Father Herman was once invited aboard a ship that had docked in Kodiak and during a conversation with those on board he asked them what it was that would bring them the most happiness. Some wanted wealth, others wanted a top ranking job in the Navy, another wanted a beautiful wife, etc. ‘What could be better, higher, more worthy of love and more splendid than Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who created the world, adorns, gives life, sustains, nourishes and loves everything – Who is Himself love. Should we not love God above all things, and wish for and seek Him?’
The reply was, ‘Why that’s obvious, how can we not love God?’ And Father Herman responded ‘I, a poor sinner, have been trying to learn how to love God for more than forty years, and I cannot say that I yet love Him properly. If we love someone, we always remember them, we try to please them continually. Day and night we are concerned about them. Our mind and our heart is concerned with the object of our love. How do you love God? Do you turn to Him often? Do you always remember Him? Do you always pray to Him and keep His commandments?’ The crew admitted that they did not. ‘Then, for our good and for our happiness, let us all make a vow: at least from this day, this hour, this very minute, we should strive to love God above all else and do His will!’ –The Life of St. Herman of Alaska
If your life is anything like mine, it’s busy. So much happens in college. We can start with the school work: hours of work a day. If you play a sport, there’s a few more hours most if not every day. Throw in a few other organizations, trying to spend time with friends, working a job, figuring out what you’re doing next semester, next year, or with your life in general, and to say you have your hands full may be an understatement.
We have so much stuff to be concerned with, and at some point we are likely to switch to survival mode. We try to just survive each day, avoiding thinking about anything except what needs to be done to survive that moment. Anything that isn’t completely necessary gets dropped out: “I can’t attend this talk because I have to work on this paper.” “I guess I’m only sleeping four hours tonight.” “Lunch isn’t really that important.” “I have to miss Liturgy this Sunday because I have a late event on Saturday.” “I need to skip my prayers tonight because I’m behind on sleep.”
Uh oh. It comes on subtly enough, but in the overwhelming onslaught of life’s craziness, God can get lost sometimes. We may find ourselves in a situation where we slip and fall, doing things that we shouldn’t be, thinking things we shouldn’t think. You, like me, may sometimes find yourself in a situation in which you are putting so much energy into everything that you are doing that you let it distract you from God for even days at a time. You may suddenly see something that puts your mind in a place when you felt close to God, and you realize that you have been completely neglecting your spiritual life.
And that’s our chance. One of the beautiful things about life is that we control whether or not we let the things that we just did affect us. Saint Paul said “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:11-12).
Salvation is happening right now.
It doesn’t matter what we did last year, last week, or even in the past hour: our job is to cast of the works of darkness (right now) and put on the armor of light (immediately).
What an amazing gift! We are going to slip and fall at some point: we will break the fast, we will end up somewhere on the internet where we shouldn’t be, we will knowingly skip our prayers, we will engage in gossip, we will choose to skip church. And the devil will try to get in our heads and say, “Well you’ve already sinned, you might as well keep going and enjoy the pleasure. Go ahead and eat that burger for dinner, you already forgot it was Friday and had meat for lunch. Get five more minutes of sleep instead of praying, you already skipped your prayers last night. Keep talking about your friend behind her back, you’ve already started. Don’t go to church this week, you already skipped last week and haven’t been to confession yet. Spend ten more minutes on this website, you’ve already been here an hour.”
His words will seem so enticing, they will make so much sense. Except we forget that now is the hour of salvation, not next year, not next week, not ten minutes from now. We forget the words of St. Herman saying that we need to strive to love God from this moment, not later. The moment that God grants us the realization that we are doing something wrong, we need to turn back to him immediately.
It’s hard, but God never promised that it would be easy.
However, we make it easier on one another when we do it together. In the words of St. Herman, “Then, for our good and for our happiness, let us [the Orthodox Christian college students of North America] all make a vow: at least from this day, this hour, this very minute, we should strive to love God above all else and do His will!”
May God give us all the strength to live up to that vow, to constantly reevaluate our lives to make sure that everything that we do is for God’s glory.
Paul Murray is a senior psychology major and Spanish minor at Franklin & Marshall College, and he attends Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster, PA. His home parish is St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in New Kensington, PA, and he has spent the past three summers serving as a counselor at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh Summer Camp and the Antiochian Village. In his free time, Paul ties prayer ropes and writes descriptions of himself in the third person for blog articles.
I know your works, that are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of My mouth. Revelation 3:15-17
In my four years at school, I have come across hundreds of Orthodox college students. From being staff at Camp Saint Paul and Ionian Village to College Conference East and several other regional and district OCF retreats; from my position on the OCF Student Leadership Board to my internship at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; and finally, from being president of my local OCF chapter at Fordham University, I have met all types and kinds of Orthodox college students. One thing I want to warn against that I’ve seen and experienced is being “lukewarm.”
At Fordham I played club soccer all four years. I played growing up, and captained my high school team as well. If you were standing next to me and asked me right now if I were a soccer player, I would say “yes, of course.” I don’t have to be physically on the field playing, to consider myself a soccer player. The same goes for being an Orthodox Christian. I am not a Christian simply when I am in church. I am a Christian when I am on the soccer field. I am a Christian in my science classes. I am also a Christian when I am at a college party.
Alex on Real Break 2016
We all know college is a time when our faith is tested. I do not need to explain the struggles of drinking, drugs, and hookup culture. What does need to be examined, however, is the apathy that many students have towards the faith. I am no exception. My freshman year I was probably going to church once a month, max. Now, I find myself going regularly. My sophomore and junior years I did several internships in various marketing positions. Now I find myself wrapping up an internship at the Archdiocese in New York.
A huge problem many students have, especially at Fordham, is they get caught up not only in socializing, but also in their studies. The pressures students put on themselves to get the top internships and ace finals are horrifying. At the final judgment God isn’t going to ask you what you got on your accounting final, he is going to ask you if you followed his commandments. Think of the context of the 4th commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God” (Ex 20:8-10). Many college students can’t find the time to go to church, let alone a one-hour OCF meeting. If you call yourself a Christian, then you are accepting the belief that this world is not permanent and that the real point of our creation is to follow Christ now, so that we can be engulfed by His love after death. This not only starts with the Liturgy, but also carries over into our everyday lives. Whether it is in our office at work, in our class at school, or at a bar off campus, we are always called to be loving, practicing Christians.
A priest at once gave me this valuable advice that I always carry with me
No one said being Orthodox was easy, no one said it would always be fun. But the reward of a life in Christ is to join Him in heaven. God should be at the tip of your tongue in everything you say, and at the tip of your fingers in everything you do.
We aren’t all called to work for the Church, but we are all called to love God, and love others because they, too, are created in the image and likeness of Him. We become successful accountants, lawyers, marketers, and historians so that we can use our living to benefit others, starting with our family and branching out to the poor and needy. We work as scientists to discover more hidden wonders in this world created for us by God. While in the office we express love and kindness to our coworkers. We go to the local watering hole with the intention of having a fun night out with our friends, not to get blackout drunk and make irresponsible and irreversible decisions.
Too many students compartmentalize their faith, and put it into a box (one usually too small). But in reality, what we are is, “a Christian who likes soccer,” or “a Christian who is a bio major,” or “a Christian who is interning.” We are first and foremost Christians; that is our most important full-time job. And if we dare to call ourselves Christians, then why would we not be focusing on our faith as much as we can? That means attending Liturgy, that means connecting with students in a loving way, both in OCF and not. That means helping the community around us. That means having and active prayer life.
Do not be lukewarm, or you will be spat out. Do not be the student that only goes to church on holidays when home. Do not be the student that is too busy studying to make it to OCF or a volunteering event once in a while. Do not be the student that is too lazy to pray daily. Remember that we must take ownership and responsibility of our faith. We are not only Christians on Sunday. At every moment, and in every action we are representing our Christian faith to others. It is expected that we struggle, and with struggle comes sin. But in the wake of sin must come repentance. If we are truly Orthodox Christians, we aren’t ever passive. We believe in constant salvation, and an ongoing attempt to join Christ in the afterlife. So as a graduating senior, my advice to college students is to own your faith, and own it now. I didn’t make many true friends in my OCF until later on in college. Now, I never go to church alone. Find those who take the faith seriously, and stick by them. Your fellowship and steadfast nature will draw others to you.
Alex Kuvshinoff has been a Regional Leader on the OCF Student Leadership board for the last two years. He is a recent graduate of Fordham University, with a B.S. in Business Administration and Minor in History. He is set of be on staff at Ionian Village this summer, and will be starting work in NYC this September.
Fr. Tim leads a workshop on Orthodox apologetics
Okay, so if you didn’t come to College Conference East, that’s really a shame. There were daily services with full choirs and beautiful chanting—all the way into the night. There were scheduled icebreakers with both your region and random groups where you could meet new friends, and free periods, where you could greet old ones. There was the lively steadfastness of Fr. Tim Hojnicki as he taught us the best answers to common questions about the faith; the carefully considered and fluidly presented recommendations of Steven Christoforou (the Be the Bee guy!) in regards to being Orthodox on and through social media; and there was the solemn sincerity and almost-accidental wit of Sister Vassa, the keynote speaker, as she meekly gave us great insight on what it means to be a martyr, and other various speakers.
I could probably spend the rest of this space talking about everything that went down at College Conference East—the big, life-changing ‘Aha!’ moments of divine inspiration, and the little, fleeting moments of friendship or joy that you couldn’t forget if you tried. I could write and write and write about all the things that happened at College Conference—instead, I want to write about the things that didn’t.
I want to write about the things that didn’t happen at College Conference, because the words ‘safe space’ get thrown around the college environment a lot, and that can get tricky. A safe space is often a place wherein you can be honest without embarrassment, and that’s pretty cool, because it can be really tough to be Christian—especially, I would guess, Orthodox Christian—in college. Sometimes, it’s dragging your butt to an unfamiliar parish that’s forty minutes away when you didn’t do evening prayers last night cause you knocked out at 3 AM; sometimes, it’s the one person in your hall/floor/house/dorm that looks you straight in the eye and says, “So you think all gay people are evil.”
A safe place is also a place wherein an opinion is protected—often an opinion that is new, unusual, and championed by a minority. This is where safe spaces get tricky. You and I both know that being a Christian isn’t exactly all the rage in college. Sometimes, safe spaces can become a megaphone for things with which the Church fundamentally disagrees. Sometimes, safe spaces become an opportunity for those who, having felt oppressed and discriminated against and silenced, would like to lash out.
The first thing we should do, I think, is probably have mercy and forgive and love those people, because that sounds like, super Orthodox-y, so I’m just gonna roll with it. The second thing we should do, though, is recognize that a ‘safe space’ isn’t always a ‘safe space’ for everyone. We Orthodox aren’t hip and happening—we’ve been around a long time, and we haven’t changed too much. That’s not to say we can’t be hip and happening: if we were to demonstrate, wholly, the love and forgiveness and mercy and compassion that we’re taught to live through Christ, then I think Orthodoxy would fly off the charts.
That’s why I want to talk about what wasn’t at College Conference East. When you sat down for a meal, the two gentlemen sitting at the table next to you weren’t discussing their weekend’s ‘ravages and spoils’—words I just heard, as I type this in the dining hall. When you crossed yourself and took a second to thank God before your meal, the young lady sitting across from you didn’t scoff—an encounter I had two days ago at dinner. At College Conference East, when you did evening prayers, it wasn’t to the sound of your next-door neighbor and his girlfriend…recreating, it was to the sound of ten, twenty, thirty voices chanting in the chapel for hours—literally, hours—on end.
His Grace joins the biology students during “sit with your major” lunch.
Being Orthodox requires some bravery. The theme for College Conference East this year was ‘Modern Martyrs: Witnesses to the Word’. Martyrdom? That took a degree of courage only achieved through a deep-seated love of Christ. We won’t need the courage to die for our Lord (hopefully), but being a witness to the Word in college is, in its own way, a martyrdom—it’s a martyrdom, and we’re gonna need some gumption, a little bit of grit, a merciful, unassuming courage to pull that off. And courage doesn’t last forever, so that’s why we have prayer and fasting and church and OCF and College Conference. To be weak and human before God, and ask Him to help us out, to give us the courage to keep going.
College Conference was my safe space—I was an Orthodox Christian without fear or embarrassment. But now, I’m back in the dining hall, about to head to calculus. I missed prayers this morning, I was late to Liturgy on Sunday, and I’m afraid now. Being an Orthodox Christian is harder here. I’m afraid, but I have what College Conference gave me—notes, recordings, thoughts, prayers, friends. I’m afraid, but I’m also stronger. That’s why you’ll see me at College Conference next year.
Benjamin Solak is a undeclared first-year at the University of Chicago. He’s a fan of football, priests who dish out communion really fast, and brightly-colored pants. He invites you to check out his personal blog on Christian living and personal development at benjaminsolak.wordpress.com
Last week, Fr. Theodore Petrides gave us some wonderful and helpful words on Keeping a Rule of Prayer. Praying in college is really hard! I often find myself rushing out of my apartment to catch the bus for work in the morning with travel mug and granola bar in hand, hair still wet from the shower, when I realize, “Shoot! I forgot to say my morning prayers!”
College students are asked to balance so much – academics, work, extracurriculars, sleep and personal health, friends and family – and as Orthodox college students we are also maintain a healthy spiritual life. When I get home from a night of studying, I just want to put on my pajamas and pass out without a second thought. Which I do sometimes, offering up a quick Jesus Prayer before my eyes can’t hold themselves open any longer.
Image from tumblr.com
Prayer has a strange context on a college campus. People jokingly cross themselves before taking an exam or say “I need to go to church” after a wild weekend. I asked a girl I was working with a few weeks ago about a tattoo she had in Italian that I learned said “pray always.” She told me she also had a tattoo of a saint on her back and a cross on her ankle. I (wrongfully) assumed she was a devout Roman Catholic. Instead, she told me she didn’t believe in religion at all but that prayer and meditation were very important to her. The example she gave was that she gets lost easily so asking God to help her get somewhere new before she started driving was all she needed. The whole interaction boggled my mind.
But obviously for us as Orthodox Christians, prayer is more than that. Like Fr. Theodore said, Developing a habit of daily personal prayer is the best way to counteract the three giants (forgetfulness, laziness, and ignorance) which continuously seek to overcome us. Conversely, we can think of our prayer rule as our “tithe” each day which we offer to the Lord so that He will bless the remainder of it.
Here are some ways I’ve found helpful in developing and maintaining a prayer rule in my busy schedule:
- Have a designated spot for prayer. For me, it’s before my icon of my patron saint, St. Emilia, which I have on a shelf in my bedroom. The Church gives us these tools: icons, prayer ropes, candles, incense to help focus our minds on prayer and meditation.
- Find prayers that are relevant. Prayers like the Trisagion,”O Heavenly King,” the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creed are always useful, and the prescribed morning and evening prayers are always good, but I find that my prayer rule becomes more personal if I use prayers that apply to me and my life. For example, I like the Prayer of Peace given the many terrible events that have taken place recently, the Prayer Before Commencing Any Task, and the Prayer for Study.
- Listen to AFR podcasts or church music. I am a huge fan of Abbot Tryphon’s The Morning Offering so that after I forget to say morning prayers and am walking to the bus stop, I can still being my day with some spiritual nourishment. I also like listening to church music while I study because it relaxes me.
- Make time for silence. If you can quiet the world around you and take time to just be with Christ, it grounds you and gives you strength. I attended a workshop with Dr. Al Rossi once who said we should set aside 15 minutes for silence each day. I would say this is especially important for college students because we are overwhelmingly stimulated during the day.
- Go to church. Nothing is more reaffirming and reassuring.
As terrible as it sounds, when you’re at college prayer is sometimes the last thing you want to worry about. But even the smallest steps in strengthening your prayer life will make a world of difference in your overall well being. As St. Nikon of Optina said, “Do not forget prayer─it is the life of the soul.”
One thing is education, that you learn to love God. – Mother Gavrilia
As promised, today I’d love to introduce you some of the saints most beloved by students, saints whose prayers have been requested before countless exams and before many a presentation. I’d like to encourage you to not only read their stories, but invite them into your life. I’ve included a troparion for each saint that you could pray as you sit down to your books, when you start off a study group, before you go into class, and before those nasty final exams. Print out their icons with the words to the hymn, and use them as bookmarks in your textbooks so that you are reminded to sanctify your schoolwork with prayer. Create opportunities to converse with the saints, ask their advice, and plead for their prayers!
So here goes, the patron saints of education:
We LOVE St. Katherine (November 24). She’s the patron saint of OCF, and we’ve written about her example for us before. St. Katherine is loved for so many reasons and is known to intercede on our behalf for many things. For students, she is an example of Mother Gavrilia’s words: she used her first-rate education, eloquence, and wisdom to come to know God and share His Gospel with those around her. She was also young, zealous, and fearless (like many of you, I’m sure)! She wasn’t afraid to stand up to the (male) authorities of her day who not only renounced the Christian message but who sacrificed Christians to their pagan gods. In an age when students are often explicitly asked to keep Christ out of the classroom, St. Katherine’s prayers are even more needed.
Troparion in the Fourth Mode
By your virtues as by rays of the sun you enlightened the unbelieving philosophers, and like the most bright moon you drove away the darkness of disbelief from those walking in the night; you convinced the queen, and also chastised the tyrant, God-summoned bride, blessed Catherine. You hastened with desire to the heavenly bridal chamber of the fairest Bride-groom Christ, and you were crowned by Him with a royal crown; standing before Him with the angels, pray for us who keep your most sacred memory.
St. Justin Martyr
St. Justin Martyr (June 1) is another saint we’ve written about before. Like St. Katherine, he received a great education and used his education to share the gospel with others. What’s special about St. Justin is his unwavering certainty of Christ’s truth combined with his ability to see that truth scattered throughout the world in every person, no matter their beliefs or religion. He saw the seeds of the Word even in the pagan philosophy of his day and used what was known to the unbelievers to draw them to belief in Christ. May St. Justin pray for us as we strive to share Christ with fidelity to His truth and real understanding for those who do not yet know Him.
Troparion in the Fourth Mode
O Justin, teacher of divine knowledge, you shone with the radiance of true philosophy. You were wisely armed against the enemy. Confessing the truth you contended alongside the martyrs, with them, ever entreat Christ our God to save our souls!
The Three Hierarchs
The Three Hierarchs (January 30), St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, and St. Gregory the Theologian are seen as the greatest of the Church Fathers whose teachings shaped the Orthodox expression of theology as perhaps no others had before them and no others have since. As teachers of the whole Church, we can ask that they become our personal instructors, teaching us through their writings the content of our faith and offering us by their prayers a chance to encounter Christ in our hearts.
Troparion in the First Mode
Let us who love their words gather together and honor with hymns the three great torch-bearers of the triune Godhead: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom. These men have enlightened the world with the rays of their divine doctrines. They are sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdom filling all creation with springs of heavenly knowledge. Ceaselessly they intercede for us before the Holy Trinity!
St. John of Kronstadt
One of the most beloved saints of the modern era, St. John of Kronstadt (December 20) has blessed so many people both in his lifetime and today, especially through his memoir, My Life in Christ. And even though he is now a well-known teacher, pastor, and writer, when he started out, St. John struggled to just get through his studies. You have to read his own words about his anxiety over his studies, his inability to commit his lectures to memory, and his desperate cry to God for help. It’s an amazing confirmation that God listens to our prayers, even prayers for small things like studying and test taking. Ask for St. John’s help especially when you are working on memorization, be it biology terms, history dates, or poetry lines.
Troparion in the First Mode
As a zealous advocate of the Orthodox faith, as a caring Solicitor for the land of Russia, faithful to the rules and image of a pastor, preaching repentance and life in Christ, an awesome servant and administer of God’s sacraments, a daring intercessor for people’s sake, O good and righteous Father John, healer and wonderful miracle-worker, the praise of the town of Kronstadt and decoration of our Church, beseech the All-Merciful God to reconcile the world and to save our souls!
St. Sergius of Radonezh
St. Sergius of Radonezh (September 25) provides another incredible example of God’s grace in our studies. Though offered an excellent education as a boy, St. Sergius was unable even to learn to read, despite his best efforts. Desiring desperately to be educated, most especially in the words of Scripture, St. Sergius asked the intercessions of a visiting monk to help him learn to read the Scriptures. By trusting God earnestly and asking for illumination with humility, St. Sergius was granted the ability to read perfectly. St. Sergius went on to live a life of extreme asceticism and was granted the grace to work miracles for the sake and salvation of many. Invite St. Sergius to be near you especially when you are struggling in a course or when you feel like you’re falling behind.
Troparion in the Fourth Mode
A zealot of good deeds and a true warrior of Christ warrior of Christ our God, you struggled greatly against the passions in this passing life; in songs and vigils and fasting you were an image and example to your disciples, thus the most Holy Spirit lived within you, and you were made beautiful by His working. Since you have great boldness before the Holy Trinity, remember the flock which you have wisely gathered, and do not forget to visit your children as you promised, venerable Sergius our father!
(All troparia are from www.oca.org)