Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom…
By Peter Mikuliak
While this article is directed to students, a professor, local priest, and/or parishioner - young or old - may want to become involved. Or you may want to send the article to an Orthodox student you know who is now attending college.
Does your parish include some folks who are in contact with a local college or university? Would they be interested in developing a parish-based “campus outreach” program? Perhaps this article can spark some creative thought…
Rule One: Hang Loose, But Communicate
If you think you can benefit from some contact with other Orthodox Christian students of all ethnic backgrounds at your school who are engaged in a spiritual search similar to your own, there are all sorts of paths you may follow.
Don’t start off by trying to organize an organization. You might not need one. Look at where you are now, and where you really need to go. Get some idea of the resources available: you’ve got to work with what you’ve got. If there are hundreds of you (statistically, at least) at some large, urban campus, you’ll need some discipline. Learn to set priorities and form some creative links with parishes around you. If you commute to campus, use this opportunity to enrich your Pan-Orthodox experiences while remaining active in your home parish and its organizations.
If there are only a handful of you at some campus far away from an Orthodox parish, you’ve got each other, and that’s a lot. There are many creative things you can do together to build an Orthodox community. As in other areas, your “organization” should reflect your needs and resources.
Rule Two: Get Help
Search out all other Orthodox Christians on campus - students, teachers, and workers - to get acquainted and see of they are interested in getting together. To accomplish this, you might ask at the admission’s or registrar’s office to check if information on religious backgrounds is available; put up a poster or notice on an appropriate bulletin board, asking Orthodox students and faculty to meet with you or to contact you; check departments that might be inclined to have Orthodox professors or students, i.e. foreign languages, religion; make contact by word of mouth.
Check out the scene at the local parishes. Speak to the priest. Chances are he wants to help, but is often afraid to make the first gesture. If he is young and dynamic, O.K., but don’t confuse youth and dynamism with spirituality.
If your campus is in an area with many nearby Orthodox resources from which to choose, by all means do things on a Pan-Orthodox level. If a Pan-Orthodox clergy association exists, it should be an ideal place to begin. If the local inter-jurisdictional conflicts are very much apparent, find quiet ways to bring people together. Push when necessary. Remember, the Church is always mystically united, even if some of its members occasionally exhibit some disuniting tendencies. There are always good people in quiet places. The trick is to find them.
Rule Three: Pay Attention to Content
Every place has its own historical experience, and every group its own unique reality. There are many paths to the same end. The important thing is to do it.
Many colleges require that an “Orthodox Christian Fellowship” (whether or not you call yourself “OCF” really isn’t important) must be officially constituted, complete with by-laws, before it will be permitted to exist on that campus and to use its facilities. Fine. Get that silly constitution written and out of the way so you can get to work. Nothing will bore potential members as quickly as a group which is hung up on maintaining itself. When we study some foreign language, it isn’t our purpose to continuously conjugate some stupidly irregular verb, but to understand and speak. So get moving. How can two people grow to love one another if they’re always analyzing the precise nature of their inter-personal relationship?
If your group is so tiny as to have neither the ways nor the means to organize according to some preconceived pattern, don’t drop the whole thing. Create! Just eating together occasionally can be done in a liturgical and community-building sort of way. You can talk together under a tree or beside some babbling brook just as intently (if not more so) as in an official meeting room. “Organize” around tasks, not around organization. Do what you need to do; you can worry about what to call it later.
Rule Four: Pay Attention to Form
The magic word here is “continuity.” Typically, a campus-based OCF will be active for a while under the dedicated leadership of a handful of students or a sympathetic parish priest, only to fall apart when those students graduate or when that priest is transferred. This is a classic example where the content of the activities were sufficiently well-formulated to hold the interest of the general membership, but the form or method in which those activities were carried out did not provide for the development of new leaders.
It is not our purpose to create managerial elites. A constant and genuine effort to bring new blood into positions of increasing authority and responsibility is the best way to discourage the formation of cliques of old-timers who, upon their departure from the campus scene, leave no one prepared to take their places. This holds true whether a particular OCF is a hierarchical bureaucracy with constitutions and by-laws, or whether it is a loosey-goosey coming together of a handful of friends. Be sure that the paths to leadership, formal or informal, articulated or implied, are kept genuinely open. Incidentally, the blind reliance on charismatic leadership can be the shortest path to various forms of dead-ended tyranny. Others would love to get involved. So give love a chance.
Rule Five: “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom…”
We all manifest our own spirituality in our own ways. Some of us are deep green. Others are soft yellow or rich brown. Some of us need more water, others need more sunlight. Each of us is a unique creation incapable of being cast in the mold of another. We have all grown from the same soil, but somehow, the seeds and nutrients have been different.
We are also at different stages in our growth. Some of us are beginning to blossom into the sunlight, while others are still in the sheltering shade. Some are ready for a profound touch with a Saint Gregory Palamas. Others still don’t understand what the Eucharist is.
How, then, can one program be developed that will satisfy us all? It can’t. If we must be all things to all people because all people are all things, then we must try to be these things together. Let us pray for a while, then let us dance for a while. Let us study and talk, work and eat, struggle and laugh. And if we are moving in the direction that we should be, wonder of wonders, the dance becomes an extension of the liturgy, The idea becomes internalized, the labor becomes nourishing, the effort becomes a joy. In growing to become more of what we already are, we help others grow to become more of themselves.