Like last year, I attended OCF College Conference East over winter break, and so did the Kardiotissa icon and its sister icon of the Theotokos from St. George in Taylor, PA. We were blessed to celebrate the Paraklesis service in St. Ignatius Church, which was absolutely beautiful. There’s nothing like 300 young people all chanting with all their heart the praises of the Theotokos while her palpable presence was among us.
After the service and the anointing, and after we had been chanting and singing hymns for a while, it was time for the icons to be moved to the chapel in the Conference Center at Antiochian Village, where the Conference was held. I suggested that myself and a couple others from our Diocese accompany the weeping icons in procession, and sing hymns while we processed. As we began to leave the Church, I was told that I was to take the smaller icon, the replica of the Iveron icon from Hawaii, and carry it in procession. I was taken aback; was I worthy enough to carry such a holy thing, an icon of the Theotokos that had once wept? I picked the icon up, and though it was small and fairly light even in its case, I remember praying “PLEASE do NOT let me drop this!”
We began to process, and we began to sing the hymns to the Mother of God, in Prostopinije, that we all knew well by heart. The bearer of the Kardiotissa and I were led by a flashlight and a candle across the field and down to the Conference Center, all while singing Marian hymns. It was absolutely beautiful and prayerful. When we reached the Conference Center, the students in the lobby enjoying the Christmas party turned around and parted, with two of them opening and holding the doors for us, making a way for us to pass through with the Theotokos. All conversations in the lobby were instantly replaced with silence, and the only sound was of us still singing as we passed through. I looked back and realized that we had a line of students following us, those who followed from the church and even some that we had passed along the way who joined our procession.
We continued through the hallways, still singing, and doors were opening left and right all down the halls as people heard us approach. Each person blessed themselves and bowed as we passed, the ultimate sign of reverence for the Mother of God and her presence among us. It was at this point that I noticed that the icon that I was holding was resting against my chest. I instantly felt a sense of peace and a slight warmth, not by any means overwhelming, but subtle and clearly evident. I was very moved by this, and felt very blessed by the opportunity that I had been given to bear this miracle-working icon. We reached the chapel, and I gave the icon to a priest who placed it in the Altar with the Kardiotissa, but my feeling of warmth and peace remained. We then remained in the chapel chanting, singing, and praying for another 5 hours, it must have been, before retiring for the night.
Both in the chapel after the procession and in the church before it, I experienced some of the most beautiful and prayerful singing and chanting that I have ever experienced. I have recordings of some of the singing from that night, and it doesn’t sound anywhere near the same as it did in the church and chapel. There were clearly Angels of the Lord joining in and augmenting our singing that night, and it was truly indescribable and unreplicable. The Theotokos was with us at College Conference, as were the Angels, the Saints, and our God, all blessing our singing, our fellowship, our time together, and our lives.
I thank God for the blessing to bear the icon of the Theotokos, and also for being able to attend College Conference again which made this experience possible. For those who are college students who have not been to the OCF College Conference yet: Come and See. I will remember my experience forever, and I promise you: you will remember yours, too.