Parish Day Retreat – a Report
On the 25th of November, the Parish of St. George’s Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in London gathered for an all-day spiritual retreat at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in Kensington. More than 70 members of all ages, joined by beloved guests from St. Botolph’s Antiochian Parish in London and the Holy Trinity Missionary in Brighton, came together to share the joy of that blessed day.
The retreat theme was “Togetherness: Building a Strong Orthodox Community and Spiritual Life”. The retreat pursued two main goals. The first goal was to allow participants to discuss, understand and experience what a Christian community is and its role in true life in Christ. The second goal was to discuss practical ways how our existing parish communities can be nurtured and fostered further so that we could move closer to the calling proclaimed in the Divine Liturgy: “Let us love one another, that with one accord we may confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Trinity, one in essence and undivided”. With those goals in mind, the program of the event was designed around three key activities:
- Firstly, throughout the day, there were opportunities for spiritual fellowship in communal prayers.
- Secondly, short 10-minute talks were offered by our Metropolitan, His Eminence Silouan, and other clergy on a few specific aspects of communal life in Christ, with time reserved for questions from the audience.
- Finally, sufficient time was allocated for structured small group discussion and reflection on the points raised in the talks and any other aspects of the retreat’s theme. Beyond those key elements, being in one place and sharing the food together, allowed plenty of opportunities for spontaneous one-on-one and group conversations between the participants.
The schedule began early morning with an abbreviated readers version of the Daily Orthros service. It was followed by a delightful breakfast prepared with love by the The Myrrh-Bearing Women group of our parish.
Afterwards, attendees divided into small groups, each of which had a pre-assigned group leader tasked with facilitating the conversation and discussed ways of helping foster the parish communities. It is worth mentioning that discussion groups included not only adults. In our experience, children aged ten and above showed considerable interest in discussion, and a group for 10-18 year olds was formed. Their insights, shared with all participants, were interesting and inspiring. In the meantime, little children enjoyed arts and crafts and some fun games.
The breakout groups then reconvened to listen to the first panel on “Loving your neighbour” – Care in the Orthodox Church: family, parish & Archdiocese, led by HE Sayednah Silouan along with Fr Boniface and Fr Dcn Dmitry. The three panellists highlighted three different levels of care – care towards the family, the Church, and our neighbours – and touched upon practical actions which each of us can take to fulfil our Lord’s commandment to love and care for one another. Short talks were followed by a 30-minute Q&A session with the audience. By the end of the first panel, it was time for a very tasty lunch. Attendees enjoyed the food and spent more time getting to know each other and discussing the talks.
Panel 1 – “Loving your neighbour” – Care in the Orthodox Church
A second panel took place after lunch. Titled Orthodox Prayer: Prayer is an essential part of spiritual life in Christ, it was led by HE Sayednah Silouan along with Fr Samir and Fr Boniface. The three panellists talked about prayer as a means of communication with Christ and answered attendees’ questions on practical methods to improve their prayer life.
The second panel was also followed by some free time, which the participants were welcomed to spend as they preferred. Some stayed at the retreat venue to continue conversations, some used the opportunity to ask for spiritual advice from Sayednah and priests, and others preferred to go for a walk and reflect quietly on the day’s experience. Those who were keen joined our children on a walk to Hyde Park, where we played football, tug of war, frisbees and other fun games.
Afterwards, it was time for the final panel, The Orthodox Life: Finding Joy and Thanksgiving in Suffering, led by HE Sayednah Silouan along with Fr Boniface and Fr Dcn Dmitry. They spoke about how we, as faithful of Christ, understand suffering and find joy in it. The panellists encouraged the attendees to stand by each other in times of hardship and seek help from the Church when they needed it. As with the previous two panels, the final one included a Q&A session.
The third panel was followed by the Readers Vespers, dinner and open discussion on the next retreat that will take place during the summer. The day concluded with the Small Compline, followed by a few words from our Father in Christ, HE Sayednah Silouan, about how we were able to experience life as a community, praying, having discussions, sharing food, and having some fun together with one another.
We thank HE Sayednah Silouan for spending the whole day with our parish, every person who helped to organise the event, all the panellists for their insights, volunteers who led discussion groups and kept our little participants entertained throughout the day. A special thanksgiving goes to our wonderful ladies, who prepared and brought delicious homemade food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We also thank the staff of the Millenium Gloucester Hotel in Kensington. Another special thanksgiving goes to the Antiochian Orthodox Society of Britain – the charity organisation behind our parish (Registered number 801540) – who made this retreat possible through generous financial and organisational support. Last but not least, a thank you goes to every retreat participant for a beautiful and inspiring fellowship. We look forward to seeing you all at the upcoming retreat during the summer of 2024.