During the weekend of May 28–31, the Memorial Day weekend in the United States, St. Dumitru Monastery in Middletown, NY, was once again the meeting place of young people from the Northeast region. This ROYA retreat, the first in-person such event in some time, was intended to be a simple gathering, rekindling the joy of being youthful together. We asked Robert Belibrov to share his thoughts after this retreat.
“There is something very refreshing and calming returning to a place where you can practice your faith openly. To be surrounded by others with similar profound feelings. Being able to share that is amazing. My experience goes far and beyond what can be described in a short essay; the interactions and memories made, as well as the lessons taught, have been inscribed within my brain. They were sealed in a special place in my heart. More than anything learned, or experienced, or taught, my greatest takeaways were the ideas pondered. New ideas I had never thought of before; alongside those ideas, came a newer appreciation for my faith and beliefs. I came to appreciate the sacrifice made by the Orthodox who carried the burden of discrimination for their faith. As I lay in my bed, the chanting and Church hymns echoing through my head, I thought about my place and strength. There is much to be skeptical of in this world, so it no longer surprises me that many people do not really believe in anything. What is the point? For many of us, the road is a difficult one. The path is always before us to follow, no matter how many times we fall.
I had a revelation that the Church and my faith would always be there to help me find my way back. Naturally, some days will be harder than others. But I must always try. We all are tempted with doubts. The light of the mind alone cannot burn away all darkness. When the walls come tumbling down, when you lose everything, you always have your love and faith. Love is what keeps me alive. My love. My family’s love. God’s love. I came to understand that we all go through periods of darkness. In a world filled with misery and uncertainty, it is a great comfort that in the end, there is light in the darkness. In such times, we must turn to the Lord, so that one day our family, friends, and parish may say, “You are a good neighbor to us. Thank you.” I thought about all this and more. It gave my faith a new meaning and helped me understand that suffering is the true mark of a Christian; it is a difficult journey fraught with effort. And the Lord knows there is much to be done.”