It’s a place we call home, a place where our youth gather every summer, a place where relationships are formed and strengthened, a place that is so difficult to leave, and a place where Christ is truly present. This special place is the Antiochian Village Camp, a family that has influenced our Archdiocese for many years in inexplicable ways. I have been involved with the Village for the past fifteen summers— nine as a camper and CIT, and the past six as a staff member. Every year I fall more in love with the Village, the ministry, and the Orthodox Church.
The influence the Camp has had on our youth is incredible! I have grown up at St. Mary’s Church in Johnstown, a small town in Western Pennsylvania. I have seen the effect the Village has had on our youth in my home parish, our diocese, as well as the youth from around the country.
As we pulled up in the shuttle bus from Jacksonville Airport in Pennsylvania, the evening mist was rolling in to nest in the green grounds of soccer fields and meditation walks. Being from Los Angeles, I found that the air was remarkably clear, and the sky gray but peaceful – the traffic, blessedly non-existent.
We drove past Pittsburgh, in its modern glory of geometric glass and metal, through the quiet suburbs and semi-rural neighborhoods featured so lovingly in M. Night Shamalan’s movies like The Village, and finally through the lovely little town of Ligonier towards the Antiochian Village.
The St. Stephen’s Course of Studies is a three-year correspondence program designed for those who want to study Orthodox theology but cannot attend an Orthodox seminary. St. Stephen’s students do one residency week each August for three years. Most people stay one week per year, but students from other countries sometimes do two weeks in one summer to save money on travel. I did two weeks because, well, Los Angeles virtually qualifies as another planet.
From September 23-25, faithful traveled to the St Thekla Pilgrimage for the Patronal Feast of the St Thekla Monastery at the Antiochian Village for a weekend of prayer, refreshment, focus and fellowship. As pilgrims trickled in on Friday evening after busy weeks of work and the demands of daily life, they were offered hospitality and a time to unwind and transition in prayer at Vespers and then in fellowship and discussion following a movie. Saturday was a full day that began with Orthros and the Divine Liturgy, followed by brunch and workshops on Orthodox Family Life, Living Faithfully Though Crisis, the Sacraments, and a discussion of the book Miles to Go. After a break, we convened at the Shrine of St Thekla, located at the Village Camp and prayed the Supplication to St Thekla and were anointed with the miraculous oil from the lampada that burns in the Shrine of St Thekla in Ma’aloula, Syria.