The way we recognize and live our faith online is funny sometimes. When we post online, we have a bit more time between thinking of the message we wish to convey and executing it.
As such, we often craft the image of ourselves that we’d like to present with a lot more intention. Sometimes that can feel a little fake—but its not wrong, I think, to be deliberate in how we convey ourselves through a medium as permanent as Facebook and Instagram and Twitter.
On the same note, there’s also a renowned invincibility—or at least, a bolstering of protective factors—that we experience when we post online. It has something to do with anonymity, occasionally—but when our name is behind our words, we still enjoy the freedom from pressures that arise from being face-to-face with someone, or in a group of people. Through the Internet, we don’t have to respond right away to things, so we feel more comfortable making stronger claims; we don’t have to experience potential awkwardness in real time, and we are accordingly emboldened.
As such—and I mean this in all sincerity—social media and online interactions can be a truly excellent place to manifest our faith. I know that I’m an avid Twitter user, and very often when I’m composing a Tweet with a grateful tone, I end up reconsidering terms like “I’m thankful” or “I’m fortunate,” and often end up focusing on “I’m very blessed.” It’s a small change, but a very intentional one. The little things in my life are blessings, and thanks belong to God. I don’t think of that enough in everyday conversation; the extended time of typing out a post allows me to remember and recognize that.
It goes even deeper than that. Back to Twitter—a lot of the work I do (I’m an NFL Draft analyst) lends itself to disagreement. Disagreement, especially on social media, lends itself to arguments. Arguments breed potshots, low blows, name-calling, and other such instinctual tactics when we feel the threat of being wrong in front of others. That’s the other edge of the sword when it comes to being protected through anonymity, I suppose—most people with whom I interact online, I’ll never meet in real life. So shooting from the hip holds very few tangible consequences to me.
By that same token, however, I’m more likely to speak out when I’m upset in person, because I feel it more immediately, more viscerally. I feel as if I have less control. Through social media, I certainly feel the desire to comment on someone’s politically-charged post with my own opinions—but what good does that add to the world? And when someone gets snarky or condescending in the comments section on one of my takes, I could easily roast and embarrass them—but how does this benefit my Christian life (and their life, Christian or otherwise)?
We’re constantly told of the dangerous of interacting on social media and through the Internet—rightfully so, as it has its pitfalls and traps. We are meant to be living images of Christ, however, and we shouldn’t use the difficulties of online interactions to recuse ourselves from that responsibility. The very process of typing instead of speaking gives us time—more time to think about what we’re saying, how we’re saying it, and why we’re saying it. You have the opportunity to gear that time positively, to convey a clearer message of the Christ that lives through you. Every day, I try to take that opportunity—I hope that you do, too.
When I arrived home from College Conference East, I felt, as Bishop Gregory put it to us in one of his sermons, “on fire for Orthodoxy.” I came home excited about the Orthodox Church, and I kept thinking about different ways that I could share my experiences with others. While I don’t think that there’s anything wrong about this, it was not until much later that I realized that I have another much more challenging task ahead of me: changing myself.
Over the past month, I have come to realize the impact that College Conference has had on my life, and I believe that it will continue to make a difference in my life over the coming months. However, I don’t think that this experience will change me unless I keep my heart open. In the month since College Conference, I have noticed several things that I’ve realized I need to change, and I am going to share eight of them here. I hope that this might benefit others in some way.
- Appreciate my Orthodox community more
At College Conference, I was touched by the way my peers treated each other with love and respect. Even though this was my first year in attendance, I felt very welcomed by those I met and immediately felt like I was among friends. And for those with whom I was travelling from my hometown, I was reminded how blessed I am to live in a city in which there is such a strong bond between the Orthodox youth.
- Be honest on social media
Steven Christoforou, one of the workshop leaders, gave an presentation called “Media Martyrs” in which he highlighted a great problem that faces 21st-century youth: the separation between a person’s true character and their online presentation of themselves, which he refers to as “the analog and the digital selves.” He suggested that social media can create conflict between the analog and the digital selves, or even that the digital self can overtake and destroy the analog self. This really struck me as I wondered how I “brand” myself online.
- Stop “brushing off” questions about my faith
The speakers at College Conference reminded me that these moments are gifts.
- Actively participate in the church services
Something about seeing 325 other youth lift up their voices during the liturgy, singing in the choir at Vespers, and chanting hymns in the chapel until a ridiculous hour in the morning made me appreciate the beauty of our Orthodox hymns and services more. Already since returning home, I find my mind wandering less often during the Divine Liturgy, and church hymns have been playing on my phone on repeat.
Students chanting during Liturgy
- Work on my Greek dance and dabke skills
I don’t even want to talk about this.
- Remind myself that it is okay not to have all the answers
I don’t think I’ll ever forget venerating the weeping icon at College Conference for the rest of my life. I can be a perfectionist at times, and I really think that I need “all the answers.” However, this experience taught me that, because we don’t have all the answers and cannot explain this miracle, we believe in the existence of God.
- Read up on my Orthodox faith
Probably the greatest disappointment about College Conference for me (other than the fact that it went by so quickly) was that it made me realize how much I just do not know about Orthodoxy. Now I definitely want to begin reading books about the faith or listen to podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio.
- Appreciate the beauty of our saints
The speakers at College Conference had a continuous hold on my attention, but for some reason, whenever they would share stories about our saints of the Orthodox Church I was in awe. I remember in one of the workshops, the speaker, Fr. Timothy Hojnicki, said something like, “The saints are like the sun and moon. Like the moon reflects the light of the sun, the saints reflect the light of Christ.” I kept thinking about this throughout the Conference as we heard the stories of Saints Maximos the Confessor, Raphael of Brooklyn, and so many more, and came to realize how blessed we are as Orthodox to have these saints as role models and intercessors.
Supplication to St. Raphael of Brooklyn
When I heard Bishop Gregory first speak about “being on fire for Orthodoxy,” I believe I had the wrong images in mind. I think what College Conference was trying to teach us all along was that “being on fire for Orthodoxy” is not always running through the streets with blazing torches. Sometimes, it’s trudging through the forest with a humble flame.
Anastasia Lysack is a second-year Music major at the University of Ottawa. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, learning how to say the Our Father in different languages, and finishing all her sentences with the word “eh.” She attends Christ the Saviour Church in
Ottawa, Canada, where she teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir.