It was supposed to be my third College Conference in a row.
And, I mean, it was. I was technically at the Antiochian Village, with other college students, during the conference. However, I spent most of it holed up in my dark room, feeling like garbage.
Pro tip: if you want to enjoy an OCF event, do not get sick.
Let’s take something solid out of a situation that involved some major headaches, at least five boxes of tissues, and a metric ton of green tea: I can now write a reflection for you about what it’s like to not go to College Conference.
I’m sure you know what it’s like to have all of your friends hanging out without you, because you’re super cool. But I had buddies back at the conference I hadn’t seen in upwards of two years, and all of the shenanigans into which we would usually get, they enjoyed without me. That, obviously, was not very fun.
One of the greatest aspects of College Conference is meal time, in my opinion, because you sit in little eight-seat nuclei scattered across the room and just chill. Some meals you’re sitting with all the people you know and the people they know, reminiscing and inside-joking and the like; other meals you’re with seven folks you’ve never met before, and you’re bonding and laughing and it’s all goodness.
It’s very common, in my opinion, for someone to hear about College Conference for the first time–small groups, keynote speaker, workshops speakers, church and more church–and miss that. They miss not only the big chunks of social time built into the schedule, but also that marginal social time that’s just as enjoyable. I also missed the time, mostly because I was gross and food tasted gross, but the point still stands: I missed that wonderful, carefree, responsibility-less time with friends. If you didn’t make it to college conference, you missed it as well.
Missing the speakers wasn’t something I anticipated hitting me as hard as it did, but here we are. I’ve always loved the speakers, but it felt like my takeaways were only a few quick quotes and maybe some general themes. I wish I’d take away more, but often that’s all I get.
At least, I felt as if that was all I got.
Having missed a solid amount of the talks, I’ve discovered that the talks do a lot more for the listener than providing information. In fact, I’d argue that the content of the talks isn’t so much meant to be remembered–rather, it’s the engagement with the material that’s truly valuable. It’s not about knowing what was said, but rather hearing what’s said and interacting with it; listening attentively; bringing the focus of our mind to a higher plane that it would otherwise be.
I think about what we hear before the Gospel during liturgy: “Let us attend!” But after the Gospel, we don’t hear “Make sure you remember what just happened!” Then we get the sermon, which doesn’t reiterate the Gospel to ensure we remember it, but helps us engage with the readings through interpretations, stories of the church fathers, and the like.
I missed the mental work of being in the talks; of being forced to think of bigger and better things.
3) Not Words
Admittedly, I could have done a far better job with this in my little room at the conference center–sitting in silence and being still. However, I was sick and grumpy, so I watched a lot of Netflix and found other ways to busy myself instead.
College Conference is smarter than to try and force silence and stillness on you–that’s not how silence and stillness works. It’s extremely voluntary–you cannot quiet all of the worries, stresses, and thoughts bouncing between your ears if you want to be embroiled in those thoughts. Trust me–I fall victim to that issue all of the time.
But College Conference does create that contemplative space for those who want it–in the chapels, the museum area, wherever. Often, the greatest obstacle standing between us and stillness is creating a space for that stillness in our busy lives–but College Conference offers that space, which encourages us to capitalize on it, as it is rare and valuable.
With my cold, I was far too self-pitying to find meditative silence; at home, not attending the conference, I’m sure the madness of life would have stifled me just as effectively.
If you went to College Conference, awesome. I hope you didn’t take for granted all the stuff I was sorely missing this year. It’s a holy time, that blesses us with many gifts–some we recognize; some we don’t.
If you didn’t go to College Conference this year–like me–you missed out. But I won’t be making the same mistake next winter break; and I hope you don’t, either.
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.
Sup team! My name is Benjamin Solak, and I’ll be your Publications Student Leader for OCF 2017-2018!
Wait…didn’t you do this job last year?
And they gave it to you again?!
I’m as surprised as you are, dear reader.
Okay, so what’s the plan for the blog this year?
A lot of super cool stuff. After our Blog Contributor program went super well last year, we look to be reviving that this year, starting in October, with a couple familiar faces, and some new ones too. If you’re interested in being a Blog Contributor, or if you’re unfamiliar with the program, you should email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll be looking to engage the community in an even bigger way this year. The loveliest part of the OCF Blog is that it is an ongoing, national effort of OCF. It allows OCFers from Nebraska and New York to connect with those in Nevada and North Carolina. Anytime there is a College Conference, Real Break trip, Regional Retreat, District Retreat, Day of Prayer activity, Day of Light activity, OAM challenge–anything–I want to hear about it! If your chapter has done something cool and you think the blog should know, you should email me at email@example.com.
Are you just thirsty for emails because they make you feel important?
Oh, most definitely.
Do you have anything else in the works for us to know about?
Okay, what else CAN you tell us?
I’m a third-year student at the University of Chicago (which is in Chicago. Sometimes people ask me that.) studying Comparative Human Development. I’m an unhealthy football fan, and I cover the Philadelphia Eagles for a site called Bleeding Green Nation, and college football and the NFL Draft with NDT Scouting. I run when my knee doesn’t hurt and complain when it does. Sometimes I pace myself, and eat the entire package of Chips Ahoy Chewy in two sittings.
I can also tell you that the mission of this blog is to magnify exposure. Whether it’s something done in the OCF that merits the eyes of the national body, or if it’s you, and how the OCF blog can assist your spiritual growth and enrich your college life. The four pillars of OCF are fellowship, education, worship, and service–and all four of those will be highlighted throughout the year, that the multiple and international efforts of OCF may always present to you a full body of the church.
I run the blog, but the blog isn’t about me, it’s about you–and, not unlike Horton the elephant, I mean what I say and say what I mean. As your OCF year enters full swing, I’m excited to be right there with you.
What a guy.
Oh stop, you.
Read on for a post about chapter meeting and activity ideas that incorporate the four pillars of OCF!
Most people on a college spring break go on cruises with friends or to the beach, but when I told people that I was going to Jerusalem, I won’t lie, I received interesting reactions. Some people supported my decision, saying that it would create a one-of-a-kind experience to last my lifetime, whereas some completely disagreed with my intentions to go, due to safety concerns and not being able to make memories with my friends at school. Nonetheless, I decided that this would be the ultimate trip of a lifetime to which none would compare; it was completely so.
The only concern I had going into the trip was how exactly I was going to manage to raise the money to go. Day by day checking the mail, I quickly realized in spiritual opportunities like this so many people felt a calling to send me on my spiritual journey. But it’s also interesting to see how God will provide in these types of situations. It was a beauty to see and I cannot thank everyone more for supporting me in my decision to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
While we were there we saw so many holy sites, churches, monasteries, and shops. I cannot tell you how many we went into, there were so many. However, what I can tell you are some of the highlights on the trip.
The stone in which the cross was affixed
We saw the Ascension of Christ; it was located in two churches. A Greek Orthodox cathedral and a Russian Orthodox church are dedicated to the Ascension of Christ. I got to see Christ’s footprint and venerate it, and that was hands-down the most powerful moment of my life. It was so surreal. Having the chance to witness something so magnificent that the average person can only visualize in their mind was life-changing.
We also went to the Sea of Galilee. This had to be the most peaceful part of the trip. This was towards the middle of the trip and we had quiet time to write in our journals to reflect on our pilgrimage thus far.
We saw the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem and even got to go to the Bethany school, a school for Palestinian girls. The women who run the school there are so down to earth and love seeing Christians making the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
We went to Jacob’s Well and got to drink the water there. Also, we went to the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. We even got to watch baptisms happen in Spanish right beside us! The language barrier was not an issue for this because baptisms are such a beautiful moment.
Believe it or not, Christianity isn’t an easy concept. There are so many key elements to our faith that are hard to completely understand and grasp. If you are looking for a trip to answer all of your questions while still testing your faith, this is the trip for you.
The Jordan River
Real Break Jerusalem has changed my life. This trip gave me the utmost reassurance of my faith. I cannot explain how much it has confirmed and strengthened my relationship with Christ. There’s no other place in the world to compare to the diverse culture and history that Jerusalem brings to our world. To say that I’ve been to a place where most people only can dream of going to makes it that much more special.
If you are looking for a trip that will enrich your knowledge in the Orthodox faith and grow your relationship with Christ, I strongly encourage you to go on this trip. There are no other words for me to say other than it has left a huge impact on my life and I cherish the memories and friendships that I made from this trip.
You can register for Real Break Jerusalem, as well as learn information about our many other real break trips, right here!
My name is Natalie King. I’m from Richmond, VA. I’m a junior at Virginia Tech studying Political Science and Communication Studies. A fun fact about me is that I play club field hockey for Virginia Tech.
The most valuable thing Romania gave me is the recognition of the importance of family. I embarked on this journey feeling pity for the orphans, anxious that the language barrier and privilege differences would be far too great to allow us to successfully work and communicate with the residents of the orphanage. I have never been so proven wrong. Upon our arrival, children were begging us to follow them to their homes, play with them, share their chocolates, sleep in their rooms. Our hosts fed us as soon as we arrived, the children and adults lined the one street of the village, peering through fences and out of windows to observe us – not as strangers, but as new members of the orphanage; new members of the family. By the end of the week it was so hard to bear the thought of leaving our new family, we woke at 5 AM to sit on the icy swing set and see our new brothers and sisters off to school; we waved goodbye to pieces of heart, rather than broken pieces of society–as people often consider orphans to be.
Nicole Farha not only spent her spring break in Romania, but also her 21st birthday – I would say what a martyr, but she definitely had more people celebrating her at Pro Vita than I did on my 21st. The orphans baked cakes, made cards and sang songs to celebrate their new sister, Nico.
I look forward to returning to the Pro Vita orphanage, and encourage anyone who has not been on a Real Break trip to sign up for this one! You will not only embrace humanity and Orthodoxy in a way that you’ve never before experienced, but also realize that warm showers, food other than fresh-baked bread and stews, and internet connection are mere luxuries in the grand scheme of things. They are completely unnecessary when you are surrounded by 150 of the brightest, most pure hearts. (Honestly, “Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me” takes on a whole new meaning).
If you love meeting a good, quirky, joke-box of a character, you have to go on this trip. From Pro Vita’s legendary Shakira constantly calling after you “Americaaaaaa, do your hips lie?” to the hoards of school children begging to play chase on the hillside after school, the laughs and jokes are absolutely endless. You’ll go to bed each night so thankful and exhausted–not from physical labor or mental stress, but rather from feeling so much love in your heart, laughing excessively with the orphans, and eating exorbitant amounts of carbs. From the endless amounts of children calling your name in the streets, to the voices of angels singing “O Pure Virgin” in Romanian just after you sing it in English, to the nightly reflections with your group and the final trip into Bucharest with royal treatment at the Patriarchate on the final day of the trip…this is the break from reality that you need. And lastly, you will make friends in your Real Break group that are truly a continuous blessing – no matter where you are in your life, Real Break gives you 10-15 instant friends who are always thinking of you and never fail to be there when you need a hand. I encourage everyone to participate in Real Break, it is truly a magical opportunity.
Mary Catherine Huneycutt is a recent graduate of the University of Houston – with degrees in Literature and Arabic. She currently lives in Beirut, Lebanon and is planning to attend law school in 2017. Hobbies include dancing at 90s night, cafe hopping (think bar hopping, but for introverts) and traveling.