From June 25 to July 1, 2024, the German city of Stuttgart will host the fourteenth All-Diaspora Youth Conference. The previous All-Diaspora Conference, which was attended by more than 100 representatives of Orthodox youth from around the world, was held 10 years ago in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic and armed conflicts suspended for a while the tradition of holding such Conferences.
Last year's "interim" North American Youth Conference was held in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was of great success both for the parish and for the personal lives of our Orthodox youth—several weddings were celebrated!
The preparation for the youth conference is now in full swing. What awaits its participants? The Deputy Chairman of the Synodal Youth Department and the President of Prince Vladimir Youth Association, Archpriest Andrei Sommer, tells us.
—The All-Diaspora youth conferences have always been a wonderful tradition of the Russian Church Abroad. The first Conference took place with the blessing of the future First Hierarch of the ROCOR, Metropolitan Vitaly (Ustinov) of Montreal and Canada, in 1972 in Montreal (Canada). The Metropolitan invited Orthodox youth from ROCOR parishes on all continents to participate in the Conference.
The main objective of the All-Diaspora conferences is to unite the youth of the diaspora from Germany, North and South America, Australia and other parishes scattered around the world, to support the youth so that they do not feel isolated.
Since then, with the blessing of the Council of Bishops, young people gather for the All-Diaspora conferences in different countries every 3-4 years. In Europe, the first All-Diaspora conference—the twelfth—was held in 2011, in Paris. Australia, the USA, and South America also hosted the All-Diaspora conferences.
At its recent meeting, the Synod of Bishops blessed the next Conference to be held in the Berlin and German Diocese, in the city of Stuttgart, from June 25 to July 1, 2024. The Conference’s theme is very important for strengthening young people in our troubled world: “Preserving our Orthodox identity and heritage in the Diaspora.” Identity outside the historical homeland is very important for accepting oneself, preserving one’s culture and faith.
What is identity? Who are we, and how important are the traditions of our historical homeland for preserving our faith?
Focusing on their traditions and respecting the traditions of their current homeland, young people will always maintain their dignity, respect the traditions of other peoples, and always feel “in place.”
Most parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad are multinational and multicultural: Russians, Greeks, Syrians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Serbs, Romanians, and people of other nationalities pray together. All over the world, Orthodox Christians are looking for Orthodox churches and often join ROCOR parishes. It’s because they are attracted both by the spirit of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and by its many years of missionary experience among people of different nationalities outside their historical homeland.
Over the past ten years, Europe has witnessed a massive influx of refugees. In 2021, European countries hosted tens of thousands of Syrians, with Sweden and Germany accepting seventy percent of them. Today people are fleeing the war in Ukraine, and this affects the parish life.
—Father Andrei, will you kindly give examples of how Orthodox people preserve their identity in different countries, how they do missionary work?
—The most striking and famous example is St. Nicholas of Japan. When he moved to Japan as a missionary, he did not immediately begin preaching. First, he learned the Japanese language, the culture of Japan, and made friends with the Japanese. And then, when accepted by the local people, he went out to preach, preserving, at the same time, his native culture, and traditions.
Germany is also rich in such examples. Holy Martyr Elizaveta Feodorovna. Having moved to Russia, she began to consider herself Russian, and maintained a balance between Russian and German traditions at the same time. She succeeded in enriching the Orthodox female monasticism, introducing a new direction into it—social service.
In 1994, Alexander Schmorell (St. Alexander of Munich) was glorified as a local saint in the German Diocese, and on February 4, 2012, he was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as the first New Martyr of the Russian Church Abroad.
The son of a German father and a Russian mother, Alexander is known as the organizer of the student anti-Hitler resistance group, “White Rose”. Throughout his short life, Alexander maintained his identity as an Orthodox Christian among young people. When he was handed over to the Gestapo in Munich and executed, he was only 25 years old. The participants of the Youth conference are supposed to visit the cemetery where New Martyr Alexander of Munich is buried.
It's noteworthy that both Hierarchs of the German Diocese—Metropolitan Mark and Bishop Job—are Germans by origin. They take spiritual care of ninety percent of Russian-speaking parishioners, preserve the Slavic language and the purity of the Orthodox faith. That is why ROCOR parishes work as a magnet, attracting both immigrants from Orthodox countries, and the local people to join Orthodoxy.
—What format of work and what language did you choose for the Conference?
—In 2022, during the North American youth conference, we tested new ways of work. We almost got rid of long lectures, but concentrated on masterclasses, working in small groups, presentations, where youth people themselves worked on the projects, which they would later implement in their parishes.
The participants of the Conference will comprise young people from Germany who do not know English well enough, and youngsters from English-speaking countries who do not know German at all. Therefore, we will have lectures in 3 languages: Russian, English and German. In groups, the participants will speak the language which they themselves will determine. We already had a similar trilingual experience during the Twelfth All-Diaspora conference in Paris.
This time, each group will be led by a motivational speaker, that is, a professional speaker, whose speeches will motivate, inspire, and guide the group participants so that they return home with projects they could develop in their parishes.
—Where will the Conference be held?
—The Conference will take place at a retreat center in the mountains near Stuttgart. In addition to lectures, masterclasses, seminars, and group work, participants will make trips to Darmstadt—the homeland of the Venerable Martyr Elizaveta Fedorovna and to Wiesbaden, where St. Elizabeth Russian Orthodox Church was built in 1855. The church was consecrated in honor of St. Elizabeth—mother of St. John the Baptist. Its iconostasis was made by Timofey Neff, who had created the iconostasis in St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg.
Since one of the purposes of the Youth conference is intercommunication and companionship, excursions, sports and cultural events will also be organized. The Conference will end with a traditional youth ball.
Towards the end of the Conference, the young participants will sing, serve, and pray at the All-Night Vigil in St. Nicholas Church in Stuttgart, and the next morning they will make a trip to Munich for the Hierarchal Liturgy. On Monday, July 1, they will depart for home. More details about the program will be announced later.
—Father Andrei, you have just returned from Stuttgart and Munich, where you, together with your German colleagues, were working on the program for the Conference...
—Together with the Chairman of the preparational committee Bishop Job of Stuttgart, Vicar of the German Diocese, and Archpriest Ilya Limberger, Rector of St. Nicholas Church, I met with the local Youth committee, and we worked together on the program, discussed logistics issues and pilgrimage routes, visited the retreat center where the Conference will take place.
I also had a chance to pray at the Divine service at the monastery of St. Job of Pochaev in Munich—a monastery with the Athonite statute.
On Sunday morning, we served early Liturgy in Stuttgart. His Grace Bishop Job was greeted at 6:30 am. More than eighty parishioners prayed during the service, most of them communed of Christ’s Holy Mysteries. About 100 parishioners gathered for the late Liturgy.
Before my trip to Germany, the Conference’s organizers carried out a lot of preparatory work, in particular, they raised funds for the event. We managed to make it so that registration for the Conference, which includes accommodation, meals, pilgrimage trips, and souvenirs, will cost the participants only $200.
—When will registration open, and how many participants will take part in the Conference?
—Registration will open at the end of November. Hopefully, 130 participants will gather for the Youth conference. The All-Diaspora youth conferences have always been popular, so spots will definitely be limited. Anyway, what is most important for us is that young people from all dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad from all continents would participate.