A photographer can make an ordinary scene extraordinary, because they have an eye trained to see beauty. The beauty of Orthodoxy can be seen in the seemingly disconnected pieces of arts and culture. Some people consider the Harry Potter series to be inconsistent with Christianity because of their themes of witchcraft and violence, but in my opinion, the books happen to be very Orthodox in nature.
The main premise of the book is the classic archetype of good versus evil. However, J.K. Rowling is genius in her analysis and understanding of where ultimate good and ultimate evil come from. Harry is the symbol of ultimate good whereas his counterpart, Voldemort (or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named for the more squeamish) symbolizes and commits acts of ultimate evil.
The two are inextricably linked but fundamentally opposed. This imagery parallels the imagery of passions. Human passions and virtues are two sides of the same coin. For example, the passion of pride and the virtue of humility both involve the perception of the self, one being a twisted over-inflation rooted in self-love and the other being a deep, truthful self-knowledge based in love of others respectively. Harry and Voldemort are both inextricably linked and even spiritually linked, but they fundamentally differ in one aspect: LOVE.
Harry Potter was able to love, and that was the source of his goodness. Voldemort was physically incapable of love and that inspired his evil. There’s the Orthodoxy, the basis of all good is Love, and in turn, God!
Harry Potter is born into a life of sacrificial love and is magically protected for years by the sheer power that his mother’s sacrifice provided for him. She commits the ultimate sacrifice and in that, surrounds Harry in her love and protects him from harm. Think of the power in Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. His sacrifical love destroys even death itself. There is a God-given power in self-sacrifice that literarily manifests itself into a powerful force in a magical dimension.
Voldermort on the other hand, turns to dark magic in a desperate and contorted attempt at self-preservation. He splits his soul seven times and in the process, loses his humanity in his hubris. Voldemort loses his personhood because he engulfs himself in sin and is unable to love.
Harry had guidance and care from a more experienced and wise wizard, Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore guided Harry in his pursuit of conquest against Voldemort and his associates. Dumbledore is like Harry’s spiritual father, guiding him and helping him minimize foreseeable obstacles. However, Dumbledore is not perfect, because he too, is human.
Harry finds familial love with his best friends, Ron and Hermoine. They never leave his side, are not afraid to tell him the truth, and fully support him in his endeavor. Harry loves them and fights hard for them against all odds.
Harry is victorious in his battle against evil because of one thing: his self sacrifice. In love, Harry voluntarily gives up his life for the lives of others, and in that, actually receives new life. In the story, he literally comes back from the dead from his self-sacrifice and that allows him to defeat Voldemort. Love is what the story boils down to, and we can use the story to better understand the power of love in an anecdotal way. But let’s turn back to The Book, the Bible, and its knowledge about love:
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. – John 4:16
Understanding that God has infinite love for us, and living it are two different things. How can we really live in God? It all starts with habits. The church fathers prescribe three things to help us develop a spiritual life and allow the Holy spirit come into our souls. Those three things are: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. When we pray we talk to God, and we build our relationship. When we fast we work on our commitment to God and our spiritual strength. And when we give out alms, we participate in God’s love by sharing it with other people. These are the starting suggestion for living in love and living in God. Living in love begins when we begin to see God in our relationships with other people. Harry Potter was good at understanding the sacrificial love that his friends and family exemplified. Harry, despite all odds, growing up in an awful household still finds the strength to live in love, and that becomes his source of strength.
Harry Potter wasn’t perfect. He was able to love and be loved and despite his weaknesses he was strong. For us, God is our source of strength and when we love, we are strengthened by His mercy. I challenge you to see how in our world, goodness comes from love and evil comes from the lack of it. If someone committing an act of violence truly loved the other person, would they dare touch a finger to the other person?
The next time you find yourself in a fight against evil, there is no need to fear, because if you are focused on Christ’s love, He will grant you the strength to defeat it! Live in love, and God will live in you.
One of the strengths of my OCF chapter, a characteristic I have found often in chapters across the country, is diversity. Students from all backgrounds, majors, and campus affiliations come together in Christ’s love, and that unity is the powerful backbone that keeps OCF strong. Aside from a mutual passion for Orthodoxy, one of the most predominant characteristics that I have noticed in my conversations with OCF students is that we’re all too busy. As applications for the 2017-2018 Student Leadership Board open this week, seventeen college students from around the country are about to get a whole lot busier.
Every leadership position is a risk. It’s a risk that your free time might shrink and your to-do list might grow. It’s a risk that you may discover weaknesses you never knew you had. It’s also a risk that you may unlock passion within your soul and turn your heart toward a purpose greater than yourself. Serving on the Student Leadership Board has done all of this for me and in the best of ways.
The past two years as Midwest Regional Student Leader have been incredibly transformative, empowering, and inspiring. Like any good organization, the value of OCF lies in its people. I am consistently blown away by the talent, spirit, and genuine love my fellow board members pour into their work for this ministry. These people, whom I am lucky enough to call my friends, inspire me every day to be a better Orthodox Christian. I am never without comforting and hilarious conversation from Emma, a good book suggestion from Dan, invaluable life advice from Christina, and innumerable other daily blessings.
Like any good organization, the value of OCF lies in its people.
It is with confidence I assure you that the work of any SLB position, with the right disposition and attitude, will never have to feel like work. My OCF responsibilities are somehow the only work I get done throughout my day that makes the rest of my to-do list lighter. OCF leadership is more than a bullet point on a resume, but forever a mark on my heart. The Student Leadership Board has given me incredible experiences, lasting friendships, a GroupMe I would never dream of muting, and a strengthened faith in Christ our Lord. These are all blessings I would never change for the world, and I can’t wait to share them with the OCF community this coming year as the Chairwoman of the Student Leadership Board.
I will leave you with a favorite quote of mine by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J.:
Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
I encourage you to consider applying for the OCF Student Leadership Board, get a little busier, and to take the risk that will decide everything.
Student Leadership Board applications are open! Whoo! They can be found riiiiight here.
Nicole Petrow is the outgoing Midwest Student Leader and incoming Chairwoman of the Student Leadership Board. She is a currently a junior at Creighton University, majoring in Classical & Near Eastern Civilizations & Classical Languages. In her spare time, she lip sync battles semi-professionally.
I’d love to say that my decision to apply for the SLB was motivated by some divine intervention, that St. Katherine appeared to me in a dream or that the Holy Spirit forwarded the application directly to my inbox. In actuality, my journey to the SLB was more a fortuitous combination of unintentionally joining the OCF email list, a little spontaneous decision making, and a lot of passion for OCF. This past year on the SLB has provided me with some of the best friends and experiences of my young life. Most importantly, it has brought me closer to Christ in a way I never expected.
I applied for the SLB as a wide eyed freshman with one short year of chapter experience under my belt. I had attended College Conference East that winter, and it opened my eyes to the expansive world of OCF outside of my eight person chapter in Omaha, Nebraska. At College Conference, praying alongside hundreds of students more similar to myself than anyone at my university, I knew I was where I belonged. I wasn’t about to let any opportunity to feel that love again, to feel such oneness with Christ and with my fellow Orthodox Christians, slip through my fingers. I submitted my application with a hopeful heart.
Three months later I found myself boarding a plane to New York, heading to SLI to train for the newly-minted position of Midwest Regional Student Leader. For the duration of SLI, I found myself constantly marveling at my fellow members of the board. These were people I was not only blessed to have as friends, but incredible Orthodox Christians who inspired me to grow in my own relationship with Christ. I remember keeping a note open on my phone throughout the week, constantly jotting down book titles referenced during group discussions or small pieces of wisdom shared at the dinner table. This became a theme throughout my entire experience on the SLB. The love of Christ pervades every text, every conference call, and every email shared among the board. The members of the SLB have come to occupy a very special place in my heart, and I can confidently say that I would not be the Orthodox Christian I am today without these incredible people.
I returned from SLI with more than just a longer to-do list and thorough understanding of the OCF Google Drive. I developed a deep rooted sense of responsibility for OCF on a national level, and a drive to share this amazing community with others. Most importantly, my time on the SLB instilled in me a newfound faith in the Orthodox spirit. I’ve worked throughout the year planning retreats and working with chapters new and old across the Midwest. Every interaction strengthens my conviction that OCF is the single most important aspect of my college experience. I do not have a doubt in my mind that the SLB entered my life by the grace of God, and I consider myself blessed every day to work with this remarkable group of people.
As Father Pedro Arrupe, S.J. once said:
Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is than falling in love in a quite absolute final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how your spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
I invite you to apply to the SLB, and to fall in love with the ministry that has my heart. And in this, let all you do be for the Glory of God.
Nicole Petrow is a sophomore studying Classical & Near Eastern Civilizations and Classical Languages at Creighton University. She currently serves as the Midwest Regional Student Leader on the Student Leadership Board. She loves dusty bookstores, cozy coffee shops and convincing her parents that someday she’ll be able to find a job with a Classics degree.
Secondhand faith doesn’t get you anywhere. –Fr. Apostolos Hill, College Conference West 2015
If there was one thing Fr. Apostolos drove home in his keynote addresses at this year’s College Conference West, it was that to witness to Christ, we have to have experienced His presence through the Holy Spirit in our own lives. We can’t merely be witnesses to something we’ve heard about but, like Thomas, must see for ourselves and believe of our own accord. There are no substitutes for knowing Christ ourselves. We will remain mute or, worse, be false witnesses without first encountering the Word to Whom we witness.
CCWest15 participants with the beloved Abbot Tryphon
But this is what amazes me and inspires me about College Conference West every year. While yes, the students come to learn more about the Orthodox Church, to visit the monastery, and to make new friends while reconnecting with old friends, it seems to me the real reason young people come to College Conference West is to meet Christ. In spite of the challenges the world presents–the denunciations of Christ, the pressure to conform, the temptations of the flesh–every year, a beautiful group of young men and women leave behind this empty and dissatisfying existence to encounter firsthand the One Who Is, the one who is Life Himself.
You can see this in the way the student leaders plan and lead the conference and attend with love and care to the needs of each participant–they are seeking Christ who washes the feet of His disciples.
You can see it in the way students eagerly line up for confession and counsel–they are seeking Christ the Healer of our infirmities.
You can see it in the way they pour out their souls in song in the Nativity Hymn at every meal, the Akathist Glory to God for All Things, and Paraklesis–they are seeking Christ who alone is worthy of our praise.
CCWest15 Paraklesis Service in the new chapel at St. Nicholas Ranch
You can see it in the way they get to know each other, building friendships upon a common foundation, the Church–they are seeking Christ who calls us into His fellowship.
You can see it as they listen attentively to the speakers and ask brilliant questions–they are seeking Christ who is the Wisdom of God.
You can see it as they spontaneously decide to hold a service of forgiveness amongst the whole conference–they are seeking Christ who forgives us all our iniquities.
And most of all, you can see it in the way they strive to love one another even as we reveal our brokenness to one another–they are seeking Christ who is found in our neighbor, the wounded Samaritan.
And they may not know it, but as they seek to encounter Christ in all these beautiful ways, they witness to Him as well. The striving achieves the goal. I thank God every year, and this year perhaps more than others, that I am blessed to be a part of College Conference West. The witness to Christ’s love borne by the students there deeply inspires and humbles me, and for that, I proclaim,
Glory to Thee for the unforgettable moments of life…Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age. -Akathist “Glory to God for All Things”