Wednesday, March 27, 2013

On the Assembly of Bishops Committee for Youth

We have a long way to go on this front. I once tried to coordinate a YES trip and hit a wall of jurisdictional reluctance far beyond what I had expected. I've seen different jurisdictional youth groups try to get together for events only to be torn apart by difference in fasting rigor - As one priest said, "If you don't want to eat pizza on Friday you Russians can go do something else." A family might live just a few miles away from another jurisdiction's camp and not qualify for a scholarship for their children because they don't attend one of that jurisdiction's parishes. We continue to have towns with multiple small youth groups doing much of the same work, but operating divided upon ethnic identifiers. My list could go on and is well documented on this blog. Hopefully there is sufficient desire and will to enact meaningful coordination and integration across jurisdictional lines.

(AOB) - New relationships and unity among Orthodox Christian youth workers are the result of diligent efforts by the Committee for Youth, one of the very active committees of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America.

The committee’s members are Bishop Thomas (Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese), Metropolitan Alexios (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese) and Bishop Irineu (Orthodox Church in America). As with all of the Assembly’s committees, clergy and lay consultants support the work of the committee. The Committee for Youth has more than sixty consultants with extensive experience and knowledge of Orthodox youth and youth programs.

One of the fruits of the committee’s efforts has been new relationships and increased collaboration among jurisdictional youth directors. “Prior to the committee’s formation, a handful of jurisdictional youth directors would meet occasionally,” says His Grace Bishop Thomas, the chairman of the committee. “Now there are 17 who meet in person and by phone, representing every jurisdiction in the Assembly. An additional fifty-three youth workers work alongside them, as consultants to the committee. They’ve become a family of Orthodox youth workers, sharing information and resources.”

The youth directors and youth workers held their most recent meeting in Austin TX in January, just before the Committee for Youth’s annual face-to-face meeting.

The increased collaboration is leading to a better understanding of available Orthodox youth programs, better coordination between the jurisdictions, and a deeper understanding of the challenges our youth face in living an Orthodox Christian life.

The committee has also created a database of Orthodox youth programs, the first of its kind. Previously, there was no central repository of such information. I wonder when we will be able to see it?

“We’ve learned that there are a whole lot of people doing fantastic Orthodox youth work,” says Fr. Joseph Purpura, Chair of the Department of Youth and Parish Ministries for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and facilitator for the committee. “You might expect that we would find redundancy across jurisdictions, but in fact it’s just the opposite – we’ve discovered that between us we have a wealth of programming, material and resources. It means more opportunities for all our youth.” Every bishop and youth director has received an electronic version of the database, which will be updated annually.

The Committee for Youth is encouraging jurisdictions to publicize one another’s events and promote the idea that youth can participate in any Orthodox program, regardless of jurisdiction. The committee hopes that its efforts will result in more opportunities for youth to grow in the faith and more opportunities for youth to form relationships with one another.

“There’s a real desire on the part of all involved to share our programs and to bring our kids together. The younger we reach them, the better,” says Bishop Thomas.


  1. I'm sorry, I haven't gotten to the article yet, I'm still stuck on "If you don't want to eat pizza on Friday you Russians can go do something else." And we're saying this to our youth? We serve them pizza on Friday and call it a "youth group"?

    Fasting is for the health of the body and the soul. If we aren't teaching our flock the importance of respecting and upholding what our holy fathers decided - through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit - were appropriate days of fasting then I say why waste your time on a youth group? The youth might as well do other secular things with their time.

    1. I'm saying a priest said this to them when they asked for stricter fasting food when they got together. They never met again that I know of.

    2. To be fair, was it by any chance plain cheese pizza being offered? Lots of college students and young adults fast only from meat, and in some cases that is all they have been taught to do.

      Despite being an American convert, I've been "the Russians" around people like this priest before. Yes, sometimes the "Russians" feel threatening to them, it's like they think we follow stricter rules just so we can judge them, and I think that's why he was kind of a jerk in telling your people that you could go "do something else".

      Scripture enjoins us not to make public displays of ascesis. Regardless of what may or may not have been on the pizza, it seems to me it would have been better to get the group together and eat whatever, than to keep everyone apart over fasting rules. If you bring this to your priest ahead of time, he would probably either give you a blessing to eat whatever they serve, or else tell you to eat something Lenten ahead of time so you can honestly say you're not hungry. When you have an opportunity to make a food choice for the group on a fast day, that is your opportunity to choose something Lenten without making a big show about it.

      Fasting rules were not meant as clubs to beat each other over the head with. You are not going to burn in hell for eating meat on a Friday, but you might for scandalizing your brother for no good reason.

  2. I understood the circumstances. I just can't believe someone would A).say that, and B).serve pizza to youth on a Friday in the first place.

  3. Mat. Constantina, the "real world" of U.S. Orthodox parish life, then, might frighten you. The youth are not the only age group to be misled.

  4. It does frighten me, and saddens me even more. If people don't want to fast, then that's their decision. But clergy have a responsibility to at least be informing the flock that they should be fasting, and to make arrangements for fasting foods to be served during parish gatherings.

    1. Yes matushka, it frightens and saddens me also.

  5. It is always wrong to fear!

    This describes almost exactly the situation in our youth group at one point. Disagreements over fasting ended our co-operation with another parish. Words were thrown at each other.

    Happily now it is a non-issue. Youth organizers know that they are to provide appropriate food during the fasting periods. Sometimes the cook makes a mistake and those who don't observe the fasts eat it and those who do will discreetly take the cheese out of their food or eat something else. It is not made a public controversy.

    I don't know what priest has the authority to change the fasting rules for special events. I think Paul's admonition doesn't apply here because a church-sanctioned event sets in place what is normative for all of us; even if we choose to ignore it.