Report on the International Meeting of Orthodox Youth 2016 in Prešov, Slovakia

International Meeting of Orthodox Youth 2016
“for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25) Youth thinks Church
20 – 26 July 2016, Prešov, Slovakia

In July 2016, about 30 Orthodox young people from 12 countries (Belarus, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, USA) and three continents gathered in Prešov to celebrate their common faith and share their thoughts, ideas and concerns. The Fellowship of Orthodox Youth in Slovakia was our host, in cooperation with the Orthodox Church in the Czech Lands and Slovakia, Orthodox Theological Faculty and Orthodox Seminary of University of Prešov.  

This year’s event took place in a particular context, only few weeks after the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church in Crete. The participants were invited to reflect on the Church from the perspective of the youth. Inputs for reflection were given by father George Kovalenko from Kiev, who gave the series of lectures on the Council, on the secularization inside the Church and on his current projects, like the Open Orthodox University of Saint Sophia the Wisdom. Fr. Jan Safin, dean of the Faculty and fr. Milan Gerka, rector of the Seminary also shared their thoughts – fr. Jan by giving us historical introduction for the Church councils and fr. Milan by giving us insights to the history and present life of the Church in Slovakia throughout our stay in the Seminary. Interventions of fr. Nikolaj Lakata, fr. Ivo Petrovaj, fr. Boris Hrustic, fr. Vladimir Spisak and fr. Dusan Skurla were also enjoyed by the participants.

The voice was also given to the Youth through workshops on the theme ‘What does the Church mean to me?’ and on designing practical projects to involve Youth more actively in Church life. Participants put forward classical theological concepts about the Church but also pointed out that openness of the Church is very important in the modern world, as well as the fact that the Church is a place of healing and compassion. They proved very creative on the practical workshops, by proposing ways to use internet sites or even apps, to involve young adults in sometimes playful ways, or by reflecting on how social and mission work can be combined with youth work.  

The days of the international meeting were penetrated with common prayer – in the mornings and evenings, before and after meals, and most importantly during the Divine liturgies in seminary church and in cathedral church celebrated by His Beatitude Rastislav, metropolitan of Czech Lands and Slovakia. An audience with the metropolitan was the occasion for warm exchange and will be remembered as one of the best moments of the meeting.

Apart from conference and workshops, participants shared a lot of less formal moments, visiting the historical centers of towns Prešov, Košice, Bardejov and Bardejov Spa, Svidnik, Ladomirova. The cultural evening and Slovak evening were the occasion of building contacts and making new friendships. 

During the week in Prešov participants could understand – and put in practice – that conciliarity is a process which takes effort and commitment. As one of the participants put it: “Syndesmos provides an inspiring example of how to help different people understand each other and communicate with each other.”