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MGOCSM North America Hosts First National Orthodox College Retreat

Orthodox college retreat, or OCR, began simply as the fruition of an idea, a passing thought that grew into something greater than any of us ever expected. From a simple conversation in a car ride, the force behind the conference came from two souls who felt themselves straying from the precepts of their religion, who found themselves questioning the very precepts of the faith they had grew up in.

The idea was proposed to and approved by the council of MGOCSM North America. The initiative of the First National Orthodox College Retreat was taken by Ajay Mathew and John Michael Chacko, and further grew with the formation of a committee in the Dallas area with the support and prayers of various clergy and laity. It is through much prayer and hard work that the initial dream of an Orthodox College Retreat eventually became a reality on Thursday, March 15, 2012. This 4 day retreat took place at the Tally Retreat Center at Camp Copass in Denton, Texas from Thursday, March 15 through Sunday, March 18, 2012.

Our Mission Statement: An open, collegiate atmosphere in which to discuss the different religions one will be faced with and also the deferring trial and tribulations that one goes through in a college environment, all leading towards a reaffirmation in Orthodoxy.

The theme chosen for the retreat was “Take a Stand”. The theme was taken from Ephesians 6:12-13: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” As college students, we go through a lot of struggles whether it be in classes, in relationships or in Church. We often do not take a stand because we do not know how to. That’s why we split the theme to have 3 different categories in order to thoroughly address these aspects: Take a Physical stand, Take a mental stand, and Take a Spiritual stand.

The main speakers for this retreat was Fr. Stephen Lawrence from Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Lowell, Massachusetts and Dn. Daniel Mathai who currently resides in Houston, Texas as the youth minister at St. Gregorios Orthodox Church. Searching for speakers, we wanted people who would not only be great speakers but also relate to the college students and help us to be able to apply what we learn once we leave OCR.

Since it took place during Great Lent, only vegetarian food was served. This along with the canonical hours of prayer were some of the ways we tried to implement the Orthodox way of life as practical for a college student. The retreat had various fun activities such as getting to know each other through a game we called Speed Friending and Capture the flag in the dark. There were small discussion groups according to age that took place before the main speaker sessions. This helped to get an understanding of the topic first and to raise questions within the individuals so that they may get answered during the main speaker session. The Love Jesus, Hate/Love Religion videos were also shown in order to demonstrate the influence social media and the internet has on us. We should be careful to filter the information especially from the internet in order to only absorb the truth.

Participants learned how to change a tire and how to wear a tie as well as putting on a sari and applying makeup. The participants bonded in the guys and girls sessions while discussing the various struggles we go through and overcoming them. A cooking game based on the tv show, Chopped also took place where the groups were given certain food items found in a college dorm/apartment and asked to make a meal out of it in the allotted time.

We wanted to keep this retreat small so that the participants could gain more from it and they wouldn’t be as hesitant to ask questions or speak out as they might with a larger crowd. The purpose behind this retreat was to reaffirm our faith in Orthodoxy and to come in unity as we realize that as young adults in this world, there are certain to be struggles; but with each other’s help and prayer, we are able to take a stand. Therefore, with the hard work and prayers of the Founding Fathers (12 committee members), Speakers, and many others, the First National Orthodox College Retreat produced its Alpha Class of 2012. Glory be to God.
Stoumen kalos (Let us stand and stand we well).

Speakers: Fr. Stephen Lawrence, Rev. Dn. Daniel Mathai

Committee Members: Fr. Mat Alexander, Ajay Mathew, John Michael Chacko, Juel Raju, Lijin Raju, Angie Thomas, Merlyn Varughese, Christine Varghese, Divine Paul, Angela John, Priya Mathew, Jithin Zachariah

Participants: Joffrin Alexander, Sherrin Alexander, Sharon Assariathu, Jake Chandy, Georgie George, Kathey George, Swapna George, Jobin Jacob, Simi Jacob, Richy James, Jeffrey John, Joel John, Sabin John, Steven John, Vipin John, Ajin Joy, Ajith Joy, Tincy Oommen, Babitha Palathumthalackal, Cheryl Rajan, Cybil Rajan, Aju Thomas, Danny Thomas, Jainy Thomas, Allen Varghese, Ashley Varghese, Nancy Varghese.