This year’s OCF theme is unity, centered around Psalm 132:1 (OSB),

“Behold, what is so good or so pleasant as for brothers to dwell together in unity.”

This week is part three of a six part series centered around Orthodox perspectives on unity. The series will consist of reflections from student leaders and College Conference workshop speakers, leading up to College Conference at the end of December.

This is a guest post from Thano Prokos, Great Lakes Regional Student Leader on the 2013-2014 Student Advisory Board. Thano is a junior at DePaul University, majoring in Secondary Education. This is his first year serving OCF on the SAB.

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” – 1 Corinthians 12:17-31

I’ll be the first to admit that I often feel beaten over the head with the message of unity. After two years attending a school in Chicago that prides itself on diversity and social justice, I’ve reached a certain level of cognitive dissonance when processing the message of unity.

On the one hand, I realize how important it is to strive for unity. Of course we shouldn’t let things like ethnicity and language keep us apart. Of course, we’re all supposed to be one body in Christ, each contributing different talents to a greater whole. But on the other hand, images of everyone dropping all their conflicts, holding hands, and singing “Kumbaya” work their way into my head and—unfortunately—the once beautiful concepts of cooperation and oneness seem so cheesy. It feels as though unity is God’s great joke; a nice idea, but so unrealistic.

So, why feel this way? Why have such a cynical attitude about such a wonderful concept? Why is it so hard to see a united body of Christ as a possible reality? We don’t have to labor too much to come up with the answer: unity is work.

As a Student Advisory Board, we have definitely been presented with a lot of work that we have to accomplish in the coming year. Managing large regions, contacting chapters, planning events, reaching out to hierarchs, participating in service, conflict resolution, and facilitating discussion. All of these things, of course, done in the hope of building a strong, united OCF. As a new member of the board, do I feel intimidated? Of course I do, but at the same time, spending four days meeting my fellow board members allowed me to see just how much each of them loves the Faith. And if I love it half as much as they do, then I can’t shirk off the responsibility that I have as a member of the SAB.

But the responsibilities to the Orthodox Church and its ministries do not fall on the OCF North American Office alone, that is, if we want to bring a united Orthodox body into fruition. There’s so much work to be done in our own interpersonal relationships. Local leaders are blessed with the responsibility of reaching out to students. We have to make those students feel wanted in this new section of their Orthodox family. We have to be innovative, welcoming, responsible and alive with the love of Christ.

On the other hand, the rest of our OCF body has an equally important responsibility, and that is to participate. I encourage all of you to attend as many meetings as you can. Go to as many services with your friends as you can. Go to retreats. Go to College Conference. Go on the Real Break trips. Look at every opportunity OCF presents as an opportunity to see new things, meet new friends, and become a better Orthodox Christian.

I realize that sometimes local chapter life can be less than ideal. There are some common problems that I’ve heard from a lot of different chapters.The meetings are too boring, the chapter feels “too Greek,” etc. Of course, if we don’t feel like our chapter’s life is healthy then we have the option to leave, but that won’t make the meetings any less boring or the ethnic vibes any less Greek. We can’t feel that OCF or the Church are separate entities from ourselves. We are OCF and we are the Church, and we can either let both entities wither in our absence or grow strong by our active presence. Living together in Christ is work, and we all have our own responsibilities to fulfill. The heads of our ministries must inspire—the bodies of our ministries have to make that inspiration a reality. The eyes must see, the ears must hear, the hands must grasp, the feet must move, and the heart must unceasingly beat if we want our Faith to be alive in Christ.

The Orthodox community is filled with many beautiful differences, and I firmly believe that each one of those differences serves to express our faith in a unique way. While at times we may feel divided, we have to remember that there are ultimately two things that unite us: the first being that we come from what I firmly believe to be the most beautiful tradition in all of religion and spirituality, and the second is our call to fulfill our functions in the Body of Christ. I love the Faith. You love the Faith. The Orthodox Christian Fellowship and the rest of our Orthodox ministries love the Faith. And at the end of the day, the Faith is the labor that we put into it. So if we remember that we share this common love and duty, and we actively do our duty while full of that love, then we are in for a spectacular year.

I love you all, and wish you a blessed school year, and a fruitful journey in the body of Christ!