Ravanica Children Explore Forgiveness and Repentance in their Lives
Nestled in the woods in upper Michigan, a 1000 acre camp grounds became the setting of a March 27-29, 2015 weekend retreat for children of St. Lazarus – Ravanica Church School of Detroit, along with a few from St. Stevan Dechanski Church of Warren. they ranged in age from 5 to 14. The figures say it all – 61 children registered along with 43 parents, and 3 priests – V. Rev. Stavrophor Zivan Urosev of Ravanica, Rev. Dragan Micanovic of Warren, and Diocesan Education Director, V. Rev. Arch. Thomas Kazich, and 2 seminarians, Miroslav Miljevic and Nebojsa Varagic from the School of Theology. Coordinator was Dr. Ruza Batanjski.
Retreating from the world may seem a difficult task today for some parents. All sorts of excuses from money to time to over scheduled lives are given. But Ravanica decided to break that mold. Picking up on the theme of Lent, organizers planned this retreat from a busy world and lives in order to reconnect with God. A large group of parents embraced it and showed their support by making the 2 l/2 hour drive from Detroit.
Friday night was the first night and participants were in for another shock! Once you came through the gates, you entered a no electronic zone – no cellphones, no hand-held games, no ipads. As one of the children said, “You just get away from everything.” And one of the spellbound adults remarked, “You are kind of in a bubble, and that feeling of nature is great.” The first evening went quickly – with arrival, meals, cabin assignments, games, prayer and lights out. Yet cabins were filled even then with laughter and excitement of what was to come.
Saturday morning began early with morning prayer and breakfast and sport activities. Before lunch, Fr. Tom arrived for the first class. During Great Lent we hear the church telling us through the services that “the Light of Christ enlightens all.” Fr. Tom explained the meaning of this light and how we use light in our church. As a hands-on activity, children made candles in the old dip in wax method. Lunch followed.
With the arrival of Fr. Zivan and Fr. Dragan, a second class was taught by Fr. Zivan on the topic of forgiveness – how God forgives us when we forgive others, which was followed by Fr. Tom who described the sins we commit against God, others and ourselves. A variety of examples came up such as bullying, gossiping, internet/phone abuse, respect. Fr. Dragan during this time discussed with adults a similar theme. More outside sports were enjoyed by the children along with just nature. walks. Group pictures were taken. One parent said, “This is beyond expectations,” as she walked with a group of children back to the dining hall.
One section of the Dining Hall was transformed into a chapel, where Vespers were served by Fr. Tom. Children did the responses and readings themselves, and many were amazed how quickly they picked it all up. With three priests, children were then split up for confessions. Each and every child confessed something, which they felt sorry about. Whatever it was and whatever they wanted to tell God, it was freely given and not coerced. Many would be surprised how much children and teens want and need to do this. if given a chance.
Dinner was next. One word about the meals. The non Orthodox staff prepared wonderful lenten meals that were tasty too! Children then ty-dyied shirts in beautiful colors with the quote “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) . Afterwards children enjoyed inside sports in a well equipped gym, while Fr. Tom spoke to the parents about “Putting God first in our family life.” He cautioned parents not to rush children through life too quickly. “You don’t want children to miss childhood, it’s there for a reason.” He gave many examples how our society and culture invade and control the home in making decisions for our children’s nurturing. Afterwards a spirited discussion took place. One mother said “this is fine, but what do we do when on Facebook other parents speak in glowing terms about their children’s skills and intellect. We need to prepare our children to compete in the future with these “geniuses” out there, in particular the Chinese and Asian children that are so smart.”
Fr. Dragan rightly added, “But you can’t believe everything you read and see on Facebook. No parent is going to share the weaknesses of their children, only their successes.” We need to give our children a well-rounded raising, that includes their faith, church, and character. Another father later shared that he had an executive position in a company that employed both Chinese and Indian workers. He said, “Yes, in my daily contact, I find many of them to be extremely smart but the one thing they lack are social skills. They don’t know how to get long with others. They don’t know how to lead.”
I guess, that’s where we can offer our children the opportunity not just to be intellectually “brilliant”, but also to be “good”, of “sound character, “guileless”, growing in wisdom and God’s grace.” A recent tennis champion’s father said of his son, “He has a God-given gift to be able to play the game like that. But we’re more proud of him for the kind of person he is – the way he handles himself and treats everybody.” There is much to be said about all this, and parents were on the cutting edge of it.
The evening was capped off by a dodge ball game with parents, children, and one priest. One of the spectators noticed one father, “I’ve never seen him play with his son. And now look how he enjoys it! Both of them!”
The next day, Sunday, everything came to a climax when Fr. Zivan and Fr. Dragan concelebrated the Divine Liturgy at which all the children responded with the seminarians and received Holy Communion. A closing session was held followed by lunch and then sweet goodbyes to everyone.
When we look at this experience, what comes through? The bonding and the impact these three intense days had on children and parents alike! Children of course enjoyed all the organized classes and activities and soaked it up like sponges. Parents were amazed what could be done. Perhaps some of them didn’t spend as much time with spouses and family, and here they were experiencing time to come closer to their family, to understand each other better. Seminarians, who worked well with the children, said that seeing kids with their parents was the most important picture they carried away.
Appreciation is extended to all – clergy, parents, and staff, for their efforts and contributions to a successful retreat. Special gratitude goes to (Dr.) Ruza (Batanjski) who was the heroine of the whole project. Not only did she put it together, but her enthusiasm was “contagious”. To be a mother and wife, hold down a medical practice, coordinate the Church School at Ravanica, and then take on this Retreat – it’s a great sacrifice but at the same time an act of faith. How many more professionals are out there. We need your help in our church school communities.
Everyone wanted to know when this would be done again. Perhaps next year. inviting more churches to participate. But Fr. Zivan related an incident that sheds light. “Children were always coming up to me to talk about the retreat later. Until finally, one little girl asked, “Fr. Zivan, why can’t we go back next weekend?” It looks like it’s never too soon.
Fr. Tom Kazich