On the 24th – 26th November 2023, ACOY Victoria held its annual spiritual retreat for the first time since 2019. After such a long time, Victorian youth were eager to return to such a fruitful and beneficial experience which they had missed out on for a long time. The theme of 2023’s retreat was “Foundations of Faith” and was centred around learning and reinforcing the basic beliefs and principles of our faith in order to create fertile ground for future spiritual growth in 2024.

The retreat, based at Grantville Lodge, incorporated an array of spiritual and social activities to appeal to over 100 attendees. On Friday night, our youth held a Small Compline and Small Metalepsis service shortly after arrival and dinner, before proceeding to a night of icebreaker games so that our many attendees could quickly get to know each other and start forming friendships.

Saturday 25th contained the bulk of our action-packed schedule. We began the day celebrating the Divine Liturgy all together. Fr Jean Mawal and Fr Dcn Ignatius Hanna served the service, and our youth members led the choir and altar servers. We then gathered for breakfast in the main hall before beginning our first session with Fr Jean Mawal entitled: ‘Sin, Repentance and Deification’. Fr Jean made the point that “every saint has a past, and that every sinner has a future”. He also spoke about key aspects of our faith, such as humility and repentance, and also touched on how these concepts fit into our modern everyday lives. Attendees were also blessed to have a Byzantine chanting lesson led by Anthony Kharoufeh who taught Resurrectional and Nativity troparions. Later, a discussion by Deacon Ignatius about ‘Freedom in Christ’. After having meditated on prayer and spiritual discussions, it was time for some action. ACOY brought back its retreat Amazing Race tasking the activity groups to find the stolen icons! Teams had to find secret locations, uncover hidden clues and undertake the same challenging (or hilarious) challenges in order to win. Congratulations to Team 1 for winning the race!

After some time off to relax and recover from such a big day, we held a Readers’ Vespers service and headed off to dinner. Some of our youth also held a Paraklesis service later in the night for any who wished to attend. Afterwards, we kicked off our bonfire filled with vegan hot chocolates and marshmallows, music and….dinosaurs!

Sunday, and sadly our last day, began with morning prayers and breakfast. Our guest speaker from Sydney, George Daher, then delivered a talk about Byzantine iconography, its hidden gems and theological meanings. Many were interested to learn the meanings of different symbols and gestures used to reveal the story of an event or a saint. We then shared our last meal together before cleaning the campsite and packing up our cabins ready for departure.

The 2023 retreat was filled with a great, fruitful and youth-focussed schedule. However, it was the small things that really turned it into a beautiful weekend. The impromptu sing-a-long before the amazing race, the dabke at the bonfire, the Arabic chanting at Paraklesis and the various other moments of friendship, fun and fellowship created a wonderful experience for all of our youth. We were also blessed to have attendees come from our sister parishes in Sydney as well as youth from other Orthodox churches around Victoria.

The theme of this year is ‘Foundations of Faith’ yet we also saw the foundations of new friendships which we pray will continue to grow and be used to encourage our youth towards Christ. ACOY Victoria thanks everyone for their support and attendance and God willing, we will see you all again next year!