College Student Sunday Encyclical, September 17, 2006

Friday, September 08, 2006

September 17, 2006
                                                                                               College Student Sunday

You therefore beloved, beware lest you be carried away with error…But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  (II Peter 3:17-18)

The Hierarchs of the Standing Conference
of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas

To all the Clergy and the Laity of the Holy Orthodox Churches in the Americas

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

    As Hierarchs of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops (“SCOBA”) in the Americas, we greet you with the love of Christ, on this first Sunday after the Feast of the Exaltation of His most precious Cross.  Each year, we designate this day as College Student Sunday, a day when we ask all of you, our beloved faithful, to keep our young college students in your minds, thoughts, and prayers as they grow in the knowledge of Christ and learn to walk in His love.

For many students, the college years are perhaps the most formative ones in life. The task of learning how to balance study and recreation, the prospect of encountering challenging ideas in the classroom, the idea of living in close quarters with a roommate who might offer an entirely foreign worldview or perspective on life, and the first encounter with total and complete freedom outside the family environment can be altogether exciting experiences for the college student.  However, they can also be quite confusing and disorienting.   

It is the common experience of many young college students that within a matter of months upon entering college, and indeed throughout the college experience, the college student is challenged by central questions of identity:  “Who am I?  What am I supposed to do with my life? Who do I consider my close friends in this newfound environment?” are among the myriad of such questions.  Inevitably, the question of identity as it pertains to the question of God also arises, a question that, once in the calm and comfort of home had been long taken for granted, suddenly arises with a sharp pang as if from nowhere:  “What exactly is my religious identity?”    

 This question is a burning question that begs for an answer, and this is precisely why the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) was instituted, to provide Orthodox Christian students in college with a community to support them as they seek the answers to the questions that they face. Today, the OCF has over 200 chapters on college and university campuses throughout North America.  For six years now, OCF has been formally reestablished as the official campus ministry of SCOBA, and its evolution is noteworthy. What once began as a grassroots movement among Orthodox Christian college students now receives our full and committed support.  Its impact on our Orthodox students’ lives is significant.

On many college and university campuses, Orthodox students have their meals together, socialize together, and on some campuses have even established formal housing arrangements with their college’s housing departments.  Though many students are able to attend a weekly Vespers service through the visitations of a nearby priest who has placed college outreach as a vital part of his active ministry, it is not uncommon for Orthodox Christian college students and their friends to travel to nearby Orthodox Churches for Sunday Divine Liturgy, Vespers, and the full cycle of Lenten services.  These students, who away from their homes are seeking answers to burning questions of faith, bring a renewed vitality and a passion for the Gospel which can very often serve to energize the entire parish.  They sing in the choir, chant the Epistle, serve in the Altar, teach in Church School programs, and host coffee hours.  Their impact is noticeable, and their role in building up the Orthodox Church is vital.

In affirming our support as hierarchs to our OCF program, we kindly ask our clergy to take a collection from every parish to support this important national ministry, which aids students in their search for religious meaning and fellowship.  Equally important, we ask that our clergy afford college students in their parishes with the opportunity to speak to parish members about their experiences with OCF during their college years, and to be mindful of the many college and university campuses that still do not have OCF chapters.  Our national OCF office in Boston, Massachusetts, is fully staffed with professionals who are ready to assist students and area clergy who would like to begin the process of starting a chapter.

    With warm thanks for your support of this ministry, we extend our heartfelt prayer to our college students that they may experience their college years as St. Peter describes in his epistle, as years to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

With paternal blessings and love in Christ,

+Archbishop DEMETRIOS, Chairman               
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America   

+Metropolitan PHILIP, Vice Chairman           
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

+Metropolitan CHRISTOPHER, Secretary        
Serbian Orthodox Church in the USA and Canada       
+Metropolitan NICHOLAS of Amissos, Treasurer   
Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese in the USA   

+Metropolitan HERMAN
Orthodox Church in America

+Archbishop NICOLAE
Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America & Canada

+Metropolitan JOSEPH
Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church

+Metropolitan CONSTANTINE
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA

+Bishop ILIA of Philomelion
Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America