Whippany, NJ – Orthodox youth from all up and down the East Coast – from New England to Washington, DC – gathered at St. Ephrem Cathedral – the seat of the Malankara-Syriac Archdiocese – for the fifth annual SCOOYA Youth Conference. This year’s theme - Faith, Culture, & Identity - was tackled with gusto by the youth and elaborated on by keynote speaker, Fr. Saife Selassie of the Ethiopian Church, and hosting hierarch, H.E. Archbishop Titus Yeldho.
Fr. Saife Selassie’s life experiences made him uniquely qualified to address the conference’s crucial and momentous theme. Born in the United States to African-American parents, he converted to Orthodoxy through the Ethiopian Church, became fluent in Amharic, married an Ethiopian woman, moved to Ethiopia itself, and became such a renowned scholar of the Orthodox Faith that he eventually became dean of Holy Trinity Theological College in Addis Ababa. After his eventual return to the United States, Fr. Saife – who prays at Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in the Bronx, NY – has remained active in his mission to reach both English-speaking youth of Ethiopian parentage and Western born converts to the Orthodox Faith who have found a home in the Ethiopian Church.
The youth spent the majority of the day in small group breakout sessions, designed by the conference organizers to foster time for fellowship and for the youth to make real and lasting connections. Some participants were stunned to find out that they actually attended the same college – and were even in the same classes – and yet had not been aware of one another’s presence. Campus fellowships – like Philadelphia’s OCSF and New Jersey’s OCCM – were also able to make recruits. The youth were treated by the hosting Archdiocese to delicious Indian cuisine, and held in-depth discussions on a wide variety of topics related to the event’s overarching theme.