The Eastern Diocese held its second annual ACYOA Seniors National Fall Retreat from November 8 to 10. Organized by the ACYOA Central Council, the theme of this year’s retreat was “In Communion: Exploring the Need for Human Connection.”
Gathered at the St. Iakovos Retreat Center in Kansasville, WI, 57 young adults from 21 parishes across the country and Canada explored what it means to be “in communion” with one another, and how they could build up the body of Christ through fellowship with the people around them.
The Primate of the Eastern Diocese, Bishop Daniel Findikyan, took part in the retreat along with several other clergy from our Diocese including Fr. Tavit Boyajian (Sts. Joachim and Anne Church, Palos Heights, IL); Fr. Sahak and Yn. Lana Kashian (St. George Church, Waukegan, IL and Holy Resurrection Church, S. Milwaukee, WI); Fr. Hovnan Khoja-Eynatyan (St. James Church, Palos Heights, IL); Fr. Tadeos Barseghyan (Pastor of St. Sahag Church, St. Paul, MN); Fr. Avedis and Yn. Karen Kalayjian (St. Mesrob Church, Racine, WI); and Fr. Andreas and Yn. Nune Garabedian (St. Gregory Church, Chicago, IL).
Bishop Daniel led the first session of the weekend, and he laid the foundation for the retreat and all subsequent sessions with a discussion about the Armenian Orthodox understanding of the phrase “In Communion.” Bishop Daniel pushed participants to think of communion in a new way and challenged the participants to share the calling we have in “Building Up the Body of Christ” in our daily lives.
Relationships Spiritual and Personal
In a presentation about strengthening our spiritual relationships, Fr. Andreas Garabedian (pastor of St. Gregory the Illuminator Church, Chicago, IL) discussed how our everyday lives can make us feel as if we are “running on empty.” Fr. Garabedian provided participants with tools to help strengthen their relationships with God in an increasingly hectic world.
Jennifer Morris (Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries) gave a presentation on the importance of human connection and the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, telling participants of ways to forge fulfilling relationships. Participants split up into small groups based on areas of their current lives to discuss their everyday relationships.
Participants also had a chance to hear from a panel of their peers about romantic relationships. Panelists ranged from married to single to dating, and they provided a comfortable and safe place to discuss their own relationships and how faith played a role in strengthening them. Participants were then split into groups to further discuss their own relationships and the value of centering our relationships on Christ.
Ani Arzumanian (Sts. Joachim and Anne Church, Palos Heights, IL) and Lucine Boloyan (St. James Church, Watertown, MA) spoke about their summer experiences on the ACYOA Armenia Service Project (ASP) and the Young Adult Pilgrimage to Jerusalem, respectively.
Kathryn Ashbahian (Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries) led a presentation on the importance of self-care. She discussed the benefits of creating healthy relationships with ourselves in order to enhance our relationships with others. She also offered tools for self-care. Participants then split into groups to discuss the role that the Church plays in personal growth and development.
Throughout the retreat, attendees joined in morning and evening prayer services, led by the Primate. Sermons were given by Fr. Avedis Kalayjian (pastor of St. Mesrob Church, Racine, WI) and Subdeacon Adam Bullock (St. Nersess seminarian).
The Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning was celebrated by Fr. Tadeos Barseghyan (pastor of St. Sahag Church, St. Paul, MN). He offered a beautiful sermon about the pursuit of divine happiness that left participants feeling rejuvenated before heading back to their daily lives.
The retreat included a service project that was explained by longtime Diocesan pastor (now retired) Fr. Yeprem Kelegian, which involved writing postcards to a local parishioner who is currently incarcerated. Participants were encouraged to return back to their parishes and ask their pastors if there were additional opportunities to help the elderly, shut-ins, or those that need outreach.
During their free time on Saturday, participants took advantage of the beautiful weekend weather and visited the on-site farm, which was home to horses, goats, alpacas, and peacocks. Clergy were also available for “Clergy Chats” with the participants, if they wanted to ask questions and have deeper conversations.
Before departing for home, participants in the ACYOA Seniors National Fall Retreat reflected on their experience.
“To describe the weekend as fun would be an understatement,” said Jordan Reid (St. Mesrob Church, Racine WI). “It was such a learning experience about our faith, fellow Christian relationship experiences, self-care, and how to handle stress. Being able to see our best friends and making new friends makes these types of events the best times of the year. I am beyond grateful that it was offered at no cost to the participants, making it easy for people far away to make it.”
“My heart is so full this weekend,” said Kareen Kaltakjian (St. Garabed Church, Baton Rouge, LA). “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, signing up for an ACYOA Fall Retreat, after being away from the community for so long… but wow! I am so glad I did. Actually talking face-to-face with others about everything was incredible, including the need for human connection, relationships, faith, God, self-care, and most importantly the Armenian Church.”
“The retreat had exceptional impact on me in the sense that I learned new approaches and viewpoints for religion in general,” said Artyom Kosyan (St. James Church, Evanston, IL). “It opened my mind for questioning everything, including religion, being an essential part of our lives. Since then, I have watched several panel discussions among wise religious figures and atheist scientists so that I have a better understanding of the necessity of religion.”
“This was my second year attending the ACYOA National Fall Retreat and my expectations have been exceeded again,” said Alice Nahapetyan (St. Sarkis Church, Carrollton, TX). “This year, we expressed our understanding of the phrase ‘In Communion’ and were introduced to the real meaning of it on a deeper level. I personally enjoyed the small group discussions about our day-to-day relationships with people around us, and with ourselves, and what role our faith plays in these relationships. It was a beautifully organized event and a great atmosphere to meet old and make new friends.”
Watch a video montage from the ACYOA Seniors Fall Retreat on the ACYOA Facebook page.
To view photos from the weekend, click here.
By Arsen Yelegen