Church-youth seminar 2008, St.Sava Monastery New Kalenic

The Serbian Orthodox community of Australia and New Zealand has a future, and a very bright one at that. The events of the first National Church-Youth Seminar of 2008 held at our beautiful Monastery of St. Sava in Hall (A.C.T) have proven this. From the 26-28 December, over 40 of the finest young Serbian minds of Australia and New Zealand descended on our nation's capital of Canberra. They came to fulfill their long-awaited dream of forming a Church-Youth organization which would gather young Serbs around our Holy Church and represent not only our youth, but our entire community to the world around us. The result was an explosion of intellectual activity and great ideas rarely seen in our community, and a true spirit of Orthodox Christian fellowship being formed among the delegates of the many cities and parishes - most of whom didn't want the weekend to end. The participants slowly trickled into to the Monastery over Thursday night and Friday, giving everybody an opportunity to get to know each other even before the beginning of the Seminar.

Unlike many events involving youth from different parishes and cities, there was little or no segregation into smaller groupings and everybody mingled and communicated openly and easily. By the time the program began with Vespers at 6 PM on Friday, the participants were already behaving as a family; laughing and enjoying each other's company, openly discussing and sharing various concerns, and so on. Following Vespers the participants were joined by His Grace Bishop Irinej at dinner; the first of many great meals prepared over the weekend by the very capable Federation of Circles of Serbian Sisters, largely supported by the diligent Circle of Serbian Sisters from the parish-in-exile of St. George of Forrest in Canberra.
Bishop Irinej and the clergy present chose to share their meals with the participants by joining the regular tables throughout the seminar. The clergy in attendance were Very Reverend Stavrophor Fr. Milan Milutinovic (Keysborough), Very Reverend Fr. Sasa Radoicic (Mona Vale), Reverend Fr. Aleksandar Milutinovic (Liverpool), Very Reverend Protodeacon Sasa Colic (Alexandria) and of course, Reverend Hieromonk Fr. Seraphim of St. Sava Monastery (Hall) who has been highly active in organizing and assisting the regional Youth Group of Canberra.

With dinner out of the way, the discussions were ready to begin. Friday night's program consisted of "Introductions and Discussion on our Faith." Participants were asked to introduce themselves and tell the group where they came from and which parish they represented, although most had already done so beforehand. Following introductions, Bishop Irinej asked the Seminar participants to ask any questions, raise any concerns and make suggestions regarding the formation and future of the Diocesan Youth Movement. Far from being timid and withdrawn, participants began to raise many issues of both our community in Australia and New Zealand and our Fatherland of Serbia and what our Youth Organisation could do to contribute to both in resolving these issues. Among the issues raised were:

  • Church services in Serbian or English, or both?
  • More events such as this Seminar to bring together the
  • entire Diocese - including often forgotten New Zealand
  • Formation of Pan-Orthodox fellowships - with Greeks, Antiochians, Russians, etc.
  • Information about our Faith, especially contemporary issues and also religious services to be made available in churches
  • Strengthening of Internet communication within the Diocese
  • Formation of Serbian professional expertise groups or trade guilds such as I.T, Bar Association, etc.
  • More focus on the hard issues facing the youth such as drugs, alcohol and crime and why they feel that they cannot turn to the Church for help
  • Prison Ministry - more attention to be paid to the many Serbs in jail on drug-related offences
  • Making it easier for youth to participate in church worship by singing, chanting - booklets, classes, etc.
  • Lobbying and improving the Serbian image in the wider community - having employees in Parliament, eventually a member of parliament

The participants had many relevant suggestions and solutions to the many problems facing our community. The discussion was fruitful and Bishop Irinej seemed very impressed with many of the suggestions. It became clear that the mission of the Youth Movement would not only be to focus on youth issues and organize a few events here and there but to be an integral part of the community, leading it not only into the future but into the wider community of Australia and New Zealand right now, fighting for the Serbian cause in a variety of ways - education, lobbying, political and social activity and most importantly - prayer, religious education and participation in church services and religious activities.

Before the participants were dismissed for free time following Friday night's discussion, Sinisa Buzanin, a delegate from Melbourne, asked Bishop Irinej for His blessing to light a campfire around which the youth would gather and socialise for the rest of the night. The Bishop happily agreed and a great atmosphere was created in which the young Serbs were allowed to relax their minds and continue to strengthen their bond. Members of the group continued sharing jokes and stories long into the night before putting out the campfire and returning to their dorm rooms. Traditional Serbian frula music was provided by Petar Bozic of Hamilton, New Zealand.

The Seminar began on Saturday morning with the Invocation of the Holy Spirit, a service performed before important meetings of Church bodies. Following the service, breakfast was served and with their coffees in hand, the young Serbs were able to begin with the most important task of the weekend, the Seminar for the formation of the Diocesan Youth Movement.

Following an introductory word from Bishop Irinej, in which His Grace expressed high hopes for the group and thereafter presented the Proposed Agenda which was accepted and the election of the Seminar Presidium commenced. Sinisa Buzanin (Melbourne) and Nikola Carkic (Canberra) were elected as Vice-Presidents of the Seminar proceedings and assumed their seats next to the Bishop. Dragica Zeljkovic (Sydney) and Natalija Milanovic (Sydney) were elected Secretaries, while Marija Grmusa (Melbourne), Petar Bozic (Auckland, NZ) and Milos Carkic (Canberra) were elected to the Nominations Board, responsible for taking nominations for positions on the board of the Diocesan Youth Movement, to be elected on Sunday. Publicists chosen to be responsible for producing an article about the Seminar to be released to the media were Janko Nikolic (Melbourne) and Reader Ilija Bilic (Canberra/Sydney). The By-Laws Committee, to be involved in creating a structure for the organization, consisted of Biljana Radulovic (a law student from Perth), Janko Nikolic and Ilija Bilic. With the Seminar Presidium elected, the regional reports were able to commence. Fr. Milan Milutinovic, as Spiritual Advisor of the entire movement, opened with an introduction to his work with the youth in Melbourne and the seminars in various parishes, as well as more casual coffee meetings, that have been held with great success in that city.

The regional reports began with the Sydney/A.C.T region, given by Dragica Zeljkovic for Sydney and Ilija Bilic and Aleksandar Stankovic for Canberra. Much enthusias was generated by the Canberra report, which included the desire to work with the Tesla Forum of Perth and to place a bust of Nikola Tesla in the local school of engineering; as well as the placing of a scale-model of Gracanica Monastery in a local ethnic theme park. The Melbourne report was given by Marija Grmusa with contributions from Mladenko Kajtaz and Janko Nikolic. Reader Vedran Gagic reported for the Gold Coast and Brisbane area while the Adelaide report was given by Miroslav Stjepanovic. Last, but not least was the report from New Zealand by Petar Bozic. The reports were all promising, with post-liturgical gatherings, religious seminars, café nights, musical events, protests, political lobbying and much more mentioned. Some frustrations were also mentioned, such as lack of interest in certain events from the youth and lack of support from other sections of the community.
Following the regional reports, the participants were split into 6 groups to discuss key issues in the Diocese - religious, social, educational, public relations, communication and stewardship. The resulting storm of ideas was very impressive and laid the foundations for the future work of the Youth Movement.
With the group discussions complete, the "Road Forward" was to be discussed, with open discussion on suggestions and ideas. At this stage Bishop Irinej introduced the material included in the seminar packet distributed at the start. Of particular interest and importance was the booklet on "The International Diaspora Youth Leadership Conference" to be held in Belgrade in July 2009. The suggestion that delegates from the Youth Movement in Australia should be sent to participate was met with an immediate pledge of support by Mrs. Gordana Ivancevic, President of the St. George Church School Congregation in Forrest, Canberra, as well as Dusanka Timotic, President of the Federation of Circles of Serbian Sisters, who each proposed paying for one delegate to attend the conference.

Following the explanation of the Seminar material, Bishop Irinej introduced his proposal for the "Department of Youth Ministries for the Serbian Orthodox Church in Australia and New Zealand," including proposals for a Patron Saint, Logo, Structure, Organisation, Oratorical Contests, Athletics/Sporting Events, Summer Camp Exchanges, Publications, Proposed Constitutional Inclusion, Campus Ministries and Pan-Orthodox Endeavours. All of the proposals were met with enthusiasm and suggestions and ideas from participants, with final decisions to be made in the near future. The Seminar was then closed for the day and Vespers was served, followed by dinner and free time. The delegates took the opportunity to head into the city of Canberra where they met and had a great time, behaving as if they were old friends who had known each other for their whole lives and as if God through St. Sava had finally reunited them.

On Sunday morning, Bishop Irinej served the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy with a rich blend of Priests, Readers, choir singers and altar boys. Following Liturgy and lunch, the Seminar concluded with the elections of a committee of officers for the Diocesan Youth Movement. After very close elections with difficult choices made between equally deserving candidates, the positions were filled as follows:
President: Ilija Bilic
Vice-Presidents: Dragica Zeljkovic and Janko Nikolic (Australia) and Petar Bozic (New Zealand)
Secretaries: Vedran Gagic (Serbian-language) and Nikola Carkic (English-language)
Treasurer: Aleksandra Vilotic
Publicists: Mladenko Kajtaz (Melbourne), Nada Miljus and Marijana Miljus (Canberra), Andjela Krajisnik and Biljana Radulovic (Perth), Goran Rekic (Adelaide) and Ana Draca and Milica Milovanovic (New Zealand)
Following the elections, Bishop Irinej expressed his pleasure at the candidates elected as well as with the results of the entire Seminar, urging the youth to continue with their hard work and make the Youth Movement a success. The delegates continued to socialise until, one by one, they all had to return to their home cities, overwhelmingly satisfied with their experience at the Seminar but saddened at having to depart from their "new family." Details were exchanged and, thanks to the internet, that family can continue to communicate and exist. More importantly, the work of the Seminar does not have to end with the physical separation of its delegates, who continue to be united both spiritually and technologically.

Prepared by Reader Ilija Bilic and Janko Nikolic

President and Vice-President of the Serbian Orthodox Diocesan Youth Movement for Australia and New Zealand


The Church issuing awards and recognitions of excellence to members of the community, in order to make them feel that they are appreciated - drawing professionals and intellectuals back to the community.