Orthodox Youth in Argentina - Metropolitan Silouan
July 18, 2012 Length: 50:03Metropolitan Silouan shepherds the Orthodox Church in Argentina. He was born in Lebanon in 1967 and holds an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Beirut’s University of St. Joseph and a master’s degree in Orthodox theology from the University of Thessalonika.
Metropolitan Silouan: Your Eminence, I am very glad to be with you today. I am glad for the opportunity I have been given last year to be at the convention and to receive all your love for the few words I could speak last year. I am most blessed today to be with Your Eminence, with all Your Graces, and all the priests of this Archdiocese.
It is a blessing for me and my church to be present here only for one thing: to be in communion, not only in the holy chalice in this holy communion, but also to share with you who we are, because you don’t know us, and I feel it is my duty to let you know who we are. Metropolitan Philip asked me to speak about the youth in my church. I will do this presentation. And he asked me, too, to have some time for your questions, so I will divide in half my presentation. The one that you will see on the screen, and the other half will be yours so you can ask the question you feel you need to ask.
I have a lot of words in my heart to say. I will speak about people that I love, and I am speaking to people that I am coming to love, to you. I should continue what Metropolitan Philip started to say about many of you and your parishioners who came to Orthodoxy, to this church. This year I discovered something that I transmitted to His Eminence, and to some of you, some of the priests, I am glad for three reasons.
The first one, that you encounter the truth that we chant at the end of the Liturgy: “We have encountered the true Faith.” Fr. John yesterday explained to me what he and many of you have found: the true grace of God. I feel this is important, but what is more important to me is to notice that your family, your children, are at church, not only at church, but they have adopted what for you what was your life; it is now their life, and not only this, that they are eager to serve the Church as their own personal option. For me, this is a second motive to be glad for you and to share it with you. The third one is to see what is happening up this hill, this transfiguration of the youth that come here and they are eager to learn about their faith and to be a real community, a real community of Christians. For me, this is a very beautiful testimony that I will bring to me there. I will share with you mine in Argentina; you will see it now.
I have seen with my own eyes how these young people are serving the Church, and this I will cherish very much. I am glad for you, for your present and your future, because you are in a good path, in a good way. I pray that you can fulfill your ministry. After the words I have heard on Monday evening, what you have been saying about the youth, about your own struggle in your own parishes, in your own realities, words for me that are very precious, I don’t know what I can tell you [except] to share some of our experience in Argentina, and hopefully it will be of some utility for some of you. I hope it will not be a boring presentation, but I feel as brothers you are eager to see what’s happening in this far land.
We will start with this presentation. Welcome to Argentina! You see the map, and this is the logo of our youth: “Unión de la Juventud Ortodoxa Argentina.” La juventud Ortodoxa Argentina tiene... [laughter] The youth in Argentina has a great story, and a great history that I don’t know. I came to know it by the day of my election. They have told me that they went to the great synod of 1993; they were present in Balamand at that time, and they spoke about the youth in Argentina.
This is the other logo of our Christian education, the catechism in our parishes, where our youth are working now. I have asked them to work in catechism because we need people in our Sunday school. This is one of the pictures of general meetings of EN.Mí.-C.O., which is a national encounter of instructors of Sunday schools. This is the first meeting that we had done. They were so serious that I asked [it] to be done each year, not every two years. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, we had more than 65 present in these national, archdiocesan meetings. They learn their faith through these meetings, and they teach, too.
We are trying with Balamand next year to make a teaching program of our general program, S.O.F.I.A., that we have on the internet, with all the Archdiocese of South America, so that they are able to be instructed in their faith and be better instructors. We are trying to have some material for Sunday school that the priest, along with the instructors, are preparing.
We have made some utilities. This is a puzzle about St. George for the children in Sunday school. The Bible you have in English was translated by the Greek Archdiocese in Spanish. “Los niños lean la Biblia—the kids read the Bible.”
All our youth meet on a yearly basis. We go to many parishes. In 2008, in Salta, in the north of Argentina, this is one of the meetings; 2009 in the same parish, in Salta. We divide them in two groups: one of teenagers and the other one of young adults. We are not so many, but they are eager to work in the Church. This was in Córdoba, the second city of Argentina: teens and young adults. This was in Tucumán last year. In this national encounter, two brothers from Kansas were present there, the Chipi brothers, and they were well-welcomed there. Their presence had a great influence on all the youth, because they behaved excellently with them. This was this year in Santiago del Estero. These are the young adults, and these are the teens.
I have written what happened in each encounter and made these as letters to our young people. I don’t have time to let you know what is the transformation that is taking place in them, but we have this problem that you have, that their energy will last one month, two months, three months, and later on, we should have something done again, but we cannot. We have another problem with the youth, that not all our priests are able to accompany them. They are like you: They have a lot of services; they go to see ill people. We have one priest in one state, so it is a reality beyond our forces, but still they are present at church, and I have a lot of hope for them.
They started as instructors in Sunday schools; I want to form choirs now. We have the book of the Liturgy, a defined text of the Divine Liturgy, and I am seeking what kind of music we can do with them that people can chant, because the people in our parishes chant with the choir. We have small choirs, so this is the second step that I want the youth to do.
You will see the youth in each parish. This is Argentina. Argentina is a long country. It’s like Europe: from north to south, this is the farthest point of the earth. Salta: from Buenos Aires you need twenty hours by car to get there. I go by plane; it is two hours to get there. We have two parishes in this state. There are more than 200 people in Sunday school.
Some of their activities: they make some—I don’t know in English—a one-day picnic or something like that. They distribute vestments to poor people, and they form the choir of the church. These young people are not the choir of the church, three or four of them. It is a good publicity! Not all of them are the choir, three, four of them. And one of them will go this year, hopefully, to Balamand as a seminarian.
We have a problem that after Sunday school, we don’t have a continuous Sunday school from the first grade till college. We have a sacramental Sunday school, which means that the fourth and the fifth grades who come to church have their Sunday school time. We don’t have places. We don’t have instructors. We don’t have material for the other grades.
In this parish in Salta, the priest cannot cope with the teens. He thought maybe and he spoke with me about creating for this period of time in their life to be as scout-boys and scout-girls. We are evaluating this experience in church. We need the boy-scout for two or three years. We don’t know yet what is the impact in the life of the church. They are behaving well. Some of the mothers are participating to help us.
This province is Tucumán. Tucumán is the smallest state in Argentina. It is twice the superficies of Lebanon. It is our place where most of the clergy came in Argentina. We have three churches there with one priest. It is sixteen hours by car from Buenos Aires. Some of the responsible of the Sunday schools in this parish, they have a small mission. I don’t like to speak about a mission; it is an established parish without a priest. They give food to poor children of this area, for about one hundred poor children that come there. Many of them receive some instruction at Sunday school.
The other province is Córdoba. It is eight hours from Buenos Aires. We have a school there with 700 children. We have four schools and one kindergarten in Argentina, belonging to the church. The priest who serves there is 74 years old. There is one young priest who came from Lebanon two years ago to help him. They make picnics out with the young of the college, but also with the people of Sunday school. This is a photo with the young there. Some camp, the priest was Fr. Antonios. This is when we greeted Fr. Antonios two years ago when he came from Lebanon to Córdoba.
We will go now to the province of Buenos Aires. We have the cathedral in the capital, and in the province of Buenos Aires we have three parishes. In this parish, we had a lot of problems, but, God willing, it will be the best parish in Argentina. We have a priest who is 65 years old. He and his khouria are making a wonderful work. We have a school with—I don’t know—more than 700 students. In catechism, we have 120 children in Sunday school.
This is a real mission there. It is an established parish since more than 75 years, but the behavior of the parish now, they are coming to Orthodoxy better than before. They are eager to know about our faith. It is the only parish where all the parishioners are eager to listen about Orthodoxy. Some pictures of the work done in the parish.
The other one is Pergamino. Pergamino is in the province of Buenos Aires. The priest died three years ago. He died at the age of more than 80 years. The parish is still existing by the effort of one couple, Marcelo and Alicia, who are instructors in Sunday school. These are people at Sunday school; they have 100 people. I don’t know how people have faith to work without a priest, and to be alone without any help, but they are eager to do this work. This is a procession on the day of St. George.
The province of Mendoza, very well-known for its wine, like California here. Ten hours from Buenos Aires. There is one priest who is 76 years old. They are surprising the young there. There are two girls, 15 and 16 years old, two sisters. Three years ago, they wrote all the material for the classes of Sunday school for the fourth and fifth grade. They made it by themselves during summertime, and they presented it to me.
In Argentina there is something beautiful that Sunday school makes in Nativity. They make a presentation about the Nativity of the Lord, and here in Mendoza, they are vested like angels, like Mary, like the Magi.
They made the oak amps [17:50]. The priest does not know how to behave with these young people. They are asking for help, but we try to give them some remote help. They are collecting vestments and comida, food for poor people.
We go to Santiago del Estero. Santiago del Estero has a superficy of Syria. 50, 60 years ago, all the deputies of this state were speaking Arabic during their sessions. Now very few are speaking Arabic. We have one priest, we have two churches there. One is the oldest on the continent. Twelve hours from Buenos Aires. This is a picture of one of the activities of their Sunday school. They have 250 children. One of their camps. The Liturgy.
We go to the province of Santa Fe, not Santa Fe of Mexico or New Mexico. We have one school and we have five parishes, with one priest attending them. The school has 600 students. Youth there are working. There are very few youth working in this parish, but they are missionaries like their priest. They accompany him six hours in the car to celebrate the Liturgy in the parishes of this province. There are those who are in charge of the choir. This is the church of St. George in Rosario, where next year we will be having our annual youth retreat. This is Fr. Alejandro, and behind him, three, four youths who accompany him in his travels. Preparing some food for an activity. This is a church and some of the Sunday school.
We go to the cathedral in Buenos Aires. In Buenos Aires we are very few. I am with two other priests and one deacon who last Sunday was ordained as a priest. We work for all Argentina. We make everything for Argentina. Here is a photo when we make a DVD about the Holy Week in the Orthodox Church. Some of them helped us making this DVD.
This is our Sunday school at the cathedral. This is the saloon of the cathedral. This is a choir. It is not the choir of the cathedral; it is the choir that was formed from all the states at the ordination last Sunday—from Santiago, from Salta, from Tucumán, from Buenos Aires. Some of them are Americans who are living now there, like this boy with the lance in the middle. They collect vestments to give to poor people.
This is in the ordination of Padre Gabriel. I don’t know, I can’t see Fr. Michael. Fr. Michael Corbin from Ohio went there because he was and is a friend of Fr. Gabriel. He can tell you what he saw there. He is a witness. For this ordination, 190 people came from all Argentina to attend this ordination. Half of them were the youth. They don’t have money, but they are eager to serve the Church and to care to come to this ordination. We have ordinations one each ten years. This is my first ordination, but there is a lot of hope. My work here is to transmit to you and to share with you this hope.
We have courses on the internet for our youth and for all our parishioners. This is what we had done in the Antiochian Archdiocese of Southern America: S.O.F.I.A., Seminario Ortodoxo de Formación para IberoAmérica. We have taught eight courses during the four last years: iconography, Liturgy, Holy Fathers, Orthodox spirituality, lives of the saints, Byzantine music. Three courses of Byzantine music, not occidental music, of Byzantine music. Many of the youth learn Byzantine music.
We have another course that the University of Balamand is doing: Cursos Bíblicos del Balamand. It is the Holy Scripture that is done twice a year. Twelve months is each course. It is the sixth year, and we are those who give these lessons. This is a website done by one of our youth. It was lately updated. You can follow us, get attuned to our activities and our notices. You will see your photos in our website. I was taking note of everything I was hearing and listening to, to be able to transmit and share it with our parishioners and our priests there. I hope I can be faithful to what I have seen.
We have made some publications, mainly to teach our youth the basic things. A book of prayer, of daily prayer: El Consuelo Espiritual. The Book of the Divine Liturgy that we have edited in September last year, and this DVD of the Holy Week. We have a Sunday bulletin, edited on a weekly basis, for all the Archdiocese, a good teaching material for all the youth and parishioners. We have in this bulletin many things translated from Greek, from French, from English, material like the writings of St. John Maximovitch. They know him. About Mother Gabriela, The Ascetic of Love. Those books that you know. Some of Fr. Thomas Hopko, about the Liturgy. A lot of material is being translated and edited in this bulletin.
How can we help the youth? We have made something very small, like you have the Order of St. Ignatius. We have called it Manos en el Arado, what St. Luke says in his Gospel: our hands on the plough. And some people accepted to make a monthly contribution, debiting their accounts, and it is a good way to finance these meetings, this work, this editing, and people who are not able to, attend this way.
These are the priests. They are not twelve; they are eleven priests and one deacon. This is last year at our convention. We celebrated together. There is one priest missing. These are some of the women in our Archdiocese that help us. We don’t have an order for them. We call them “En Amor—In Love.” We had last year a national meeting for them. Now, in August, we will have the second one, and it will be preceded by the meeting of the khourias for the first time in Argentina.
This is our last convention last year in Mendoza in September. Good people from all the parishes. I hope that someday we can do the same as you do, gather all the families to come to the convention, but distances are too big and the costs are too great so I don’t know if we can afford doing it, but we work in the hope of it.
And this is a great thank-you for you. [applause]
I leave the time because it’s eleven, so that you can ask questions. I don’t want to speak more. I have a lot to say, but I give you the opportunity if you have any questions.
Q1: How many parishes do you have in Argentina?
Metr. Silouan: We have nineteen churches in eight states. Two of them are closed since 40 and 60 years ago. I have said that we have twelve: eleven priests and one deacon to serve them. Each one lives in his own state. They suffer of loneliness. Not all of them have studied theology. Many of them, like today Christopher who was made subdeacon, they studied some courses, either at the Catholic university or some Protestant seminary, and read some of the books available in Spanish—we don’t have a lot—and they started to work like this.
Two years ago in February 2010, I went with half of them to Syria and Lebanon, and we had some courses in Balamand, the faculty of theology, and they came to know His Beatitude, their Eminences, the parishes, institutions, the archbishops there, to come to know whom they are serving. They love Antioch. They didn’t know it, but they loved it from afar, but when they came to know it, they loved it more. But when they came back, for six months they didn’t speak with me. I didn’t know why, but I discovered the reason later. They said we should have come there twenty years ago, not now. We have seen something very beautiful, and we are down below. They felt that they are not good priests, that they are not serving as they do. They do not have the knowledge that they need to have. But when I discovered it, I gave them some pills they won’t have a headache.
2: It’s not your fault.
Metr. Silouan: I am glad with these priests. We are what we are, and we are glad to share what we have, and we are trying to improve our service. It is not the best, but not the least.
Q3: How do the priests survive financially?
Metr. Silouan: Some of them have to work. The others are full-time priests. By the grace of God. Two of them are living well, but the others not: they have to struggle for everything. They have to struggle for everything. They cannot have their own car. It is very expensive for them. But we are trying to make something that you will do this night, about retirement and social security. We are trying to provide them with these things. I have made so in our cathedral, and we will continue doing it so that the priests will not have to think about material things but to spread the word of God.
Q4: If you have any questions, please come to the microphone so people can hear you. But I have a question first: Sayidna, it sounds like you still need especially laypeople educated in our theology to teach until you can get the priesthood at the point where you want it. Am I right? It’s the ministry of the laity if ever we’ve seen it.
Metr. Silouan: We need a lot. We lack of resources: of priests, of laity people, of material, of everything. We are trying this internet program, S.O.F.I.A., that we are converting to the module we are trying to have next year with Balamand is an attempt to instruct people about our faith and enable them to be better servants in our church. There are some laity who are the right hand of the priest, but they are good faithful, but we need people who know their faith. I am counting on youth and on some women to do so, but it is a long process before getting there. We should have patience.
You have seen a lot of annual conferences, about catechism, about youth, about women, about men. This year we had for men of parish councils, for the first time in history there, and they were surprising. Every time we do something, people are surprising. I cannot tell, not the emotions, but the transformations that are occurring. They are similar to what you know upon this hill. You will understand me better.
Q5: Sayidna, I have two questions. The first one: you had mentioned many times that we have schools. Do these schools have an income and the Archdiocese make any use of this income for the clergy or for the church? And the second question is: what is the nature of the Orthodox there? Are they all from Arabic origin or do you have some native converts?
Metr. Silouan: We are the unique Archdiocese in southern America to have such colleges. They were created so that all the Orthodox people from Syrian and Lebanese origin will get their children educated there, but they prefer to send them to better schools: to the Roman Catholic schools. They are not nowadays a place for evangelism and mission. We are not prepared to do so. This is the first part. The second part, the financial part, we cannot have the priests on the income of these schools for many reasons, but I cannot detail them now.
I am trying to work during the four past years with the catechism Sunday school in order to prepare young people to prepare material that will be the base for what the catechism might be in our schools. We don’t have time, we don’t have people, so I need to wait a little more so that our schools may be more Orthodox than they are now. People who work at our schools are not Orthodox. This is another problem for us. It is not our community who serves there, so I need to prepare instructors before entering [that]. We are trying to audit somehow these schools and to work on an educational project for these schools. There are people who are helping me who are professionals, but it is taking time. Time there is not like in Syria and Lebanon or in the United States. What you make in one week there needs two months, three months, four months. I should be patient.
The other question is: our people, the Syrian Orthodox descendants have left their churches there. Few of them have stayed. The immigration has now about 150 years in Argentina since the time of the massacre in Damascus in 1860. After that massacre, many of them came to Argentina. We have lost the first generation. They were more Orthodox than [those] who live now, because they were waiting for the priests to come once a year to celebrate Pascha, the Resurrection, to make baptisms.
But after 40, 50 years, they became Catholic, because they have the church nearby their home. Their children are being educated in Roman Catholic colleges. It is better for them not to be Orthodox, because the church will ask them money to sustain herself. It is better to go there, because they will have a more social connection with people, with the high society, I don’t know. It is this inferiority complex that they felt at the very beginning that made them rapidly into great Argentinian society. They are not too eager to know about their faith.
One or two priests talked on Monday evening about how to live an Orthodox way of life. I feel that we don’t live an Orthodox way of life. We are trying to explain it, to teach about it, to live it concretely with people. I myself, the priests, and those who are at Sunday school, these people who are present, the men, we are trying. The actual energy we have in our church are those I may say converted. We don’t have a massive conversion. There are people who come in personal form to the Church for some reasons. I will not explain them now; we have no time for that. But they are helping us, living, in catechism, in attending our church, in helping the priest. These are the ministry of the laity in our church.
Those of Arabic descendancy are more skillful in administration, organization, and fundraising, and they are helping us in the parish councils, but they don’t have idea about the mission of the Church. It is a thing that we are living with, little by little, so they might be conscious about the changes in our church. We cannot continue thinking like our grandfathers 60 years ago, what the Church is, what the priest is, what his role is about. Now our circumstances have changed, and we need to change, too, in order to be able to have a good present and a better future. They are listening. Some of them are cooperating. I hope things will be better in the future.
Q6: Fr. George asked me to ask you: Have the IOCC helped there in your church? And the other question: Is there any other ethnic Orthodox churches, like Greek or Russian?
Metr. Silouan: We don’t have any help from outside Argentina. The only exception is His Beatitude, when I went with the priests and the other case is Metropolitan Philip last year and this year [who] is eager to help us.
The other question is: we have all the denominations there: Greek, Russian, from the Patriarchate of Moscow, from the ROCOR. We have Serbian, Romanian. There are some Maronites, some Melchites, too. There are some Syrian, but we are the biggest so far between the Orthodox, between the Catholic from the East, and the Muslims. As an institution, our church is the biggest in Argentina. In extension, in people, in institution, in presence, in every area, we are the biggest, but we are still in the minority there.
7: Any other questions?
Q8: Your Eminence, the immigrants who came to Argentina, 150 ago, as you state, did they plan to come or did they get there by accident?
7: Did you hear Sayidna’s question, everyone? He asked, 150 years ago, when the people went to Argentina, did they go there intentionally or by accident? Am I right, Sayidna? That was your question.
Metr. Silouan: Maybe some of them came intentionally, but some of them didn’t know where to go. The ship came to Buenos Aires. His brother came to Brazil, the other one came to Boston. This is what happened with people there. Immigration has stopped since the early 1970s.
For 40 years, we don’t have any immigration to Argentina. I don’t know really the reasons, but there are two or three. The first one is the political situation of Argentina is not a stable one, first with the dictator and later on with the social movement. The second one is the economical situation of Argentina. You have heard what happened in 2001. It is a disaster. There is no stability in the economy. We have inflation each year. In 2010, 23% last year; 25 or 30% this year. This year they speak about 25%. It is unbelievable how they are living there. They told me that it is like a wheel. Each ten years it goes up and then it goes down. We are now down. I hope we will be someday up.
Q8: Your currency is pesos, right?
Metr. Silouan: Pesos.
Q8: Pesos. How many pesos make a dollar?
Metr. Silouan: Officially, 450, but in the black market, I don’t know what today—more than six.
Q7: Sayidna, are you finished there? Sayidna, do you have any of the problems with the youth that you’re hearing us discuss here, like with alcoholism?
Metr. Silouan: I identify with what you were saying on Monday evening. Maybe I can share something—but later in private, not now—about what happens in confession. What happens at the camps, parishes, something that we are trying to do there, but we do not deal with drugs and alcohol. We don’t have people prepared to it. We are not prepared to serve the Church there. We are trying.
Q7: Any other questions, comments, anybody? Well, thank you, Sayidna. Yes, Fr. Anthony? He asked if there is anything our Archdiocese could do to help His Eminence.
Metr. Silouan: I think that churches in communion should be a reality. It is not a mere theology. As Paul did with Jerusalem, we should do this the same. I have told His Eminence that the Patriarchate asked to help the Syrians, [in] this letter that the Patriarch sent in the Great Lent, and I was afraid of what to do in Argentina because we need, and they need, but people and priests said, “We will help.” And we have collected what is about 80% of our budget, of the budget of the Archdiocese, to send to the Patriarchate. We should have this sense of solidarity. It does not matter the amount, but we should have solidarity.
I think that you can help. You can think about it, and I can think with you. Maybe it is not the proper time to do it right now, but I will tell you that all the churches in Latin America are getting help, not from their Patriarchates because they are not able to do so, but from the United States, from North America: the Greek, the Russian, the Serbian, everyone, because they cannot sustain their presence there. They need the help of others. In what you can help me, I am trying to be here to listen to you, to learn from you, to see what the committees, departments you have are doing. Maybe they can be helpful for me.
Yesterday I went down below to see this exhibition about the Holy Land. Our instructors are doing so. I need to take this exhibition, to translate it into Spanish, and to exhibit it there. But maybe we can have some exchange program. I don’t know what type. You can help me; I can help you. We have many things in Spanish done in liturgical books, prayers, translations that can help those priests, those parishes, those converted, who knows Spanish. We can afford it.
I have something with me that people, some priests asked me to share. I will share it with you. I don’t know. I will see the Khouria Stephanie to speak about this meeting of khourias in Argentina, to learn from your experience. I will be in the meetings this weekend of the OCA, of the women, of the youth, to see what you do and to be able to think with you. Maybe money is the easiest thing, but what I need you to help me [with] is to find some projects that you can finance, too, in order to be a sustainable parish for its priests and its activities. I have presented some to His Eminence Metropolitan Philip, and he is eager to help one of these projects. I am grateful and in debt of this, but I don’t know how to present all these things.
I didn’t come prepared for this, but I came here because, as I said last year, I am preoccupied about my church, and I am knocking on doors: for music, for the youth, for the priests, for many things, and for money to come also, but I feel that it is God who is making things, and I have seen his providence each month. I don’t know why he is so generous with us. We are not worthy. I am conscious of this, but I don’t know why he is so insistent that we stay, that we are, that we work, and it is something amazing. I hope that you can keep hoping for us. This is the best thing that you can do: keep hoping for us. Patience is the virtue of those who preceded me, and it should be mine, too, and that of my parishioners there.
Thank you for your attention and for your prayers, because it is the most precious thing that may change our reality into a better one and transfigure it to what we are eager to see and partake, which is the kingdom among us, between us. Many thanks, Sayidna.
7: Thank you, Sayidna. [applause]
"Thank you for this ministry that has had a huge impact in my life. May God reward you. Please keep up the great work and the exceptionally professional service that you provide."