I couldn’t be more blessed with my parish here in Chicago.
There are tons of Orthodox churches all across the city. I know that different students from different OCFs way across the city go to different churches, but I’ve been fortunate enough to find the one in which I feel both comfortable and pushed to be better; welcomed, and supported.
Parish life can be something over which we gloss in OCF. Many of our pillars–fellowship, education, service–replicate exactly those that are utilized by the many healthy parishes across the nation. OCF organizes service trips; so do many churches. OCF organizes Scripture study and book readings; so do many churches.
Now, OCF serves these similar functions as the parish for a distinct reason: As a college student, it can be quite tricky to become engaged in these aspects of parish life. Church youth groups are often geared toward younger students, and rightfully so: once those youth leave for college, they can no longer be members of the group.
Meanwhile, the adults of the parish–even those on the younger side–have likely been members of the parish for a few years. Their concerns are perhaps starting a family, settling in to their profession, creating a state of permanence that a nomadic college student simply cannot. They’re at a different stage in their life.
And accordingly, OCF creates a community of the like-minded, similar-staged college students, that we may be buttressed by these pillars of education and fellowship and service in the Church.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Bill Colclough.
That being said, we must recognize a crucial point: Both college life, and by extension, OCF life are not meant to replicate the aforementioned permanence of a fledgling adult who has landed in a home, has a home parish, and has some real consistency to their lives. College and OCF life are, by their nature, transient.
We forget this because we spend years–long, hard, awful years–in high school being told that the end is college; that we must appropriately cite our sources, because we will have to do that in college; that we must do extracurricular activities, because colleges will like that. Our paradigm for decision-making and effort is solely based on college as an end goal. But it is not an end. It is a means to an end.
The end of all things is Christ. The end of all things is the second coming and eternal salvation in the Kingdom of Heaven. As Orthodox Christians, standing in the face of this truth, everything we do must be geared toward arriving at this end as prepared and humble servants; as guests wearing the wedding garments; as virgins with oil in our lamps.
As such, my encouragement to you today is to examine: what are your ends? Do you do what you do to get good grades? To get a good job? To make money? To have a family? To live a happy life? Perhaps, even, do you do what you do because it feels good in the moment? I cannot tell you how you should divide your efforts on a daily basis, but I do know that the Lord said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” If there’s something in your life that isn’t leading you to the kingdom, you have to sit and think about that.
It is in this mindset and in this spirit that I return to my original point: I am so blessed with the parish that I have. It is youthful, thriving, and joyous. If I wanted to show anyone what Orthodoxy looks like–not in a monastery on a hill or a village in the home country–but in the center of a city in America, I would take them here.
But I don’t participate in that parish nearly as much as I should. Don’t get me wrong: I go to church every week that I’m in Chicago. (Okay, I was really sick like two weeks ago, but you get the point.) But my involvement with OCF–good, valuable, important to me–fools me into believing that I needn’t involve myself with my parish.
However, I know that, as the future rolls ever toward me, parish involvement is on my horizon. I know that, to make it to the kingdom, I need a home parish. I need that stability, that consistent involvement, those people who know me well through my faith. I know that my opportunities to serve, to learn, and to commune will no longer come from OCF in the nearing future. And I have to start preparing for that.
My prayer is that the Lord helps me do this. It is difficult, to pull oneself far back, to such a wide-reaching perspective–but, it allows the self to make more level-headed, forward-thinking decisions. It is only by looking at the long-term can we gain the insight needed to change the short-term.
On Saturday, October 21, college students of the NYC Area gathered for YES NYC’s College day. The day turned one participant’s perspective on its head.
As 16 of us arrived at the parish of St. Mary Magdalen in The Upper West Side, we quickly became a little community, only growing stronger during the twenty-minute walk to our service site. From what was then our college-specific community would soon transition into something, I at least, could have never imagined. The growth of our experiences gradually expanded from the community that we thought we knew, into one intertwined in service for and with those among us.
Upon reaching Harlem’s Emmaus House, their sole volunteer for that day unassumingly received us. There, she provided us with the opportunity to package food for those who would later come seeking it.
YES does an incredible job debunking common perceptions of helping versus serving. Riddling out that distinction brings about many difficult challenges. Walking into a quieter Emmaus House with no one “needy” in sight was discouraging. After all, I signed up for this in hopes of growing in a deeper understanding of service, with a sprinkle of enlightenment from the “other” before me. And that makes for a great reflection, right?
What I failed to realize, however, is that service knows no limits. My preconceived notions painted a false hierarchy–I was the helper, seeking to serve others in need–and as such, a surprise would come from someone I least expected. And there lies the problem: the fact that I first held of view of someone other than myself as “least.”
The true manifestation of service around us emulated from this volunteer’s language of love. She did not reserve it for any specific type of person. While not directly encountering those we assume live in need, we instead heard her incredible journey in Christ; which in turn, proved to meet a need of our own. Those of us who later voiced reflection were extremely struck by her humble presence and steadfast trust in Him. We found her to be of service to us more than anything we could offer her in return.
Therefore, she prompted our new reality of an encompassing community, as the later half of our day took to Marcus Garvey Park. We met various locals, most of whom welcomed us into the neighborhood and shared bits of their lives with us. Fulfilling what we had encountered during our time at the Emmaus House, we were blessed with the opportunity to live out what we had learned–to meet people for who they were and where they happened to be in life.
Come debriefing, one participant shared a quote (as paraphrased), “wherever you find yourself in life, is exactly where God wants you to be in that moment”; and boy did this make for the day’s message. Following a reading of Matthew 25:31-46, an unprecedented silence that truly captured what words cannot came across our group. It felt like the perfect note to end on. Just as Christ speaks of hunger, food and clothing, so too does he raise the necessity of a stranger being invited in.
Thank you to everyone at FOCUS North America for organizing Yes College Days, and everything Christ illumines through their service. Glory to God for all things!
Remember, all College YES Days can be found under the OCF Events page.
It’s really, really tough to be a college student in a time of crisis.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently–how could you not? In the football-related work that I do, I interact with a really large network of people around the country–which is awesome, but also quite eye-opening. As such, I worked directly with a few people who had to evacuate and experienced flooding during Hurricane Irma; because it’s football work, I was exposed a ton to Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt’s national campaign to raise money for Houston following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey; a lot of media folks live in California, where fires have been burning homes and polluting the air; and that doesn’t even touch those in Puerto Rico, many of whom are currently without clean water.
Things are not good on the natural disaster front.
As a college student, this can be incredibly frustrating. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have the funds with which you can make a monetary impact on these events as each arrives–if so, count your blessings. I would venture to say that many of us aren’t there.
The question becomes, of course, what can we do? I don’t have a comprehensive list, nor am I well-versed in all of the various opportunities/outlets that exist (please comment below and on social media with cool stuff you do), but I can tell you about what I think and what I’ve done.
I think it’s very easy to forget that our greatest agency, whether we can give $1 or $1,000, isn’t in the money we give, but rather our prayers. And we really have to be careful of muddling that priority list: reducing prayer to “well, at least I’m doing this” or “well, I can’t really give that much, so I’ll pray instead.” Because donations are more publicly visible, more empirically tangible, they feel more impactful.
When you give money online to relief funds, bright little graphics pop up, and you’re thanked by the program and so on. Why? To make you feel that initial jolt, that rush of altruism. When you pray for the suffering, when you pray for the first responders, when you pray for the safety of the world, you’re usually rewarded by the same stillness and silence of the room in which you are. Little emoji prayer hands don’t start popping up, as if you’re gaining experience points in some video game.
The hope is, of course, that your prayer is so fervent and heartfelt that you might truly experience, viscerally, that interaction you just had with God’s grace and mercy. The reality–at least for me–is that I’m not nearly a good enough supplicant to regularly have that experience. And, as such, it is easy to feel effete and irresponsible–like we are not doing enough. But there is nothing we can do–mankind, in all of our combined efforts–that holds a candle to what the Lord can do, through his long-suffering and compassion. It is important to remember this.
via Wikimedia Commons
It is also important, however, to do what we can in the world with our resources. Remember the tale of the man on the roof in the flood who denied the boat and the helicopter and the rescuers, because he was so faithful God would save him. When he died and saw God, he asked why God had not rewarded his faith: God said that He had…with a boat and a helicopter and rescuers.
So, what can we do, in the face of our limited resources? The first, easiest answer is to give what we can. Sure, one college student may not offer much–but there’s quite a good deal of us in OCF, you know. Through our community, our efforts are multiplied.
We can also recognize that immediate aid to places in dire need, while primary and necessary and invaluable, isn’t the only aid. On Real Break New Orleans this past March, a few of my fellow students and I toured through the Lower Ninth Ward, beholding destruction you wouldn’t believe happened twelve years ago. OCF offers many activities that are service-based–primarily a giving of time, rather than a giving of money–throughout the year, including YES College Days and Real Break trips.
Finally, I think it’s important to do little things–no matter how small. Not simply for the sake of it–just to say you did–but because, as an Orthodox Christian, giving to those in need should become a fixture of your life. Remember, the values and habits you construct now follow you into adulthood–without a dedication to helping those in need now, you’ll struggle to develop the habit when you have the resources. Using small, convenient outlets like freerice.com or Charity Miles help you have a consistent impact, without putting you in a financial bind.
Welcome to college: with an increase in choice comes an increase in responsibility. One of my favorite Bible quotes comes from Jesus (shocker), when He was hyping the disciples up in the upper room before His Crucifixion–I’ve probably told this to every camper I ever had:
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
– John 13:17
You know things. But that isn’t enough. That just gets you to the battlefield–now, you’ve gotta do stuff, too. It’s time for action.