During Great Lent, we are asked to thoroughly examine ourselves, identifying our strengths, vices, personality, values and how this all relates to our relationship with God. To do this, it is necessary to look at how you have reached your current spiritual state. Everyone has a slightly different story, but as OCF members, there is a common bond we all share: college. College campuses are ripe with opportunity, both for self-improvement and temptation. It is a time where people are deciding on their careers, and defining who they are as people. Some discover new traits and ideals, but many find it very easy to lose their way. We are blessed by the presence of OCF on many college campuses, providing a means by which for college students to help shape their emerging identities with Christian values and through the guidance and friends, family and clergy.
When people think of "church groups," their initial thoughts tend to think of bible studies or just a group of people who attend weekly services together. While these aspects are valid and helpful, OCF is far more than just a group that holds meetings and attends liturgy. Through discussions, students are able to explore spiritually without the threat of judgment or condemnation. By attending services at different parishes, people are exposed to the many "flavors" of Orthodoxy, being able to take in how others interpret their faith. However, an aspect of OCF that may not be thought of as often is how it can impact those who are not Orthodox and even those who are unaware of the organization. This is most often done, not with signs, speeches or fliers, but with how OCF members carry themselves in their daily lives. It is by reputation, by action, that we take Orthodox values and share them with those around us.
On Oct. 8, 2011, His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah met with several college students and clergy following Great Vespers and the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Meriden, CT. During this discussion, he was asked how college students best spread the word about Orthodoxy and what OCF has to offer. To this, the Metropolitan answered simply that by carrying yourself as an Orthodox Christian, by living by those values taught in scripture, a single person is able to help others far more than by proclaiming their beliefs in public forum.
This is not to say that we need to go plan fantastical events or perform heroic deeds by which to feel validated in our faith. Rather, and arguably more importantly, it is in the smaller, less conspicuous actions that we describe ourselves. The manner in which you speak to and interact with others, whether in conversation or simply in passing, can draw people who may share your values. This is a means of not only sharing Christian values with others, but also, may encourage others to seek out groups like OCF. One of the more foolhardy tactics that can be taken when trying to recruit new members, whether they are Orthodox or not, is to try and "force" them to come. Retaining (or in some cases, returning to) a spiritual life must be done willfully, and imposing your beliefs on others will rarely yield success. The goal is instead to encourage others, to make them want to attend meetings, to foster their desire to learn more about their faith and spiritual values.
With this in mind, let me present a challenge to you (and myself for that matter). During your reflection this Lenten season, take some time and think about how you represent yourself, whether it be in church, at an OCF meeting, in class or even when no one is watching. Ask yourself if this is a true representation of your Christian values. If it is, wonderful, keep doing what you are doing. If there are times where they may seem dormant, try and figure out ways to change that.
We are human, innately flawed and prone to making mistakes. However, it is through the forgiveness and mercy of God that we are able to move on and try to better ourselves from these experiences. In this way, we are able to grow spiritually and fortify our relationship with God. With the help of this kind of reflection, and the support of OCF, we are able to spread our values and beliefs to all those we meet, be they family, friends, colleagues or even those who we may consider our enemies or rivals. Above all else, let us strive to show love, compassion and understanding to those we meet, to live as a Christian at all times, and use this Lenten season as a chance to motivate ourselves to this purpose.