By Chris Chakonas
In darkness. Cold and alone with no clear path ahead. This is how I felt as I stood at the trailhead of the Proskinitaria walk late Thursday night. As I began my walk into the woods I was unsure of how I would find my way in such deep darkness. I was holding a lone candle and doing my best to follow the flickering candle of the Delphian camper a little way in front of me. I could barely see and it was silent. I imagine this is how many of our youth feel today. The world we live in is spiritually dark, cold and lonely. Sometimes our youth may even feel like its hard to see the path ahead in life.
As I drew closer to the Proskinitaria of Christ the Good Sheppard, I heard something faint in the distance. It sounded like singing. With every step closer the sound became louder and louder and was unlike anything I have ever heard in my life. The Delphian boys, our oldest cabin, in beautiful unison and humility were chanting the Paraklesis to the Theotokos. As I came around the last dark corner I saw a group of young men and their counselors, together as brothers in Christ with their faces illuminated by their candles. I was moved to tears.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more pure and beautiful expression of brotherhood, faith and Christian Agape.
Statistics tell us that 60% of our youth are leaving the church by the time they are young adults. That night I was convinced that these boys won’t be included in that statistic.
The evening I’m describing was a late night devotional activity planned by staff members Peter Savas, Gray Kafkes and Nick Staviski because of their love for these boys. It was an exercise in faith as they were guided to walk silently and individually in the woods with just a candle to light their way. They were staggered just enough so they could just see the light of the boy in front of them and the light of the boy behind. I was blessed to be invited to participate.
I think this beautiful activity sums up my thoughts on week one of Fanari Camp 2019. Our campers came from a difficult world full of so much pain and darkness to a place of community, philotimo, love and light. Our camp program is designed to do one thing and one thing only. Bring our campers to the light of Christ.
We learned about how to love our God, our neighbor and ourself in Orthodox Life and Bible Study. We learned about Philotimo and team building in our new session, Omada (Team in Greek). We had unadulterated fun playing Olympic games and dancing, eating loukoumades on Greek night and making double decker cookie sandwiches with Christmas frosting at our dance.
We also made Fanari Camp history and took a huge step towards bringing our campers to Christ. Thanks to some hefty logistics planning by Justin Glavanovits and the rest of our leadership team, we went on a pilgrimage to the Saint Sava Monastery and venerated the holy relics of an incorrupt Saint. I have no doubt that seeing St. Mardarije of Libertyville left an indelible spiritual mark on our campers. Our campers were confronted with the reality of holiness and I’m sure it was an experience they won’t soon forget.
Before those Delphian boys walked back to their cabin from deep in the woods at the Saint Phanourious Proskinitaria, they did something that at first I wasn’t sure about. They decided to blow out all their candles and see if they could walk back to their cabins in total darkness following each other in a long line. We had flashlights for backup and I was prepared to use mine but soon our eyes adjusted and we could just barely see. We made the return trip to the log lodge in total darkness. Before I left them for the night I told them that this walk had been a powerful metaphor for our spiritual life. No matter how deep the darkness, we can always make it through if we have our brother or sister in Christ in front of us and behind us.
The world may be dark at times and the spiritual life of a teenager today is an incredible struggle through the dark and lonely woods. But at Fanari Camp, we give our campers a light to hold and we send them back into the world with their brothers and sisters all around them with that same light. At camp they bask in the glow of the unwaning light, Christ.
The night is darkest just before the dawn and today we send our campers back into the world dawning with the light of Christ.
Chris is the Program Director of Fanari Camp.