“It is true that one may know man’s ultimate goal, that is to have communion with God. And one may describe the path towards this goal: faith and walking in the commandments
with the aid of Divine Grace. One need only to say in addition: ‘Here is the path – start walking!’” – St. Theophan the Recluse
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As many of you know, I was absent from the church office last week, as I participated in our Metropolis Camp Emmanuel. Our summer camp is one of the most dynamic and reputable summer camping programs in the Archdiocese. The last time I helped out at Camp Emmanuel was in 2004, the year before we moved to the Metropolis of San Francisco. So much had changed in that span of 12 years. But so much was comfortably familiar.
The spiritual and social benefits of our young people participating in such programs are obvious: our children are grounded in the faith, they are exposed to the Scriptures, their fellowship and relationships revolve around like-minded kids, the teachings of the Church and the Bible come alive in practical ways, they are positively influenced by clergy from throughout the entire Metropolis and they come back with an eager commitment to living their lives for Christ.
But I must tell you, that as one of 15 clergymen (yes, twelve priests & three deacons!) who spent a week at Camp Emmanuel, I believe that I came back with the same renewed enthusiasm and fortified commitment as our children! It is equally true that we learn much more from them as they do from us. Their struggles become our struggles and their joys are ours as well. As the kids let their every-day lives and distractions concede to matters of spiritual health and Orthodox Christian principles, I found myself reaping the same benefits.
As a priest serving on staff at Camp Emmanuel, it’s not like we maintain a vague spiritual presence; wandering around looking “holy.” Each day, we lead two Orthodox Life sessions, conduct a Daily Word Bible Study, lead evening Cabin Devotionals, and are available for Confessions twice a day. One of the hallmarks of Camp Emmanuel is, in fact, clergy presence. Ours is the only Metropolis Camp which attracts so many priests to participate.
Being able to spend a week interacting with my brother priests and deacons from the Denver Metropolis was so incredibly refreshing. I had almost forgotten how valuable that time can be. Clergy Laity Meetings are filled with meetings and Clergy Retreats are filled with lectures and seminars. Camp is unique.
Camp is filled with ministry.
Camp is filled with growth and excitement.
Camp is filled with Christ.
I pray that as our Spirit-filled community of St. Anna Greek Orthodox grows and prospers for the sake of the Kingdom, we will continue an atmosphere that is positive for our young people; a place where they can always discover Christ in the ministries, Sacraments, programs and fellowship. But parish interaction, that is the local church, is only one aspect of our children’s exposure to the entirety of the Orthodox world.
As our kids meet other young, Greek Orthodox Christians from places like Kansas City, Houston, Cheyanne and Denver, they see the faith through a broader spectrum, beyond the identity of their home parish. They interact against the backdrop of common belief, sacred prayer and within the Communion of faithful. I hope that every parent will begin to appreciate the unduplicated experience that our Summer Camp has to offer.
There are countless stories about kids who went but didn’t want to go. All of these stories end the same way; the kids who didn’t want to come – didn’t want to leave either. Transformation takes place before our very eyes through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the laughter of the children and the joy of expressing and living one’s Orthodox Faith.
I experienced all of this first hand, plus the benefit of bouncing ideas off of fellow priests, reuniting with old friends, and meeting new ones. I saw young teenagers whom I baptized as infants, and counselors who were my JOY kids and GOYANs. Time passes, but Faith progresses. People grow and change, but Christ remains consistent.
Of course, as I mentioned in my homily last Sunday, the Sunday of Pentecost, we can’t remain at Summer Camp perpetually. At some point, we return to the distractions, the temptations, the complications and the practice of daily living. Just as the disciples were thrust from their familiar confines, then spread throughout the world, we depart from Camp; enlightened, strengthened, fortified and enthused.
I was grateful for the opportunity to be with our St. Anna children, and all of the youth assembled from throughout the Mountain West for the Junior Week of Camp Emmanuel. While there, I spent hours upon hours teaching. But to be sure, I spent days upon days learning.
With Love in Christ,