Over 90 young people and youth workers from 22 countries participated in “Suprasl 2022: A Global Gathering of Orthodox Youth”, an international gathering held at the Orthodox Academy of the Monastery of the Annunciation, Poland, from July 18 to 24, 2022.
Participants explored the theme “Go and Bear Fruit,” based on John 15:16, learning how as young people they have a vital role in creating opportunities for unity within the worldwide Orthodox Church .
“It was inspiring to hear participants share their wishes and dreams for the growth of greater pan-Orthodox cooperation among young people,” said Archdeacon Joseph Matusiak of the Polish Orthodox Church. “Suprasl 2022 was an event where the unity of Orthodoxy was experienced and lived, encouraged and developed.”
Suprasl 2022 was organized with the blessing and support of His Beatitude Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw and All Poland. Other Orthodox Primates and Hierarchs from several local Orthodox Churches encouraged and sponsored young people from their Churches to attend the event.
At the opening of the gathering, Metropolitan Sawa greeted the participants, expressing his gratitude to them for taking a step forward in renewing and reviving the international pan-Orthodox youth gatherings. “Do everything you can to build and spread the unity of the Orthodox Church through your work here this week, for the work of the devil is very strong and active.
By bringing together young Orthodox people from all over the world, Surprasl 2022 has been inspired by the legacy of Syndesmos, an organization founded in 1953 to encourage links between young Orthodox people around the world. However, Suprasl 2022 was neither an administrative meeting nor an assembly. It was an opportunity for young people from around the world who had never met before, to taste and celebrate the unity found within the Orthodox faith, regardless of nation or culture, focusing on how this unity can inspire youth work.
“When I signed up with Suprasl, I didn’t really know what to expect. It was a privilege and a blessing to meet young Orthodox from so many different cultures and backgrounds. After this event, I am convinced of the importance for churches to meet and have a conversation,” said Elias Van Outrive from Belgium.
“We deliberately chose the theme ‘Go and Bear Fruit’ because it allowed us to offer talks and workshops on a variety of topics for attendees,” Archdeacon Joseph explained. “The presentations encouraged dialogue and the sharing of ideas for others to take home as ideas and tools for their field work with young people in their churches.”
Presentations included an official opening by Archpriest Vasileios Thermos, Associate Professor of Pastoral Care at the Higher Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens, a theologian and youth psychiatrist who delivered a lecture titled “Youth in the 21st Century: Challenges for a Orthodox conscience”. Father Vasileios identified the many challenges that young Orthodox face in the contemporary world and how, faced with the postmodern context, young Orthodox can orient themselves to Christ to rise above the surrounding confusion.
Other presentations were offered by missionaries Steve and Theophani Sargianis of the OCMC (Orthodox Christian Mission Center) and Nicholas Sooy of the OPF (Orthodox Peace Fellowship). Presentations focused on practical youth-related topics, including organizing pan-Orthodox youth camps, activities to deal with the accelerating climate crisis, and understanding creativity and the need to actively respond to God’s call to create.
“Participants explored how we can approach the issue of creativity, not as a single aesthetic quality, but as something that has profound implications for our humanity and our faith in Christ,” said Aleksander Wasyluk, director of youth ministry for the Church of Poland and member of the organizing committee of Suprasl 2022. “The growth of the Church of Christ depends on our response to the Great Commission, and to respond to it, we must be creative in our work.”
Other highlights of the week-long event included a pilgrimage to the monastery of Ss Mary and Martha on the holy mountain of Grabarka, where participants planted a two-metre-high cross in the famous Forest of Crosses. Earlier in the week, artist-in-residence and workshop leader Dr. Davor Dzalto painted the cross on which all participants signed their names. The cross will stand in remembrance of Suprasl 2022 and serve as an inspiration to all who see it.
On Wednesday, the participants celebrated the feast of Sainte Marie de Paris (new style). Dr. Mark Roosien, Lecturer in Liturgical Arts at Yale University, presented an article on the life of St. Maria and the work of Orthodox Action, the organization founded by St. Maria and a group of Orthodox in Paris in the 1940s Later in the evening, the participants saw a performance of “Nobody is a number”, an original play based on the life of Saint Maria by Fr. Sergei Hackel. The piece, created by Ms. Joanna Troc from Bielsk Podlaski, Poland, provides insight into the lives and hardships faced by Russians who were forced to immigrate to France during the time of the Russian Revolution, and their creative response to these difficulties, led by St. Maria and others. The play was very poignant, given the current Ukrainian refugee crisis and the recent Syrian refugee crisis.
Participants also took to the road to discover the richness of Orthodoxy in Poland, visiting the Monastery of the Nativity of the Mother of God in Zwerki, Poland, venerating the relics of the child martyr, Saint Gabriel of Zabludow, l 16th century Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos, in Bielsk Podlaski, and the monasteries of the Great Martyr Catherine and Saint Demetrios of Thessaloniki in Zaleszany and Saki respectively. At Saki Monastery, a Trisagion service was sung by participants for a Syrian refugee who was found at the Belarusian/Polish border in late winter this year.
The excursion ended with a visit to the village of Bialoweiza and the training center for Orthodox youth in Poland. The Polish Orthodox Church’s commitment to young people is well established, giving participants a glimpse of what is possible in their own churches.
Central to the theme of the gathering, liturgical services were celebrated throughout the week, including a midnight liturgy in the Main Cathedral of the Suprasl Monastery. Reflecting the diversity of the participants, the Liturgy was sung in several languages, reminding them that it brings unity expressed in the diversity of cultures. Listen to an audio recording of the Divine Liturgy here.
Suprasl 2022 also provided participants with multiple opportunities to meet with hierarchs of the Polish Orthodox Church, including Archbishop Jacob of Bialystok and Gdansk, who hosted a breakfast, got to know the participants and shared the history and life of his diocese. Archbishop George of Wroclaw and Szczecin also moderated a question and answer session that explored a wide range of topics during a lively session that lasted almost three hours.
The gathering also offered attendees a traditional cultural evening that had no shortage of tales, stories, songs, dances and delicacies from lands far and near.
“During the closing session, participants discussed their dreams for greater pan-Orthodox cooperation among young people,” Archdeacon Joseph noted, adding, “Our team is exploring how best to plan future events, to both international and regional, to encourage networking and greater collaboration to create sustainable forms and models of pan-Orthodox youth cooperation in the future.