Mr. David Wagschal, Secretary of the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations, represented the OCA Youth Movement at the 17th General Assembly of Syndesmos, the World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth, at Saint Vlash Monstery and Academy here July 14-22, 2003.
Founded in 1953, Syndesmos timed the Assembly to coincide with its 50th Anniversary. Today, Syndesmos lists over 100 member movements and Orthodox theological schools in nearly 50 countries.
Also attending the Assembly was Ms. Larissa Pawelchak, who participated in the Assembly’s stewards program and represented the Orthodox Christian Fellowship.
His Beatitude, Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and Albania hosted this year’s Assembly, which focused on the theme, “And You Shall Be My Witnesses.” The Archbishop’s extensive work in reestablishing the Church in Albania after four decades of oppression by the communist regime of Enver Hoxha set the stage for the Assembly’s deliberations on mission, Orthodox unity and cooperation, and renewal in Church life.
Over 150 youth and youth workers from Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia participated in the week-long gathering.
“There is much that needs to be done to make Syndesmos better known in North America,” Mr. Wagschal remarked. “We’re a bit isolated from most Syndesmos member movements, and our North American representation, while dedicated and active, is still weak.”
Syndesmos, last organized event in North America was an international youth festival held in 1994 at Antiochian Village, Ligonier, PA.
Since its inception, the Orthodox Church in America has been intimately involved in the work of Syndesmos, and among the fellowship’s founders were the late Protopresbyters Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff. Mr. Mark Stokoe, a former OCA Youth Director who also attended the anniversary Assembly, served as Syndesmos General Secretary for several years in the 1980s. His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman has attended several Syndesmos General Assemblies in years past and hosted a Syndesmos-sponsored group of youth from Russia at Saint Tikhon Monastery and Seminary—one of the first international exchanges of its kind—in 1991.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Rev. Michael Kallaur served as Syndesmos Vice-President, while the Very Rev. John Matusiak served as a Syndesmos program director in the early 1990s and Vice-President from 1996 until 1999. For several years, Mr. Joseph Matusiak and Mr. John DeTrana, both members of the Orthodox Church in America, served as administrative assistants at the Syndesmos General Secretariat in Bialystok, Poland, where it was located before its move to Athens, Greece in 2000.
Between 1991 and 1998, over 300 OCA youth and young adults participated in various Syndesmos events abroad, especially in the annual Syndesmos International Summer Institute initially held in Mikhnevo, Russia and later at the Annunciation Monastery in Suprasl, Poland. The summer institute was discontinued after Syndesmos’ 16th Assembly in 1999.
During the Assembly, greetings were read on behalf of Metropolitan Herman and the Orthodox Church in America.
Convened once every four years, the General Assembly is Syndesmos’ highest governing body, electing officers and setting policy and programs for the following quadrennium.