You are finally off to college! This is the time where you will be tested on the spiritual knowledge and understanding that you have been gathering over the past 18 years. Do not fret, the exam is open book. Gather your study guides, syllabus, and notes, that the Church, through the Power of the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon you. Let us look at some ways on how we can strengthen and maintain our Tewahdo Orthodox faith throughout our years in college.
- Honor the Sabbath
God tells us in the Fourth Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8). When we honor God’s commandments, God will honor us. Do not be lazy on Sundays, even if you can’t attend a church that day devote yourself to God during that time.
If there is a neighboring Oriental Orthodox Church aim to attend services. Even though there are seemingly different traditions in our Syrian, Coptic, Malankara, Indian, Ethiopian or Armenian Churches, we are in communion with them, and are still able to participate in the Holy Sacraments of the Church which we should not separate from. Speak with the parishioners and the priest to get involved in service and in fellowship.
If you are near your local Church, this is a time where you can grow closer in fellowship with your brothers and sisters and in your relationship with God in making the choice to prioritize service amidst the chaos of college life.
If these options are not available to us, we can honor God with our time on Sundays by using resources we have available to us. These may include online resources like listening to the Divine Liturgy (Kidassie) and sermons on YouTube. Without putting effort into service, inside and outside of the Church, and having our weekly meeting with God on Sundays, we cannot expect to become fruitful in our spiritual lives.
2. Aim to Live in Purity
What is purity? It is the understanding that our fulfillment is found in the Lord. “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:6. Our intentions and desires should be directed to the Holy Spirit and His fruits. Some of these are found in Galatians 5:22, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Impurity comes from the desire for things that cannot fulfill us in the way He wills. Living a life of purity, is seeking Christ in all things. However, when we rely on temporary fixes to our angsts, insecurities, and challenges we make ourselves susceptible to impure habits. For example, we boost our egos and turn to lies to fix our mistakes, instead of truth and humility. Often, we turn to sexual immorality to fill our voids and insecurities.
Sexual immorality is a huge challenge that many individuals face, especially in college. Sex is a beautiful thing that the Lord gifted us with, but when it is experienced outside of its intended circumstances it is naturally not going to have the same beautiful effect. Sex outside of a committed, sanctified, marital relationship can cause sex without security--security that you will be respected, and not reduced to a tool to satisfy someone else. In 1st Corinthians 6:19, St Paul tells us that our body is a temple of God. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” We all have been told our whole life to “Save yourself for marriage”. College is the real test of that statement. It is a time where we decide whether we are going to continue to honor His gift that He has saved for our future marriage.
Some habitual things you can do to avoid temptation is reduce the amount of exposure to lustful and idol inducing media in the forms of movies, TV, music, etc. When we can’t avoid the temptations, we should repeat a noetic prayer of our choice (i.e. The Jesus Prayer, Our Father, etc.). “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” Galatians 5:24-25. The Lord will see our effort and grant us the grace and discernment to lose value in such things. Most importantly, we must focus on our relationship with God, and rely on Him to alleviate the challenges we may go through, leading us to loving, faithful and fruitful relationships.
3. Read the Holy Bible: His Story
The academic demands of college may be a seemingly adequate excuse for us to avoid reading His word. At times, just as we think about reading the Bible, we begin to track backwards, saying I don’t have time for this. We must be honest with ourselves, as we are making time for many things that don’t concern our salvation. The more we submit to those thoughts, the more we make ourselves subject to losing our connection with God.
There is a saying, “Don’t say God is silent when your Bible is closed.” How can we know our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ personally without reading the scripture? His word is our backbone. Familiarizing yourself with His scriptures reiterates that the Church is not only tradition but a realization of the Holy Bible. His scriptures being the ammunition we need, to fight heretics and lawlessness that leads us astray. We should expect the Bible to convict us when we read it, His words are True and sharp and delivered with love. Understanding that, we must first humble ourselves and pray for wisdom acknowledging our iniquity and need for Him.
The Gospels are a great place to start for the novice reader because they detail Our Lord and Savior’s teachings while on earth. Begin with a verse, a paragraph, a chapter, be consistent, reflect and meditate on each word. “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.” Psalm 119:9
4. Prayer: Constant Communication with our Beloved
Prayer is our direct line of communication to God. It is a true gift from God. Prayer can be adoration, supplication, confession, thanksgiving to name a few. In our Church’s Daily Prayers (Tselot Zezewitr) and Praises of St. Mary (Wudasie Maryam) all these and more are included. Our quiet time with the Lord is also a crucial part of growing in connectedness with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, our mother Mary, the Angels and the Saints. HH Pope Shenouda, “If you cannot stand to live with God here on earth, how will you be able to live with Him in heaven? If you cannot talk to the Lord for just half an hour a day here on earth, how will you be able to talk to Him when you go to eternity?”
Journaling is a way we can organize our thoughts to compliment prayer. We can keep our supplications for ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ within this personal journal. Journaling can also be used for reflection and confession along with the Sacrament of Confession or Penance.
Prayer is beautiful, yet we should not be disheartened if every prayer doesn’t bring us to tears. Prayer like breathing, may sometimes be deep, but even when it is not it still keeps us alive and connected to God. Be consistent with prayer, and the Lord will be faithful. Like in everything else we do, prayer should not be done to gain anything in particular but to grow in Christ though it.
5. Find your support system in Christ’s Family.
When we are trying to grow in our faith, we cannot expect to do it alone, the Lord sends people to help us, and we may not realize it. So we must strive to have relationships that we will benefit from, that we can grow and learn from, in both directions. It is essential in college, to find a group of friends that not only support you but join you in your spiritual journey. “Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). When we are struggling with our faith, we should be able to turn to our friends for advice, because often times, they went through the same struggles when pursuing our Lord. The devil is always jealous when we love our God more than the worldly things that distract us.
Our peers, though, cannot provide all the guidance our souls need. For this reason, it is important to stay in contact with your spiritual father. We may not be physically near our father of confession but they are always a phone call away and want to hear from us! It is essential to have a confession father because they guide us more on our journey of faith, and through them we can learn the correct way of the direction of our spiritual journey. They will be able to help us understand the Lord, and guide us towards Him. God willing we will have the open heart to partake of the holy communion; because that should be our end goal. “Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life.” John 6:54. By doing so, we become one with our Lord and Savior, and we are always remembering, and guided by Him through whatever hardships we may face, and know that we are never alone.
6. Have a spiritual plan, but expect challenges.
If we truly want to grow closer to God we must express that by putting it into action. There are many goals in life we want to achieve but the ones that we are successful in are the ones we plan for. Choose an aspect of your spiritual life that you are willing to improve for the sake of your life in Christ. Do you need to pray more? Do you not read the Bible as often enough? Start small if you need to, but stay consistent. A long 2 hour workout once a month won’t be as effective as a daily 15 minute one that eventually increases with stamina.
When things are going well, through His grace, increase your prayer life. As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:12, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." These are the times in which we have to be most vigilant in prayer, through fasting,and taking part in His Holy Flesh and Blood, amongst much else we can be doing.
So what do you do when you have done something you regret? Don’t despair, we have a God that will carry us through His unyielding grace. Do not let that action stir you away from God or His beloved Church. Do not carry the unbearable burden of sin by yourself. Christ has already done that for us. So when you have sinned, ask God to forgive you, speak to your confession father and get up and start your journey again.
7. Mission Vision
Do we ever ask ourselves what is the purpose of my education? Like what does your education have to do with God’s plan for your life? It is easy to lose your focus and forget the mission along the way. Have your vision align with God’s mission and you will be amazed about how focused and determined you will be by the grace of God.
The Prayer Before Studying:
“Most blessed Lord, send the grace of Your Holy Spirit on me to strengthen me that I may learn well the subject I am about to study and by it become a better person for Your glory, the comfort of my family and the benefit of Your Church and our Nation. Amen.”
It is helpful to have this prayer at arm’s reach, perhaps written in your agenda book or somewhere hanged up in your room. Another way to stay “Mission Visioned” is to hang up icons and any Bible verse that motivates you to focus on what God brought to you to college to do in your room. Burnout is inevitable...stay focused on Whom you are doing this for and your hardships (that ridiculous cumulative final or that rude professor, etc.) will look miniscule in comparison to the strength that God gives you. Remember in everything you do, it is by Him, for Him, and through Him.
8. Gather Orthodox resources to get those answers from the right places, being watchful of false prophets and denominations.
We are very blessed to have so many easily accessible resources to feed our spiritual intellect. We use these to prepare ourselves for challenges by , “leaning not on [our] own understanding” but relying on the wisdom that comes from above. Using the Church’s resources helps us avoid needless confusion. In the case that we do come across resources from other faiths we also have these as a reference to be able to discern their validity. In our spiritual lives, we are constantly removing unnecessary worldly distractions from our lives. In order to avoid going back to those distractions, we must make sure our time is invested in greater substitutes. These substitutes can come in the form of sermons, movies, hymns, etc.
Daily Prayer PDF:
Eritrean Orthodox website with articles, Hymns, current events, FAQ’s, etc. :
Orthodox videos database for and audio sermons on a plethora of topics:
Orthodox books online copies including many books of our fathers monks, priests, patriarchs all in English:
Youth Outreach Committee:
The Christian Youth Channel has various programs including interviews, Q&A, talk shows, movies, etc.:
Orthodox history, reenactments, and movies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFzPd90M0-M&list=PLeAgaMetomkH31bP4PoD41XLnzWzpOZHM
Orthodox youth English hymns, sermons, Q&A, etc.: