This past weekend, on February 25th and 26th, Orthodox Christian college students from across our great district of North Carolina gathered in unity and fellowship at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, located in Raleigh. Nine students participated in Saturday’s retreat, representing chapters from App State, UNC Charlotte, UNC Chapel Hill, and NC State.

With the guidance of Fr. Paul Christy, the parish priest at Holy Trinity and the assistance of his pastoral assistant Rob Shand, we focused on the theme chosen for this year’s retreat: “Putting on the Armor of God: Being Orthodox on Purpose.” In anticipation of Lent, we started our retreat by serving those in need. We joined and assisted the pan-Orthodox youth (pre-school and elementary schoolers) from the area in assembling trail mix and hygiene kits paired with winter hats to disperse to local shelters. This project was sponsored by the St. John the Merciful ministry that helps those in the triangle area and beyond. We also made kits to send to IOCC.

The rest of the day was used for fellowship, breaking bread, worship, and a discussion about tools we can use to use as armor in our everyday lives. Following the service event, we visited the nearby Menchies for frozen yogurt and introductions. There, we quickly lowered our walls and spoke about significant “faith or church” moments in our collegiate years. People shared stories about “aha” moments, periods of time without attending church, experiencing OCF events–it was great to get a feel of where everyone was spiritually and what their OCF experience was to that point (Important to point out, most of the group had not attended an OCF event before beyond a chapter gathering!).

After spending some time outside at the church, enjoying the unusually warm weather, we gathered inside to begin our discussion with Fr. Polycarp Strosnider and Rob Shand. We were instructed to think about qualities we find in others that we wish to emulate (without envy) in order to live a more purposeful, Orthodox life, especially on a college campus.

Once each of us revealed those qualities, we shared several resources both in the Church and outside, as well as smartphone tools and apps to help instill those qualities in us (daily readings, inspirational videos, liturgical texts and music, creating prayer lists, virtual prayer rope, etc.) The day ended with Great Vespers, led by Fr. Polycarp and chanted by the OCFers , and a catered dinner provided by a parishioner of Holy Trinity.

We gathered once again at Holy Trinity Sunday morning along with the community for the celebration of divine liturgy and fellowship afterwards, followed by goodbyes to those coming from out of town. Glory be to God for a beautiful and purposeful retreat! We pray for a meaningful Lent to all our most blessed district, and we hope to see everyone at the southeast regional “WorkDaze” retreat at the Diakonia Retreat Center March 24-26 in Salem, South Carolina!

John Shelton is a fourth year student at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. He is studying Public Relations and Leadership Studies, and is in his third year serving over ten North Carolina chapters as the District Student Leader.