Editor’s note: For several years, the Lily Foundation has awarded 30 high school junior and seniors nationwide the opportunity to participate in a 10-day seminar at the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston. This year, Greta Kliewer, daughter of Duane and Ruth Kliewer and a Hillsboro High School senior this fall, was granted one of these awards. The following is excerpted from her first-person account she wrote of her experience in Boston, June 25 through July 5.
by Greta Kliewer
A mix of emotions flowed through my head as I walked down the streets of Cambridge, Mass.: fear, intimidation and a little excitement.
The mission for our group of four that morning was to locate a homeless person, strike up a conversation with them, and invite them to share breakfast with us.
As part of the CrossRoad vocational program, it was one of the many activities during the 10-day duration that would pull me out of my comfort zone and into a world where there was an obvious choice: listen to the teachings of the church and go on with a self-centered life, or take action and trust God to point me in the right direction.
I, as well as 29 other Orthodox teenagers from across the country, were living the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others, and if necessary, use words.”
One of my realizations about the time I spent in and around Boston is my lack of ability to describe in my own words what others say so well.
My friend Nina, one of the many I made during the program, reflected: “For a brief moment I saw heaven. I felt the love, I heard the truth. It seemed like paradise, living in a perfect world.”
And for 10 days, the campus of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary/Hellenic College in Brookline, Mass., was just that-paradise for 30 Orthodox Christian juniors and seniors searching for a deeper foundation in their faith before heading off to senior years in high school or starting college.
Thanks to a grant from the Lily Endowment, and the dedication of a hard-working team of staff, the 30 of us were able to experience the sights and culture of Boston free of all charges except our plane tickets. The program’s theme was vocation.
I admit, when I first heard about the program in March, I expected a summer-camp atmosphere, where lessons in life were sprinkled in among lots of fun activities.
When I arrived, however, my outlook changed dramatically. The program took place on the campus of Hellenic College, so we were able to take advantage of living in the dorms, eating in the cafeteria, and attending services at the chapel every morning and evening when we weren’t visiting a church off campus.
The rules were strict, too. We weren’t allowed to use CD players or cell phones, or even to e-mail family at home.
After a while, however, the silence we found ourselves in was nice-a quiet atmosphere in which we could meditate and focus on the things we were about to learn.
The program took place in three stages. The first, “Wrestling with Vocation,” took place the day after we arrived and involved getting acquainted with other participants and doing activities with our “Signature Strengths”-traits we found about ourselves through a Gallup poll called StrengthsQuest.
In this stage we got to know each other, got to know ourselves and defined what “vocation” meant to us, as well as giving definitions for our personal strengths (qualities such as responsibility, harmony, communication, etc.)
The second stage, which took up most of the program, was called “Vocation and Christ.” During this stage, we participated in a wide variety of activities and discussions, including hands-on activities that many Orthodox teens don’t often get a chance to do.
For example, we had the chance to paint icons-pictures of saints, apostles and scenes from the Bible used as a kind of prayer aid in the Orthodox church-and watch George Portis, an iconographer from Greece, demonstrate this beautiful art form to us.
We also had the opportunity to learn Byzantine chanting techniques, a style of music heard at every Orthodox service.
Two professors at the college offered classes which we took part in each morning. Father Eugen J. Pentiuc taught a class on metaphors in the Bible, particularly Genesis.
Our second class was taught by Demetrios Katos and revolved around theology-what it is, how we do it, and its importance-using examples from the Orthodox liturgy.
After each of these classes, we would break into discussion groups and talk about what we had learned, pick out things we didn’t understand and come up with a question to ask the professors the next day.
Through these classes, we began to get a better understanding of our faith and come to terms with things we didn’t understand about it. It was during this stage that I realized the program wasn’t about careers, something I’d assumed beforehand when I heard the focus was on vocation.
To me, the second stage of the program was about opening our eyes to the tools that are available to keep us strong in our faith through high school, college and beyond.
The third stage was the hardest for many of us. Called “Vocation and the Neighbor,” it took the strengths we had learned about in the first stage and the foundation of our faith that we had come to recognize in the second stage and put them into action.
We did service projects, including the “Breakfast Search,” where we went into the streets of Cambridge and shared our time and love with homeless people on the streets-without saying a word about what religion we were, or even that we were doing this as part of a program.
Although I was really intimidated about walking up to someone I had never met and asking them to have breakfast with us, the Breakfast Search proved to be one of the most eye-opening experiences of the program for me.
My group sat down with an older African-American man named Bruce who was one the kindest and most encouraging people I’ve ever met. One of the aspects of this activity was to break the stereotype that homeless people are just dirty, sometimes lazy people who can’t get themselves off the street because they have no motivation.
Bruce couldn’t have been more the opposite of that stereotype. He told us all about his life: his service in Vietnam, the death of his daughter as a teenager, the horrors he witnesses on the streets where he lives.
Through all that, his optimistic attitude came through when he told us: “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life, but mostly ups.”
Coming from someone who is passed by so many careless people on the streets every day, that was truly inspiring and makes me realize the everyday comforts like food and shelter that I often take for granted.
We also took a tour of Boston with Matthew, a man who was once homeless. He showed us the park benches and subway stations where he slept, the buildings he wandered around in to keep warm in the winter.
He also showed us the phone booth where one of his homeless friends froze to death, facing the doors of a church inscribed with the verse, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).
The church’s doors were locked.
This caused our group to realize it is our responsibility to care for everyone and show God’s love through service.
Over the 10 days of the program, we not only built a firm foundation in our faith, but came together as friends, too. The kids who were present came from many different cities and towns: Daytona Beach, Houston and Detroit, just to name a few.
At the beginning of the week we didn’t know each other well, and spent a lot of our time introducing ourselves and teasing each other about our funny accents.
I never expected the true community that formed over such a short amount of time. So it was a tearful day when we met for the last time to discuss our feelings about the program.
Yes, during the course of the program we were teenagers. We cheered for the Red Sox at a game-or didn’t, depending on our loyalties-sang silly songs and buried each other up to the neck in sand at the beach.
But we came to a much deeper realization of who we are, not only as Christians but as humanity.