On Sunday, May 20, the Minsk Theological Academy in Belarus hosted a roundtable, entitled "Preserving Orthodoxy in the Modern World."
The event brought together young Orthodox Christians of Minsk and their counterparts from the Russian Diaspora in the U.S., headed by Archpriest Andrei Sommer, Vice President of the Synodal Youth Department of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
The visiting youth arrived in the capital of Belarus with a reliquary containing the right hand of the Holy Nun-Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth and relics of the Holy Nun-Martyr Barbara from the Synodal Cathedral of the Sign in New York City. His Eminence Paul, Metropolitan of Minsk & Zaslawye, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, ceremonially welcomed the relics and delegation at Holy Spirit Cathedral.
Archpriest Ioann Zadorozhin, President of the Synodal Youth Department of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, opened the event by introducing the visitors and outlining the great spiritual feats of Sts. Elizabeth and Barbara. In the fact of revolutionary calamity, internecine war, and the collapse of traditional values in society, these holy ascetic women remained devoted to their calling, serving God and neighbor, manifesting works of kindness in the name of Christ, explained Fr. Ioann.
Fr. Andrei talked about youth ministry in the U.S., saying that characteristic of today’s "Generation Z" are agnosticism and a lack of church life. The post-Christian youth of the early 21st century, as a rule, might in fact acknowledge the existence of God or of a supernatural world, but they reject the Church, Her Mysteries and rituals. At the same time, this generation is active, dynamic, and seeks to change the world and help people.
Continuing on this topic, Fr. Andrei said that today’s youth are "a separate nation," with their own language and culture, and a missionary preaching Christ to this "nation" must master their forms of communication. The new generation communicates in sound bites, eschews reading long texts, uses photos, stickers, and emojis to express their thoughts and feelings. A missionary among the young must take this into account.
Fr. Andrei also stressed that young people rely on gadgets, that they "go to sleep and wake up with their smartphones." In this light, it is important to awaken within young hearts an interest in real life and socialization without the use of "virtual" intermediaries. He emphasized that the foundation of youth ministry must be love, and that a forceful effort to lead young people to church will fail.
"Better to bring love into the world than to become a crusader," he said.
The floor was then ceded to the young Orthodox Christians from the USA of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Each of them talked about themselves and their paths to God. These young men and women are descendants of Russian émigrés from various generations, speaking Russian with different levels of fluency, but all remembering their roots, studying Russian culture and consciously confessing the Orthodox Christian faith. A great many words of fondness were spoken of Camp NORR (the Association of Russian Explorers Outside of Russia), a summer youth organization established in 1928.
The speeches then gave way to a lively discussion. The delegates answered questions from their Belarusian counterparts, learning about the life of young people in Belarus in the process. The roundtable discussion concluded in an atmosphere of joy and mutual understanding.
The hierarchs, Council, and administration of the Eastern American Diocese actively and financial support such travels for our Orthodox youth.