When I received the Facebook event invite from Christina over the summer, I decided it was finally the time for me to attend a YAL event. Why? Well, there were several reasons I found the idea of this year's retreat appealing. Maybe because it was going to be an Inter-Orthodox event; definitely because His Grace Bishop Savas of Troas was going to be the key note speaker and that the theme for the retreat itself was "GOD CREATED: From Created to Creators". Oh, and it was not being held in New York, making it the perfect opportunity to escape the city for a few days.
After an interesting but not too difficult ride up to Boston (BTW I totally recommend Megabus if you have not taken it), Friday evening kicked off the weekend- long retreat with registration, Paraklesis and fellowship at the Hilton in Dedham. People trickled in slowly, and before long we were a group of nearly 40 people.
Paraklesis started with our group of about 40 participants from the various Orthodox jurisdictions, some having traveled from as far as Seattle,WA and Houston, TX as well as few students from Hellenic College/Holy Cross. Being that this was my first time at a Pan-Orthodox event, I was a little surprised that despite the Psalms being read and chanted were all in English, the energy and feeling was the same as what I have experienced when attending services in my own parish. Actually, it was incredibly refreshing to see this group of young adults who chose to attend and take part; still even more prevalent was that regardless of our cultural and ethnic differences, we are still united through our faith, as was evident to me on Friday night. Once the prayer service was over, the rest of the evening was spent on fellowship, with old acquaintances getting reacquainted and new introductions being made.
Saturday morning began with chapel at the HC/HC campus, followed by breakfast the rest of the registrants showing up, bringing our group to about 60 people plus some of the HC/HC students.
Registration/breakfast turned into more social time before we were all ushered into the auditorium for Bishop Savas' s keynote address. The Bishop opened with a reading from Genesis. I think it was such a great way to start regarding the retreat theme: "God Created: From Created to creators". The most profound thing he stated during his address was "God created man in his image to create", this I believe really setting the tone for the workshops that followed. His Grace talked about the need for art, and art being created for God's sake, and we ourselves are art, having become a performance in our own lives, and with the use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, we advertise even our most trivial thoughts because we believe there is an audience for this. What I came away from this was that God appreciates art, demands it from us, and by being able to see the beauty in things by looking a little closer and deeper at what is around us we can fully appreciate it. Art does not have to be about Christian themes to be considered "Christian Art". By lifting our emotions and making us feel, this is proof enough that it is what it is, and even that in and of itself can be considered creation.
After this remarkable introduction that made me think (is this creation itself?) I sat in on Fr. Mark’s workshop on Music, and how we can find God in music. I loved the ideas he expressed about how the emotions and feelings evoke and expressed by music makes us co-creaters with the Lord. Music not only evokes our emotions, but can trigger memories. Why is it during liturgy, we can remember the hymns and the psalms sung above all other parts of the service? The use of music and song to express joy is a theme found through out many parts of the bible. Fr. Mark then finished up with three examples of how contemporary artists have used music as a form of expression, whether it be to confess, ask for redemption, share the love of God, or just lift our spirits with the music. I found this workshop incredibly insightful. I who am unable to function without my ipod , feeling something with each song I listen to, whether it be the lyrics or the music that touches me, or the combination of both.
Following a break for lunch, Bishop Savas gave the second workshop on how performance art, food, literature, and cinematography can be used to not only to express but invoke the strongest of emotions and be a metaphor for Christianity. As he picked up from where his keynote address ended, the Bishop gave a synopsis and then showed us 45 minutes of the Danish film, Babette’s Feast. Although we only saw the second half of the film, it was a both a visual and culinary masterpiece that as loose interpretation of the Last Supper, a perfect example of creation and art, conveying exactly what the Bishop expressed in his earlier address.
After the workshops, the rest of the time flew by, with some time to relax and play games outdoors, just enjoy the crisp fall weather. This soon was followed by vespers and then a Barbecue/Music festival held outdoors. Taking what we learned in the day's workshops, I was able to see what both Bishop Savas and Fr. Mark were talking about with both the performance of the band and in even in our dancing to music played.
Sunday morning's liturgy was followed by a wrap-up session. I feel that I can truly say I came away a much richer person after having spent the weekend in Brookline. I got to spend the last few hours of the retreat with my new friends, talking over lunch and drinking coffee at the dining hall of HC/HC.
As I boarded the bus yesterday afternoon for my return trip home, I couldn't help but think to myself, where can I sign up for the next YAL event?