This was my second year at College Conference East and I must say that it was just as incredible, if not more, than last year. Last year, I fully immersed myself in the afterhours singing which is what I wrote about last time. I did the same thing this year and was just as moved as last year, but I was inspired by another aspect of the College Conference experience.
This year, a single event opened my eyes to, now, one of my favorite attributes about our Faith. For the past couple years, Father Mark Leasure has brought the Kardiotissa icon to the retreat, and this year was no different. However, we typically had a service to the Mother of God in a big conference style room in the main building, but this year we had the service in the church that is a couple hundred yards from this main building. First of all, this church is a small but beautiful church with no pews so everyone has to stand. Even though I absolutely love the churches throughout our Diocese, and others, this is not the aspect that I fell in love with. No, what I fell in love with was the devotion of the people who are Orthodox.
Now, I bet you are asking yourself, “to what degree do you mean devoted” or “didn’t you see our people already devoted before you went to College Conference?” Both questions are valid but let me explain. Throughout my life, I always went to church; it was routine for me, but as I got older, specifically during my years in college, I quickly realized that not a lot of people are like that. My friends would always ask me why I am going to church every Sunday, or the one that really threw them for a loop was going to services during the week during Lent. They would always ask “isn’t going to services on Christmas and Easter enough?” This question always irritated me because it’s not enough, not for me, and honestly, I don’t think it’s enough for anybody. If it was, then there would only be services on those two days of the year.
At College Conference, I do not have to worry about getting asked this question. Instead, everyone is with me in the church just as long, some even longer, which astonishes me because being in a church and singing for hours is physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting. The fact that some people have enough energy to keep going for hours and hours, or to continue on after they have already given it all, is astonishing. But now, let me bring the Kardiotissa and this one event back into the conversation.
Because we had the service in the church, the icon was there as well and once we were done, some of us stayed to continue to sing to Her; shocking, I know. The others went to get ready for the Christmas sweater party that was happening that night. Well, it got to the point where we needed to leave the church and Father Mark was not taking the Kardiotissa with him; instead, she would be in the chapel in the main building all night for us to come see Her. We then processed her from the church to the chapel to give her a proper entrance. Mostly, this procession consisted of people from our diocese so we, of course, proceeded to sing hymns. Well, as we walked to the chapel, we had to walk down the hallways where people’s rooms were located. As we walked down the hallway, it was as if the Mother of God herself knocked on the doors before we got near them because as we continued down the hall, doors were opened and everyone was either bowing, crossing themselves, or prostrating as the icon passed by them.
This is the devotion that I am talking about. I doubt any other religion would have people who would show this kind of love and devotion to a “piece of art.” Instead, we Orthodox fully believe that the Mother of God is living and working through this icon to help us become closer with Her Son. This is what I love about us and our Faith. This is what I love about coming to College Conference.
I get to be around other people who are like me in our Faith; people who love their Faith and its practices. There is no hatred here, no bickering over right or wrong, there is only love…the closest thing to the purest love that we could ever possibly imagine, Christ’s love for us. I found that here, at College Conference, and the only way that we are able to obtain this kind of love is to be fully devoted to our Faith so that God gives us that gift of His love.