This past weekend, on February 25th and 26th, Orthodox Christian college students from across our great district of North Carolina gathered in unity and fellowship at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, located in Raleigh. Nine students participated in Saturday’s retreat, representing chapters from App State, UNC Charlotte, UNC Chapel Hill, and NC State.
With the guidance of Fr. Paul Christy, the parish priest at Holy Trinity and the assistance of his pastoral assistant Rob Shand, we focused on the theme chosen for this year’s retreat: “Putting on the Armor of God: Being Orthodox on Purpose.” In anticipation of Lent, we started our retreat by serving those in need. We joined and assisted the pan-Orthodox youth (pre-school and elementary schoolers) from the area in assembling trail mix and hygiene kits paired with winter hats to disperse to local shelters. This project was sponsored by the St. John the Merciful ministry that helps those in the triangle area and beyond. We also made kits to send to IOCC.
The rest of the day was used for fellowship, breaking bread, worship, and a discussion about tools we can use to use as armor in our everyday lives. Following the service event, we visited the nearby Menchies for frozen yogurt and introductions. There, we quickly lowered our walls and spoke about significant “faith or church” moments in our collegiate years. People shared stories about “aha” moments, periods of time without attending church, experiencing OCF events–it was great to get a feel of where everyone was spiritually and what their OCF experience was to that point (Important to point out, most of the group had not attended an OCF event before beyond a chapter gathering!).
After spending some time outside at the church, enjoying the unusually warm weather, we gathered inside to begin our discussion with Fr. Polycarp Strosnider and Rob Shand. We were instructed to think about qualities we find in others that we wish to emulate (without envy) in order to live a more purposeful, Orthodox life, especially on a college campus.
Once each of us revealed those qualities, we shared several resources both in the Church and outside, as well as smartphone tools and apps to help instill those qualities in us (daily readings, inspirational videos, liturgical texts and music, creating prayer lists, virtual prayer rope, etc.) The day ended with Great Vespers, led by Fr. Polycarp and chanted by the OCFers , and a catered dinner provided by a parishioner of Holy Trinity.
We gathered once again at Holy Trinity Sunday morning along with the community for the celebration of divine liturgy and fellowship afterwards, followed by goodbyes to those coming from out of town. Glory be to God for a beautiful and purposeful retreat! We pray for a meaningful Lent to all our most blessed district, and we hope to see everyone at the southeast regional “WorkDaze” retreat at the Diakonia Retreat Center March 24-26 in Salem, South Carolina!
John Shelton is a fourth year student at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. He is studying Public Relations and Leadership Studies, and is in his third year serving over ten North Carolina chapters as the District Student Leader.
On the weekend of February 13, as president at North Carolina State University, I was lucky enough to host Fr. Anthony Salzman and Presbytera Christine from St. Philothea Greek Orthodox Church of Athens, GA (OCF spiritual advisor for the Southeast), Fr. Jon Emanuelson of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church of Wilmington, NC (spiritual advisor for our district), and our North Carolina district student leader John Shelton for a weekend with our chapters for our District Retreat. The theme of this weekend, which coincided with Valentine’s Day, was “Love Is Eternal” (John 3:16). The weekend was filled with fellowship, service, and worship as we all learned together the importance of loving ourselves, our neighbors, and our God.
We started the weekend a little early on Thursday with Fr. Anthony and Presbytera Christine having a table setup in the main Student Union at North Carolina State University. At the table, Fr. Anthony painted an icon of St. Paraskevi as onlookers approached the table with curious eyes and in awe of the beauty of the icon. Fr. Anthony and Presbytera Christine were actively engaged with the students at North Carolina State University and invited the students to join them in the lecture that would occur later that evening. Fr. Anthony gave a lecture entitled, “Byzantine Iconography: Theology in Color – The Meaning of Byzantine Iconography” which was a beautiful lecture dedicated to the history and uncommon elegance that Byzantine iconography has offered in the past and in the present. The Salzmans were also able to visit nearby Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill to talk with students.
For the Saturday event, students from all over North Carolina all came to Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Raleigh, North Carolina to spend time together to serve, pray, and worship in the church. We began the day with a beautiful lunch of pastitsio and spanakopita graciously provided by Philoptochos through our wonderful OCF liaison Katerina Knezevic. After our lunch, we introduced ourselves through icebreakers and games. Our next step was to journey into the church for our service project which consisted of cleaning the church, the altar, the narthex, and the solea.
After cleaning the church, we all took part in Fr. Anthony’s lecture with the theme, “Love Is Eternal.” Fr. Anthony discussed the importance of love and how it is manifest in many teachings of the church. We also openly talked about the importance which involves not going into the extremes in any of the cases we deal with in college, but rather having an equal balance of faith and fun. We then transitioned into a beautiful Vespers that was an intimate and pleasing way to wrap up our events of our day at church. After Vespers, we went to the home of Fr. Paul and Presbytera Mary Christy where we were treated to an extravagant meal by the hands of Yianni Theodorou, one of Holy Trinity’s chanters.
In the morning, we all attended church together in the first three pews and celebrated the Divine Liturgy served by Fr. Anthony. After his sermon, we thanked the community for hosting us and the Salzmans for being our special guests, and we enjoyed breakfast from the Philoptochos of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church of Wilmington, NC, who had sent treats with Fr. Jon. Overall, this weekend showed the importance of getting together and communing with the Orthodox mindset. We all grew together in the theme “Love Is Eternal” and cannot wait to meet up again at the regional WorkDaze retreat in March!
Gabriella Christy is a Senior Psychology major at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. The daughter of Father Paul and Presvytera Mary from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Gaby has been the president of the NC State Chapter for two years. Upon graduation in May, she will pursue graduate studies in the fall.