The world has vastly changed in the last 50 years, let alone the past century. The issues that young people are facing and having to navigate today are different to those their parents and grandparents encountered. Meanwhile the rise in technology has made a wealth of information available at our fingertips, but for some it can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to developing a spiritual identity Bishop Ezekiel of Dervis told Neos Kosmos.

“With so many choices on how to live in today’s society, the question remains which choice truly nourishes the heart, the mind, and the soul, and not only the body?”

To connect with the community’s youth and help shed some light on moral social issues from the Christian perspective, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia is hosting a series of Youth Conferences across Australia for people between the ages of 15 and 30. The first will take place in the District of Melbourne this month, focusing on ‘CHANGE – How we navigate our way through a diverse world’, with His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Australia one of the presenters.

Organised by young people to explore questions put forward by them, the conference will delve into everything from abortion, euthanasia, and climate change, to the family unit, as well as safe use of social media.

“How do we navigate our way through complex ideas and beliefs, with Our Lord as the compass point? Which choices are of benefit to our eternal life and salvation? Ethical decisions around life and death; our relationship with the natural environment; how do we live in a society in unity and love when there is so much destruction and division around us? These are the questions we hope to address in the Youth Conference,” explains Bishop Ezekiel.

Youth leader Alex Logan, 16, joined the organising committee two months ago, wanting to broaden his horizons and focus his efforts on something “meaningful”. Aware that he will be able to legally vote in two years, it is a responsibility he takes seriously, and says many young people he knows, himself included, are seeking guidance in developing their own voice and opinions.

“As we’ve seen, social issues have been changing quite rapidly over these past couple of decades and I know personally, as well as other people, all have questions about these issues and the ethics surrounding them,” Alex tells Neos Kosmos. “We want to have answers, and we want to have a way of finding these answers.”

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While Alex acknowledges the media and speaking to family can be a good starting point in educating oneself, he says a community-based project such as the Youth Conference is appealing, as it will be a chance for young people to come together, connect, ask their questions, and get direct answers from experts.

Youth Leader, Evie Starakis, 16, shares Alex’s views, adding that it is particularly appealing to hear answers from an Orthodox Christian view point, so as to learn more about her religion.

“We’re so young and we don’t know everything about the world, and these questions that we have, when we get them answered, we will know where we stand and how to go about situations that we encounter,” Evie says.

(L-R) Orthodox Youth leaders: Demi Zafiropoulos, Victoria Xarhakos, Renee Zafiropoulos, Nicholas Petrakis, Ari Tsoulakos, Alexander Logan and Jonathan Daoulas. Photo: Supplied

Alex says the conference is also a way to further inspire young people who may feel overwhelmed and powerless by events they see unfolding in the world to realise that they too can use their voice, and become more involved.

“We want to give our youth their own voices to go ahead and be able to participate in these discussions when they have them with other people, or to at least have some knowledge about them. That’s important as we are the future,” he says, which seems to be understood by the Church.

“It is extremely important that the voice of our youth be heard within the Church,” says Bishop Ezekiel. “It should never surprise us the maturity and depth of thought that young people bring to any conversation, from the perspective of their generation. Many times it is through the words of the simple and the pure in heart – our youth – that we can learn our greatest lessons for the Church.”

The conference has been divided into four parts.

Archbishop Makarios will draw on his studies in bioethics, delving into ethical dilemmas such as abortion and euthanasia, as well as other scientific advances.

Artemisia (Soula) Bennett, director of Quantum Victoria, will present on environmental ethics, looking into climate change and the unprecedented bushfires in Australia.

Chris Vlahonasios, owner of TRANSFIGURE Media, will use his industry expertise to discuss social media use, exploring the reasons behind why people behave the way they do online and how to stay safe.

The conference will culminate with a panel discussion on social ethics, led by solicitor and writer Dean Kalimniou who will explore the historical development of the family unit. The discussion will then open to questions from the audience.

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Attendees will also take part in activities and have the chance to socialise and make new friends.

“The belief and teachings of the Church were given to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ, and are as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago,” says Bishop Ezekiel. “Each generation must wrestle with these answers given to us by Our Lord to the problems that each of us face as individuals in our personal lives today. Peace, love, and joy are given to us as a gift from God, and is sadly so often missing from our lives and from the world.”

The first Youth Conference will take place on Saturday 25 January at Oakleigh Grammar. Attendance is free. Register online (essential).