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From December 27 through December 31st 2007, hundreds of college students, post-college students and seminarians converged upon Antiochian Village in Western Pennsylvania to take part in their annual college conference. Among those participating were four young men from our Diocese: Nathan Bachofsky (St. Nicholas; Warren, OH), John Fallon (Holy Resurrection; Potomac, MD), John Miller (Holy Transfiguration, Crawfordsville, IL) and Sub-Deacon and Seminarian Matthew Stagon (St. John the Baptist; E. Pittsburgh, PA).
Seminarian Stagon mentioned that the conference offered "many good things for Orthodox Christians of college age...there are a lot of good speakers with a lot of fun events mixed in as well " The activities were many and varied, ranging from the spiritual (prayers, Divine Liturgy) to the educational (workshops and Q & A sessions) to recreational (bowling, a dance, etc).
For Nathan Bachofsky, the experience reminded him of another familiar place in Western Pennsylvania: Camp Nazareth. "For five days, young people from all over the country gather together, leaving behind the monsters of the real world in order to focus on what it means to live an Orthodox Christian life and how to bring these practices into our everyday lives after the conference."
John Fallon felt that an experience like this one helps strengthen your faith. "The most rewarding part for me was seeing what type of Orthodox Christian I can be" says Fallon. "We talk about distractions of the real world but often do not realize their great impact on us until we are able to escape them." Nathan echoed those thoughts himself.
"It's such an amazing experience worshiping and spending a weekend with people your age and your faith, who have the same questions and concerns as you. In some ways, this conference has made me more comfortable with myself as an Orthodox Christian. I no longer feel weird fasting on Fridays in front of my peers, or turning in a little early Saturday nights because I have church the next morning."
Everyone seemed to have left with one specific thing making the greatest impression upon them and it was an unscheduled event! "The last night of the conference" says Bachofsky, "I joined my friends on a walk to the grave of St. Raphael, an American saint buried on the grounds of Antiochian Village. It was there that we privately prayed and sang hymns." Adds Stagon, "It was amazing to be in the dead still of the night and singing praises to God as a group. We did this for an hour and a half and it definitely had the greatest impact of all." Fallon said that "free of those worldy distractions, I felt a peace I had not felt in recent memory. In fact, I am not sure I have ever prayed like that in my life." Added Bachofsky: "I can honestly say I left that grave a different person." Many of the young people who attended would spend long periods of time in the chapel or elsewhere singing and praying. When you think of it, it's not a bad way to spend an evening. Stagon says he found that to "be amazing; reminiscent of things you hear about in the monastery setting."
Most college students have only a few weeks off for their Christmas break. Taking a few of those days to spend focusing on your faith is something to strongly consider. The conference is held every year between December 25th and New Years. Make plans now to attend next year. Seminarian Stagon summed it up in this way: "It provides the perfect balance for a young adult Orthodox Christian to get away from the world and have an enjoyable time. Balance is what every Orthodox Christian of college age is looking for. I know that from speaking with people there. They are all searching for that balance between too much and too little of many things. And this is surely the place to find it."