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”
Today I’d like to address this excellent student question we received:
How can I defend my faith in the face of opposition?
I’m sure it’s not all that uncommon that you are faced with situations on campus where your faith is not only challenged but vehemently opposed, times when Scripture and history are thrown at you in an attempt to convince you that faith is pointless, contradictory, or exclusive of intellectual, rational, and scientific thought.
It can be unnerving to feel like you’ve been put on the spot to defend all of Christianity and every Christian, especially if the challenger is someone in authority like a professor. It can be even more disconcerting when they ask questions that make you ask questions.
When someone opposes you for believing in Christ, the very best thing you can do is not get in a fight with that person. The best witness to Christ’s light in you will be the love with which you treat other people, including those who berate you. Christ tells us, “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk 6:28). How can you be a blessing to those who curse you? By venerating them as the icon of Christ that you know they are, even if they do not believe it. By treating them with respect, honor, and love as if they are Christ standing before you.
Now, it’s not going to be easy, and you probably won’t be perfect at it right away, but by remaining faithful in our belief that all people are children of God and are loved by Him, it will be a lot easier to avoid the temptation to punch somebody in the face when they make fun of you or speak blasphemously.
Speak the Truth in Love
Avoiding a fist fight, real or metaphorical, doesn’t mean not standing up for Christ. Don’t be afraid to confess Christ, to tell someone why you believe in Him and follow His way of living. But at the same time, keep in mind that many people who reject Christ have actually rejected a false idea about Him or about God the Father or have rejected Him because they have only experienced judgment, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy from those who claim to be His followers.
And certainly, we as Christians do our fair share of sinning, of not living up to the high standard of Christ’s commandment to love God and neighbor with His perfect love. Of course, we know that’s why we desperately need Christ and His salvific Church–to overcome sin within us and let grace work instead. Nonetheless, people still reject Christ because of our imperfections.
All the more should we confess Christ with love, not wavering in what we know to be true while at the same time not violating that which we hold most dear by wounding another person with our words or actions.
Part of speaking the truth is also coming to terms with what we don’t know and being honest about it. If someone raises a question we don’t know, it’s 100% ok to question with them. Christian faith is not based on a set of propositions anyway–we don’t believe stuff. Christian faith is trusting in a person, Christ as the Creator and Redeemer; faith is opening up to the work of the Spirit so that you can be transformed by grace. Therefore, doubt does not preclude faith, but rather, it presents us with an opportunity to come to know God more deeply. Faith is more like trust than like knowledge, something like this passage from Isaiah:
Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Hope in Christ
Which brings me to my last point. When you come under attack for your faith, when you face opposition, remember first that Christ told us this would happen. He told us that if we followed Him, we would be rejected by the world. We shouldn’t really be surprised. In fact, we can even take opposition as a further sign that Christ’s word is true.
And most importantly, then, remember that no matter what “the world” says about Christ, He remains the same. No matter what someone accuses us or the Church or the Bible of saying, doing, or believing, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8). No matter if someone mocks, beats, accuses, or even crucifies Christ, we have the assurance that Christ is risen, and that He has left us with the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, assuring us,
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (Jn 14:27)