This year I was blessed to attend College Conference East, sponsored by the National OCF. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, since it was my first year attending; I assumed I would have a good time with my friends, meet some new people, and learn more about my faith. All of my expectations were not only met, but greatly exceeded.
There were 13 college students from our Diocese present at the conference. I knew most of them from various diocesan functions and especially Camp Nazareth, but some of the older ones I knew only as counselors, not as close friends. The setting of College Conference helped me connect with these people, putting us on a level of equality as college students as opposed to a camper/counselor status. It was nice to build relationships with them, as well as develop my relationships further with some of my closest friends. While we did branch out and meet other people, we spent a lot of time together as students from the same Diocese and as old friends. It was absolutely wonderful to catch up with everyone, to learn more about each other and about our Faith together with them, and just to be together and spend time with good friends.
While I knew 12 other people going in to the Conference, there were another 300 that I did not know. It didn’t stay that way for long. When Ben Worobey and I went to check in with our group in the airport, many people immediately came up to us and introduced themselves (because we were both freshmen) and asked us our names, hometowns, schools, and majors. We then made many new friends both at the airport, including one close friend with whom we spent a lot of our time over the next 4 days, and on the bus to Antiochian Village. Most of our conversations centered on the Church and our Orthodox Faith. It’s amazing how the Orthodox Faith serves as a uniting factor to bring people together; our religion is able to unite us and provide a meaningful connection that we can center meaningful friendships around.
Throughout the duration of the Conference, I made many new friends and connections, as each meal, each workshop, and each breakout group activity was a chance to meet new people from different colleges, different states, and different Orthodox jurisdictions. While it was hard to remember everyone’s name because of the sheer number of people present, I still became familiar with a large portion of the Conference attendees and had some level of interaction with them as the weekend progressed. I made a connection with someone who is a music education major like me because of chanting in the chapel after services, which led to a new friendship. All in all, everyone wanted to be there, and everyone wanted to meet new people, which made it so easy to make new friends. And, most of all, being in communion with so many other Orthodox young adults was incredibly rewarding; we got the opportunity to be in communion with each other, and it is heartening to see so many other people like you who are striving to keep God in their lives in college, despite the challenge that the current world poses to an Orthodox lifestyle.
I learned a lot about my faith at College Conference. Bishop John spoke about our involvement in God’s Royal Priesthood. I found most interesting the fact that he constantly made distinctions between “priests” and “presbyters.” He taught that while not all of us are, will be, or can be presbyters, that is ordained priests, we are all priests by our responsibility to our Faith, and our ministry to others. While I knew all of us should witness to the Faith in everything we do, I had never thought of all of us as priests of the Royal Priesthood that is our Orthodox Faith. I have to thank Bishop John and College Conference for giving me a new outlook on my personal service, and the responsibility that we all have to witness to the Faith in all that we do.
Mostly, I enjoyed the Conference because of the environment. The mix of cultures, backgrounds, and jurisdictions made for a very diverse pan-orthodox environment to spend a few days in. It was fascinating to experience the Liturgy and services in the style of Byzantine Chant that I had never experienced before. After services in the chapel, many people would stay late and just chant and sing hymns. This was especially incredible while we were in the presence of the Kardiotissa Icon from St. George’s in Taylor. We sang not only Antiochian- and Greek-style Byzantine melodies, but Russian melodies and our Carpatho-Russian Prostopinije melodies as well. Everyone was singing, and we were proud to share our traditions with the predominantly Byzantine attendance. The best part was that everyone was open to all different traditions, and it was great to learn about and participate in their traditions as well as when they participated in ours. Hearing 300 college students all singing together with one voice was absolutely beautiful and amazing. These hours spent in the chapel praying with the other students and singing was the best part of College Conference. Music ties people together, and prayer and Orthodoxy unite people as well; when you combine all of these elements it is a powerful emotional experience.
College Conference was one of the best and most rewarding spiritual experiences of my life. Experiences like the singing in the chapel and the camaraderie from that and from simple fellowship were incredible, and the education about my Faith was also very profitable. The diversity of the different cultures was awesome, and was a taste of how the future of Orthodoxy in America could be; different traditions and jurisdictions coming together to praise and glorify God. I am highly thankful that I was able to attend, and I would heartily recommend that ALL Orthodox college students experience this at some point in their college years, if not during all of them. I know that I will be back next year and am already looking forward to it!
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