Last year, I was the only OCF student from my university who attended College Conference. I realize there are some obstacles – with College Conference occurring between Christmas and New Years: you may miss some time devoted to family, friends at home, and wintery traditions. Today I am proposing a radical new winter tradition to those who have never had the chance to come to College Conference before. You, too, can experience these incredible days of unity with fellow college-age Orthodox Christians.
To those who couldn’t attend last year but now have the chance, here’s a glimpse into this tradition of mine. I hope it becomes a tradition of yours, too!
Dear friend, December 27, 2014
After a long drive and hours of registration, our keynote speaker introduced all of us to the theme for this year’s College Conference. We did not get tired as we sat through the lecture but rather became more energized! This energy carried through the midnight hour as we stayed in the chapel after Compline to chant. Of course we sang camp songs and our favorite hymns…it was absolutely thrilling! The beautiful chants resounded in the church and in our hearts like a stringed instrument, sounding its glorious vibrations.
My dear friend, I know you had other things going on this Christmas break but I wish I could text you now. Not to say “I told you so!”, but to encourage you for next year. You have to come to experience this joy!
Dear friend, December 28, 2014
What a blessed day! Thrice-blessed! 100 times blessed! Here at College Conference we chanted Liturgy and received Holy Communion among 300 brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of my favorite parts of the day were talking with my roommate and attending to wonderful sessions led by great priests who are helping me center back to the life I need to live in Christ.
By far the most beautiful surprise came to me first as the sweet-smelling aroma of roses. I smelled this sweetness in the hallway after dinner and it filled my heart to bursting. The scent was a physical sign of the indisputable information that the Panagia had stepped into our lives. How exceptionally blessed! Her crying icon, called “Panagia Kardiotissa”, traveled to be with us at Antiochian Village and we chanted the Paraklesis service wholeheartedly to her.
My dear friend, where else can you receive this kind of gift at Christmas-time?? Do you see why I want you to be here with me?
Dear friend, December 30, 2014
I’m writing to you at 5am…this day has been so long and so full of beauty! It all started this morning with a sunrise service to St. Raphael. Dear friend, did you know there is a REAL LIVE SAINT who resides here?? That sunrise – luminous in the stripes of clouds as we sang to the holy hierarch, “Rising from the East like a brilliant sun” – was absolutely amazing! Afterward, I made a new friend and we talked about Orthodoxy from a Catholic point of view (he’s currently Catholic, but his Orthodox girlfriend persuaded him to come to College Conference to learn about our Faith!). I met other people at lunch and found out that we share the same college major. At the sessions today I learned more about biblical priesthood from Khouriya (Priest’s Wife) Stephanie, chatted with other people about the benefits of Studying Abroad during college, then got ready for tonight’s banquet and dance. Of course the dance was awesome but the better part was afterward: lighting candles to Christ, and Panagia, and St. Ignatius, and catching up with friends from camp. There are so many good people here!
We are almost at the last day and it is all so surreal. When will I be in a situation like this again? With such amazing people who are serious about their faith, who are funny and interesting and intelligent, who love the music of the Church and who are seeking to live God’s will for them.
It’s almost 6am now so there’s no need to sleep…maybe I’ll just take a quick nap…and then get up again for breakfast and a chance to send off all of my brothers and sisters with a big hug and a prayer for their safety.
I pray that next year, many of us can gather here again. And most of all – I pray for you, my friend! Will you come with me next December? Come and see!
Evangelia Pagones is a senior at the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign studying Music Education. She currently acts as OCF’s Chicago District Leader while she is completing her student teaching in middle school and high school orchestra. She is looking forward to serving on the Music Committee for this year’s College Conference East and encourages anyone interested to come help chant at the services this December! See you there!