Images in my mind from the first week of St. Stephen’s Summer Camp
 
Image one—the beauty of God’s creation—a beautiful sunrise over the lake, with campers sitting on the dock and on the hillside overlooking the water.  It is time for “Alone with God,” a fifteen minute period of silent prayer the campers have every morning.  The only sounds are of the birds and the ducks, the sounds of nature.  It is a reminder not only of the beauty of God’s creation, but a reminder that we need to spend more time enjoying the majesty of God’s handiwork and to spend more time in silent devotion to God.
 
Image Two—Prayer—Prayer is not only part of each camp session, it is the theme of the week.  Campers gather twice a day for worship in our chapel, a tent that is simply appointed with all the traditional appointments of an Orthodox Church.  The choir is not a few members standing in the back of the church but rather it is all the campers singing together all the responses.  Meals begin and end with prayer, as do all the other activities.  By the end of the week, campers have learned the Jesus Prayer and are wearing prayer bracelets.
 
Image three—Creativity of the campers—throughout the day, the campers have opportunities to show off their talents and develop new ones.  Whether it is painting in the art room, singing during the campfire, learning to play a new instrument in music class, paddling a canoe, a game of beach volleyball, or at the dodge ball tournament, the creative and competitive energies of the campers are put into action all day long.  Laughter abounds on skit night, as each cabin puts on a humorous performance.
 
Image Four—Rain—The first session of camp was filled with rain.  This challenged everyone to adapt.  Whether it was mud volleyball, soccer in a rainstorm, or everyone running from place to place in order to stay dry, it certainly did not put a damper on anyone’s camp experience.  A new song had even been written by the end of the week: “Welcome to St. Stephen’s Camp, I heard that it might rain.  Maybe we should change the name, to Camp Hurricane.”
 
Image five—challenging our comfort zone—we are at our best as far as learning goes when we stretch ourselves to places where perhaps we are not comfortable.  It is in this stretching that we grow.  Campers are challenged to work together as a team all week long.  Eighteen strangers bond in each cabin.  A ropes course challenges them to thing creatively and to work together.  Campers are challenged to open up and think about their Orthodox Christian lives during daily catechism sessions called Orthodox Life and nightly devotionals called Hang time.  These are led by the priests of our Metropolis, many of whom go to camp each summer.  Campers are also challenged to look inwardly and examine their spiritual lives as well as their lives in general.  Most of them take advantage of the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Confession and make a renewed start in their journey to salvation.
 
Image Six—Getting down to what is real—Lots of times we judge people on first impressions.  Perhaps the most powerful image from the first week of camp is from a camper who sat down for confession with me.  By the time we finished, this person was crying, tears of repentance.  My first impression of this person was that this person was superficial.  I told this person that now I was seeing what I believed was their real self—kind, gentle, not afraid to admit mistakes.  And for me, perhaps this is the best and most rewarding aspect of our camping program.  For teenagers whose lives often resemble soap operas, filled with peer pressure and superficiality, camp allows them, if only for a week, to get back to their true selves, to get down to what is real—recognizing that they are children of God.  This comes with both great personal responsibility but also great privilege for each of them.
 
This is St. Stephen’s Summer Camp—it’s real.  It’s powerful.  It’s great!  And I feel so blessed and privileged to be part of it.
 
Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis has served as the Camp Director since 2001 and is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida.