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I recently had the privilege of attending College Conference East at the Antiochian Village near Johnstown, PA. I wanted to go to this Conference because I felt I would gain a better understanding of both my Orthodox faith and my peers from other Orthodox jursidictions who would worship alongside me. I have to admit that the Conference was not what I had expected. Accompanied by His Grace Bishop Gregory we “Carpies” were a rare breed among the many other Orthodox college students in attendance who were of many different ethinic backgrounds including Antiochian, Greek, and Ukrainian. I was able to get to know Orthodox students from Texas, Arizona, Florida and Quebec and the friendships I forged at the conference will endure for years to come. This diversity of students ended up being one of the most enjoyable aspects of the entire trip. The Conference was an incredible mix of Orthodox cultures slightly different from my own and although the hymns and words in the church services were slightly different from what I was use to, the services were clear to me and I knew I was “home”.
My “home” among new Orthodox friends helps explain the central focus of the convention which was unity. This understanding of “unity in the community” they promoted throughout our Conference journey really struck a personal chord. I learned that focusing on what brings us together is much more relevant than any sort of ethnic or cultural difference. I felt our unity as Orthodox Christians strongest when we collectively witnessed the miracle of the weeping icons from St. George’s Church . Fr. Mark Leasure brought both icons to the retreat as the third and final keynote “speaker”. Words cannot accurately describe my experience seeing the Icons, except to say that it is something to be witnessed in person. We witnessed this miracle not as ethnically separate individuals...but as united Orthodox Christians. The entire experience was both spiritually gratifying, and socially engaging. I think you realize that although we may come from different walks of life, Orthodox Christianity has the power to bring people together and transform lives.