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Fellowship of St. John the Divine Retreat in Arizona - 04/15/2007

Oracle, Arizona

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We were brimming with excitement as we pulled into the Triangle Y Camp for the first OCF/Fellowship of St. John Divine retreat in Arizona, having navigated our way through treacherous dirt roads just north of Mt. Lemmon to get there.  We came from different places; most of us were from the University of Arizona,  but others were from ASU and California.  It was great to get a break from studies and work for a weekend of spiritual enlightenment and fellowship with fellow young Orthodox.  Father James Cole of St. Ignatius Mission in Mesa was our speaker for the weekend.  A few of us had the pleasure of eating with him at a backwoods Mexican food restaurant before arriving at the retreat. 

After unpacking, we met in the lodge for our first talk.  Father James is an amazing priest, both a blast to be with and also incredibly spiritual and inspiring.   He explained to us that God is head over heels in love with us.  Often we slip into thinking that God is simply something ethereal and unconcerned with our everyday lives.  Many of us were moved by his assertion that God loves us deeply, and is concerned about us.  Then he went on to explain how life can be a jungle, with traps and temptations everywhere.  It is important for us to find God despite this.  We prayed together, had Compline, and then got ready for the rest of the evening.  It was getting late but most of us stayed up chatting, eating, and playing the game Catchphrase.  Unfortunately, though, all things come to an end.  We all eventually went to bed.

Breakfast was served at 8 the next morning…8 'o clock in the morning! Robert Samo, incredibly, woke at 6 in the morning.  He was the only one.  A small group of us made it to breakfast around 8 and watched as one by one others struggled through the door.  Sam Johnson and Anthony Platis made a point of loud applause as each of them walked through the door.  We gaily finished eating breakfast and then headed back to the lodge for our morning prayers.  After this we settled down for another talk from Father James.  This time we talked about the importance of faith, of trusting fully in Christ.  He told us it's important to believe God, to know the scriptures and the liturgy.  However, he explained having faith requires one to take it a step further.  We have to be willing to take a leap of faith and trust him.  There was an excellent example he used, about the great Blondin who crossed the Niagara Falls on a tight rope over 22 times in his life.  He crossed it many ways, on a bike, with a chair, and even pushing a wheelbarrow.  Well, one day the great Blondin offered to take a member of the crowd across in the wheelbarrow.  As one can expect, they weren't jumping over themselves to volunteer, even though they believed he could do it.  It's apparent, Father James explained, that they believed he could, but didn't trust him with their own lives despite this. With God, it's important we take the leap of faith and "get in the wheelbarrow".

Later that afternoon we headed to the baseball diamond for a cutthroat game of Kick Ball.   The game started innocent enough, but soon became competitive.  The game ended unfortunately, with those of us on Father James' team losing by one!  We returned, cleaned up, and had lunch.  After lunch we had the opportunity to have one final talk from Father James, as he had to return home to serve vespers at his home parish.  He started by asserting that our future vocation isn't limited to merely what we will do for a living, but also how we will serve God throughout our lives.  In other words, we shouldn't view work as simply a way to make money, but an opportunity to show Christ's love to others.  We can do this not only by becoming priests and monks, but also financial consultants and carpenters.  The important thing is to use our natural talents to the fullest for God's glory. 

Father James left and we had a few hours for recreation.  We played basketball, beach volleyball, and many of use had improvised jam sessions with our guitars.  Following this, at around 5:30 we had reader's vespers together.  We were lucky to have Samuel Herron with us, who chanted so beautifully some of us had tears in our eyes.  We worshipped together.  After dinner we had another night of fun and games, which included limbo and snacks.  Another fantastic day came to an end.

Unfortunately some of us had to leave on Sunday due to other commitments, but many of us carpooled up to Mesa for Divine Liturgy at St. Ignatius.  The two hour trip there was eventful enough, as we had to deal with traffic from an accident, as well as local radio station concert in the desert.  We attended liturgy at St. Ignatius, ate, and headed for a Diamondbacks baseball game together.  We got to meet Father James' beautiful kids and wife as well.  Going to the stadium was an awesome idea, as we all celebrated and enjoyed the game. 

There we parted ways, heading back to our respective jobs and universities.  We all kept the weekend in our hearts as it was a truly enlightening experience for all.

By: Kai Kaapro

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