4th Annual Diocesan Clergy Retreat of the Diocese of Ottawa, Eastern Canada, and Upstate New York
His Grace, Bishop ALEXANDER, invited the clergy of his diocese to gather at the Manoir D’Youville, a retreat and conference center located south of Montreal on the Ile Saint-Bernard, for a time of spiritual renewal, theological education, and companionship on September 16-19, 2008.
The special guest lecturer was Dr. Christopher Veniamin, Professor of Patristics and Liturgical Theology at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. His presentation was based on readings from the collection of letters and spiritual counsel of St. Silouan the Athonite, compiled by St. Silouan's spiritual son Elder Sophrony of Essex. Archimandrite Sophrony, the spiritual elder of the Monastery of St. John the Baptist at Tolleshunt Knights, England, was also the spiritual father of Dr. Veniamin. Dr. Veniamin spent much of his adolescent years visiting and praying with the brothers at St. John’s, seeking the true theology of praxis during his school holidays and summer vacations. In our retreat, he used the technique of reading passages from the book St. Silouan the Athonite to the gathered clergy as a way of encouraging discussion of the deep spiritual meanings which underlie the seemingly simple words of the text.
Dr. Veniamin’s unique insight into the living witness of St. Silouan was gained through the valuable guidance of his own spiritual father, who had learned the wisdom of St. Silouan on the Holy Mountain. The sessions throughout the week often moved from conversation about specific advice given by St. Silouan on the inner-life into wide ranging discussions of the views of the Church Fathers on these matters, including St. Isaac the Syrian, St. Symeon the New Theologian, and St. Gregory Palamas. By the end of the week, the clergy felt that they had gained a glimmer of understanding of the meaning of St. Silouan’s enigmatic assertion: “Keep thy mind in Hell and despair not.”
This retreat left the clergy with a sense of profound gratitude for the spiritual labors of the great monastic saints of God’s Kingdom, especially St. Silouan and Archimandrite Sophrony. We clergy were likewise grateful for the gentle tutelage of Dr. Veniamin, who unselfishly shared his time and his hard-earned wisdom with us. We left the Manoir D’Youville with a desire for more, and are looking forward to next year’s retreat with keen anticipation.