This December I attended OCF College Conference East (CCE) for the first time. I was encouraged to go by other members of my OCF at Temple University, including our chapter’s spiritual adviser, Father Joel, who also served as the spiritual adviser for the whole conference. I talked to some other Camp Nazareth staff members about the Conference and became really excited to spend time with my Orthodox family again. That was the best part of the Conference for me.
The one thing everyone at Camp always talks about is how they feel being in an environment of all Orthodox people. We get so close to one another because we can connect through our faith without other distractions. College Conference was able to mirror this for me, and for four days I was almost brought back to that amazing feeling of comfort and love I always experience at Camp Nazareth.
The ten weeks that I spent at Camp this summer were very influential for me. I re-centered myself and was able to take my life further in the direction of God and the life I want to be living. The people I worked with are now some of my best friends. It takes an experience like the one I had to refocus yourself on what is truly important in life. This summer was not the first time I’ve felt this way. Being in an Orthodox community is and has been very important in my life. Family gatherings, church events, and summers at Camp Nazareth tie the rest of my time together through my Orthodox Faith, and now College Conference can be added to that list of pivotal experiences.
Antiochian Village is a strictly an Orthodox environment. Although we are different ethnically, we are connected through a love of God and our practices in the Church. Like Camp Nazareth, College Conference provided a place where we can fully embrace our Faith, and we all are better for it. The people I spent College Conference with are not merely my friends, but truly my family because of the role Orthodoxy plays in my life. Praying with your friends is a bonding activity quite unlike anything else.
At Camp this past summer, Father Mark Leasure brought the weeping Panagia icon five weeks in a row. The first time he visited, we concluded the Paraklesis service by singing the hymn “Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride” in Greek. I only knew the refrain, but it was one of the most moving moments of my entire summer (and that really is saying a lot). This year at CCE, we sang “Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride” in the chapel after the evening compline and it was a highlight of the whole Conference for me. The hymn will always have a deeply spiritual effect on me and it meant a lot to be able to share that once more not only with my Camp family but now with all these fellow college students.
Seeing all those students worshipping as one congregation made me feel much more secure in my own faith. It is easy to feel alone as an Orthodox Christian in college, but OCF has been a really important part of the connection I have maintained with Orthodoxy while at school. I go to church with other members of Temple’s OCF and have Father Joel to look toward should I need spiritual guidance. Although we first spent time together as a matter of convenience, like the Staff at Camp Nazareth, the people in my Orthodox family have transcended a simple “workplace relationship” with me. They are so meaningful to me, and their presence at CCE and the atmosphere they helped create really made my time at Antiochian Village what it was.
I owe sincere gratitude to the Carpatho-Russian Diocese for providing me (and others) a scholarship to attend. I really look forward to returning to CCE next year and expanding both my Orthodox faith and family.
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