High School to College | Crossroads

High School to College | Crossroads

It​ ​would​ ​be​ ​wrong​ ​of​ ​me​ ​to​ ​write​ ​this​ ​post​ ​pretending​ ​like​ ​the​ ​spiritual​ ​transition​ ​from​ ​high school​ ​to​ ​college​ ​is​ mostly​ ​seamless​ ​with​ ​a few​ ​slip-ups​ ​on​ ​the​ ​way. In​ ​fact,​ ​I​ ​really​ ​think​ ​I​ ​would​ ​be​ ​flat​ ​out​ ​lying​ ​to​ ​you​ ​and​ ​that​ ​is​ ​a​ ​sin,​ ​so​ ​I​ ​must​ ​keep​ ​to​ ​the​ ​rule of​ ​honesty.

Currently,​ ​I​ ​am​ ​in​ ​my​ ​second​ ​year​ ​in​ ​school.​ ​My​ ​first​ ​year​ ​was​ ​spent​ ​attending​ ​almost​ ​every OCF​ ​meeting​ ​and​ ​every​ ​Sunday​ ​Liturgy​ ​possible.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​responsible.​ ​I​ ​found​ ​rides​ ​to​ ​church, ways​ ​to​ ​attend​ ​Thursday​ ​Bible​ ​study.​ ​I​ ​did​ ​everything​ ​I​ ​was​ ​“supposed”​ ​to​ ​do​ ​to​ ​set​ ​myself​ ​up for​ ​success​ ​in​ ​my​ ​spiritual​ ​realm.​ ​However,​ ​here​ ​I​ ​am,​ ​halfway​ ​through​ ​my​ ​second​ ​year,​ ​and my​ ​spiritual​ ​life​ ​has​ ​waned​.

I​ ​have​ ​rehearsals​ ​on​ ​Tuesday​ ​nights​ ​so​ ​I​ ​miss​ ​our​ ​OCF​ ​meetings​ ​and​ ​on​ ​Sundays​ ​when​ ​I should​ ​be​ ​going​ ​to​ ​church​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mornings.​ I have to be honest with you, while I know this lifestyle is not necessarily conducive to growing a faith, I do not regret the choices I have made when planning my weekly schedule as I know they contribute to my education. However, while I never intended to impede my spiritual growth, I have made a choice that does, and must face the effects of that choice.

During​ ​Christmas​ ​Break,​ ​my​ ​freshman​ ​year​ ​of​ ​college,​ ​I​ ​took​ ​confession​ ​with​ ​my​ ​parish​ ​priest, and​ ​he​ ​gave​ ​me​ ​this​ ​advice​ ​when​ ​I​ ​told​ ​him​ ​I​ ​felt​ ​like​ ​I​ ​had​ ​not​ ​been​ ​doing​ ​enough​ ​for​ ​my faith​ ​while​ ​in​ ​school.​ ​His​ ​advice:​ ​​Claire,​ ​you​ ​are​ ​in​ ​college.​ ​You​ ​are​ ​there​ ​to​ ​learn​ ​and​ ​to receive​ ​a​ ​degree.​ ​While​ ​God​ ​should​ ​always​ ​stay​ ​at​ ​the​ ​center​ ​of​ ​your​ ​life,​ ​do​ ​not​ ​punish yourself​ ​if​ ​you​ ​cannot​ ​always​ ​attend​ ​liturgy​ ​or​ ​OCF.​ ​That​ ​is​ ​not​ ​why​ ​you​ ​are​ ​in​ ​school.

via barnzy on flickr

It​ ​is​ ​from​ ​this​ ​advice​ ​I​ ​offer​ ​you​ ​my​ ​own:​ ​When​ ​you​ ​come​ ​to​ ​college,​ ​you​ ​have​ ​the​ ​opportunity to​ ​essentially​ ​design​ ​your​ ​own​ ​life.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​a​ ​massive​ ​responsibility​ ​for​ ​so​ ​young​ ​and inexperienced​ ​a​ ​person.​ You will make choices that you will not know whether to consider morally right or wrong. You will go through periods of time where nothing seems quite right with any aspect of your life.

​If​ ​you​ ​cannot​ ​get​ ​yourself​ ​to​ ​OCF,​ ​or liturgy,​ ​or​ ​any​ ​other​ ​type​ ​of​ ​service​ ​being​ ​offered​ ​at​ ​your​ ​school​ ​all​ ​I​ ​ask​ ​is​ ​that​ ​you​ ​take​ ​a moment,​ ​when​ ​you​ ​can,​ ​to​ ​appreciate​ ​what​ ​you​ ​see​ ​around​ ​you.

Look​ ​around​ ​at​ ​creation,​ ​appreciate​ ​the​ ​specific​ ​things​ ​in​ ​life​ ​that​ ​give​ ​you​ ​joy.​ ​For​ ​me,​ ​it​ ​is when​ ​I​ ​walk​ ​towards​ ​my​ ​first​ ​class​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mornings​ ​in​ ​the​ ​sprinkling​ ​rain,​ ​umbrella-less, looking​ ​at​ ​the​ ​blooming​ ​flowers​ ​in​ ​the​ ​trees.​ ​That​ ​is​ ​all​ ​part​ ​of​ ​creation​ ​and​ ​we​ ​have​ ​the blessed​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​experience​ ​it.

We​ ​live​ ​in​ ​a​ ​turbulent​ ​world​ ​that​ ​asks​ ​quite​ ​a​ ​bit​ ​of​ ​its​ ​young​ ​people.​ ​Take​ ​advantage​ ​of​ ​this education​ ​God​ ​has​ ​given​ ​you​ ​and​ ​use​ ​it​ ​to​ ​increase​ ​the​ ​goodness​ ​and​ ​kindness​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world. And​ ​like​ ​the​ ​tenth​ ​leper,​ ​come​ ​back​ ​and​ ​tell​ ​Him​ ​thank​ ​you​ ​when​ ​you​ ​have​ ​received​ ​your​ ​gift.

Claire is a sophomore at UC Berkeley studying Theater and Performance Studies and English. She currently attends Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in San Francisco. Her favorite Saint is Saint Pelagia the actress and when not in church or the theater, she likes to spend her time exploring San Francisco, reading plays, and eating sushi.


Blog Contributor Introduction — Paul Murray!

Blog Contributor Introduction — Paul Murray!

For a moment, imagine yourself back at summer camp. (If you’ve never been to an Orthodox summer camp, try to imagine it.) You are with your close camp friends, spending your days going to daily church services, learning about Orthodoxy, playing sports, and just having the time of your life. In all likelihood, you are the closest to the best version of yourself that you have ever come. And a substantial part of you wishes you would never end.headshot

Why does it happen this way? Why do we respond this way to a life that sounds like it would just make people miserable: living in cabins in the woods with bugs crawling through your stuff, usually not in air conditioning, standing through almost two hours of church a day, and spending a significant portion of the day basically back at school? It’s because when you take the complications of life away and get nothing but essentially raw exposure to Orthodoxy, you subtly take in all of the lessons that surround you. Just by living in that environment, you are constantly taking in “lessons” of Orthodoxy, and it translates into how you live your life.

Now let’s imagine that camp was longer; say, four months. You have a little more freedom: you control your own schedule, although there are things that you do need to be at. Oh, and one more thing: let’s pretend that instead of being at an Orthodox camp, it’s not an Orthodox environment. Instead of having Orthodox teachings around you all the time, you are surrounded by ideas contrary to the Orthodox faith. Or worse, you are surrounded by new ideas and new advice as to how to live your life, some good and some bad, and you can’t tell which is which. You need to make changes to adapt to the new environment, but you can’t tell what changes would be beneficial and which would be harmful.

Instead of subtly changing in ways that bring you closer to God, how will you change now? How will the ideas scattered across your surroundings have an impact on your moral or religious beliefs? How will you tell if what’s going on around you is wrong, or if it’s just different?

Let’s add one more thing to this hypothetical: in terms of your faith, you are alone. You have nobody around you, no one to encourage you in the faith. You just have a new lifestyle presented in front of you, a lot of which seems great, and nothing to ground you to the values of Orthodoxy. Would you be able to stay strong through your Faith through this whole experience? I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if I would.

Or instead, let’s imagine that you have a great Orthodox support system around you. You have friends nearby who are Orthodox, who you at least get to see a few times a week. In fact, you all meet weekly with a priest to have a discussion. There is a church nearby that you attend at least weekly, and you try to go to other services whenever you can. You keep in touch with all of the Orthodox friends that you know from all over the place, and you talk about your joys and your struggles with each other as they relate to Orthodoxy: how difficult it is to fast at school, how excited you are for Pascha, how you are going to get to the regional retreat, strategies for how to consistently pray every day, and so on. How does that change things?

The reality is, when we go back to school–this four- or five-month academic, secular summer camp–it’s our choice whether we go into it together or alone. We can choose not to stay anchored to Christ: not find a church, not find Orthodox people nearby, not look into an OCF chapter at your school, not attend regional retreats, not take advantage of the numerous spiritual resources available to us electronically.

Or we can choose to be a community: always praying, going to church, attending OCF meetings and discussions, keeping close contact with Orthodox friends from anywhere, listening to podcasts, watching Orthodox videos, reading Orthodox articles. Even if your school does not have an OCF, you can still work to build one, connect to Orthodox people around you, and attend a nearby church. As my spiritual father once asked, in this modern age of technology, what excuse do we have not to be saints? If you have no idea where to start on all this, talk to your regional leader.

The reality is, when we go back to school…it’s our choice whether we go it together or alone.

 – Tweet this!

That is why I am doing this. My name is Paul Murray, and I am a Blog Contributor for OCF this academic year. I will be writing for the website every month to help encourage you (and myself) to live an Orthodox life in an environment that resists it. I love learning more about Orthodoxy and I get very excited about many things related to it, so I’m here to share those things with you. And in this way we grow together, as one body.

May we remember going forward that we are never alone, that there are people all around us (and above all, God) who are just waiting for us to turn and ask for help. May we never give up on our struggle towards theosis and turn to others when we need to. May we focus on our spiritual lives, knowing that if we become holy people, then the environment around us turns just a little bit more Orthodox, and maybe you can bring that subtle change that camp brought to you, to those around you.

My prayer is that God will give us all the strength to do these things.

See you next month.

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.

For What Are We Chosen?

For What Are We Chosen?

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.  1 Peter 2:9

All right, it’s time to brag. Being born an Orthodox Christian of Greek descent has put me in contact with countless entertaining people. Being Orthodox led to my involvement in OCF, which then led to my being surrounded by clergy; it’s really not unlike that scene in Toy Story with the aliens and the claw machine except I’m not as talented as Tom Hanks and none of the priests I’ve met worship the most bogus arcade concept in all of existence.

Public Domain image from Tony Baldwin

In my neck of the woods, being Greek means being surrounded by countless loud, hilarious, loud, outspoken, loud people. I love my family to death, however they all definitely have their opinions, and are always more than eager to share them with me. After a few of my aunts and uncles learned that I spend a lot of time at school doing work for the Church they decided to share this pearl of wisdom with me:

“Be careful that you don’t become a priest!”

Unfortunately, when someone has seen enough church politics, they often become disillusioned with church leadership, and since many of our priests often have the final say on whatever happens in a church, I can see why so many discourage me from joining the priesthood. However, some of my more adamantly opinionated family members may be a little disappointed; I’m already part of the priesthood. In fact, so are they—and some of them didn’t even have to take a single church history class.

In his epistle, St. Peter refers to all of us as being part of “a royal priesthood.” Even for those of us well-versed in Church hierarchy, these words sound slightly daunting. But as daunting as this revelation is, it shouldn’t come as a total surprise. Our understanding of the sacraments is definite proof that we are part of some royal priesthood. During baptisms we sing, “all those who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ,” and we understand Christ as the Chief Priest of our Church. When we participate in the sacrament of confession, the priest places the epitrachilion over our heads as a sign that his anointing as a priest has passed down to us. (His Grace, Bishop Gregory of Nyssa gives a really nice explanation of how this works here in his College Conference East address). So, this should be crystal clear, right? No concerns? At least everyone who likes wearing black is cool with this whole royal priesthood thing, right?

Well, when I first read this verse, I was still a bit puzzled. After all, if we are a “royal priesthood” why is it necessary for our church to ordain priests and how can we act as priests if we aren’t ordained? To answer this question, let’s consult the authority of all life’s great conundrums—Hollywood. Particularly, the movie Dead Poets Society.



CC image from Michael Newhouse on Flickr

Dead Poets Society is a story about young people with tremendous gifts. The premise of the movie revolves around a boarding school English teacher, Mr. Keating (Robin Williams), who uses unconventional methods to teach his students about free thought and the importance of developing a passion for poetry. The characters’ gift is the ability to use language in a way that gives them a better love of each other and the world around them. If you haven’t seen the movie, the only other thing you really need to know is that it’s full of Walt Whitman, carpe diem, and honestly stellar headpieces.

One of the ways that Keating initially sells the value of poetry to his students is when he tells them that language was invented for the purpose of “wooing women.” This titillating incentive serves as the gateway for Keating’s students to realize the power they possess as linguists and creative minds. They form their secret after-hours poetry club—The Dead Poets Society. They read to each other, they write, and they fall in love with the endless sea of passion and meticulous craftsmanship found in linguistic art.

Now, in the infant moments of the Dead Poets Society, Keating’s students realize the power they have in their new found individualism and love of poetry. However they quickly start to abuse that power by taking part in excessive smoking, drinking, and profanity. When some of the students’ behavior comes to light, Mr. Keating cautions them to tame their new found passion and freedom by being “wise, not stupid.”

There are two really key things to glean from these few paragraphs of cinematic rambling:

  1. Let Mr. Keating be your model for ordained clergy, and let his students your model for the rest of us—the lay-priesthood. Mr. Keating is trained in the knowledge of literature, and is professionally associated with the institution of learning (school/church). His students have a different association with the school, but they have within them the same power of language as Mr. Keating. They then continue to exercise that power through Mr. Keating’s guidance.
  2. On occasion, Mr. Keating’s students abuse their power, and when they do, their teacher is responsible for guiding them back to a healthy way of using their gifts. However, the young men’s love for language is no less intense, and their relationships with each other are no less bold and dynamic. The iconic final scene of the movie shows the students’ love of language and each other in action. The film ends with them sharing their innate gifts, which their teacher helped hone.

So what does being a royal priesthood mean outside of the hokey fantasy world that is English class? Let’s briefly turn back to our Church’s liturgical tradition—particularly the Church’s vesting prayers. When the priest puts on the sticharion,  his bright tunic, he recites the following:

My soul shall rejoice in the Lord for he has clothed me with a garment of righteousness and has covered me with the robe of gladness. He has crowned me as the bridegroom and has adorned me as a bride with jewels.”

CC image from  Wikimedia Commons

CC image from Wikimedia Commons

There’s something spectacular about the image of being adorned by Christ as both His bride and bridegroom. I can only imagine the weight of those words and what a priest must feel whenever he recites them. However, the gravity of that imagery should not be lost on the rest of us. We are the Church—Christ’s bride. We are the royal priesthood.  We are to take on our own ministries—our own Dead Poets Societies.

As college students, we’re blessed to have the tools for ministering at our disposal. We can host dinners, we can volunteer at soup kitchens, we can tutor, we can start Bible studies, we can join protests, we can organize charity benefits, we can cultivate strong friendships, and I could really keep going on like this. Through the Holy Spirit the possibilities of what we can do are endless, and if we let Him work through us, whether we wake up each morning and put on a cassock or if we put on a graphic t-shirt, crocs, and sweatpants (something which I advise against, by the way), we fulfill our duty as a royal priesthood, and further the process of filling the world with Christ’s “marvelous light.”