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On July 1-8, 2011, the 12th All-Diaspora Russian Orthodox Youth Conference will convene in Paris, France. These events have a 50-year history and a wealth of experience. They have been held in the US (San Francisco, Chicago, Nyack, NY);, Toronto, Canada; Sydney, Australia, and Latin America (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).

Protopriest Andrei Sommer, Vice President of the Synodal Youth Department of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, talks about preparing for the Conference.  

- Fr Andrei, tell us about the history of the All-Diaspora Conferences.

- The first All-Diaspora Youth Conference was held from August 30-September 5, 1973, in Montreal, Canada. Presiding was the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky). Young people from Australia, Argentina, Belgium, West Germany, Spain, France, Switzerland, Chile, the US and Canada participated. It is worth noting that the Resolution of this First All-Diaspora Conference stated that “the youth considers itself an indissoluble part of the Russian Church.”  

- Yes, and most of those who by fate ended up abroad hoped to return one day to Russia…

- We can look at the program of the Conference now, 38 years later, to see what the lectures the delegates read. They were interested in the living condition and education of young Russians in the countries where the post-revolution refugees settled, how they strove to preserve their Russianness, and the situation that believers faced in the USSR. We see among the speeches at the First Youth Conference such topics as “Why Youth Abroad Must Be Russian and Orthodox,” “The Place of the Orthodox Woman in Contemporary Society,” “Youth in the USSR and Its Spiritual Search,” and from the Second All-Diaspora Conference, held in Montreal in 1976, we see “The Growth of Interest in Religion in the USSR According to the Latest Data.”  

- Fr Andrei, what traditions have remained the same in these conferences?  

- First of all every All-Diaspora Conference is held under the protection of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, the Hodigitria [Guide] of the Russian diaspora. I am happy to point out that over the last two years, this holy image visited the city of Kursk twice, and the people of Moscow and Kiev were also able to venerate it. Another important tradition, of course, is also the open relationship between the hierarchs, clergymen and laity. During these conferences, as it was from the beginning, the delegates could spend time with clergymen both during and after official sessions. The finest representatives of the episcopacy and clergy from various dioceses of Russia and abroad will participate in the forthcoming conference. Their contact, I am sure, will be remembered by the youth for the rest of their lives. 

Another tradition is the celebration of divine services with the direct participation of the youth themselves: some will sing in the choir, others will help in the altar, other young clergymen will lead the services.  

- Is there a motto for the 12th All-Diaspora Youth Conference, and what are its goals?

 

- Our motto will be “New forms for youth service to the Holy Church and preserving the purity of Orthodoxy.” The goal of the conference will be establishing relationships between young people of various countries and acquainting them with new forms of missionary work among their age bracket, as well as service to the Church. Times are swiftly changing, the ways young people can serve the Church are also rapidly changing, and the means at our disposal to attract newly-churched young people to the faith without compromising the purity of Orthodoxy. For this we will employ informal methods of education and study, such as topical sections, round tables, youth workshops, practical studies and discussion. Clergymen will be directly involved in all these measures.  

The Lord gives each person his own talents. A person is obligated to develop, not bury, his talents, to maximize them for the benefit of his parish, to help the needy, and finally, use them towards the salvation of his soul.  

- Many are probably interested to know why the conference will be held in Paris this year.  

- A forum as important as the All-Diaspora Council has never taken place in Europe. That is why Paris was chosen this year. Its location in the center of Europe will provide an opportunity for youth of the Paris Exarchate, Western Europe, Korsun and many other dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church to participate. Also, this city, with its centuries-old history, contains many important relics of human history. How many Orthodox Christian holy relics are there in Europe? You cannot deny that not many have the opportunity in life to visit the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees,  Versailles, Montmartre, the Sacre Coeur, to pray in the Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky in the center of the French capital, to visit Notre Dame Cathedral, which contains the Crown of Thorns of the Savior; to pray before the holy relics of Queen Helen, Equal-to-the-Apostles, the Protectress of Paris St Genevieve, to participate in a pannikhida at the Russian Orthodox cemetery in St-Genevieve-du-Bois… 

- Fr Andrei, news of this conference has probably evoked a great deal of interest from young people all over the world…  

- I must say, colossal interest! As soon as the All-Diaspora Conference was announced, my e-mail address was flooded with messages from Russia and other countries. Many learned of the event from our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=151126678249051). 

We plan on having 100-120 people take part. There are already enough applicants. I have met with people who have participated in previous All-Diaspora Youth Conferences many years ago, and they all remember those days and cherish the friendships they made.  

- Fr Andrei, who is lending support to the 12th All-Diaspora Conference?  

- The conference is being held with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has also supported the initiative. “It is a joy that the long tradition of forums which serve to unite young Christians in the fullness of the Russian Orthodox Church is continuing its development in the middle of Europe. I invoke God’s blessing upon the organizers and all the participants of this event,” His Holiness wrote in a letter to Metropolitan Hilarion. The idea of holding this event was also approved the Russian Presidential Envoy to the Central Federal District, Georgy Poltavchenko.  

State and social organization have also expressed their interest in supporting this endeavor, both in Russia and abroad. The Russian Embassy to France in Paris is making every effort to participate in its organization, and material aid for hosting the pilgrimage and cultural program will be provided by the Fund of St Andrew the First-Called, the Russian-Athos Society, and the Fund for Assistance to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, along with other organizations and individuals.  

- Most importantly, we should mention, is that this conference will be the first forum of the united Russian Orthodox Church…  

- This is both important and a great joy! For the first time since the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion, this All-Diaspora Conference, the twelfth overall, will draw participants of the one Russian Orthodox Church both from the Russian diaspora and from Russia itself: hierarchs, clergymen, theologians, seminarians, students and rank and file youth, who in their spare time, after school and work, help in the harvest-fields of Christ in their parishes, in youth organizations and parish schools. This will be the first major forum which will attest to the unity of the Russian Church. Moreover, in the near future, we plan on organizing a similar conference in Russia, and this conference will set the stage for a mass youth forum in Russia.  

Interviewed by Tatiana Veselkina