Anberin Pasha, OCN's Digital Disciple Producer and Program Coordinator is a Graduate student in the Master's of Divinity Program at Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts.
The clock is ticking as the 2016 Greek Orthodox Archdiocese National St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival is nearing June 10-12, 2016
Greek Orthodox youth have been anticipating the warmth of the national venue this frosty winter, as the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival is being hosted by the Metropolis of Atlanta at the Parish of St. Nektarios in Charlotte, NC. Participants preparing for the Oratorical festival are from grades 7 to 9 and fall into the Junior Division and grades 10 to 12 in the Senior Division.
Great opportunity for witness and thought
“This is the first time I won’t be participating in the Oratorical Festival.” says Mario Sokolic ruefully. Now, a freshman at Boston College majoring in Biology, Mario first learned of the Oratorical Festival at his Sunday school at St. George Orthodox Church, Clifton, New Jersey. Encouraged by his mother, he enrolled rather cautiously in the Junior Division. He recalls his nervousness at having to deliver a speech in front of an audience but on seeing the familiar faces of parish members from his church and friends of his family, he pushed on.
“Mario!” I ventured, “was it not intimidating to expound on the Orthodox Christian faith as a 7th grader?”
“Not at all,” he answers confidently.
As soon as the topics were out, Mario would go into research mode, earnest in sharing his perspective on the topic. In retrospect, he recalls what an immense opportunity it is for young people to dive deep for the pearls of an ancient, living faith with each participant emerging with his or her own unique perspective.
As the top speakers in the Junior and Senior Divisions from the parish advance to the district level, two finalists from each district division would represent the district at the Metropolis Oratorical Festival. The winning speaker from each metropolis is selected to participate in the Archdiocese Finals, hosted by a different metropolis each year.
All eighteen finalists at the Archdiocese Finals participate in a weekend of activities, the highlight of which is the delivery of their speeches on Saturday morning.
The Oratorical Festival Scholarship Fund provides college scholarships to the top speakers. In 2015, the top three speakers from each division received college scholarships of $2,000, $1,500 and $1,000. This year, however, speakers receive an Honorable Mention and are awarded $500.
A little history on the event
Mario fondly recalls Presvytera Margaret Orfanakos, who became the Chairperson of the Oratorical Festival together with her husband, the late Rev. Fr. John Orfanakos of blessed memory, as far back as 1984. Aside from coordinating the festival, Presvytera Margaret was immersed in the festival, helping participants tweak their speeches, offering them diverse perspectives, and guiding them on how to keep their speeches fresh and engaging.
As with every great idea, it requires passion and commitment to keep it going and this is where Presvytera Margaret becomes integral to the story. Invited by His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, of blessed memory, to chair the Oratorical Festival the last thirty-years have been a joy ride for her as she strived to keep the festival alive and a part of the socio-spiritual engagement of the Greek Orthodox community. She was quick to recognize the vision behind Mr. Ernest Villas’s endeavor, the then Director of the Department of Religious Education at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese who started the festival. Together with Mrs. Sterginopoulos, a teacher at the Bronx Community College, Mr. Villas had developed the rules and guidelines for the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival. Over the years, however, as the festival continued to grow, the guidelines were reworked to make them more comprehensive.
When Presvytera Margaret first came on board in 1984 coordinating the oratorical festival at the diocese level she recalls the challenges of coordinating a festival in the days before the Internet. Even so, believing in it with all of her heart she threw herself into its preparation with gusto. The take away for her was to see teenagers researching, preparing and delivering their speeches and watching them hold their own as young adults in universities as they grew up and moved on. Her real joy was watching an especially shy child or a child with a disability participate. The emphasis of the Oratorical Festival lies in encouraging the especially shy teenager to come forward and it is for this reason that participants at the Parish level are given a certificate and an award be it an icon, a book, a trophy or a plaque, even if they do not advance to the next level.
Presvytera Margaret feels sure that the experience of participating in the festival would have a positive impact on the lives of participants as it is not always about winning she says. Mario Sokolic who participated all the way through the junior and senior divisions, making it to the Nationals, confirms this. Listening to the insights of his contemporaries was most exhilarating for him and it is what kept him going back each year. He will never forget his experience at the Nationals when he met with fellow participants from all over the United States and it dawned on him for the very first time that his faith is much bigger and greater than he had ever imagined it to be.
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