This winter I attended the OCF College Conference for the second year at Antiochian Village. Once again I got to reconnect and spend valuable time with my friends from Camp Nazareth and feel at home. Although I never attended Antiochian Village as a camper or staff member, it reminds me of Camp Nazareth in the ways everyone comes together and the presence of God is so powerful in those spaces. Camp is one of the places where I felt the most connected to God in my life, and after years of attending and working at Camp Nazareth, and establishing a home there, it feels amazing to be able to do that in another place.
Having an Orthodox family has always been an integral part of my life and has kept me closer to my Faith in a lot of ways. Going to College Conference, I get to see my Orthodox friends who I have grown with for so long, but even the people I don’t really know at the Conference have an impact on me and help create a comfortable, dynamic space. When all 320 of us were in the chapel, or singing, playing games, dancing, or praying, it brings me such peace. Of course we’re excited and we’re having fun and sometimes being really loud, but it’s still a very peaceful time for me, because I feel so at ease and can feel any worries or conflict slip away.
The purpose of camp is to create an environment where we can truly live the way we were meant to as Orthodox Christians – happy and peaceful, dedicating our time and hearts to our spiritual lives. It really is the perfect set up for a life like that, and even getting that for a few days is a wonderful boost I need before we all part ways.
This year, College Conference was especially beneficial to me because I learned so much. The leaders of the conference spent extra effort this year to teach us a lot about our Faith, which is something that I think is vital to being a committed member of the Church but that I largely missed out on for a long time. Being given the opportunity to attend seminars and lectures and having the clergy there for us during the Conference makes a big difference. I was able to use those four days to broaden my knowledge and ultimately understand more about our Faith and it’s practices.
My favorite moment of College Conference was singing, especially on the night the myrrh-streaming icon came. We had a beautiful Paraklesis service and listened to Father Mark Leasure speak for a while, then we all came up to venerate the icons and be anointed with myrrh before exiting the church. A group of Antiochian students stood near the choir stand and led hymns. A group of Carpatho-Russian students (most of the Camp Nazareth people) went toward the front to be with some friends who happened to visit the Conference that evening. We decided to sing one of our own songs that we often sing at Camp Nazareth and jumped in with “You Are The God Who Creates Miracles” first in English then in Slavonic. The other people in the church seemed surprised at first but listened nicely while we sang loudly. It was a fantastic moment for me because we are all so proud of our Church singing and the Conference allowed me to experience other groups’ singing and traditions while sharing ours.
We later held an OCA Vespers service, and the Arab and Greek students taught us how to do their ethnic dances. I think it’s really important for Orthodox people of different ethnicities to be united like this since we are so often segmented and only familiar with our own Diocese or Jurisdiction. The power of 320 Orthodox college students being together is that we can worship together and have fun, but we also have so much to teach and learn from each other.