Waving to the Harvard and MIT students as they boarded the bus bringing them back to their dorms, I felt an incredible sense of joy and contentment. I had just spent the evening with a dynamic group of Orthodox college students. As Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Fellowship, what better way to welcome students to their ‘home away from home’ than to have them over for a home-cooked meal. MIT and Harvard’s OCF were the first to take me up on this invitation. So, on Thursday night, eight students not only shared a meal with my family, they touched our hearts.
Every year moms, dads, grandparents, and parishioners open their homes to college students. Thank you. You are truly ministering to our students at a time when they need us the most. My hope is this quick reflection will get others to do so as well. October is a perfect time, just as our young students are fighting homesickness, colds, and the stress of their academic load.
- College students appreciate a home cooked meal.
Let’s be honest: food matters to Orthodox Christian College students. They come from homes where meals are celebrated and joyful. So, it only takes about a month of cafeteria food for the longing for food, made with love, to hit hard. Here is where we have a huge opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to our young scholars. Make your standard dish and grateful students will nominate you for America’s Top Chef. Believe me, nothing is more gratifying than eight college students taking seconds and thirds of your chicken Parmesan.
- What defines our college students? Orthodoxy!
I live in a college town, so every day I see students working very hard to define themselves. Student proudly fashion unique majors, body art, and provocative playlists to stand out. While my guests had no visible tattoos, what makes these students stand out is their commitment to an Ancient Faith that no one on campus is familiar with. They are the ones noted for their kindness, reliability, and fortitude. They are the designated drivers for weekend parties, the ones that check in on a friend in the hospital and the ones who break up the fight. They are known as campus leaders. These Orthodox students stand out for something that is internal but resonates in their joyful and Orthodox-based interaction with the world, all of which is centered on their deep belief in the mystery of Christ.
- Our belief in Christ trumps our differences.
What happens when you have Greek, Antiochian, Russian, Bulgarian, Syriac, and Coptic students around a table? You are treated to a seminar on the history of the early Church from different perspectives. And you see how our cultural differences pale in comparison to our love of Christ. These young people have formed a bond and will be life-long friends. But what happens when they return to parish life as adults and don’t find the vibrant unity experienced in OCF? This is a hot topic of discussion with today’s college students.
- College is Orthodox boot camp: the survival of the fittest.
College is like being thrown into the deep end of the pool. Those who make it develop a strong stroke; they can tell their peers what it means to be Orthodox. If our young people who don’t know much about what Orthodoxy stands for and don’t go looking for answers, they will not be connected to the Church when they graduate. The young people I had dinner with know their Faith, they can talk about it and defend it. They have accomplished this without assistance other than themselves. Those who survive this transition have assimilated their Faith in new and profound ways.