There are a few major transitions in life that you know will change your life forever. Going to college is one of them. For anyone who commutes to college, perhaps the transition is not as stark (I wouldn’t know because I’ve only lived at school), but if you’re going from living at home your whole life to suddenly living in a dorm room with one or more strangers and taking care of yourself, there is absolutely no way to be fully prepared for it.
How could you be? You’ve never experienced anything like this before. You can’t go into it expecting to know every detail of how it will be.
Despite all this, I think I handled my transition pretty well. I figured out some of the things I did that worked, and others that didn’t. And here’s the thing: now that I’m a senior in college, I will be undergoing another one of these major changes, so I’m really writing this article to myself. All that being said, here’s Paul’s Guide to Major Life Transitions (Editor’s note: trademark pending), written specifically for transitioning into college.
1) Find a church
If you haven’t done so yet, do it right now.
Look up the school you’re going to (or the ones that you might go to if you haven’t committed yet), the city you’ll live it, etc., and find a church there. Doing that is way more important than anything I have to say in the coming paragraphs, so just stop reading this and go do that, it’s a better use of your time.
Then figure out how you’ll get there. Is the church close enough to walk to? You may want to give that a go. Will you have a car? If not, get in touch with your campus’ OCF advisor, president (talk to your regional leader if you can’t figure out who that is), or the parish priest of the church to see if someone could get you to church.
I am blessed with a parish here filled with people who were constantly offering to drive me to church, which was only a mile from my school. I got rides to every service I wanted to go to for three years until I finally got a car here.
I stress to you: do this now. Before you get to school. Once you get there you will be so overwhelmed with everything else going on that church can slip away way too easily. Do your research beforehand so that you can get in the habit of going to church early.
2) Be prepared, yet adaptable
This one is more my personal philosophy that may not work for you, but I’m thinking it might. You need just the right level of mental and physical preparation transitioning to college or elsewhere. Saying, “I’ll figure it out when I get there,” is probably not the best preparation method, yet if your planning is too detailed, you will be completely thrown off the first time something contradicts your plans.
You will want some ideas of how you will approach your classes, your social life, your church life, etc., but don’t write anything in stone in your head. There are so many factors that you can’t control, so write all of your plans in pencil with a great big eraser waiting to rewrite things as necessary.
(Side note: I strongly recommend taking this same approach with your major. Go into college knowing what you like and what you might want to do if you can, but keep an open mind and be willing to make adjustments to your plan.)
3) Do stuff
College is amazing. You get to be in an environment where your job in life is just to learn as much as you can, taking it all in from the experts, so that you can go out into the world and be the best you can be at whatever you do. So go take advantage of it. For example, my school brings in a guest speaker every week and gives pizza to anyone who goes and listens to the talk. I go as often as I can regardless of the topic because that’s what college is about.
Outside of academics, keep doing what you love. In my case, I had the opportunity to keep playing trombone after I got into college, so I joined the band and the orchestra. But even more importantly, try new stuff. One of the best decisions I made in college was joining the ultimate frisbee team. I knew nothing about the sport besides the rules when I went to my first practice, and I instantly fell in love with it.
(Editor’s note: We will neither confirm nor deny if this is Paul.
College is about learning as much as you can and developing as a person, but that can happen outside of the classroom, lab, or lecture hall. My opinion is that if you live at school and the only commitments you have are class-related, you’re not doing college right.
4) Every once in awhile, remember you enjoy what you do.
Most college students would tell you college is overwhelming, and in my experience, they’re right. If you’ve been adding up all the things that I tell you I do, you may conclude that I’m a busy person, and sometimes I get stressed and collapse into a state of wanting to ignore my responsibilities.
But I found a trick to avoid reaching that state: it’s to remember that I actually do enjoy what I’m doing. My classes this semester are in psychology (my major), Spanish (my minor), and philosophy (I’m a nerd, so that’s my ‘fun class’).
(Editor’s note: this is also Paul.)
I chose to study that stuff because I enjoy it. I do music stuff and ultimate frisbee stuff because I enjoy those things, and the truth is that when I’m home too long for a break, I’m begging in my head for the opportunity to do all of them again. So basically what I’m saying is, have fun every step of the way.
5) Talk to adults
I didn’t do this intentionally, but a few times it came up. I’m guessing that many of the adults in your life have been to college: ask them about it. What did they enjoy? What weren’t they prepared for? What do they regret? What advice do they have? You’re allowed to learn from other people’s experiences, not just your own.
As with all my lists, these are the things that help me that I think would help you. What would you add? What would your friends in college/older siblings/parents add? I pray that your transition goes well, and that those of us currently in college can still take what we can from these lessons and apply it.
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.
As I was getting ready to make a decision about where I wanted to attend college, a priest whom I love and respect told me to make sure I was only considering schools with an Orthodox Church nearby, and a strong OCF on campus. As I do more than I care to admit, I did not take the advice of the priest.
OCF played no role in my decision to come to the University of Michigan. It was the only school I wanted to go to, and once I was admitted, I accepted immediately. With so many other things to consider when choosing a college, OCF landed nowhere even near my radar.
I got lucky.
The University of Michigan has one of the most active OCF chapters in the country, and a thriving Orthodox community that makes a special effort to tend to the needs of college students. A community without which I would have absolutely lost my mind by now.
In some ways, college is a very difficult time to keep our minds centered around the joy and the victory of Christ. We are surrounded by so great a cloud of anxiety and sorrow; so much fear of the unknown future. What am I going to study? Which internship can I get this summer? Am I going to have a job when I graduate?
On top of that, we have so many people proclaiming their own “good news” that we’re told that the only sure-fire way to alleviate all of this is to drink until you forget it exists.
I wanted to start writing for the OCF blog NOT because I have a spiritual life worthy of sharing, nor because I have perfectly adapted the spirituality of the Orthodox Church to a life in college.
I wanted to start writing for the OCF blog precisely because I battle with the same things that every other Orthodox college student does. I want to be “the voice of one crying out [from] the [college campus]” challenging myself publicly, and others, to take a harder look at the way we live out our faith while we are in school.
Around us is chaos. Walk around the average college campus on Saturday night, merely hours before we partake in the Eucharist, and see for yourself. St. Gregory the Great reminds us in his commentary on the book of Job that “amid the tumult of outward cares, inwardly a great peace and calm is reigning, in love.”
To that place of interior peace and calm, we must go.
College is plentiful in excuses for not doing what we should be doing. For most of us, our camp experiences come to a close during our college years, Sunday School is over, and many of us do not have anyone that will drag us to church on Sunday or make sure that we pray before meals.
We need to start trimming the fat and seeing that there is work appointed for us.
I will be writing more in the coming days. I hope you look for my next posts.
Mark Ghannam is a Junior at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor pursing a degree in economics, and serves as the Vice-President and Head of Clergy Relations for his OCF chapter. In his free time, Mark enjoys reading, rock climbing, and long walks on the beach while discussing Liturgical theology.
Image from Ted on Flickr
Well, here we are! Less than one week away from the Nativity of our Lord.
Hopefully, you’ve all finished finals–if you’re still in school right now, keep fighting strong–I promise it’ll be over soon. You should check out our post on finals to get an added boost.
But most of us are at home, and the full brunt of the season has dawned upon us. Last-minute gifts are being acquired and wrapped at a breakneck pace; wild Santas roam every red-and-green shopping center; another artist has come out with another Christmas album.
This, I hope, will not become a typical post bemoaning the secularization of Christmas–that is not to say that the secularization of Christmas isn’t happening in a very tangible way, because it is. But I would not like to succumb to the temptation, to derail everything the world has thrown at us. That is, quite simply, not fair. There is great merit to Mariah Carey and well-dressed carolers, to finely-decorated houses, and, most especially, the proliferation of candy canes. It is tricky ground, to comprehensively condemn secular Christmas. All things with balance.
So, instead of a condemnation, I’d like to simply mention today, as I did in the aforementioned finals post, where our focus should lie.
I cannot, for the life of me, remember who precisely gave the sermon which I’m currently recalling–I’ve been preached to by three different priests/bishops in the past three weeks. I hope you can forgive me. If I had to say, I think it was Fr. John Baker of Christ the Savior in Chicago who reminded me of this (edit: upon further review, the call on the field is reversed. It was Fr. Michael Butler of Holy Transfiguration in Livonia):
When the wise men went to Herod and said: “Hey, that newborn king? Yeah, the Messiah, that one…uh, where is he?” Herod immediately turned to his scribes and the Pharisees and said, “What are these guys talking about?” The scribes and the learned men responded, “Oh yeah, there’s supposed to be a Messiah born in Bethlehem right now.” So the wise men went on their way, and Herod began plotting to kill this newborn king.
That inaccurate recollection likely tells you nothing new. It’s part of the Christmas story that you’ve heard many times before. However, something so crucial is missed in there, and that’s what Fr. John (probably? maybe? edit: Fr. Michael) pointed out in this sermon:
The scribes knew.
The scribes knew. The wise men from the east asked, and the wise men that Herod had–for that’s for whom Herod called, he called for his wise men, the men he expected to understand the prophets–the wise men that Herod had, answered. And they knew! They were aware that this was going down, that the Messiah may have just come into the world. They figured it out! They knew!
And they stayed with Herod. They did nothing. They aren’t really even heard from again.
This crucial point reminds me of the days leading up to the crucifixion of Christ, when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet in John 13–it’s an extraordinary read, and I suggest you give it time today. However, there is one verse–verse 17–that is of paramount importance. Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet, reminded them that they view him as the Teacher, reminded them of all of the examples he has given them, and then he says:
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. – John 13:17
It’s not enough to know things. And that simple, obvious little phrase changes the whole game.
Because it’s not enough–it simply isn’t enough–to know that Christmas is so easily made secular, is so easily stripped of its spiritual meaning. It’s not even enough to know that the Messiah has come–like Herod’s scribes did. They knew! But if you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. Blessed are you if you act off of your knowledge. The enlightened aren’t blessed; the enlightened and active are.
This is wildly important. It isn’t enough to go to church on Sunday, when you know there is church during the week–the pre-feast and post-feast celebrations. It isn’t enough to know the Christmas story, when you don’t spend time taking in and supplying for the travelling, poor, and cold Marys and Josephs of the world. It simply isn’t enough to know, and it isn’t even enough to know and talk, to know and bemoan the secularization of this world, as this post endeavored to avoid doing.
The enlightened aren’t blessed; the enlightened and active are.
My encouragement to you, my friends, is to go to your church website, to text your priest, to ask your parents–something–and figure out what’s going on this Christmas season. Do a thing–any thing–that is indicative of this wonderful knowledge you’ve been blessed to receive, the knowledge of salvation and rejoicing and victory that doesn’t make it to many in this world. Be active this Christmas season.
The OCF Blog will take Christmas break with the rest of you, as an opportunity to recuperate, evaluate, and grow. We will return after the New Year–and of course, all of the College Conferences–on Monday, January 9th.
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Well, it’s certainly that time of year! If you aren’t already embroiled in your first finals of the 2016-2017 academic year, then they’re right around the corner.
Finals can be (read: are) a stressful time for students, and that stress manifests itself in different ways for different people. For Orthodox Christians particularly, our academic life can start to eat into our spiritual life. Long nights bent over the books can supersede evening prayers and preclude the morning ones as well; the urgency and time-consumption of impeding tests and due dates can supplant services over the weekend.
That’s okay, that’s a reality: the world has to be balanced, and all balancing requires sacrifice. Now, most people around you will advocate the sacrifice of the spiritual for the sake of studies–as they rightly should. They’re not Orthodox Christians (probably), so they don’t share your perspective, and if they are students, they understand the stress of finals. They will encourage you to empty yourself into your academic life. My goal, here, is to politely disagree.
Human beings were made for the glorification of God, and as such, there is no life outside of God. C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity:
God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
This, frankly, is pretty nuts. I mean, it’s something we all believe and accept, but if you apply it to your everyday life, it throws quite the wrench in things.
What do you do, when you’re sad and want to be happy? I watch Netflix, and if that doesn’t work, I keep watching Netflix anyway. I might talk to one of my close friends or loved ones. I’ll also get on Twitter and argue with someone about the Philadelphia Eagles.
What do you do, when you think about your long-term happiness? I think about my grades, definitely–they are the benchmark of success in my main occupation of life: college. I think about my friends and family, when I’ll get to see them next, how they’ll be with me throughout the years of my life. I think my job, at school and at camp, and the impact I’m making in my work.
What do you do, when you think about your even longer-term happiness? I think about the family I want to raise and the job I want to have. I think about how I’m going to impact the world and how awesome it will be. I also think about raising my family in the church.
Just there, for me, was the first time God got involved in the happiness quest. Not in the short-term, of today’s emotions; not in the long-term, of my yearly plans; but in the longer-term, of my five-year plan.
Fr. Paul Lazor always told me that happiness had the same root word as happenstance–and as such, it was just as coincidental. Happiness happens to you, it’s a feeling, and feelings are fleeting. They come and go with the wind, and are defined by many factors outside of our control.
Joy, on the other hand, is something far greater. It is a state of being that is rigid, that weathers the storm of circumstances and the fallen world. It is something we can only achieve in our relationship with God.
I make this distinction to say that, perhaps, like me, you might be happy if you did well on your finals–but, if the Divine Liturgy and daily prayers were sacrificed in this effort, you would feel no joy. That happiness would eventually dissipate–at the very least, by next semester, when the cycle repeats. Maybe you could sustain that happiness over your entire college career, graduate with that killer GPA, which will help you get that incredible job you’ve always wanted–maybe you can keep feeding the happiness, helping it endure. But eventually, the world might catch up with you, and the happiness will evaporate. And, if you’ve followed this successful path without God, you will be left without joy.
My encouragement to both you and to myself, my friend, is quite simple: do not forget God this finals season, this Christmas season, as the weight of the world and its temporal happiness would have you do. Do not sacrifice the rush of happiness for the enduring warmth of joy in the Lord.
P.S.: This is all quite well and good, but without concrete ideas on how to accomplish this, we may find ourselves stranded on a sea of ideals, without the paddle of actual practices. As such, here are a few things we can do to help achieve this remembrance of the Lord.
- Check out the Orthodox Prayer website for prayers before and after studying, among many other prayers.
- Organize a study session with OCF friends after Liturgy on Sunday
- Try to select a really cool spot on campus/in the city that’s near the church.
- As you’re about to write your name on your final exam, make the sign of the Cross.
- Share this article with someone else and promise one another you’ll remember God throughout your finals.
“Pray the Jesus Prayer!” my friend shouts.
It’s a warm August day; I’m about eleven years old at the time. A number of my church friends and I are in a rowboat—probably too many of us in one boat, maybe a little too young to be out unsupervised.
“I’ve never had to row in wind this strong before,” a friend calls over the chaos of panicking kids.
“Um, okay, I guess let’s all try praying, guys,” I say quietly.
O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Three short years later, I am sitting in a dark hospital waiting room for what seems like the thousandth time. In my hands, I am holding the back brace that will turn me from a confident tomboy to a self-conscious teenager.
Credit to Art4TheGloryOfGod via flickr
“Walk up to the X-ray machine and stand straight,” I heard the familiar voice of the technician.
O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Fast forward another six years, and now I am teaching Sunday School. “Okay, everyone, today we are going to learn about the Jesus Prayer. Do you all know it? It goes like this: O Lord Jesus Christ…” “Have mercy on me a sinner!” I hear the group of six- and seven-year-olds say. I look up and smile, knowing that the Jesus Prayer is one of the first things we teach kids when they start Sunday School at age three.
You might be wondering why, at my church, children learn this prayer at such a young age, when they are probably too young to understand its meaning. Yes, it is in part because the prayer is short, but there is so much to it than that.
Earlier I mentioned two stories that have happened in my life where, momentarily, I genuinely felt afraid and alone. Remember the rowboat story? My friend’s older brother swam over and helped us row to shore, and moments later it seemed as though nothing had happened. And the hospital story? The X-ray clinic is a fading memory.
Likely some of you reading this right now are enduring trials much worse than the ones I have mentioned. Maybe, right now, you are living through some of the worst years of your life. I don’t know. Everyone faces different struggles in their lives.
The Jesus Prayer is so important to me because I associate it with God’s enduring work in my life over the years—the work of a God who was present somewhere even during the darkest moments, a God who will never abandon us. The words are so simple but so profound at the same time: O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. When I pray these words, I am also reminded of these words from the book of Deuteronomy: God will never leave you nor forsake you. If your heart is open to Him, of course God will have mercy on you! I hope this prayer can be a constant reminder to us of God’s enduring love for humankind.
Of course, praying is not magic, as several of my fellow Blog Contributors have dutifully reminded us over the past few weeks. I don’t pretend to understand how God works, and I don’t pretend to understand why it might sometimes seem as though our prayers go unanswered. But, all the experiences that I have associated with the Jesus Prayer over the past few years remind me that, despite moments of genuine fear and pain, we have a loving and merciful God, and that all our trials shall some day pass.
Anastasia Lysack in her third year of her Music degree at the University of Ottawa. She attends Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Ottawa, where she teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, volunteering, and visiting just about any coffee shop in the city of Ottawa.