With His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin’s blessing and holy prayers, we were able to run an “Orthodox LIFE School” at the Monastery of St. John in Manton, CA, on June 12-17, 2017. We had twelve participants of ages 17-35 from various jurisdictions and parishes. The school staff consisted of Fr. Innocent (Green), Fr. Theodor Svane, Fr. Andreas Blom, Matushka Hanne Svane and Carol-Elizabeth Thong. A typical day for the student started at 6.00 am with a wakeup call to prayer. At 7.00 we gathered at the monastery church for a morning service (either Matins or Divine Liturgy). After the morning service we ate breakfast together, while listening to a spiritual reading (during this week the reading was from “The Benedict Option” by Rod Dreher).
After breakfast we had three hours of lectures by a featured speaker. Our speakers this year were His Grace Bishop Daniel (Brum), Mother Melania, Hieromonk Innocent and Archpriest Phillip Tolbert. The topics were intentionally arranged to progress from the inner life to the other life - to “know God and to make Him known.”
The first day the topic was on the Christian call to life in Christ, set apart from the world - “In the world, but not of the World.” The second day the topic was “Living in the Light,” to follow Christ in a culture that is increasingly non-Christian, or even anti-Christian. The third day the topic was “A Life of Prayer,” which is the foundation of the Christian life. The fourth day, the lecture focused on how to reach out to others with our faith, and to boldly go into the world as Christ’s disciples.
Each afternoon, after lunch, the students had various work duties around the monastery, including garden and orchard work, dinner preparations, cleanup, etc. At 5.00 pm each day we gathered for Vespers at the monastery church. After dinner we gathered for a time of informal reflection on the things we were learning, allowing plenty of time for questions and practical application.
On the fifth day our focus changed from lectures to practice. We went to Chico, CA to work with Ss. Cyril and Methodius Orthodox Mission. Fr. Ian Shipley received the group and spoke to us about the importance of being a servant. The students then had a chance to help the mission with some practical work (in this case scraping off old paint, to help the mission to prepare for a complete repaint.) In the afternoon, after a brief orientation, the students went into town where they interacted with the homeless and needy. Many of them had the opportunity to share a meal or a drink with the homeless, and to hear their stories. The goal here was not “proselytizing”, but human interaction with those in need. The purpose was to see Christ in others, and to be Christ to them - to serve, as Christ Himself did. After a dinner with debriefing we returned to the monastery in Manton.
The school wrapped up on Saturday with a Moleben to St. John Maximovitch, and a hike up a nearby butte with the staff. The students were then commissioned to “go into the world” and “so shine before men.” The feedback from the participants was overwhelmingly positive. All of them suggested that the Orthodox LIFE School become a regular event. Below are a few quotes from four of the students:
“[The Orthodox LIFE School] has given me a spiritual place to retreat to, as well as a sense of community.”
“Amazing how the main personal questions I have been asking were all addressed by [the speakers] in one way or another. It was a week of sanity! Come as you are… questions and doubts included, and let’s dive into this hot mess!”
“A perfect balance between prayer, talks and work. Amazing speakers and fellowship with everyone. I want to come back next year! This week will stay with me for a long time.”
“I believe I am closer to finding my path in life, and that I will look back at this week as a turning point. It has been a very eye opening experience!”
Glory to God for all things!
Submitted by Priest Andreas Blom, on behalf of the staff of the Orthodox LIFE School 2017