ACOY VIC’s 2018 Retreat proved to be one of great learning, friendship, and fun. We heard from three skilled speakers who spoke to us about the battles we experience on a daily basis and their effects on us today. The weekend retreat entitled “Virtuous or Venomous” focused on issues relevant to our time but also universal and timeless such as mental health, escapism, and idolatry. In a world where we constantly fight against these obstacles, it is important for us to know how to recognise and most importantly overcome these issues with God by our side. Aside from the spiritual, 2018’s retreat was filled with games and activities that allowed us to unwind, have fun, reflect and grow new friendships with people within Melbourne but also the greater Archdiocese. All these things together were the perfect recipe for a wonderful and enlightening weekend.
The first session was delivered by Sub-Deacon Michel Nahas, the topic entitled “Idolatry in Contemporary Orthodox Christian life”. He spoke about the idea of idolatry and how any object can distract us from God, while the purpose of our lives is to come into communion with God. Idolatry involves dedicating too much of our time or efforts towards something other than God. Examples of physical objects (or even other humans) in modern day society were made, whereby if someone were to indulge in the physical item too much, the obsession begins to take over. Michel concluded his talk by mentioning how we must try our best to steer away from excessive material wealth, earthly glory and vain power, as these can all lead to us falling into idolatry.
Father Jean Mawal enlightened us with his talk on escapism. This talk really tied into the theme of the retreat, “virtuous or venomous”. Escapism in the world is when we run away from prison, while escapism in the Church lands us in prison. We were once the masters of all material things, but now everything is rebelling against us. These physical objects (particularly our phones and social media) numb the soul, and enslave us. All these are short-term pleasures and no physical thing on Earth will satisfy us except God Himself, also known as spiritual satisfaction. Effective escapism includes setting the goal and always reminding ourselves that the devil has no power over us. God reminds us of His presence throughout our daily lives, and through prayers and good thoughts, we are able to bridge the gap we made between ourselves and God.
Dr Samar Ojaimi gave a talk on mental health and depression, from a medical and Orthodox view. The medical view involves the physical as well as mental aspects and symptoms a person can experience. This medical diagnosis is supported widely in the scientific field. Depression is a widely known mental health disorder, and Samar showed statistics that prove most people will experience this in their lifetime. Samar went on to discuss lots of saints that have spoken up about this topic throughout the ages. She explained that every desire is tied to a passion, and every passion is prone to produce sadness, as these desires are all short-term. So long as the Holy Spirit is in us, and we pray and remain closely connected to our spiritual faith, we can overcome these feelings of sadness or loneliness. Humans are made up of both body and soul, which must both be treated with care. We are always able to find help when we are down or lost at any point in life, as we have spiritual fathers that can help guide our way back to God.
The retreat was spiritually enlightening with everyone joining in prayer throughout the weekend and particularly during our Vigil on Saturday night in which we celebrated the feast day of St Katherine. We were also blessed with a chanting session lead by Khouriye Rita Mawal on Sunday morning by learning the beautiful chant of “Awed by the Beauty”.
After an informative but enjoyable weekend, ACOY’s Sunday Night Dinner at the Oxford Lounge was a beautiful way to end the experience. The weather was lovely and the atmosphere was awesome. Music and dancing was also a big part of the evening with a blend of English and Arabic music that had everyone involved. People who weren’t able to go to the retreat were also there, which allowed them to catch up on the things they missed but also enjoy an evening with friends too.
With much hard work and by the Grace of God, ACOY Vic’s 2018 Retreat was a huge success. The illuminating words of our speakers helped us reflect on our own lives and realise what is holding us back and how to move forward in following the true path. We gained insightful knowledge into issues such as idolatry where we learned the dangers of excessive power, money and fame, and topics like mental health where we learned about how the way we run our lives influences the way we think and our connection to God. Our games ranging from dodgeball to Kahoot had everyone excited and having fun, and made for a joy-filled time. Concluding the weekend, our Sunday night dinner allowed us to unwind and get to know further the friends we made. Since we live in a world where the line between virtuous and venomous can be blurred, the retreat helped to clear it up for us and pushed on us back on the virtuous path – the path that leads to God.