I’m going to boast on someone else’s behalf, for a second.
Last spring, the then-Chairman of the Student Leadership Board, Emma Solak (some relation, maybe), spoke at the Orthodox Youth and Camp Workers Conference. She was brought in to discuss what it meant to “Keep the Faith” in college, and why there was less to fear than we sometimes fool ourselves into believing.
That’s not really the boast part, yet.
Fast-forward to September: A Serbian church in Merrillville, Indiana–St. Sava–was looking to better engage the youth of their parish. The core group, that had helped establish the church and brought it through its growing years, was beginning to pass away or grow too old to continue carrying the torch. In order for St. Sava to remain a healthy, proud parish, the next generation would have to step up into the shoes of the one before it.
In effort to engage their youth, the parish sought speakers for their 103rd anniversary banquet–speakers geared towards addressing the younger members of the church. And, on the magical website called YouTube, they found one: Emma.
I was able to accompany Emma on her trip to Indiana, where we were blessed with the hospitality and passion of the Historical Society and hosts at St. Sava. Driving back to Chicago, two things struck me:
Firstly: youth in the Church is not all doom and gloom. You could see that at St. Sava. Some of the young members of the church received awards for their service to their parish, their dedication in fulfilling their responsibilities. In the massive banquet hall, children ran around at every turn. There were three age levels of Serbian dance, and a choir of adorable little munchkins that sang traditional Serbian songs.
We talk about the difficulties of retaining youth in the church because, frankly, it is important to retain youth in the church, and it can be difficult. That being said, it is important that we enjoy and recognize those youth that still staunchly remain in our parishes across the nation.
Retaining youth isn’t a numbers game, nor is it some sort of forced captivity–keep them in parishes long enough until they grow old enough to know they need the Church. We should spend intentional time appreciating the presence of youth in our church, no matter how small, and seek to understand why they enjoy and thrive in the Church as they do.
Secondly, I was struck by that service that OCF could render: providing a speaker, fresh out of college, to a church seeking such an individual. We talk at lengths regarding the manner by which OCF serves us–what programs OCF offers, how it can help us. We also sometimes consider, “What we can do, through OCF, that serves others.” Real Break, YES College Days, these programs in which we tell OCF we want to give back, and OCF points us at people in need.
But we, as members of the Body of the Church not just OCFers in a program, regardless of age and occupation and schooling level–we have talents to give to the Church. Emma spoke to St. Sava’s church, in part because of her experience with OCF, but not as representative of OCF–she spoke as a young woman who was strong and active in the Church. We can all be that! We all should be that.
The further away OCF floats from that pure idea–forming persons who are strong and active in the Church–the more it becomes just another student organization. It loses its true purpose: equipping us, not for being OCF members, but for being real, live, actual Christians.
You might be the closest thing to the Gospel that someone in your life ever has. I remember hearing one of our speakers at College Conference East say these words and being shaken to my core. Later, I would actually hear two more speakers make nearly the same statement, using slightly different language. I remember feeling so much pressure in that moment, thinking: Me? Why me? I am far from perfect. How could I, a college student with more questions than answers, bring others to the Gospel?
But after giving it a little more thought, I realized that I wouldn’t be the same person I am today if it were not for the people in my life who humbly followed the Gospel and its teachings. They are the reason that I consider myself a Christian today.
Although it might feel this way at times, being an example of the Gospel to others isn’t something that should be a burden for us, but rather it should stem from the joy that we feel when we are in a relationship with our loving Creator. Now don’t take this the wrong way: being a representative of the Gospel doesn’t necessarily mean that we should march around campus with brightly coloured posters and a megaphone. I don’t know how God works through others in each and every person’s life, but I can give you an example of how He’s worked through others in mine.
I have this one friend, and even though we do not talk very much, he always seems to be there with a smile and a friendly word in the moments that I need them. Has this situation ever happened to you, where someone appears in your life seemingly out of nowhere just at the moment you really needed them? We all have such a powerful way we can touch others. The more I think about it the more I struggle to comprehend it, but at the same time it gives me a lot of peace. Some people say these profound relationships we have with others are fate, but I believe it’s Christ working through others to share His love.
There’s this quote by Saint Seraphim of Sarov that many of us have heard before:
Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.
God works through others in mysterious ways, just like my friend who was always so kind to me without knowing that I needed to talk to someone. The key to God working through you is that you open yourself to Him first.
Guys, this is part of the reason why OCF is so important. This community, where young people all experiencing the same struggles meet together with the common goal of growing in love for Christ and His Church, is an incredible thing. I’m closer to the Church because I hang out with people my age on my campus that try to live with the same purpose that I do.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to sell a relationship with God to you like some sort of self-help book, or as a guide in your philanthropic work. I can just picture a blog entry with the following title: Just Follow God and You will Save Your Campus/City/ This Very Broken World. No, obviously there is nothing wrong with wanting to help others (put others first, obviously) or self-improvement plans (also great, there was a fantastic blog post written about this a few weeks ago).
I think the best way I could sum up everything I’m trying to say is with something I first heard at CrossRoad a few summers ago: the closer you get to God, the closer He will bring you to others. The closer you get to others, the closer you get to God. As we begin our new semesters this January, let’s all, myself included, try to keep our hearts open to God and to the people He’s placed in our lives.
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.
Last week we talked about the invitation of Jesus to “come and see” where He lived, and we established that to become a disciple is first to be near to the Lord and experience Him in His own home.
This week, we take a look at what happens right after this first “come and see” calling. Immediately after John’s two disciples spend the evening with Jesus, a Galilean game of telephone begins as Andrew goes to find Peter, and after being called by Jesus, Philip goes to find Nathanael. Andrew declares, “We have found the Messiah,” and Philip says, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Pretty hefty claims.
It’s perhaps not too much of a surprise that the testimony of Philip, no matter how enthusiastic, was not enough to convince Nathanael. He’s not only not convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, but he’s not convinced it is possible for someone that important to come from such a scripturally unimportant (and sometimes disreputable) town like Nazareth.
Amazingly, Philip is not taken aback by Nathanael’s doubts nor does he try to further convince him. He simply tells him, “Come and see.” He is neither offended that Nathanael may not believe him nor is he shaken in his own decision to follow Jesus. It’s as if he says, “You don’t have to believe me. I’m convinced. Come see for yourself and decide.”
As an aside, there’s an important lesson here about evangelism. First, it’s important to notice that “come and see” only follows Philip’s willingness to seek out his friend and boldly declare to him that he has found the Savior. But once he’s given the testimony of his own encounter with the Lord, Philip allows Nathanael the freedom to come and see for himself–or not.
Philip invites Nathanael to get to know Jesus, and Nathanael comes. Though he has heard the testimony of his friend, like Thomas after the resurrection, Nathanael needs to meet Jesus himself.
To meet Jesus and discover experientially that He is the Messiah, the Savior, is essential to becoming a disciple of Christ. No one is made a believer on the testimony of others alone. You have to meet Jesus yourself by coming to Him. And while we may not be able to walk down the road from our shady fig tree to find Him, we can meet Jesus in prayer. Even a tentative or doubt-filled prayer is a vehicle for encountering the Lord. Nathanael probably wasn’t walking down the road actually expecting to meet the Messiah; in fact, he probably thought the end result of his excursion with Philip would end in disappointment, in nothing. But he made the walk anyway just to see. He carried his doubts right to the feet of the Lord.
And when Nathanael got near to Jesus, while he was still a bit down the road, Jesus called out to him, praising him for his righteous doubt and for his willingness to meet Him anyway. He tells Nathanael that He already knows about his doubts because He saw him when he was under the fig tree.
So come. Don’t be afraid to carry your doubts and your questions with you, but come. If with authenticity and honesty you approach Jesus, He will honor you from far off, coming to you and offering you His salvation so that you of your own accord, with Nathanael, can declare, “You are the Son of God.”
The OCF Podcast is back, and we have lots of new things to share with you this year! First up, we start back into our apologetics series where we help you answer the questions you get asked on campus. Listen in to hear our new Media Student Leader Dan Bein continue the conversation with Fr. Brendan Pelphrey about sharing Orthodoxy with others. In this episode, they talk about the Bible and its place in the Church.
We’re centering this year all around these three words, “Come and see.” It’s a challenge to all of us both to follow these three words and to share them with others. We have a few ideas of how you can do that this month and all year round in our Orthodox Awareness Month manual. We hope you check it out and participate.
But what does it really mean to come and see? Toward what are we coming and what will we see? Well, for the next four Wednesdays for Orthodox Awareness Month, we’ll reflect on just that!
The first time the phrase “come and see” appears in the Gospel of John is right after John the Baptist calls Jesus twice “the Lamb of God” and says that he saw the Spirit descend from heaven and rest upon Him. A few of John’s disciples must have been intrigued by their master’s deference to his newly-arrived cousin because they decide to follow Him to see where He’s going.
I’m not sure they knew what they were in for when Jesus turned and asked them, “What do you seek?” But by some moment of inspiration, they asked Him where He was staying.
In his homily on this passage, St. John Chrysostom notices
They did not say, “Teach us of Thy doctrines, or some other thing that we need to know”; but what? “Where dwellest Thou?”
It’s an interesting question. Why not ask, “What do you teach?” or “Why does John call you the Lamb of God?” There’s something significant about knowing the place where the Lord lives and then coming to stay with Him in His own home. To come and see where the Teacher dwells is experiential.
This, I think, is why we prefer the invitation “come and see” over long-winded philosophical arguments about the validity of our Orthodox Christian beliefs. We know that Truth is beyond words–it must be experienced before it can be expressed, and no expression will ever do justice to the experience itself. The place to experience God, to simply come and see where He lives, is in the Church. The Church is the place where God’s Heavenly Kingdom is most clearly breaking through into the created realm.
Take the account of the pagan Slavs sent by St. Vladimir to Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, for example. Upon returning to their king, the delegates declared
We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We only know that God dwells there.
And it is not just the beauty of the Liturgy and the music and the icons that make known the place where the Lord dwells, but the beauty of the Body of Christ, the beauty of Christian hearts being purified by God’s love.
So the first calling of come and see is simply to enter into the place where the Teacher lives, to follow Him and earnestly desire to experience the life of His Kingdom. This is the first step in the making of a disciple of Christ, to seek out where the Lord dwells and then stay with Him a while.