Congratulations to Stephen Kaelin who was awarded First Place in the Junior Division of the 34th National Saint John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America which was held June 9 - 11, 2017 and hosted by the Metropolis of Boston. Stephen placed first in the Metropolis of San Francisco Oratorical Festival held on May 13, 2017 at Saint Nicholas Ranch and Retreat Center in Dunlap, CA. The Senior Division finalist from the Metropolis of San Francisco, Dean Anagnostopoulos, from Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church in San Bernardino, CA, was awarded third place in the National Festival.

“We are very proud of Stephen and his accomplishments in this wonderful program,” stated His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco. “When I heard his presentation at the Ranch, I was very impressed with the superb content and the way he conveyed his message which is very applicable to each of our lives, and especially to our world today. To have a national winner and a national finalist in this program from our Metropolis demonstrates the quality and value of the Oratorical Festival and I congratulate Stephen, Dean and all the participants for their achievements.”

Stephen is 14 years old and lives in Eugene, OR with his parents, Brian and Ann Marie. He is an excellent student who is entering studies for his sophomore year in high school through home schooling. He also plays trumpet and is on a rowing team. The Kaelin family has a long legacy of participation in the Oratorical Festival, with his siblings Timothy and Emily also having previously represented their home parish of Saint George Greek Orthodox Church in Eugene, OR.

When asked about the Oratorical Festival, Stephen Kaelin offered the following, “I have had a wonderful experience participating in the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival. I began by speaking at my parish in the elementary division. This was my third year in the junior division. I have gone to districts three times and twice to the Metropolis Festival; this was my first National Festival. This program has helped me to not only mature in my public speaking skills but also grow in my faith. I have made numerous Orthodox friends across the country through the Festival. It has been and always will be an honor representing my parish of St. George and the Metropolis of San Francisco. I hope to continue in this program for my remaining three years of high school.”

Following is the speech presented by Stephen Kaelin at the National Saint John Chrysostom Oratorical for which he was awarded First Place in the Junior Division. The topic he selected for his speech is: “The opening petition of the Divine Liturgy is ‘In peace let us pray to the Lord.’ What is this peace, and why do we need it to begin our prayers?”

Junior Division Oratorical Festival Presentation  
By Stephen Kaelin

A fellow soldier of St. Paisios once described a battle scene:

One day we were on the top of a ridge they called Killer Ridge. The rebels had us surrounded and there was no exit or way out. Arsenios was standing while the bullets flew past us right and left. I grabbed his coat and tried to pull him down, but he stayed just as he was, looking up to the sky with his hands held in prayer. Apparently the Almighty took pity on us, because our air support arrived and opened up the road.  As we left, I said to him, 

“So what was that all about? Why didn’t you take cover?”

“I was praying,” he replied.

In peace, St. Paisios was praying to the Lord.

In peace let us pray to the Lord. This is the opening petition of the Divine Liturgy. The word “peace” is said over 30 times during the Liturgy. What is this peace?  This peace is not the absence of external conflict. It is inner peace, peace of the soul. Christ says in (John 14:27) “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” 

Peace is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  It follows from love and joy.  Blessed Theophylact says, “One who has peace of soul is untroubled by thoughts or by any external circumstances.” Saint John of Krondstadt said, “The peace of heart through lively faith in [Christ], proves more clearly than the day, that God is constantly present near me, and that He dwells in me.” The Divine Liturgy is our encounter with Christ, who is ‘the true peace’ for man.

Why do we need peace? We need inner peace in order to fully participate in the sacraments.  Peace has been described as oxygen, the clean air in which the Church can live.  We should be peaceful within ourselves and then amongst our brethren. The prayers before Holy Communion instruct us to “first reconcile ourselves with them that grieve us.” For example, when I have argued with my brother, I have to apologize before I receive Communion. How can we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ if we are holding a grudge?  If we are not at peace, how do we expect the God of peace to dwell inside of us? As Saint Nectarios teaches, “One who is deprived of peace is deprived of divine grace.”

You might be asking, “How do we acquire peace?” The answer is through prayer and repentance. When we approach Christ in a state of repentance He in turn takes us where His peace reigns. By God’s grace, we can experience His Kingdom here on earth during the Divine Liturgy.

In order to pray with peace, we need to pray for peace. We begin our day with the prayer, “Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul.” Recently I had a very important race for my rowing team. Before the race I was very nervous and stressed. There was loud music playing all around me, people were talking and getting ready, everything was extremely distracting. I realized I needed to take a moment to pray. I said a quick prayer and made the Sign of the Cross. I was suddenly at peace; I felt calm and ready. It was amazing. Amidst the confusion of the world, a small prayer and the Sign of the Cross brings peace.

How could St. Paisios calmly pray as bullets flew by him? He had acquired peace through his life of unceasing prayer. I encourage you to follow his example and in the words of St. Paul, “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

May peace be with you.