When I arrived home from College Conference East, I felt, as Bishop Gregory put it to us in one of his sermons, “on fire for Orthodoxy.” I came home excited about the Orthodox Church, and I kept thinking about different ways that I could share my experiences with others. While I don’t think that there’s anything wrong about this, it was not until much later that I realized that I have another much more challenging task ahead of me: changing myself.
Over the past month, I have come to realize the impact that College Conference has had on my life, and I believe that it will continue to make a difference in my life over the coming months. However, I don’t think that this experience will change me unless I keep my heart open. In the month since College Conference, I have noticed several things that I’ve realized I need to change, and I am going to share eight of them here. I hope that this might benefit others in some way.
- Appreciate my Orthodox community more
At College Conference, I was touched by the way my peers treated each other with love and respect. Even though this was my first year in attendance, I felt very welcomed by those I met and immediately felt like I was among friends. And for those with whom I was travelling from my hometown, I was reminded how blessed I am to live in a city in which there is such a strong bond between the Orthodox youth.
- Be honest on social media
Steven Christoforou, one of the workshop leaders, gave an presentation called “Media Martyrs” in which he highlighted a great problem that faces 21st-century youth: the separation between a person’s true character and their online presentation of themselves, which he refers to as “the analog and the digital selves.” He suggested that social media can create conflict between the analog and the digital selves, or even that the digital self can overtake and destroy the analog self. This really struck me as I wondered how I “brand” myself online.
- Stop “brushing off” questions about my faith
The speakers at College Conference reminded me that these moments are gifts.
- Actively participate in the church services
Something about seeing 325 other youth lift up their voices during the liturgy, singing in the choir at Vespers, and chanting hymns in the chapel until a ridiculous hour in the morning made me appreciate the beauty of our Orthodox hymns and services more. Already since returning home, I find my mind wandering less often during the Divine Liturgy, and church hymns have been playing on my phone on repeat.
- Work on my Greek dance and dabke skills
I don’t even want to talk about this.
- Remind myself that it is okay not to have all the answers
I don’t think I’ll ever forget venerating the weeping icon at College Conference for the rest of my life. I can be a perfectionist at times, and I really think that I need “all the answers.” However, this experience taught me that, because we don’t have all the answers and cannot explain this miracle, we believe in the existence of God.
- Read up on my Orthodox faith
Probably the greatest disappointment about College Conference for me (other than the fact that it went by so quickly) was that it made me realize how much I just do not know about Orthodoxy. Now I definitely want to begin reading books about the faith or listen to podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio.
- Appreciate the beauty of our saints
The speakers at College Conference had a continuous hold on my attention, but for some reason, whenever they would share stories about our saints of the Orthodox Church I was in awe. I remember in one of the workshops, the speaker, Fr. Timothy Hojnicki, said something like, “The saints are like the sun and moon. Like the moon reflects the light of the sun, the saints reflect the light of Christ.” I kept thinking about this throughout the Conference as we heard the stories of Saints Maximos the Confessor, Raphael of Brooklyn, and so many more, and came to realize how blessed we are as Orthodox to have these saints as role models and intercessors.
When I heard Bishop Gregory first speak about “being on fire for Orthodoxy,” I believe I had the wrong images in mind. I think what College Conference was trying to teach us all along was that “being on fire for Orthodoxy” is not always running through the streets with blazing torches. Sometimes, it’s trudging through the forest with a humble flame.
Anastasia Lysack is a second-year Music major at the University of Ottawa. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, learning how to say the Our Father in different languages, and finishing all her sentences with the word “eh.” She attends Christ the Saviour Church in
Ottawa, Canada, where she teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir.