Next Stop: Michigan
A Branch of the Prince Vladimir Youth Association Established in Ann Arbor

Over the weekend of January 14-15, about 20 young people gathered in St. Vladimir's Church in the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan to participate in the St. Vladimir's Charity Nativity Ball and continue the projects and initiatives that began at the North American Youth Conference, which was held last June in the capital of the state of Utah, Salt Lake City.

The events were led by Archpriest Andrei Sommer, Vice Chairman of the ROCOR Youth Committee and President of the Prince Vladimir Youth Association, and Archpriest Gregory Joyce, Secretary of the Mid-American Diocese, Dean of Michigan ROCOR parishes, and Rector of St. Vladimir’s Church in Ann Arbor. This parish hosted the youth event, at which a decision was made to establish a branch of the Prince Vladimir Youth Association in the Mid-American Diocese. Following the conclusion of the meeting, we spoke with Fr. Andrew Sommer.

- Father Andrei, when was the idea to hold such a youth meeting in the Mid-American Diocese, Michigan, born?

- The idea was born at a youth conference in Utah. Already from there, Fr. Gregory and I returned home with the idea of further realization of those ideas and projects that the participants of the conference independently developed. Let me remind you that the goal of the conference was to teach young people how to assist their own parish church.

- Youth projects to assist parish churches were successful and are already being implemented in parishes. These projects include an Orthodox Academy, the interaction of parishes through parish web sites, the creating of a vegetable garden around the parish church, and many others.

Twenty young men and women, aged 18 to 25 from Michigan, Illinois, Florida, and Wisconsin gathered for the youth meeting and the Charity Ball. Four of them were attendees of the North American Convention in Utah.

- The day before the start of the youth work/meeting, a charity ball was held in support of the parochial school of St. Vladimir's Parish - the Orthodox Classical Academy, which is currently under construction. School classes are scheduled to begin in September 2023. When complete, 50 children will study there. Like the Academy of St. John of Shanghai in San Francisco, the school will have state status, and private accreditation, but in addition to the main school subjects, Orthodox disciplines will also be taught there. Unlike the gymnasium, however, students will study there until the 6th grade inclusive.

The school already exists in the parish church itself, but the new building will be a huge help in this important educational endeavor aimed at preparing a new generation of Church leaders for the Orthodox Christians of Michigan.

The charity ball is the first step in financially supporting the future academy. Under the auspices of the Prince Vladimir Association, young people themselves will also take part in the construction of the school.

I think back on a good friend of the Church Abroad, Schema-Metropolitan Juvenaly of Kursk, who once told me at a meeting how important it is for young people to physically take part in the construction of church buildings. This is a guarantee that they will not destroy anything, they will appreciate the labor of their own and other people. I urged the youth gathered in Michigan to take part both in the construction of the school and in its further development.

- What other events took place as part of the youth meeting in Michigan?

- On Saturday, the young men and women gathered for the Divine Liturgy on the day of the feast of St. Basil the Great, after which they prepared and recorded podcasts in support of a large project that began at the Salt Lake City conference last summer. There, the participants themselves recorded podcasts for the first time, and Ann Arbor took upon themselves the continuation of this work. Nine new podcasts were recorded on the topic: "My University Studies and my Faith: How they Coexist with each other." The podcasts will be released in the next few months on these platforms:

APPLE: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/orthodox-youth-podcast/id1649569037
SOUND CLOUD: https://soundcloud.com/youthpv
SPOTIFY: https://open.spotify.com/show/7qgqgLx8S01r6U5RDoDUfm

We invite all to subscribe and, after listening to the already recorded podcasts on various topics relevant to Orthodox Youth. The listeners will learn a lot of things that are important for faith in life, and generally about faith.

After working on the podcasts, the young people took part in an All Night Vigil on the eve of Sunday, and then they had a big bonfire and a pizza dinner, which came in quite handy in the freezing weather that is so characteristic of winter in Michigan.
-Father Andrei, could you please tell us about the central and most important initiative of the youth conference?

- In the midst of the work and informal gathering of the young people, a very important event took place - the Michigan branch of the Prince Vladimir Youth Association was founded. It is expected that the participants will be young people aged 18-25. This is the group of young men and women who, as it often happens, after graduating from church school, become distanced from church life, as they leave their parishes due to entering a university and moving away from home.

Fr. Gregory and I decided to disclose to the local deans the need to organize a branch of the Association in Michigan. Fr. Gregory will lead this branch and is already setting up a committee of helpers. There is much work to be done. After the school is completed, the construction of a large St. Vladimir's Church is planned. The current church, after the new one is finished, will become the school church and will bear the name of St. Mardarije of Libertville, a Serbian saint who labored and died in Ann Arbor.

- Founded almost 10 years ago with the blessing of the hierarchy and within the framework of the XIII All-Diaspora Congress, the Prince Vladimir Youth Association is seen as a revival of the idea of St. Vladimir's circles, which were actively working in 1950-60, correct?

- Yes. St. Vladimir’s circles originated in the early 1950s. As Archpriest John Legkiy, who was well-known at the time, noted: “In essence, this is, in fact, not an organization, but a gathering and unification of young souls around the Orthodox Church for their growth and constant affirmation on the foundations of Holy Orthodoxy, our historical national path, predetermined for us by St. Vladimir.”
St. Vladimir youth circles were created in parishes and were an important part of parish life. Each rector considered it his pastoral duty to gather youth around the parish for enlightenment, service and charity work. Among the leaders of the circles are such pillars of the Russian Church Abroad as Archbishop Averky (Taushev), Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky), Archpriests Sergiy Shchukin and Boris Kitsenko.

The youth gathered not only in churches, taking part in the life of the parish, but also in informal settings, on pilgrimages.

The circles developed in different dioceses of the Church Abroad. This way, in Sydney, a wonderful youth choir was created, in which the circles gathered about 50 people.

The leaders of the circles considered it important to pay attention not only to high school students, but also to younger elementary school students, so that by the age of 16-17, after graduating from church school, they would not lose touch with the church and church youth, since at this age, even having received basic knowledge in church school, young men and women are not yet ready to resist the temptations of the outside world.

- How did the youth conference end?

- On Sunday, everyone again gathered at the church to participate in the Divine Liturgy. After the service, the sisterhood of the parish invited all parishioners and youth participants to participate in the weekly parish meal. The youth once again worked on podcasts, after which they headed home.

I would like to thank the organizers for presenting me with a wonderful icon of St. Mardarius of Libertville, who is the patron of the Orthodox Classical Academy. I thought it useful to donate to the parish library my own book about my ancestor-clergymen. While collecting material for the book, I worked in various archives and I can say that my ancestors are also a good example for today's youth to follow.



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