Famous 1970s song writer and musician John Denver described his experience of being high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains like this: "I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky. You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply. Rocky Mountain high."
There is truly something holy about being 5,000 feet high in elevation and witnessing beautiful landscapes, rolling mountain tops and shooting stars. If you open your heart and mind to God's beauty, He does communicate to His children.
Close to 80 Armenian youth from the Western and Eastern Dioceses of America gathered at the Armenian Church Camp just one hour east of Fresno, California for its second annual Pan-North American Armenain Church Youth Organization Retreat over the weekend of October 6-8. They experienced a closeness with God our Creator.
Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian, Director of Youth and Vocations for St. Nersess noted that the Armenian Church Campgrounds are simply breathtaking and conducive to a prayerful retreat. "It made perfect sense to title the retreat, The Power of Prayer," he said, adding, "God spoke to the ACYOA members through the presentations, discussions, fellowship and through the simple beauty of God's handiwork."
Also representing St. Nersess, in addition to a number of alumni of the summer youth conferences, was Gregory Andonian, Chair of the Eastern Diocese ACYOA and currently a first-year seminarians at St. Nersess.
With a hint of autumn in the air, insightful and thought-provoking discussions and presentations were made under the arbor of the campsite. Matthew Ash, Youth Director of the Western Diocese. The ACYO Western Diocese Central Council organized the weekend.
YOU are the Salt of the Earth
On Friday evening, fun icebreaker activities brought the dozens of young people from all across the country together, giving them the chance to meet and great each other. Fr. Vartan Kasparian, parish priest of St. Mary Armenian Church (Yettem, CA), offered the opening reflection. He began by reading Jesus' words:
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. [Matthew 5:13]
"It is up to you to be truly the salt of the earth," he said. "Add your precious Christian-Armenian flavor to all that you do."
Fr. Yeghia Hairabedian, parish priest of St. Gregory Armenian Church (Fowler, CA) made a presentation on Saturday morning. He discussed the meaning of the Lord's Prayer. "You have been given two invitations. One is from the Devil to go to Hell, and the other is from God, to be with Him in His Eternal Kingdom," he said, adding forcefully, "You make the choice."
By the end of Der Yeghia's presentation there was no doubt that the group wanted to RSVP God and cancel their invite from the Devil!
Later in the morning, Fr. Vartan shared detailed stories from his personal life as a priest as he spoke about the various types of prayer and encouraged the young people to communicate with God.
Next Year Canada
On Saturday afternoon the two central councils met to shared ideas and brainstormed on how they could be more effective in reaching the youth as an official organization of the Armenian Church. The youth leaders also planned on next year's 3rd annual Pan-North American ACYO retreat, which will take place in the Canadian Diocese on September 21-23, 2007.
ACYOA Eastern Diocese, Executive Secretary, Nancy Basmajian was on hand throughout the weekend mentoring the youth of our church. Nancy is also an alumna of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. Also present was the Eastern Diocese College Ministry Facilitator, Julie Hoplamazian. With shooting stars abounding, Julie offered a late-night reflection on stillness and prayer, as the participants gathered around the campfire.
Prior to dinner, Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian offered an interactive program discussing the 24 prayers of St. Nersess Shnorhali, "I confess with faith." The participants were divided up into 24 groups. Each group studied and prayed each of Shnorhali's 24 prayers with the aim of making a connection to today's world. Each group then had the opportunity to present their thoughts and insights. St. Nersess Shnorhali's prayers, "I confess with faith," which are close to one thousand years old, were found to be relevant in the lives of young people in the 21st century.
The Holy Badarak was celebrated under the starry sky at midnight, as the united ACYO youth truly felt the presence of Jesus Christ around chalice at the altar.
The next morning after a closing discussion and final prayers, the group packed their belongings and left the inspirational mountain top of the Armenian Church Camp, hoping to be more vigilant in their prayer life and also more involved in their ACYO and church parishes.