IN THIS WORLD BUT NOT OF THIS WORLD:
The Youth of the Diocese of California Embark on a Spiritual Journey in the Tradition of the Church of the East’s Illustrious Monastic Fathers at Mar Iskhaq’s 2012 Summer Retreat
The Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, Diocese of California, recently invited its youth to retreat away from the world in order to more clearly hear the voice of God in the silence of solitude. The retreat was named in honor of Mar Iskhaq, the 7th century bishop of Nineveh who pursued solitude as a monastic father of the Church of the East at Mount Matut and later retired at the monastery of Rabban Shabur in Southern Iraq. During this time Mar Iskhaq not only dedicated his time to the strict practice of prayer, fasting, and reading of the Holy Scriptures, but became renowned throughout the East and West for his writings which offer an inspiring vision of how fellow monks can grow in faith and spirituality.
From August 24-26, 2012, the youth of the diocese of California gathered in the peaceful and secluded woods of Mount Hermon, California, under the guidance of His Grace, Mar Awa Royel, and Reverend Fathers Genard Lazar and Lawrence Namato. The retreat, which was organized by the Diocesan Youth Core, was attended by youth from the parishes of: Mar Addai (Turlock), Mar Narsai (San Francisco), Mar Zaia (Modesto), Mar Yosip (San Jose), and Mar Gewargis (Ceres). The mission of the retreat was to meditate on the teachings of Mar Iskhaq, not as fellow monks who had completely renounced the world, but rather as people of the world who for a short time chose to leave the world and its distractions in order to draw nearer to God. The educational focus of the retreat were four sessions, taught by various deacons of the diocese’s youth, which Mar Iskhaq presented as the ideal process toward spiritual growth: solitude, repentance, love, and morality. Each session addressed three concerns. First, what Mar Iskhaq has to say regarding the topic. Second, how the Scriptures support the teachings of the blessed bishop-monk. And last, how we can apply that teaching during the retreat but also in our daily lives. In addition to discussion and answering questions in their retreat workbook, each session was also facilitated by an activity which more tangibly presented the main idea of the given topic.
But teaching was not the only concern of the retreat. The youth were also called to put the teachings of Mar Iskhaq into practice, by attending daily morning and evening prayers in addition to Sunday’s Holy Qurbana, presided and celebrated by His Grace the Bishop, but also by reflecting on their own lives more deeply and intimately, responding to various journal entries focused on the proverbs of Mar Iskhaq and also completing personal spiritual assessments.
On Sunday evening, the youth returned to their home parishes with a new understanding not only of the person of Mar Iskhaq, or his teachings and how they can apply to all of our lives in our daily opportunities for solitude, but also with a better and more honest grasp of themselves; where they stand in the process of spiritual growth and what steps they must take to continue to draw nearer to God.
While the age-old practice of retreating to the monasteries of our native homeland is not a practical option to the Assyrian youth living in the West, this past weekend—studying the life and teachings of one of our Church’s most illustrious fathers—has been an experience comparable to visiting one of our ancient monasteries, and one which we will never forget. Let us dig deep into our own Church’s rich theological tradition based on Christ our Lord, for only there and not in new teachings and innovations on the faith, will we find the purest water with which to quench our spiritual thirst, as the blessed martyrs of our Church and Assyrian nation, who were led by force through mountains and harsh terrain but did not thirst, being quenched by the Word. May their prayers, along with the prayers of Mar Iskhaq, the bishop of Nineveh and illustrious monk, and the prayers of all the blessed saints continually be offered up on behalf of the youth and all the faithful of our precious Church before the Triune God: the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit forever, amen.
The Diocese of California Youth Core Group
The Assyrian Church of the East