This past winter break I had the opportunity to attend OCF’s College Conference East at Antiochian village for the second time. Much like our own Camp Nazareth, this conference presents students with the unique opportunity to experience life surrounded by fellow Orthodox Christians and provides a daily spiritual routine to live the faith as one often fails to be able to in today’s increasingly secular and anti-Christian society.
That being said, my personal experience was incredible. There is truly nothing like living the faith with those around you. Meeting new people in this environment is just as simple as saying “hello.” Because of our shared faith everyone already has a connection to one another at a very fundamental level, which helps many new relationships to form, even with people you meet the very first day of the Conference. It also helps you to strengthen the relationships formed the previous year at College Conference. This is the same even with His Grace Bishop Gregory who attends College Conference each year. As his students we are able to deepen our spiritual ties with him just as we do with one another.
Bishop Gregory often refers to the Eucharist as a “vaccine” that you get every week so that the moment you leave those church doors you are the strongest you can ever be; ready to take on the world and anything that is thrown your way. For me College Conference provides the same type of spiritual strength. After a semester in college, surrounded by an ever increasingly faith-absent environment it is rejuvenating to be able to spend time growing in my own personal faith with the help of 300 plus young adults just like me.
One of the most memorable experiences from this past College Conference was joining in prayer and singing to the Mother of God as we celebrated a Paraklesis in the presence of the Myrrh streaming icon, The Kardiotissa. Just encountering this icon is an experience like none other, combined with the praises of over 300 young people of our Faith was an uplifting experience far beyond what words can express. At one point we watched a brief video of kids from Camp Naz encountering the icon and immediately a radiating smile was on my face and I felt a comfort and happiness that very few things in my life are able to evoke. Additionally, it is often difficult to grasp the attention of college kids, let alone when it comes to something such as participating in church services but the unexplainable draw to the presence of the Theotokos kept countless numbers of us up late into the night singing praises to the Mother of God, even Christmas hymns.
Spanning all languages; Greek, Arabic, English, Slavonic, even Spanish, and all traditions; Greek, Antiochian, OCA, and Carpatho-Russin of course, we were able to gather together as one, despite our traditional differences which, other than determining if we had to look at the music or not, went unnoticed. Encountering our group you would have thought we had all grown up together in the same town, the same city, the same school, when actually few of us had ever met before. This is just one of my many experiences this past college conference, but it left me with an important message to share.
Regardless of background, race, ethnicity, or tradition, we were able to gather together as one body of Orthodox Christians and worship and live life peacefully, with understanding accompanied by great joy and love in our hearts. I could not have wished for a more incredible group of people to not only spend my break with, but also my birthday.
By the grace of God I intend to be at College Conference as long as they will permit me, and I hope that through my shared experiences people can also learn to grow and appreciate the faith as a whole, joining together with every Orthodox Christian so that we may spread God’s love, and work through our prayers and most importantly our actions.