Orthodox America

Youth Pilgrimage in Poland

For the Orthodox population of Poland, the Holy Mount of Grabarka is like Mecca for Moslems. It is the goal of Orthodox pilgrims, it is a harbor for those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness", it is one of the most prayerful or "prayed-in" places in our country.

It is precisely this place, Holy Mount Garbarka, the site of the only women's monastic community in Poland, the convent of Saints Mary and Martha, which was chosen by the Orthodox youth of Poland as a center for their gatherings and common prayer.

This year, May 10-12, the Brotherhood of Orthodox Youth organized on Grabarka the Twelfth Pilgrimage of Poland's Orthodox Youth. More than two thousand young people from all over Poland took part, as well as about thirty representatives from Orthodox youth organizations abroad. The largest group came from Belorussia; there were also participants from Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Yugoslavia, Portugal, Czechoslovakia, Finland and England.

The pilgrimage began May 10, with a solemn vesper service celebrated by Bishop Jeremiah of Wroclaw, and the blessing of the water at the monastery well. After supper all participants gathered in a large field, around which tents were set up which served as sleeping quarters for the pilgrims. Holding lighted candles, all began singing wonderful religious songs, using booklets specially published for such occasions by the Brotherhood. All over the mount one could hear the marvelous strains of "Mount Athos," "Glory to God for All Things," and other songs sung by this two-thousand voice choir which had gathered in this holy place. In half an hour this sea of candles moved to the site of the church of the Transfiguration, which was destroyed last summer by fire. There, near the construction of the new church on the site of the old, a large, fifteen-foot eight-pointed cross was blessed and erected, a symbol of those small, personal crosses which the young pilgrims had brought to the Holy Mount in their hearts. The forest of crosses standing on the Holy Mountain grew by yet another. After the cross was set up, everyone walked to the nearby cemetery where memorial services were held at the graves of Archbishop Alexis and Abbess Barbara. Then, already quite late, an akathist to the Resurrection was read before the entrance of the still unfinished new church. Afterwards, several priests heard confessions, which lasted well into the night.

Saturday, the central day of the pilgrimage, began with morning prayers and Divine Liturgy which, like all the other services, was celebrated by Bishop Jeremiah. At eleven o'clock there was the official opening of the pilgrimage by Vladika Jeremiah. After his introductory remarks, the guests from abroad were introduced, and they, too, gave brief talks. Their presentations were varied. Priest Vassily from the Soviet Union was filled with joy and many soul-profiting instructions; the talk by guests from Belorussia-with joy at the opportunity to be present with us in such a holy place. The same joy was expressed by the Portuguese and English guests, here with us for the first time. Guests from Finland and Greece spoke of the renewal of contacts between Orthodox youth. Those from Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia emphasized the great significance of such gatherings at this time of persecution of Orthodox in Czechoslovakia and internal disturbances in Yugoslavia.

The official part concluded with a moving talk by Abbess Liudmila. This was followed by a lecture prepared by the students of the Orthodox Faculty of the Warsaw Theological Academy, whose subject had been chosen by us as the motto of our pilgrimage: Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee; for I have much people in this city (Acts 18:9-10).

Directly following this lecture, all participants divided themselves into groups to listen to other lectures on subjects of interest to all of us and to take part in discussions. About twenty subjects were addressed, the most popular of which proved to be: "Russian Saints as Examples of Christian Life," "The History of Pochaev Lavra," "The Role of Women in the Church," "The Return of Uniates to Orthodoxy," "The Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment," and "The Christian Meaning of Life." The greatest number of pilgrims, however, gravitated towards Fr. Vassily from Petersburg, who gave a fascinating talk on the question, "What Does it Mean to Believe in God?"

After lunch everyone again met in the field where there was a meeting with Bishop Jeremiah. The subject could be called, "A Hundred Questions Asked of Vladika." He addressed, briefly and directly, more than forty questions. Afterwards the young pilgrims had an opportunity to listen to the magnificent singing of a choir composed of students from the Leningrad Theological Academy's course for choir directors. This took place at the site of the new church. Then a brief talk was given to acquaint pilgrims with forthcoming activities organized by the Brotherhood. This summer they have planned more than twenty camp sessions for children in various parts of Poland, half of which are being specially organized for children from the Chernobyl area.

After evening services, the youth gathered at the bonfire for a religious-cultural program. The singing of various choirs and reading of poems lasted until eleven o'clock. At this time we again made our way to the construction site of the new church for midnight services and matins. Many of us also had confession. Many were deeply moved and impressed by their confession with Fr. Vassily, who became a favorite with almost everyone for his wonderful approach towards youth and his amazingly clear and precise counsels.

Sunday, the closing day of the pilgrimage, began like the others with morning prayers, after which Bishop Jeremiah, assisted by many clergy, celebrated a final Liturgy for the youth. The service concluded with a triumphant procession. A welcome "foreign accent" was provided by an American choir, the Cappella Russian Male Chorus, which had just come from the Tenth Festival of Church Music, and which sang "Many Years" at the end of the Liturgy.

A summation and official conclusion of the pilgrimage took place right after lunch. From the Holy Mount hundreds of different colored tents began disappearing. Everyone began directing their steps homeward, carrying with them-some for the first time, others their latest-unforgettable impressions of praying together, of stimulating discussions, new acquaintances... Everyone left Grabarka with a steadfast desire and hope for another gathering in this holy place.

Y. Charkiewicz