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Protopriest Andrei Sommer: “Bringing the Good News to the World Through Our Deeds” 

Registration will begin soon for the 12th All-Diaspora Russian Orthodox Youth Conference, which will be held in Paris from July 1-8, 2011, as reported by Protopriest Andrei Sommer, Vice President of the Synodal Youth Committee of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. He recently returned from a working visit to Paris, accompanied by the Assistant Treasurer of the Synod of Bishops, Eugene Grigoriak. The first preparatory phase of planning is now complete. Fr Andrei shares his thoughts on the forthcoming event.  

- The aim of this trip was to conduct high-level discussions on the organization of the forum itself, the divine services in which the delegates, participants and guests will participate, and also the pilgrimage and programmatic aspects of the event. We were able to establish working contacts and resolve concrete problems with the clergy, government representatives and laypersons who will participate in the Conference, and also with young people who will not only participate but help with the planning of the event.  

It is worth noting that we had fruitful meetings with archpastors in whose canonical territory the Youth Conference will take place: His Eminence Archbishop Gabriel of Komana (Russian Exarchate of Constantinople), His Grace Bishop Michael (ROCOR), and His Grace Bishop Nestor (Moscow Patriarchate).  

We discussed practical details of the event with Bishop Nestor. Vladyka gave his blessing and offered his cooperation in arranging for the youth to pray before a great relic of Paris: the Crown of Thorns of our Lord Jesus Christ. Vladyka Nestor also blessed holding divine services at St Sergius Church and meeting with the young seminarians of St Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris.  

Archbishop Gabriel also responded enthusiastically to our invitation to participate in the Conference. This is very important for us, since for several reasons, our Church has not had active contact with the clergy of the Russian Exarchate of Constantinople. Vladyka Gabriel also blessed the clergymen of his diocese to participate in the Conference meetings, round tables, and to serve and pray during Liturgy at the renowned St Alexander Nevsky Church on rue Daru, in downtown Paris not far from the Arc de Triomphe. The funerals of such eminent Russians as the authors Ivan Turgenev and Ivan Bunin, the singer Feodor Chaliapine, the director Andrei Tarkovsky were held there; there, too, Pablo Picasso married the Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova.  

It is interesting that despite the fact that the main language of divine services here is Church Slavonic, many French people prefer to come here to pray. We discussed the language barrier with Vladyka Gabriel. It was decided that the entire program will be held in three languages—Russian, English and French.  

We discussed visiting the holy sites and points of interest in the jurisdiction of the Russian Church Abroad with His Grace Bishop Michael. One of these is the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in Meudon, a suburb of Paris. St John of Shanghai once served here. Incidentally, the opening of the Conference was scheduled to coincide with his feast day, July 2.  

- I suppose you were able to resolve many practical challenges connected with organizing such a large youth forum.  

- Of course, but we were pleased to find the support and enthusiasm of both official and private individuals. The Russian Ambassador to France, Alexander Konstantinovich Orlov, was receptive and responsive. He kindly agreed to give us the use of the Embassy auditorium for our farewell event, which will consist of a concert and reception.  

We also toured hotels where the delegates and speakers will be housed, and resolved questions of transportation. We investigated everything ourselves, not relying on what we put down on paper in the preliminary phase.  

- Fr Andrei, did you meet with French youth yourself?

- Yes, we decided that a group of 15 local French youth from the Vitiazi scout group will help in the preparations: some will directly participate in the forum, others will offer practical support.  

- Does Vitiazi belong to any specific jurisdiction, or is it open to all Orthodox youth?  

- It includes young people from about the ages of 19-25 from different jurisdictions—the Russian Exarchate of Constantinople, the Russian Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate. We discussed the topics of the round tables in detail, the discussions, the youth missionary “workshops.” I’d like to note that they are particularly interested in new forms of missionary work and the preaching of the Gospel and Orthodoxy in the modern world, especially in Europe, where they lived amidst the heterodox, and where the influence of the Catholic and Protestant Churches is great. For them, the problem of how to employ new ways for the youth to help the Holy Church is very important, how to preserve the purity of Orthodoxy. That is the motto of this Conference.  

Working with youth does not only mean walking around with the Bible and quoting from it, but to witness Christ in your deeds, your life, your relationship with your neighbor. This confession of Christ can take place in various spheres of life. For instance, in Orthodox culture, which has disappeared in many ways in today’s world.  

- I know that you have received a great many responses since this Conference was first announced… 

- Over the first few days upon my return from Paris, I received e-mails from Austria, Germany, Australia, and of course, France. They contain practical questions, offers of assistance, letters from youth wishing to participate. I continue to get messages not only from individuals but from representatives of youth organizations. It is a great joy to see such a great quantity and variety of youth groups all over the world that we never even imagined existed. And by and large they don’t even know of each other. So this Conference, I hope, will become a platform for Orthodox missionaries from various nations and continents to get to know one another.  

I also want to stress again that I am happy that young people from the Russian Exarchate of Constantinople will participate. Despite the fact that we have been divided, youth ministry serves to unite us. And I believe that the young generation will not feel the wounds of division that we had over all these years.  

- How will the selection of delegates to the 12th All-Diaspora Youth Conference be made?  

- Very soon we will have the actual schedule prepared, and registration will begin. Of course, one of the requirements will be that the delegate have a recommendation from his pastor, parish priest or youth-group leader. In Russia, registration will be handled by the Synod Youth Department of the Moscow Patriarchate. Young people from Ukraine and Belarus should apply there, too. 

- Have you determined a limit to the number of participants?  

- There will be one hundred delegates from abroad, and twelve from Russia.  

By the time registration begins, we will determine the number of speakers—archpastors, theologians, etc. We know already that with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, His Grace Bishop Theodosius of Seattle, Vicar Bishop of the Western American Diocese, will participate; he is the Director of the SS Cyril and Methodius Russian School in San Francisco.  

- Will the participants have the opportunity to pray before the Protectress of the Russian Diaspora, the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God? 

- We have already established that the Conference will be held under the auspices of this miracle-working icon, which will be in Paris throughout the duration of the event.

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