As all college students leave campus for winter break, we are all so relieved that the semester has now ended. Throughout the past few months, many of us have been drowned in school work and other commitments which increase our stress, and often distract us (if we let them) from prayer and God’s Kingdom. So as we head home, our college friends ask us what our plans for Christmas and New Year’s Eve are, and ask us how relieved we are to be going home. However, at the same time, my OCF friends and I begin expressing how joyous we are to be going to the OCF College Conference East at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, PA. When we have just been through a tiring semester, Orthodox Christian college students are simply looking to reconnect with other Orthodox Christians to secure our faith and to proclaim that God is in fact with us.
We all know the verse “where two are three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” What about when there are more than three-hundred people? The immense joy felt at College Conference when prayer is said together by more than three-hundred souls, helps college students to be reminded of the grace of our Lord and His most definite existence at a time when they need it the most. Many people go on vacations during their winter break for physical relaxation (and honestly there’s nothing wrong with that), but I think those of us who attend the OCF College Conference bring our tired souls to our Lord, so to speak, so that we might continue in our studies for the glory of God. The Lord gives us rest, friendship, and then further strengthens us in ways that many of our college friends simply wouldn’t understand, and even in ways that we ourselves don't understand.
While Orthodox Christians go to school, it is often hard for us to find other Orthodox Christian College Students, and even if we can find others, it is hard to get together with our busy schedules. When we are experiencing such the stress our schoolwork hands us, we often look around for God’s love and strength. We ask our Lord how this could be so hard, and we ask Him where He is as we struggle. We think, when there are two or three gathered in Your name, You are there also. But what if it is just one? What happens when there is just one student sitting in the library, alone and tired? This is one of the biggest struggles for Orthodox Christian college students – there is a certain element of loneliness, and is one that is relieved by the OCF College Conference.
When we tell our college friends that we’re going to a conference for Orthodox Christians, we are presented with a question along the lines of, “So will you just be praying and/or going to Church a lot?” While there is a good amount of time specifically planned for prayer, and while we do pray before meals, the notion that all we do is pray is somewhat wrong. We are in prayer in Church for about three to four hours a day, and that’s it. However, I can promise that at the OCF College Conference, we are in prayer, in fact, for every hour that we are there. It may not seem like it, but again, when two or three are gathered in the Lord’s name, He is there also. We are all gathered there to draw closer to our Lord, to give and receive love, kindness, and joy, and most certainly are gathered there in His name. Whether we are simply talking to our friends, dancing, singing, or eating, we are constantly surrounded by prayer and we are being strengthened by our Lord. This shows us that we do not need to physically be in a Church, or physically be saying prayers, to know that God is in the midst of us. When the Conference comes to an end, we are all devastated to say goodbye to our friends in Christ, but we also know that we have been rejuvenated with our Lord’s love and have been given the strength to conquer all things, even the seemingly endless amount of work our college schedules place upon us.
So, whether you are a college student, or someone simply wondering what goes on at the OCF College Conference and what its impact is, I believe that this Conference is one of the most transformative events that an Orthodox Christian college student could attend. When we are all alone, struggling with our work, being distracted and tempted by this world, we can be strengthened remembering what we witnessed at the College Conference. We do not need to be physically praying to know that God is with us. The College Conference has set up a network of strong friendships, which can now be accessed at any time or location thanks to today’s technology, for when any of us are in need. But ultimately, all of us are now confident that we do not need to “just be praying and going to Church” to be in God’s presence. Having attended College Conference we now know that He is right next to us at our desk, skipping sleep with us, eating with us, and of course, sharing His Glory with us. Among the many places we could have been during College Conference, we were all right where we needed to be.