All through my life I have experienced many things, good and bad. I can most confidently say the tops of my good list all have one thing in common: Orthodoxy. Through the rough and the tough I have always felt that my Faith has always shown me “the way”.
The College Conference I attended at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, PA at the end of December definitely reinforced that strong belief. Something I noticed at this Conference: we were all Orthodox. Yes, this might seem obvious, since it is sponsored by the “Orthodox Christian Fellowship” (the College ministry of the Orthodox Church). But really, how often do you have 300 Orthodox Christians of every ethnicity worshipping and living together in one small area? Sure, we have our parishes, but parishioners don’t live together in the same housing, eating 3 meals a day together, going to class together and celebrating the services together. It is something that has always puzzled me: why don’t we all go to the same church and worship together? Well at the OCF College Conference, we did just that. It was a powerful experience for me. Everyone put their cultural differences aside and focused on the connection between us all: Orthodoxy.
At the conference our Diocesan students were quite outnumbered. Being a Carpatho-Rusyn was a rare commodity. I think most of the other students who attended did not know we existed. Despite being a little intimidating, I think it was good however to not know everyone and be that “rare breed”. It was refreshing to start new and interact with a people we did not know. When the activities were over for the day, many students sat inside the chapel singing hymns (according to their particular Orthodox tradition) or just listened to the singing. As Carpatho-Rusyns we had the opportunity to sing and chant our liturgical music, that is our familiar and beautiful Plain Chant. Our liturgical music is completely different in tonality and color by comparison to our fellow Orthodox Christian college students’ liturgical music. When we started to sing our Diocesan hymns, the other students were in awe that our music was so different than theirs. I believe this is how I felt when I first heard their music. Yes it is different, but there is something very sacred and simply beautiful about each. I most definitely enjoyed sharing our music with everyone else.
When I attended the Conference last year I noticed something that occurred this year as well. When we would have our Divine Liturgy on Sunday or Compline service in the evening, the music was very different to me so I was unable to sing along. Strangely I felt that the lack of familiarity with the music actually helped me understand the service more! I had time to think and pay attention to the meaning of the words and liturgical actions rather than focusing on the notes and rhythms of the music. I finally realized how the music and the words worked together to express the meaning and beauty of our Orthodox Services. That was both a powerful and important experience for me because I am a music major and mostly play music outside our liturgical tradition and which uses only notes to express meaning, not words to express theology and the teaching of the Church.
One experience that I know I will never forget is being in the presence of the Myrrh Streaming Icons from our church in Taylor, PA. Even though I have seen the miracle of these icons many times prior to the College Conference, it is still as wondrous to me as it was the first time I was in their presence. The miraculous icons never lose their awesome mystery and beauty. When I try to explain to people what the icon “does”, it seems that it would be easy to understand the concept of a Myrrh-Streaming Icon, but now I have started telling people that they have to be with her, that is St. Mary, to understand.
I am thankful that I had the opportunity to attend an event like College Conference. In a way it is like Camp Nazareth for college students. Going to Camp Nazareth and also attending College Conference are opportunities I feel others may not have but should. I believe these opportunities bring me closer to my faith when I am starting to stray. They help bring the true peace and strength of Orthodoxy back into my life. These thoughts and feelings, these realities, never come from other areas of my life and I am blessed to continue to find my way in our Orthodox Faith.
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