Welcome to Camp Nazareth

Welcome to Camp Nazareth
Welcome to Camp Nazareth! This online journal is the official journal of Camp Nazareth Conference and Retreat Center. Over the years, many memories have been made here. Through this journal we hope to share with you the many wonderful moments from the many years at camp!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

CN Staff Reflection: College Conference 2015

Hey everyone! It's been a while since we posted, but we wanted to share this amazing testimonial from one of our 2015 CN staff members who went to College Conference! Please enjoy!

This past winter break I had the opportunity to attend OCF’s College Conference East at Antiochian village for the second time. Much like our own Camp Nazareth, this conference presents students with the unique opportunity to experience life surrounded by fellow Orthodox Christians and provides a daily spiritual routine to live the faith as one often fails to be able to in today’s increasingly secular and anti-Christian society. That being said, my personal experience was incredible. There is truly nothing like living the faith with those around you. Meeting new people in this environment is just as simple as saying “hello.” Because of our shared faith everyone already has a connection to one another at a very fundamental level, allowing for many blossoming new relationships, many of which with people I had met the very first day, not to mention the preexisting ones I was able to strengthen. Bishop Gregory often refers to the Eucharist as a “vaccine” that you get every week so that the moment you leave those church doors you are the strongest you can ever be; ready to take on the world and anything that is thrown your way. For me, college conference provides the same type of spiritual strength. After a semester in college, surrounded by an ever increasingly faith absent environment, it is rejuvenating to be able to spend time growing in my own personal faith with the help of 300 plus young adults just like me. One of the most memorable experiences from this past college conference was joining in prayer and singing to the Mother of God as we celebrated a Paraklesis in the presence of the Myrrh streaming icon, The Kardiotissa. Just encountering this icon is an experience like none other, combined with the praises of over 300 young people of the faith was an uplifting experience far beyond what words can capture. At one point we watched a brief video of kids from Camp Naz encountering the icon and immediately a radiating smile was on my face and I felt a comfort and happiness that very few things in my life are able to evoke. Additionally, it is often difficult to grasp the attention of college kids, let alone when it comes to something such as participating in church services but the unexplainable draw to the presence of the Theotokos kept countless numbers of us up late into the night singing praises, even Christmas hymns. Spanning all languages; Greek, Arabic, English, Slavonic, even Spanish, and all traditions; Greek, Antiochian, OCA, and Carpatho-Russin of course, we were able to gather together as one, despite our traditional differences which, other than determining if we had to look at the music or not, went unnoticed. Encountering our group you would have thought we had grown up all together in the same town, the same city, the same school, when few of us had never even met before. This is just one of my many experiences this past college conference, but left me with an important message to share. Regardless of background, race, ethnicity, or tradition, we were able to gather together as one body of Orthodox Christians and worship and live life peacefully, with understanding accompanied with great joy and love in our hearts. I could not have wished for a more incredible group of people to not only spend my break with but also my birthday. By the grace of God I intend to be at college conference as long as they will permit me, and I hope that through my shared experiences people can also learn to grow and appreciate the faith as a whole, joining together with every orthodox Christian so that we may spread God’s love and work through our prayers and most importantly our actions.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015


I few days ago I was sitting outside with my eyes closed. I felt the wind in my hair and could hear the birds chirping. No cars or sounds of anything worldly could be heard. The warmth of the sun hit my face and everything was perfect. While this feeling only lasted a few minutes, it reminded me of Camp. The feeling of stillness is really what took my mind back to camp. Because for those few minutes, there was nothing on my mind; I was equally as still on the inside and the outside. What a rare and beautiful experience to have in such a busy world.

I remember once while at camp overhearing some campers talking to each other. The one said to another something along the lines of: I don't get how I can sit at camp and be ok, but at home I always have to keep moving and doing something. 

I was rather fascinated at what the camper said as I was passing by. As much as I wanted to know what was said prior and what followed, I heard all I needed to hear. Camp changes people. Some of us always have this energy of sorts. Sometimes it's a nervous energy and sometimes we're just energized people. Unfortunately our need to be constantly stimulated is a disadvantage. However, at Camp, it seems as though stillness is welcomed and accepted. 

I can't say camp is a place of stillness all the time. Really, camp is very busy. Camp is a place where the body, the heart, the mind and spirt are all engaged. The moment one arrives at camp is the moment everything changes. All of a sudden, the schedule of the day somehow allows for a balance of activity and stillness. Even more than the schedule, the environment allows for the mind and the heart to be still. Through this stillness, our eyes and ears are opened to the voice of God. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

From Division to Unity

Our world is full of divisions; we see it everywhere. We divide ourselves by religion, by politics, by science, by age, by gender, by social status, by athletics, by morals... the list goes on. We human beings are constantly playing a game of "This -vs- That" and doing everything we can for our side to win. Consider the presidential candidates and the campaigns going on right now. We see constant division of human beings over a plethora of different issues in the political realm. So there's this division among humans because of our individual differences. This has even had an impact on the Church. As Bishop Gregory has said many times, "There are over 40,000 different branches of Christianity. Christ established one church; what have we done?"

So there's this constant debate over "This vs That" and which side is better. I've noticed a lot lately the topic of Science and Religion coming up in conversation. I've noticed this desire to make new discoveries and to find answers, but not knowing where to look. Do we look to science to find answers? Do we look to religion to find answers? What information is correct? What information is biased? I face these questions myself and have found myself frustrated trying to figure out where science and religion meet.

Thankfully I've witnessed amazing things in Orthodoxy that completely baffle science. And I've also encountered things that completely baffle the Church. There's an interesting dichotomy and irony in science and religion that there are no more answers; only theory and speculation exist. Once we reach the point of no more answers, it's now a matter of how we deal with the unknown. My favorite example is that of Myrrh-streaming icons.

Really, just take a moment to think of what a myrrh-streaming icon is. It's a piece of wood, with an image, that exudes a fragrant oil substance. People are anointed with the substance and are healed (sometimes instantly). In the church was say, "Glory to God! A miracle!" In the secular world we say, "What's going on? There must be an explanation!" If you think about it though, we as Christians experience things from both sides of the fence. As an Orthodox Christian myself, I've stood in front of a myrrh-stremaing icon watching the myrrh exude from a laminated print. I ask myself how it works. I wonder how the volume of myrrh is greater than the volume of the icon itself. I have my moments of skepticism (maybe a bit of a harsh term) while observing the Miracle of the Icon. The point is, it's ok to question and wonder about our world and universe. Our desire to figure things out is natural and should be fostered. And in order to learn, we shouldn't put ourselves at odds with other people and with other perspectives.

As Orthodox Christians we should be the ones finding common ground and figuring out how we can bring unity to a topic, to a group or to a conversation. So today it's science and religion: How do they fit together?

Just the other day during the Divine Liturgy, my priest spoke about how our culture is one of intellect and prestige, whereas Orthodoxy is a life of living through guidance by the Holy Spirit. He went on to say how the Holy Spirit is wise, intelligent and has the ultimate discernment. I found comfort in the idea that the Holy Spirit Who descended on Christ at His baptism, is the same Holy Spirit Who guides and influences our lives on a daily basis. This same Holy Spirit gives us everything we need in a beautiful simplicity.

So let this be some food for thought. Allow yourself to give your worries and concerns to the ultimate Comforter, to the Spirit of Truth. Through the opening of our hearts to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will achieve unity through peace. Call to mind the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are the merciful." Simple things to live by that are meant to bring unity, not division.

My challenge to you is this:
Be the glue of peace that holds humanity together.
Be the anchor of humility that keeps humanity grounded.
Be the shield of compassion that blocks hate and persecution.
Be the light for all of those in darkness.

As Saint Paul says in his letter to the Phillipians, "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me." If Saint Paul can do it, surely we can too.

God bless!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Reflections of a Camp staffer

I knew going into this summer I had always loved camp. And if you had asked me why, I probably would have said something about it being a time to reconnect with friends and my faith. Both of these things are true, but I realized this summer that there's more. Almost 2 months post-camp, I can look back and realize just how much I changed as a person. 
As a teenager I began building up walls around my true self. I wanted to be tough, untouchable. I didn't take into account how shutting down my emotions also meant I was shutting down relationships. Entering my senior year of high school, I suffered a semi-serious injury to my knee, tearing my ACL and meniscus. It was one of the most painful things I'd ever experienced, and ironically also one of the most beneficial.  It was a wake up call in a way. Everyone always asked me how I was doing, and if I was okay, and assured me that I would get better. I was tired of all the attention and the repetition: I'm ok, yes I'm healing, and gee thanks, I sure hope so. After a while, however, I realized something. How was I? I was doing great! I was alive, right? That's a blessing in and of itself. Was I ok? Define ok. Ok to play volleyball? No, but ok to make the world a better place, even by offering something as simple as a smile? Of course. Always. I also began truly examining Orthodoxy, thanks to my mindset change and the helpful push of attending CrossRoad at Holy Cross Seminary in Boston. 
Going to college, I lost a little bit of myself again. With joining the rowing team and a sorority, everything was incredibly hectic. I think I went to church maybe 5 times that first year. I was miserable. Second year wasn't much better. I kept trying to define myself as an Orthodox Christian, in the midst of college life, with a front row seat to the partying and everything that came along with it. Not miserable, but frustrated. I knew it didn't add up, but I didn't know how to fix it, besides retreating into my shell.
So, starting out this summer, I was looking for a place where I could get away from the confusion and juxtapositions I faced in college. What I found at Camp Nazareth was so much more than that. I was surrounded by people who I instinctively knew I could trust. I was able to be my true self, positive and happy. Granted, I wasn't always a non-complaining bundle of joy, but even when things didn't go according to plan, I could shake things off and keep moving forward. And that was how I realized why I really love Camp. It's a place where you can let down your walls, and be who you really are. And when you let down those walls, you finally realize that they weren't blocking out the bad things in the world, but acting as a mirror for those bad things to reflect off of. The only thing the walls were blocking out was the feeling of Christ's love. And once I let those walls down...wow! 
There was a specific moment that I remember vividly. It was the Saturday after I had seen the Kardiotissa for the first time, the weeping icon of the Mother of God that was brought from St. George’s Church in Taylor. I was having a really rough day, struggling with an internal conflict that I was obsessing over, and for some reason, I just had this intense feeling that I needed to go into the chapel. It was weird because as I was walking across the parking lot, I saw some people standing around talking and I immediately second-guessed myself. I didn't need to go to the chapel! Everybody was going to think I was so weird! It was crazy, because I knew that nobody would think I was weird for going into the Camp church, but I did hesitate a moment.  I decided to ignore those thoughts and walked right by, waving a hello. Nobody stopped, other than to wave back. I went into the chapel, and sat in a pew for a few minutes, praying and thinking about what was troubling me.

After a while I got up to go back out, and decided to look at the stand where the Kardiotissa was laid two nights previously. I lowered my head and breathed in the scent of the myrrh still permeating the cloth covering the table. The heavenly smell filled my nose, but the impact of the miracle I had seen filled my soul. I felt this weight lifted from my shoulders, and I realized my problem was trivial. It was as if someone was telling me not to worry, and that everything would work out in the end. Feeling more peaceful, I said another prayer of thanks before leaving the church and going up to the veranda, where I stood for a few minutes, just listening to the silence of the almost empty Camp grounds. After a few seconds, my mind started drifting to my conflict again. (I'm glad God has some patience, because wow, am I a slow learner.) Almost immediately, though, I caught a whiff of a beautiful aroma. It was the scent of the myrrh from the icon! I started laughing, as a few tears of pure joy slid down my cheeks. For about three days, whenever I started worrying, I could smell the myrrh again, almost as if the scent was seared into my nostrils. A part of me, the scientific, everything-has-a-rational-explanation part, wondered if it was actually possible for the scent to be seated into my nose. Then I realized that I didn't really matter, because the myrrh's existence is a miracle itself, and I had finally reached a point where I was open enough with myself that I could understand its beauty.

To be completely accepting of the love of Christ, we must be willing to let down our walls and invite him in. Not just when we can fit it in around sports or homework, but always, because this is what we were born to do. Is it difficult? Of course. But with Christ and the intercession of his saints, life becomes not just bearable, but rich and meaningful. That’s what time at Camp Nazareth helped me to realize and know again this past summer.  It's the duty of each and every Orthodox Christian out there to treat others with the love of Christ, and make sure that they feel safe enough to let down those walls, both at camp and in the "real world." 

Camp Nazareth Groundbreaking!

MERCER, PA  [Camp Nazareth] -- On Thursday morning, October 18, 2015, a few priests and lay people gathered together at Camp Nazareth to celebrate the groundbreaking service for the beginning of the Camp’s Cabin Expansion Project. It turned out to be a beautiful day on which to celebrate outdoors and say the prayers together to begin this project.
The service was celebrated at the Holy Innocents Shrine. The Holy Innocents are the patron saints of the Camp itself. Their shrine is located in the grove of trees in front of cabins 4 & 5. The shrine was beautifully adorned with Fall plants and flowers; fitting for the task at hand. The service itself was beautiful. The Very Rev. Protopresbyter Kenneth Bachofsky, who is the Camp Overseer, mentioned after the service was over that St. Paul exhorts us to pray at all times, to pray constantly, as a way of both putting and showing our trust in God, and as a way of defeating the evil one. During the service, we prayed that God would bless our good intentions, that He would allow us to complete it without any obstacle, that He would guide our hands, that He would assign a guardian angel to banish every enemy and obstacle, and that He would see that the project was ordered in wisdom and end in perfection by the grace of His Holy Spirit. We were reminded by the Epistle from the Holy Apostle Paul to the Philippians that “…God is at work in [us], both to will and to work for His good pleasure” and we ask that we would work according to His will to build up this particular part of His Kingdom on earth which has been entrusted to us. The Gospel lesson in the service reminded us to ask, and seek and knock; to beseech God who is in heaven to bless and order this project according to His holy will. We must ask God to bless every aspect and part of this project. “You can do nothing without Me,” our Lord said, and the service reminded us that God has “…ordered us to do all things for [His] glory.” We believe and know these things with simple faith and simply by faith, and we go forward simply in faith trusting the word of God.
It was comforting to hear as we turned over the ground the cabin additions would be built on, that the ground was being “broken” (turned over) “…in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” How do we begin such a project in the Church where we have such high hopes? We begin by turning over the ground in the Name of our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A very humble beginning as it should be. There are great hopes for what the cabin expansion project will do for Camp and our campers, but we begin as we should, calling on God to bless, help, guide and protect us; humbly and with hope.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Prayer Roping

It's probably been at least 10 years by now from when I first learned how to make a prayer rope at Camp Nazareth. At the time I was a camper and staff were teaching campers how to prayer rope during arts & crafts, as well as free time. 

Fast forward to the summer of 2015, and prayer rope making at camp is still a thing. Looking back, it's quite remarkable how big of a part prayer rope making was in part of the daily life at camp. Not only did it cause more praying, but it caused friendships to be built and acquaintances to be made. For those of us who know how to prayer rope, we became the teachers to those who wanted to learn. And for those who did not know how to tie prayer ropes, they are now masters. 

Looking back, it's interesting how something as simple as leaning to tie knots built character in people. As an example, we live in an instantaneous culture where we can get whatever we want right now. There is no waiting. If we want food, we get it. If we want information, we get it. No longer do we have to wait for photos to be developed or spend weeks traveling from point A to point B. We take pictures with our phones and share them immediately to social media. We jump on a plane and fly thousands of miles in a few hours. Everything is instant. And because of this, my generation is easily frustrated at anything that isn't instant (as a generality). So how does this fit together?

Well, the prayer rope is a difficult skill to master. In order to learn, it takes a lot of patience, a lot of focus and attention to detail. As a teacher this past summer, I could feel the frustration of some students as they struggled to grasp what and how to make a prayer rope. It was difficult at times to be encouraging in the midst of frustration. But, we pressed on as teacher and student to learn the process. Some people caught on faster than others. And some didn't quite catch on at all.

What I was taught through the process of teaching people to make prayer ropes was patience and discipline, something I personally don't always have enough of. Consider how impatient, rude and free our culture can be at times. Camp provides, in the most unexpected ways, numerous lessons in the things we need to grow in. For every person who comes to camp, the experience is slightly different. And God uses each and every person at Camp in a special way. It's quite remarkable, really. 

So, the next time you have a task to perform or something new to learn, remember to be patient and to take your time to learn and master the task or craft. You'll be glad you did, and you'll feel better about who you are and what you're capable of doing. 

Glory be to Jesus Christ!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Saved by Bunnies

The memory that sticks out to me the most took place on a Wednesday at camp, while we were celebrating our Moleben to the Holy Cross outdoors. If you were there, you’d remember a sermon by Fr. John Fedornock and an unpleasant sound cutting through the trees behind the Cross. It was clear to us it was an animal but we were unsure as to what exactly was making the cries! After the sermon, I crept behind the Cross in order to see what the sound was. I discovered that it was a small baby bunny whose nest had been ransacked by a chipmunk. This poor creature! While we were occupied singing our hymns, this small bunny was only a few feet away and in great need.

Once the service was completed, a few staff members, campers, and I managed to find at least a couple of other babies and the nest itself, with obvious evidence of the perpetrator. The decision was made to restore the nest as best as possible and to leave the small bunnies for their mother, if she should be around. Most of us went our way, continuing with the program and the movie night that was to come, but a couple key staff members made the decision to stay behind and make sure the mother returned. We had our doubts but you can imagine how pleased we were when one of the staff members announced over our walkie-talkies that the mother had returned for her babies!

Camp makes memories for everyone involved and it’s memories like this one that remind us that terrible things happen in the world, from a worldwide tragedy to the ransacked nest of a wee bunny. God is able to take even the terrible things that happen in a fallen world, reach in, and touch our lives. It is a transformative experience (however small) and just as Moses tossed the branch into the waters of Mara, turning them from bitter to sweet, God turns our bitter lives into the sweetness of paradise. That day, we might even have been thankful for a tragedy in order to witness something so beautiful. That day, we might even have been saved by bunnies, however silly it seems.