Over Columbus Day Weekend, high school and college students from across the country made a pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Center in South Bound Brook, NJ. The weekend was designed to guide the participants through a journey or pilgrimage that was not only physical but spiritual. The Pilgrimage was conceived following the success of the High School Mission to the Metropolitan Center in 2013. Members of that mission team really enjoyed the experience and thought it would be wonderful for more youth to experience life at St. Sophia Seminary and the Consistory Office as well as being able to give back to the church in a meaningful way... the Follow Me Pilgrimage was the answer to this call.
The theme of the Pilgrimage was “Follow Me - Following Christ through His I Am's”. The participants began their journey by entering "The Door" and meditating on choosing the correct doors in life - those doors that lead to Christ. Saturday the youth discovered what it meant to be a branch on the vine of Jesus Christ. Being a part of a vine means that you are interconnected with the whole through Christ. To reinforce this theme the participants worked on various projects that would benefit others on "the vine" such as:
- Sorting and packing the diapers and clothing collected for the orphanages in Ukraine.
- Renovating the fire pit area at St. Sophia Seminary.
- Cleaning the many windows at the seminary.
(Due to inclement weather the participants were unable to complete the final project of re-mulching the prayer shrines.)
In the late afternoon, the participants diligently worked on a project for the next day's focus - I Am the Light. They painted and decorated jars and vases and housed an icon of Christ inside. These pieces of handcrafted art were beautiful enough during the day… but at night the luminescent paint they used glowed in the dark and illumined the icon inside! The icons themselves were also given a thin veneer of a clear version of the special glow-in-the-dark paint. This created a physical reminder of how Christ will illumine the darkness if you follow Him. One luminary was made to take home and another to give as a gift of thanks to the employees of the Consistory.
The participants gathered for a peaceful Great Vespers in the seminary chapel led by Fr. Anthony Perkins of the parish of St. Michael in Woonsocket, RI. The responses were led by Sbdn. Michael Abrahamson. A delicious dinner was followed by a laid back and fun-filled evening of Apples to Apples and Headbandz. The participants often found themselves in tears of joyful laughter during the games.
Divine Liturgy in the seminary chapel inspired all in their journey to follow Christ. Fr. Anthony spoke of the Divine Liturgy as the greatest of pilgrimages to the place where heaven and earth become one and we join the angels who cannot help but respond to God’s glory with joyful praise. This set the tone for the day - I am the Light. The participants were "illumined" through learning. Due to His Eminence, Metropolitan Antony’s illness, Fr. Anthony offered the keynote address on “Becoming the I Am.” He shared His Eminence’s challenge not to allow the world to define your “I AM”, but rather to become a perfect servant to others through Christ. The group then split between high school and college students for more specialized workshops. Fr. Perkins led his groups through the process of meditative “hesychastic” prayer and Fr. Vasyl Pasakas of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary parish in South Plainfield, led his groups in a discussion of how the saints influence your life.
Following some down time, the participants put the new fire pit to good use - enjoying a delicious picnic dinner prepared by seminary chef Pani Mariya. It was a brisk evening but that did not deter the merriment with Sbdn Abrahamson leading sing-a-longs while everyone roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. The evening concluded with a candlelit prayer walk through a portion of the prayer walk located on the grounds. The walk concluded at the Transfiguration Gazebo where Fr. Pasakas concluded the day of light.
Monday morning dawned a bit overcast but that did not dampen the spirits of the group as they celebrated one last Divine Liturgy together. They concluded their pilgrimage with a short wrap-up with Natalie Kapeluck Nixon, Director of the Office of Youth & Young Adult Ministry. It was then time to pack up, clean up and head for home until they can return next year on pilgrimage.