Seven young adults representing the Orthodox Church in America were among the more than seventy participants from around the world who participated in Suprasl 2023, the second annual World Gathering of Orthodox Youth [WGOY] that took place August 10-18 at the Suprasl Academy in the Monastery of the Annunciation.
The event attracted over 140 applicants from Poland, Italy, Mexico, France, Albania, Finland, Australia, the United States, Canada, Greece, Germany, and many other countries. This year’s participants represented 10 of the world’s autocephalous Orthodox Churches. The gathering was organized by the recently established Suprasl: A World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth which seeks to provide a venue and opportunities for Orthodox youth to celebrate their common faith in Jesus Christ, share their culture and lives, and support and encourage each other through prayer and fellowship.
The week-long event explored the theme “Bear Witness of the Light,”(Jn. 1:7) through workshops and lectures offered by speakers from the U.K., Serbia, the U.S., Romania, Belarus, and Poland. “This year’s gathering was unique in that the participants not only participated in lectures and workshops of a spiritual and theological nature but two days of the event were dedicated to a mini-youth leadership training course,” said Mr. Dawid Szejbut, the event’s assistant director.
Archpriest John Behr, Regius Professor of Humanity at the University of Aberdeen, headed the list of speakers by offering a series of lectures on the theme of the week. Father John encouraged the participants to adopt the mind of the Holy Scriptures in their lives and challenged them to become better acquainted with Holy Scripture through dedicated reading and study so that they might more effectively “bear witness of light” (Jn.1:7). The other keynote lecture of the week was offered by Dr. Alexandra Stevanovich, Research Associate Center for the Scientific Research Faculty of Philology and Arts University of Kragujevac, Serbia, on Orthodoxy & Artificial Intelligence. Through her lecture and a secondary workshop Stevanovich explored the subtle connections between AI and Orthodoxy, the challenges and opportunities that AI poses to spiritual life, and what it means to be human in the AI world.
Other workshops and presentations were on effective leadership, Orthodoxy and life, ecology, Byzantine Chant, creating Orthodox media and cheesemaking were given by Piotr Michalczuk and Izabela Senderacka, members of Suprasl’s leadership training team, Poland; Teodora Paul, Romania; Michael Azar, USA; Eugeny Lobanov, director of Suprasl’s ecology initiatives, Belarus; and Elie Shackelford Bernasol, Ancient Faith Ministries, USA.
A highlight of the schedule was the performance of the original play based on the life of Saint Maria of Paris titled, “No Once Can be a Number”, performed by a local amateur theater group. The life of Saint Maria and the focus of the play on refugee life in France in the 1930s was particularly poignant considering the present worldwide refugee crisis. The performance left the participants with a desire to act in their local and regional communities. “Saint Maria is a saint that I myself feel very close to”, said Elizabeth Sedor, St Mark Church, Bethesda, Maryland. “This conference is aiming to create Orthodox leaders, to build bridges between countries, and to create action…and this is what Saint Maria wanted, her example of doing something, anything, whatever somebody asks you to do, whatever somebody needs you to do, that’s the sort of leadership the world needs, and that is what Suprasl 2023 has instilled in us.”
Each day of the gathering began and finished with prayers and a spiritual reflection in the monastery’s cathedral church led by the gathering’s chaplain, Priest Theodore Svane from Norway with prayers and hymns read and sung in multiple languages.
Participants of the WGOY also participated in the annual pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain of Grabarka for the Feast of the Transfiguration joining thousands of pilgrims on the final day of the five-day walking pilgrimage bearing a cross painted by gathering participant Nina Misijuk. Following the vigil service for the feast, Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw and All Poland met with the participants to congratulate them on their participation in the gathering. During the address, he encouraged them to remain faithful and work hard for the growth and continuation of Christ’s mission in their communities. The youth presented His Beatitude with a framed t-shirt made specially for the gathering and signed by all the participants.
“I had the privilege to travel to Poland to attend Suprasl 2023,” said Savannah Foster, Nativity of the Lord Mission, Shreveport, Louisiana. “Not only did I leave more about Holy Scriptures through Fr John’s lectures, but also learned more about myself. I made lifelong friendships from all over the world, and I learned what it means to carry your cross with 10,000 other Orthodox Christians as we walked on the pilgrimage. It truly was a life changing event and I encourage everyone to participate in next year’s event.”
“It was a blessing to be able to again host the second annual World Gathering of Orthodox Youth here at the Monastery of the Annunciation and the Suprasl Academy”, said Archdeacon Joseph Matusiak. “Through this, and other events we will be organizing, Suprasl aims to make the monastery and the academy here a venue where Orthodox youth from all around the world can encounter each other, share their lives, create projects together and encourage each other to continue walking on the path of Jesus Christ.”
View a film of the event on Suprasl’s YouTube channel
Plans are in the works for future projects which will include a leadership training course in November, a workshop for Orthodox actors and performing artists in January 2024, and next summer’s Suprasl 2024.
Suprasl is an independent organization that works with the blessing and support of His Beatitude Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw and All Poland. Suprasl 2023 was made possible in part by generous donations from the Orthodox Vision Foundation, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Albanian Archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in America, Orthodox Journeys, and many generous individual donors. The World Gathering of Orthodox Youth has its roots in the Suprasl Summer Institute (1994-2000), a project founded by the OCA’s Youth Department in cooperation with the Fellowship of Orthodox Youth in Poland and the Orthodox Youth Movement in Finland.