This year from the 13th to the 23rd of July our St Lazar Youth Camp (Svetolazarev Omladenski Kamp – SPOK) was held in the trackless Kučaj mountains, beside the Demizhlok stream, within easy reach of a glorious natural wonder, the Lazar canyon, and nearby Novi Stjenik Monastery. As SPOK is still in its infancy and this is only its second year of existence and second session, we can consider that these were its first steps towards maturity.This year, the increasing difficulties of financial organization and complete meeting of a set of camp norms proved that SPOK early in its existence is taking on the shape of a serious, well-organized Orthodox youth camp which is already competitive with similar camps throughout the world. It should be emphasized that SPOK is essentially free of charge, that is, child and youth participation in SPOK does not have a fixed monetary compensation as in the case of other such camps whatever their location. Thus, the SPOK session would have been impossible without the significant and self-sacrificial support of its main sponsor – Novi Stjenik Monastery. Along with the monastery there were other SPOK benefactors, the most significant of which were Granica Dairy of Mladenovac, sister Milica from Sremska Mitrovica, and the Gehring family from America. Nonetheless, despite the entire effort and sacrifice of the SPOK sponsors, its financial support was not sufficient, and thus the SPOK commitee was obliged to limit the capacity of the camp to 15 participants and 4 volunteers. The greatest problem stems from the lack of good quality tents which, because of the extreme conditions of staying in the mountains, must be either three-season or two-season, that is, intended for staying in nature not only during the summer but also during spring and fall, for mountain nights in the summer can be just as cold and damp as spring or fall. If one adds to this rainy weather, life for the children in the mountains is nearly unimaginable, and even dangerous for the health if they are without adequate equipment, the most important piece of which is a good tent. We take this opportunity to ask the friends and benefactors of SPOK not to buy tents from stores, the internet, or market without first agreeing upon it with the SPOK expert staff. We would also ask them not to send old, battered, and uninspected tents, as the majority of them are unusable in the mountainous conditions of SPOK. The expert staff of SPOK acquires carefully inspected, adequate tents in alpinist stores, which are of course on the expensive side, but as we are frequent customers, we receive significant discounts. For SPOK’s future, and with it the enlarging of the camp’s participant capacity, financial help is needed for the purchase of new tents.
This year the participants in SPOK, or Lazarites, as we at the camp call them, were mainly of younger age, which gave the camp a particularly bouyant atmosphere. It would be very desirable, however, for SPOK to have a greater number of teenagers next year. SPOK needs teenagers just as much (if not more) as younger children. We call upon parents to suggest participation in SPOK to their older children. Although in some spheres, the activities at the camp differ according to age, nonetheless, communal life at the camp demands self-sacrifice and care on the part of the older children for the younger, who should in turn respect their elders. It is also very useful that teenagers’ effort, integrity and discipline, which are nourished with care at the camp, be an example of self-sacrifice to the younger children, for in that way they cultivate a spirit of order and unity, of which our Christian youth of today are especially in need, surrounded as they are by the reign of disorder, depraved anti-examples of self-sacrifice, general disrespect, and the selfish individualism of the contemporary world.
Unlike last year, when various guests from America, Russia and Germany took part in the camp, all the children this year came from various regions of Serbia, except for one boy from America. There were first-time campers as well as veteran Lazarites from last year. New, unforgettable friendships were formed. One new feature of this year’s SPOK session was Lazarite Dimitry from Nish, who contributed to the daily ceremony of raising and lowering the flag mornings and evenings with his playing of the Serbian national anthem “O God of Justice” on his trumpet. The usual classes of catechism and the history of Serbian heroes were conducted by Popadija Jefimija. Every evening around the campfire the Lazarites’ highly-anticipated singing of patriotic and pious songs (which everyone had memorized by the third night) took place. In the evening they also played charades. The camp priest, Fr. Stephan, conducted spiritual gatherings around the campfire with all of the Lazarites, with much explanation, lively conversation, mutual questions and answers about everyday life and various dilemmas or problems which the children and teenagers face at their age.
On 4/17 July, the feast of the Holy Royal Martyrs of Russia - Tsar-Martyr Nicholas, Tsaritsa-Martyr Alexandra and their children the Tsarevich Alexey and Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia - who were killed by the God-hating communists, a forest-catacomb Divine Liturgy was served in the large camp tent. At the Divine Liturgy, all the Lazarites received Holy Communion after having confessed to the camp spiritual father Priest Stephan the previous day. Another new feature of SPOK this year were daily calisthenics in the field - various exercises such as running, push-ups, sit-ups and squats which the children performed to the whistle of Brother Theodore - after the morning prayers and raising of the flag. The main attraction was alpine ropes for human crossing stretched high over the Demizhlok creek. All of the Lazarites successfully tried out this far from simple discipline, which not only requires physical strength but also courage. Of course, the SPOK program also included the already-traditional Airsoft marksmanship activities with the SPOK arsenal of replicas, enviable even for an Airsoft club. The Lazarites held in their hands and shot with replicas of the Russian AK-47 (better known as the Kalashnikov), American M4, and Swedish SIG556. The three best Airsoft shooters of SPOK 2014 were Noah from America, Vasily from Vrdnik and Dimitry from Novi Sad. In the nearby forest the Lazarites also separated into four groups and tried making shelters from branches, ferns, cord, and tent tarps. This time they also did not leave out marches of more than ten kilometers, and that across no easy terrain. The peak of it all was the boys’ march with backpacks and one Spartan night spent (with only a sleeping mat and bag) outside the camp completely in the wilderness in one cave of the Lazar canyon.
The ten days of SPOK 2014 passed in the blink of an eye, bursting with various camp activities, useful education, unforgettable socializing, fun, games, and very interesting adventures. The SPOK mission was accomplished. Within the space of ten days, SPOK, like a strong gust of wind, blew into the sails of the Lazarites, giving them a spiritual, moral, and patriotic boost, which, God willing, will long and powerfully steer them on the course of Svetosavlje ideals, cutting through the confusing waves of the sea of life until next year. With this camp, we are obliged to help our youth preserve their St. Sava and St. Lazar identity. Our youth needs help in resisting militant secularism and liberalism, the de-nationalization of conscience and de-Christianizing of the soul. The renewal and survival of the Serbian people depends on this labor with our youth.
May God and the Holy Serbian Great-Martyr Prince Lazar help SPOK
in this holy enterprise. God grant! Amen!