State Youth Conferences 2020

In fulfilment of his desire to see, meet, and hear from our Church’s young people—and to convey to them the blessing of our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ—His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Australia initiated and was present at our holy Archdiocese’s State Youth Conferences which were held in 2020 in preparation for the National Youth Conference in 2021. These conferences were an opportunity for our youth to congregate for spiritual edification and the enjoyment of one another’s company, under the protective spiritual canopy of the Orthodox Church—which is their home—as well as in the presence of their clergy, teachers, and friends. The conferences all had their own topics which were addressed by His Eminence as well as from various, complimentary vantage points by invited experts; but they also provided ample time for our young people to engage in recreational and outdoor activities.

The State Youth Conferences were held in Melbourne, VIC (25 January), Perth, WA (8 February), Brisbane, QLD (15-16 February), and Sydney, NSW (29 February) in 2020. Plans to visit the youth in Northcote district, Melbourne on 14 March and in Adelaide, SA on 11 April have been postponed due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

On 25 January the first conference took place at Oakleigh Grammar, which is one of our Greek Orthodox Schools in Melbourne, in the presence of His Eminence Archbishop Makarios, His Eminence Metropolitan Nathaniel of Chicago, His Grace Bishop Ezekiel of Dervis and Very Revd Fr Evmenios Vasilopoulos (Archepiscopal Vicar of Northcote district, Melbourne), and other reverend clergy and distinguished guests. His Eminence addressed the topic of the Conference which was ‘Change: How do we Navigate Ourselves in a Diverse World.’ The title of His Eminence’s keynote presentation was ‘The Cross Stands While the World Turns.’ In this presentation, His Eminence spoke about change as part of the experience of this world, affecting nature, society, and our personal lives. He highlighted that change can be both positive and negative, but as our society changes rapidly and becomes more and more diverse, we can be faced with critical challenges that can and do affect us personally: technological advancements without examination of their ethical or ecological consequences, and alterations to God-inspired morals and truth. His Eminence proceeded therefore to address the nature of change as positive and negative, as well as the rapid changes that take place in today’s society. He offered a balanced view arguing that in order to navigate this diverse world we need the stable spiritual treasures of the Church—the self-sacrificial message of the cross of Christ which stands while the world turns, while it changes. Only then can we ourselves be transformed spiritually by grace, and in turn help to change the world around us; adopting the good and neglecting the bad from our ever-changing society from an Orthodox Christian perspective.

The conference was followed by speeches from the former President of the Victorian Association of Science Teachers, Mrs Artemisia Bennett, who addressed the topic of ‘climate change’ from an Orthodox Christian point of view, highlighting the instrumental role of the His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in promoting ecological awareness. Mr Christos Vlahonasios addressed the pertinent theme of change in relation to increasing advancements in technology with his presentation titled ‘iOrthodox: Navigating Social Media.’ Mr Vaios Anastasopoulos gave a fascinating presentation to promote the new Byzantine Music School of Australia set with the blessing of His Eminence, while Mr Dean Kalymniou spoke about—and advocated—the traditional, Orthodox view of family life in light of rapid changes in society regarding this sacred institution. Dr Mario Baghos, from St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College in Sydney, of which His Eminence Archbishop Makarios is Dean, spoke about the College and its various programs.

On 8 February, the youth conference took place at the holy Monastery of St John of the Mountain in Perth in the presence of His Eminence and Their Graces Bishops Emilianos of Meloa, Archepiscopal Vicar-General of our holy Archdiocese, and Elpidios of Kyaneon, Archepiscopal Vicar of Perth. The day began with a Divine Liturgy conducted by the Very Revd Fr Thalassios—who at the end of the conference at Great Vespers was enthroned as the Ver Revd Abbot Ieronymos of St John of the Mountain Monastery—a great blessing for all present. The conference was officially opened with an Agiasmos service held by His Eminence and followed by his keynote presentation entitled ‘A Church without Borders or Limits,’ which addressed the theme of the conference taken that was taken from a quote by His Eminence:

“I have a dream for this Church; that the people who are outside, to be inside and that the people who are inside to open their hearts to those outside.”

His Eminence Archbishop Makarios’ presentation addressed three main issues pertaining to the Church: the analysis of some common misconceptions of the Church; an authentic understanding of the Church; and finally, the Church’s missionary mandate to witness holy Orthodoxy to all nations and peoples. His Eminence underlined the importance of youth as comprising both the Church’s present and future, and had recourse to His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew’s declaration of 2020 as the ‘Year of Spiritual Renewal and Due-Concern for the Youth.’ He encouraged our young people to be like ‘shining lamps’ (Matthew 5:15-16) to witness the truth of the Gospel so that the world might come to know our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit—the Trinitarian God—is the head and goal of holy Orthodoxy.

His Eminence’s talk was followed by the following presentations, all of which addressed the missiological theme of the conference, on how the members of the Church might bring those from outside into its sacred precincts: Revd Father Emmanuel Stamatiou spoke about ‘How a local Orthodox parish can welcome those outside the Church’; Mrs and Mrs Anthony and Natalia Zafer spoke about ‘Discovering Orthodoxy from a Hindu Background’; Revd Father Terry Gerovasilis, a graduate of St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College, delivered key information for those wishing to study at the College; Mrs and Mrs Ignatius and Elizabeth Davis spoke about ‘Discovering Orthodoxy from a Gnostic Christian Background’; and finally His Grace Bishop Elpidios addressed ‘Establishing English speaking Orthodox Parishes.’

The presence and presentations by our clergy, the wonderful testimonies made by those speakers who outlined their journey to Orthodoxy from other faiths and religious sects, as well as the prayerful atmosphere of this conferencewhich included the chanting of the English Supplicatory Canon to the Our Lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, along with the elevation of Abbot Ieronymos at Great Vespers mentioned above—made this gathering a truly unique and special event.

On 15-16 February the Greek Orthodox Parish-Community of the Dormition of the Theotokos, Mt Gravatt in Brisbane, was home to the third in the series of State Youth Conferences held by our holy Archdiocese. The conference was framed on either end by prayer, with the proceedings initiated by an Agiasmos service conducted by His Eminence together with His Grace Bishop Iakovos of Miletoupolis (Archepiscopal Vicar, Queensland and PNG) along with other reverend clergy of our holy Archdiocese. His Eminence then gave a talk that addressed the theme of the conference, which was taken from our Lord’s words in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, 11:28-30:

“Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

His Eminence’s talk was entitled ‘Resting in God—the only place “to be,”’ and in it he reflected upon this scriptural passage, and encouraged the youth to develop and engage in a real-living and loving relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. Reflecting upon the passage, His Eminence discussed the importance of dependence on Christ, a Christ centred life, as our spiritual and emotional support. In addition, he encouraged the youth to remember Christ at every moment of their lives; whether good or bad, success or failure, always holding onto hope in Christ as our support and guide in life.

Following His Eminence’s talk, Dr Eleni Athinodorou gave a presentation entitled ‘Nurturing our Spiritual Development’ that drew from her expertise as a researcher and educator. Dr Peter Simos addressed the Lord’s words ‘Come to me’ from Matthew 11:28 from the basis of scripture and Orthodox tradition. Mr Anastasios Kalogerakis, Registrar of St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College, delivered a presentation on the College’s programs.

On 29 February, the ‘Assemble’ Conference was held at St Euphemia College, Bankstown, which is one of our Greek Orthodox day schools in Sydney. It began with the Divine Liturgy celebrated by His Eminence Archbishop Makarios and other clergy, after which His Eminence greeted and blessed our youth. The themes for this conference was Salt and Light and Let Your Light Shine, thereby paraphrasing our Lod Jesus’ words in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew (5:13-16):

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

The encouragement for our youth to become as ‘salt’ and ‘light’ for the witness to holy Orthodoxy in Australian society unfolded throughout the day with presentations by Dr Dimitri Kepreotes, whose reflections on the theme are expressed in his relating of it to education:

“There is no better education than to search ‘as one body, and with one heart’ for spiritual goals that will assist not only in this life, but also in the next. It is not a blind search, as Orthodoxy has accumulated much wisdom throughout 2000 years. This conference combines youthful searching with God’s wisdom, which is the ‘salt and light’ of the world. For this reason, I am sure we will all look back on this event in years to come as a unique opportunity for growth in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

The second presentation was delivered by Mr Denne Cruz, who meaningful disclosed his personal conversion story to Orthodox Christianity, with all the ‘difficulties’ and ‘triumphs’ associated with his fascinating journey to, and within, the body of Christ. Dr Philip Kariatlis, Sub-Dean of St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College, spoke about the College’s programs to our Sydney youth before Mr Andrew Psarommatis gave an insightful exposition on His Eminence’s published works, which range from the theological, to the pastoral, to the bioethical. The day closed with a panel that answered relevant questions from the youth delegates, and was comprised of our Vicar-General His Grace Bishop Emilianos of Meloa, Revd Father Athanasios Giatsios, parish priest of St Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church, Mascot, and Orthodox chaplain to the University of New South Wales, and Dr Philip Kariatlis

Our holy Archdiocese commends and congratulates the organisers of these events, and eagerly anticipates future State Youth Conferences—and National Youth Conferences—under the leadership and guidance of our spiritual Father and shepherd in Christ, His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Australia.