Over Labor Day weekend and again for the Youth Congress in October, we had the blessing of participating in two ROYA retreats at St. Dumitru Monastery in Middletown, NY. In contrast to many other weekends spent at the monastery, our gatherings were enriched by the presence of father deacon Sorin Mihalache as part of his North American tour.
At the September retreat, after the Divine Liturgy and breakfast, we got started straightaway with the intensive 9‑hour workshop. It began with small groups of two in which we introduced ourselves, shared our future plans, an area in which we currently struggle to apply our willpower, and our expectations for this workshop. Subsequently, we reconvened, and each person presented the thoughts of their partner to the group. The workshop was punctuated throughout by these small interactions, causing the time to pass without us even realizing it. This initial activity was a highlight because it instantly created a more intimate atmosphere among the group of 20 that we were about to spend the next few hours with. The most impactful conclusions for us were the different ways in which self-control can be cultivated. Most simply, it can be developed by being more attentive to daily tasks or relationships with others. Further improvement of self-control can be achieved by actively seeking out or accepting opportunities for discomfort. For example, this could be by intermittent fasting, postponing the glass of water that you desire, standing upright in church instead of slumping over or sitting, or taking cold showers.
Another major component of expanding self-control is by resting mindfully. This discussion was particularly interesting because we split up into groups and created a list of activities that we would choose for relaxation given each of the following three periods of time: 10 minutes, 2 hours, and 3 days. When we rejoined the group and shared our answers, the responses included watching movies, listening to music, or spending time on our phones. To our surprise, Dn. Sorin began to gradually refute each one of these answers, drawing our attention to the difference between what we enjoy and what actually relaxes us, and the biological process behind this difference. For example, certain stimuli such as phone usage trigger the sympathetic nervous system and prevent true rest, while others, such as reading, do not. Deep and true rest comes from silence, relaxing, reflecting, participating in outdoor activities, and sleeping immediately when you feel tired. Too many roles, responsibilities, and desires can lead to a weakened ability to control ourselves. We felt a moment of beautiful fulfillment and appreciation when the consensus for each group that shared what they would do with 3 free days was to retreat to a monastery. In the busyness of our lives, the place that we can all settle down and feel most rooted and rested are these spiritual havens of prayer and routine that bring us face to face with Christ and our true selves.
At the Congress in October, Dn. Sorin shared stories from his experience as both a former ASCOR-Iași member and president, in hopes of making it evident that we must do something to help today’s youth. He told us, “Inside each of your hearts, there should be a fire, an ardent desire to bring youth back to the faith, because if you don’t, no one else will.” Likewise, he told us that the goal is not only to become a member of ROYA to participate in the gatherings and activities, but to become a member of the Church. Even though as youth we deal with pressure from school and work, we have to remember that united in prayers and friends, we are stronger than anything else.
He emphasized that through becoming more involved in the administrative work of ROYA, we not only help others approach the Church, but we will also notice personal growth within ourselves. The skills we gain can be transferred to how we interact with our current and future families, how we manage conflict, how to prioritize and time manage, etc. As an added plus, the people we meet through ROYA become lifelong friends. Having each been members of ROYA for over 10 years, we can attest that this is true for us today.
May the Most-Holy Virgin Mary, Saint Catherine, and all the saints, and the most Holy Virgin Mary intercede for us so that we may bear good fruit in the coming events and years to come!
Danielle Radu and Laura Ionescu