My OCF story begins in my first semester of college, Fall 2013, as I began classes and started joining OCF for our then twice-a-month meetings. It was what was expected of me as a PK, and I dutifully did it with complete and total apathy towards the organization.
Fast forward to December 30th, 2013, the last full day of College Conference East where I was having a fairly enjoyable experience. It was late afternoon, and our final keynote session in the auditorium with His Grace Bishop Gregory had been moved to St. Ignatius, the church a bit up the road. The sudden change in venue wasn’t explained, and I distinctly remember grumbling as I walked over. I assumed His Grace was simply going to give another part of his talk and I wondered why I was being made to walk in sub‐freezing temperatures and snow.
We crammed into the church and His Grace introduced a priest, Fr. Mark Leasure. Fr. Mark began to talk, and as he talked he opened the case of an icon at the front of the church. There had been an unexplained scent there before, but as the case opened, the smell began to roll through the church like a tidal wave. As Father continued to talk about the icon and the various miracles attributed to it, aside from feeling wholly awful about being grumpy over a walk in a half‐centimeter of snow, I felt something else begin to move in me. Then, as many of you have seen him do, to demonstrate the icon’s myrrh‐streaming, Father tilted the icon over the hands of students. And as I sat there seeing an icon inexplicably drip myrrh into the hands of my friends, I felt something within my heart break.
Within modern parlance, we tend to throw the idea of “heartbreak” around with fairly reckless abandon, claiming to be heartbroken over just about everything from breaking up with a significant other to our favorite show being taken off Netflix. But in that moment I realized that most people abuse that term and don’t understand what it means to have your heart truly break. Abba Poemen the Great says that the word of God is, “soft, and our heart is very hard.” What happened in that moment was the feeling that my heart had been shattered and the soft word of God was entering in. This wasn’t a feeling unique to me, and the proof was evident in the tears streaking down the faces of everyone around me. Christ, the Physician of Bodies and Souls, through His mother, was taking a room of shattered Humpty Dumpties and putting them back together again.
As I looked through those tears, past Fr. Mark, to the icons of Christ and the Theotokos on the iconostasis, I felt the Theotokos and Christ calling me. Calling me to what? I wasn’t quite sure, but I suddenly realized that for the first time in my life if someone asked me that question that had dogged my life for nearly two decades, “Do you want to be a priest like your dad?” I wouldn’t give a quick and irritable response of, “Never!” As I sat there among hundreds of fellow young Orthodox Christians weeping, I also began to realize that I had run away, for no good reason, from not only a distant possibility of the priesthood but of meaningful, dedicated, wholehearted service to the Church. I understood that my once proudly apathetic approach to life and OCF needed to end, and addressing this became the topic at dinner that night as we pondered, “What do we do next?”
What was I supposed to do next? I have come to think that experience with the Kardiotissa was not a clear clarion call to a particular route in life, be it monasticism, missionary work, or the priesthood. It was a gentle beckoning from the Theotokos, ever pointing to her Son, “Come back to Him and do His will.” Regardless of the future, I wanted to give back to the organization the gave so much to me and help to give other students as special of an experience as I had.
Ironically, in the continuing tale of confusion in my life’s path, I applied to be College Conference East Student Leader, thinking that would be the best way to give back. I got the call later that summer offering me the Media Student Leader position instead. I remember an initial feeling of slight disappointment because here I was finally trying to figure out a place in Christ’s service, and I was being offered a role I hadn’t even been interested in. But as we know, God is wiser than us, and I quickly came to love my role on the SLB.
Looking back at two years of service, it’s hard to nail down a favorite, singular moment on the SLB. Every day was filled such joy, interacting with college students around the country and with newfound friends on the SLB. Two particular memories do come to mind though, one from each term. My favorite moment from the first year was having the opportunity to unveil the OCF Connect App at College Conference. It was amazing to see all of our hard work finally unveiled and shared with all of our friends and peers and to see it responded to so positively. That was the high point of the year, knowing that we had made something of real value, something that we could leave behind to college students that came after us. The other moment that comes to mind happened recently at College Conference back in December. It was late one night, after 2AM and the SLB members were just sitting in our office talking. In the midsts of the chaos of running a conference, there was such peace and joy in simply being together with SLB friends.
None of this by the way is intended to impart some notion that you must have had some spiritual revelation at an OCF event to apply. Maybe you haven’t had that kind of experience quite yet, and that’s ok. Because being on the SLB isn’t about you. You will undoubtedly have a transformative experience and make lifelong friends, but that’s not the point. Rather, it’s about realizing that you can make a difference for others now. That Christ’s call to serve is not something that begins within parish life at age 30 once you’re married and have a kid. That there is an active call even within collegiate life. That you can make a difference by following the words of the Apostle Peter when he says, “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).
Looking back over those past two years, there are a lot of lessons to mull over. His Grace Bishop Gregory will often tell college students that we aren’t the future of the Church, we are the Church. Here and now. His Grace is right, and that is something we experience on the SLB every day. We don’t need to wait to make a difference, we can start now. Most gratifyingly, we can start making that difference in a way that positively affects the lives of other college students around the country. Being on the SLB means being given the opportunity to bring light to people’s lives in their chapter life, at Real Break, College Conference West and East, district and regional retreats, and in so many more places.
St. John of Kronstadt wrote that our faith obliges us to help one another and that “for all this you are promised a great reward from the Head of the Church – our Lord Jesus Christ.” Apply to help others grow in their faith. Apply to help others find Christ, the Prince of Peace. Apply to help Orthodoxy spread on college campuses around the continent.
Apply because it will be to the spiritual benefit of your friends, your peers, and yourself and most importantly, to the Glory of God.
“To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory to the ages of ages. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:17
Matthew Monos is a senior at the University of Missouri studying psychology. He currently serves as the 2015-16 Media Student Leader on the Student Leadership Board. Matthew loves baseball, traveling, spicy food, and Byzantine chant. He has no idea what’s next in life and remains assured that he’ll figure it all out in a burst of last minute panic someday.