Glory to God, the 2019 G.O.C. Family and Youth Conference was a successful, Grace-filled event. With the blessing of His Eminence, Metropolitan Demetrius of America, the Conference took place on the weekend of October 11-13 at St. Nicholas of Myra Orthodox Church in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, with the theme of “Unity”—unity in the marriage, unity in the family, unity in the parish, unity in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and unity in the world. St. Nicholas of Myra and St. John of San Francisco were the Patron Saints of the Conference, and their blessings were felt throughout. During the event, the faithful were edified by extraordinary presentations on Unity, as well as responses during the Q & A session, given by Their Eminences, Metropolitan Demetrius of America, Metropolitan Moses of Toronto, Fr. Steven Allen, Fr. Nicodemos Gayle, Fr. Theodore Giannakopoulos, Fr. Christos Patitsas, Fr. John Somers, Fr. Nicholas Chernjavsky, and the host priest, Fr. George Psaromatis. The parish of St. Nicholas thanks all of our speakers for their soul-saving messages, and all the faithful who attended from around America, Canada, and beyond.
The Conference began with the optional Friday—DC Field trip day, when about 60 participants boarded a charter bus and spent a delightful day touring various Smithsonian museums and landmarks on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Following the field trip, the faithful attended a Paraclisis to our Most Holy Theotokos at St. Nicholas, followed by dinner and fellowship at the bonfires on the beautiful grounds of St. Nicholas. Two bonfire gatherings were available to the faithful, one near the lit tent, for adults, families and children, and one down the path towards the woods, for young adults. Fr. Nicholas graciously presented an edifying talk at the young adult bonfire, and there were many informal sessions of Q&A, fellowship, and spiritual discussions with His Eminence, Metropolitan Moses and various clergy.
On Saturday morning, October 12, the main Conference day, the faithful met at the venue for a day filled with profound Orthodox learning, joy and laughter, and the stirring in the human soul that can only be brought about by the Holy Spirit. Any Orthodox Christian who has attended one of these blessed conferences in the past, where hundreds of faithful gather in His Name, knows this feeling. Our Metropolitan Demetrius of America, who had undergone dental surgery the preceding day, and who has been struggling with serious health challenges, was not able to attend in person, but glory to God, was still able to deliver the Keynote address via Skype. The Conference venue boasted a state-of-the-art auditorium with two large screens over the stage, which facilitated His Eminence’s presentation effectively.
The Metropolitan related how he was very happy about the theme of unity, when he discussed it with Fr. George, calling it a “dogma” for the Orthodox, and how powerful it is for the faithful to be gathered together in the same place, as we were at that moment, at the Family and Youth Conference:
In today’s Epistle reading, and oftentimes in the Acts of the Apostles, we come across a phrase, where the Holy Apostles came, «ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ» which means they gathered together in the same place (Πράξεις 3:1). This is a very important phrase because, when the faithful Christians are together, there is a special force, a special power, a special Grace, because they are showing their unity. The Grace is prevalent, in particular, when the faithful are together in the same place but in concord, “…so that there may be no divisions among you,” as the Holy Apostle tells us (1 Corinthians 1:10). Νaturally, any parent would love to see his or her family united: the children united with the parents, the children united with each other, and so on and so forth. And so it is with God, except much more so, because God is perfect, God is love. When we talk about unity we are not talking about some kind of abstract idea or ideology, but for the Orthodox Christian, it is a dogmatic truth—it’s a dogma, and we hear the explanation of the Disciples of our Lord: For example, St. Ignatius the Godbearer expresses to us how the Church is the Body of Christ, and expounds to us concerning those things which St. Paul says, “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 6:15) and “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members of one another” (Romans 12:5). So, the first Christians, from the beginning, had this very profound understanding of unity as a dogma—that they themselves had to be totally united, not only with God, but with one another. By being united with God, they were united with one another, and by being united with one another, they had this close connection with our Lord…God, being One in Essence, undivided, wishes, of course, that the Church be united with God, and this is why the Church has a very special and prominent place in the Holy Trinity—It is called “the Body of Christ.” This means that we ourselves not only have a great blessing and honor, but a great responsibility to not abandon the Holy Spirit—St. Paul says that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, so we are part of the Body, but also God is in us, in our body, in our hearts, in our souls…
His Eminence went on to describe unity with God and each other through the visual example of Abba Dorotheos of Gaza: “Imagine all the faithful around the circumference of a circle, with our destination, our προορισμός—where we want to end up—is the Center of the circle, God. The closer each person moves toward the Center of the circle, the closer they get to God, and naturally the closer they come to one another.” The Metropolitan also warned against the tricks of the devil, who is “a professional at what he does” and “camouflages himself” inspiring his victims to create a “really good script as to why they are not united with the Church.” Abba Dorotheos teaches that the person who is in such discord is also “distorted in his thinking.” His Eminence said, “The fact of the matter is that all of us are trying to conform to the Mind of Christ…to get out of the distortion which came into the race of mankind from the time of Adam’s fall…”
His Eminence also warned that there can be a “good disunity” and a “bad unity” in terms of heresy and schism, as St. John Chrysostom teaches. “We have to separate ourselves from the separated,” the Metropolitan said, “and unite with the united.” He then went on to quote the Kontakion of Pentecost which includes both examples of unity and of division: “When the most High came down and confused the tongues, / He divided the nations; / But when he distributed the tongues of fire / He called all to unity. / Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-holy Spirit.” His Eminence, Metropolitan Moses of Toronto then chanted this Kontakion, followed by its chanting in Greek by Fr. Theodore Giannakopoulos of the Cathedral of St. Markella.
Finally, Metropolitan Demetrius taught that we should never rejoice or become self-righteous over the fact that we are the “chosen of the Lord.” He pointed out that “self-righteous zealotry caused many the unfortunate divisions” in the first place. It is a cause for sadness, he said, that the historical Patriarchates do not belong to the Church anymore, “This is something that has hurt the Body of Christ” after so many centuries of Church history. “Our Lord wishes that all men be saved” he reminded us.
His Eminence concluded his edifying presentation by telling the faithful that “we need to treasure the fact that the Lord has called us to unity, and also treasure the fact that you are now ‘ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ,’ as I said in the beginning, gathered together in the same place.” Metropolitan Demetrius then thanked Metropolitan Moses and gave his blessings and best wishes for the continued success of the event.
Following the Keynote address, the faithful broke into groups according to age and language. His Eminence, Metropolitan Moses, presented multiple, soul-profiting and age-appropriate talks on “Unity in the World”—please see separate article on His Eminence, Metropolitan Moses’s message. Fr. Steven Allen presented eye-opening talks on “Unity in the Marriage;” Fr. Nicodemos Gayle shared very powerful talks on “Unity in the Family;” Fr. Christos Patitsas spiritually energized his listeners with his talks on “Unity in the Parish;” and Fr. John Somers shared his popular and interactive talks on “Unity in the Church.” For the talks in the Greek language, Fr. Theodore Giannakopoulos touched on all these topics for over two hours; the faithful greatly benefited by his wise message on the topic of unity, followed by an extended Greek language Q & A. Conference organizers hope to upload audio recordings of most of these soul-profiting talks for the faithful to revisit. Finally, all of the Fathers participated in the engaging Q&A session, which was audience-driven, and targeted all of the above areas of unity, especially Orthodox family & marriage. Glory to God, the venue was ideal, and included learning spaces for children ages 7-10, children ages 11-13, the older teen group of ages 14-17, the young adult group over age 18, the adult group, and the Greek language group. The conference enjoyed the use of 4 beautiful, large classrooms, the auditorium, the cafeteria, the outdoor soccer field, and the playground at the venue.
The amphitheater-style young adult classroom held the presentations to the 18-and-over young adult group, as well as the peer-activity session. This young adult session included an “Orthodox Shark Tank” activity, judged by Fr. Nicholas Chernjavsky, Deacon Fr. Alexander Buterbaugh, and Subdeacon Paul Daniels, boasted many humorous “useful” Orthodox tech “inventions.” For a video excerpt of this session, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptmj0FGpGm4&t=656s (or search: California Pilgrim on YouTube). There were also team-building activities such as the construction of a marshmallow-spaghetti tower and the human knot.
At the conclusion of Saturday’s talks, Deacon Fr. John Psaromatis, who is the younger brother of Fr. George, presented “Fun Awards”: The “On the Ball Award” #1 & #2 were awarded to Eleni Giannakopoulos and Matushka Tatiana, Galina, and Sophia Gilstrap, respectively, for being the first to register for the 2019 Family & Youth Conference/Friday Fieldtrip Day; the “Orthodox Odyssey Awards #1 & #2” were awarded to Juliana Ashling and her children, the Cooper siblings, and to Rachel, Esther, and Ruth Schenone, who traveled from Oregon, Washington, and California respectively. Next, the “Are We There Yet?” Award was given to the parents who brought the most children to the conference (sorry, Fr. George, Fr. Theodoros, and Fr. John Somers—speaker kids not eligible!); and the winner was: Lambros and Elizabeth Alexopoulos; and finally, the “Sore Throat Award” was given to Fr. John Somers for “Most Abused Speaker: Gave the Most Talks Without a Break!” Congratulations to all of the winners!
After the awards, the faithful gathered in the cafeteria for a scrumptious dinner, and then headed back to St. Nicholas. The Conference thanks all those who helped to prepare and serve the wonderful breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the conference, especially Lisa Psaromatis and Lambros Alexopoulos and their families. The faithful then attended a Grace-filled Vespers at St. Nicholas, followed by bonfires, snacks, and Orthodox fellowship.
Over 275 faithful attended the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy the next morning, which included a moving sermon by His Eminence, Metropolitan Moses, calling all of the faithful to love and unity within our families and parishes, in order to “bask in the Grace of God and experience the peace that only our Savior can give us, the foretaste of the Resurrection.” Serving clergy included Fr. Steven Allen, Fr. Nicodemos Gayle, Fr. Theodore Giannakopoulos, Fr. Christos Patitsas, Fr. John Somers, Fr. Nicholas Chernjavsky, and host Fr. George Psaromatis; also serving were Deacon Fr. Yakov Tseitlin, Deacon Fr. Alexander Buterbaugh, Deacon Fr. Joseph Clatterbuck, and Deacon Fr. John Psaromatis. Following the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, the faithful enjoyed a banquet at Blue Dolphin Banquet Hall, where His Eminence, Metropolitan Moses, shared concluding remarks and Fr. George thanked His Eminence, all the Fathers, and all the faithful for being part of the 2019 Family and Youth Conference at St. Nicholas. Parish children sang folk songs in English and Greek, including selections written by Presbytera Katina Patitsas, of blessed memory.
Conference organizers had been worried about the possibility of rainy weather, which is common in Maryland in the fall, because rain would have not only hampered the Friday field trip and the bonfires, but it would have complicated the parking setup, as a very large number of cars were parked on the grassy field adjacent to the Holy Church. The Theotokos heard everyone’s prayers, and to our delight, not only was the weather perfect, but we were blessed with an unusually bright moon and clear sky during the bonfires. As though it was a sign, it only began to rain lightly after the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy on Sunday, at the conclusion of the Conference, literally as everyone was departing to go to the banquet hall! Glory to God for all things!
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