, one might say, with self-preservation, with establishing and developing parishes all over the world, when church life in Russia was severely suppressed. Now the time has come for missionary and charitable work both within their own parishes, within their own dioceses and abroad, too.  

- This has become especially possible since the reestablishment of unity with our Mother Church, correct?  

- Of course. We have talented people abroad, and now is the time to increase them and bring them to serve the people and the Church. The most grace-filled way of is doing this through charitable and social work.  

The one-day symposium, which will take the form of a round table, will give our youth the opportunity to meet with representatives of various benevolent foundations, to learn not only about the structure, directions and methods they employ, but—and this is very important—realize the reason they are established, and why very successful people participate, what inspired them and why they have worked in these fields for many years.  

Among those who will participate are future businessmen, diplomats, lawyers, priests, who must understand in practice how philanthropic organizations work, and what is most important, take the example of successful sponsors and ignite their hearts to do good deeds. 

- Are the summer youth events limited to Moscow? 

- As usual, an important part of the program will include a pilgrimage to holy sites. This year we will go to Ekaterinburg for the first time, to the site where the Royal Family was murdered, we will visit the Church-on-the-Blood, Ganina Yama and we will meet with His Eminence Metropolitan Kirill of Ekaterinburg and Verkhotursk. Upon returning to Moscow, we will continue to study the fate of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia by visiting Butovo Square, where many hundreds of people, Orthodox clergymen and laity, were shot.  

All these activities will take place on the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between the Church in the Fatherland and Abroad. Over these five years, the bonds between Orthodox youth in Russia and the dioceses abroad have strengthened. Two hundred young people have visited Russia on pilgrimages and participated in joint efforts in missionary work.  

Young people live in the present and in the future, but they cannot forget the past of their historic homeland. The pilgrimage to the martyrdom site of the Royal Martyrs will give them the chance to remember the past, to feel the spiritual bond they have shared for the decades when the Russian Church was in forced division. That is why we decided to combine philanthropic work and this pilgrimage to the place where the Royal Family was executed. Remembering the past, we must appreciate the present and future and do good works for the salvation of our neighbors in this world, and preserving our soul for eternity. 

- Fr Andrei, besides the youth pilgrimage to Russia, what other way is the Synodal Youth Department marking the 5-year anniversary of unity within the Russian Church? 

- To mark the anniversary of the first Orthodox youth movement in recent history, we are preparing a book on the history, the contemporary missionary movement, the forms and methods of youth ministry with the goal of bringing them into Church and educating them in the traditions of Russian Orthodoxy. This book is being prepared with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. This is an enormous task, in which the experiences of working with young people on all continents where Russian emigres live will be concentrated. One must admit that in Russia, unfortunately, over the decades of godless rule, this experience was lost. So in fact this will be a textbook for work with Orthodox youth, which we hope will not only be used abroad but in Russia, too. 

In conclusion, I would like to recall that on the eve of the Meeting of the Lord, which is considered a feast day for Orthodox youth, and as we approach Great Lent, it was customary in the Church Abroad to turn away from worldly amusements and gather youth for spiritual discussions, to help them grasp the meaning and significance of Lent. Such meetings should be organized on the parish or deanery level. One would hope that these meetings would serve as an impetus for the creation of permanent youth groups in parishes that now lack them, and to prepare ourselves properly for the bright holiday of Pascha.  

Interviewed by Marina Rostova.