The youth conference was arranged with the blessing of Archbishop Seraphim, and began began on Thursday 7 December, and we had been expecting about 20 people aged between 15 and 30, and got a whole lot of extras, most of them outside the age limits.
We slept at the site of the St Nektarius and St Nicholas monastery, though there are not actually any monks there. There is a farmhouse there, which had two small bedrooms (far too small for the extra people who came), and a larger room suitable for meetings. We slept on the carpeted floors.
On the Friday morning we had three real monks visit and tell us about the monastic life -- Father Pantelejmon from Black River monastery in Serbia, and Father Naum of Sopochani Monastery in Serbia, and Brother Matthew the novice, a South African who was soon to be tonsured as Monk Seraphim. The next speaker was Father Mircea, who spoke on confession, and, apparently as a result of this, nearly all those present went to confession on Saturday night.
Members of the youth conference with monks Pantelejmon and Naum and novice Brother Matthew, in the beautiful surroundings of Leeuwenkloof, west of Pretoria
We structured the conference as a kind of mini-monastic experience, with the First, Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours read through the day, often by the young people at the conference. The Hours were mostly in English, though we used North Sotho, Zulu and Greek as well, to show the multicultural nature of Orthodoxy.
Father Athanasius and I organised and ran the conference and planned the programme. We hope that after a few such conferences there will be a youth committee, who will be able to organise such conferences themselves.
The following parishes and mission congregations were represented at the conference:
- Eldorado Park, St Constantine & St Helen - 5 (left early)
- Mamelodi - 2
- Saskatoon, Canada, St George - 1
- Sophiatown, SS Cosmas & Damian - 1
- Tembisa, St Athanasius - 1
- Yeoville, St Raphael - 18
Father Athanasius Akunda and Deacon Stephen Hayes arranged the worship and speakers and discussion forums, while Ms Grace Malahlela of Mamelodi supervised the cooking and cleaning.
The Eldorado Park group left early, as they found the discipline of the conference and the fasting food too difficult, but those who stayed were unanimous in saying that they had enjoyed it, and would like to attend similar conferences in future, saying that would like to camp, sleeping in tents, rather than on the floor of a house.
Hieromonk Naum, of Sopochani Monastery in Serbia, speaking to the youth conference on the monastic life.
In addition to Father Naum speaking on the monastic life, and Father Mircea Corpodean speaking on the sacrament of confession, we had two discussion sessions, where people divided into smaller groups to discuss questions. There was one group of people aged 20 and over, and two of people aged between 15 and 20. Those under 15 were asked to clean up the grounds in preparation for the festivities on the Sunday, as no special activities had been planned for them.
Members of the youth conference with Hieromonks Pantelejmon and Naum and the novice Brother Matthew, soon to be tonsured as Monk Seraphim.
There were two discussion topics:
- The causes of poverty and unemployment, and what Christians can do about these.
- Orthodoxy and culture, racism and ethnocentrism
There were lively discussions on both topics, and after hearing reports from all the groups, Father Athanasius and I made some addtional comments at the end, and there was general discussion as the groups compared notes.
Some of the youth from St Raphael's Parish, Yeoville, Johannesburg, who attended the first diocesan youth conference.
On the Saturday afternoon we were honoured by a visit from His Beatitude Theodoros, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, who spoke to the youth, and said that they were making history, not only in having the first diocesan youth conference, but also as the first group to use the St Nektarius and St Nicholas Centre, which he hoped would become a holy place within the Diocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria, and also within the whole Patriarchate of Alexandria.
His Beatitude Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa, with those who attended the youth conference at the St Nektarius and St Nicholas Centre
The monastery site of St Nekatrius and St Nicholas at Leuwenkloof, about 50 kilometres west of Pretoria. The picture shows the extent of the 23 hectare grounds.
On Sunday morning the Patriarch arrived again and in a long service there was the churching of one of the members of our Mamelodi youth group, Theodora Ramohlale, and the tonsuring of the novice Brother Matthew as Monk Seraphim, and his ordination to the diaconate by the Patriarch.
The churching of Theodora Ramohlale with her son Leoga, by Fr Athanasius Akunda assisted by Deacon Stephen Hayes
The newly-tonsured monk Seraphim
A fairly large crowd of people arrived on the Sunday morning for the service and there was a feast in a large marquee. Unfortunately most of those who attended the youth conference could not follow what went on, as the speeches were all in Greek and most were not translated. His Beatitude Pope Theodoros, however, insisted that several parts of the Divine Liturgy should be in English.
We hope that there will be more youth conferences in future, and that more of the parishes in the Archdiocese will be represented in future. Perhaps from them there will be young people called to the ordained ministry and the monastic life.
The newly-tonured Hierodeacon Seraphim with Pope Theodoros II
There have been Orthodox monks working in South Africa before, but they have usually worked alone as parish priests and have come from overseas. There have also been several South Africans who have gone overseas to join monasteries, but this has not led to a flourishing of the monastic life in South Africa; monasticism has remained an exotic plant. So the tonsuring of Hierodeacon Seraphim marks a new stage in the development of what we hope will be an indigenous Southern African monasticism.