Word Magazine November 1963 Page 10-11


By Clifford Argue

Student at Cornell University

An Unaccepted Challenge

Throughout his pre-college days, the Orthodox Christian is pretty well guided in his religious activities. In most cases his parents closely super­vise the church training, first by hav­ing him attend Sunday School regul­arly and then by encouraging or forc­ing participation in the choir, as an altar boy, or in other activities.

However all this changes in Sep­tember of that all-important fresh­man college year. Here the student is on his own, away from home, from his parents’ control and faced with hundreds of new ideas, thoughts, and situations. Whether or not he will continue his religion and graduates as a firm believer in Orthodoxy depends very much upon what happens in this very formulative period of the fresh­man year.

Unfortunately, the Eastern Ortho­dox Church in the United States has not actively met the challenge of Or­thodoxy on the campus. This is a vital segment since the Orthodox stu­dents in college today will be the logical lay leaders of the Church to­morrow. This formally educated group will provide dynamic leader­ship on future church boards IF it is kept interested in college years.

Every other major faith in the Un­ited States has a well-organized col­lege program. From the giant Cath­olic Newman Clubs and Jewish Hillel Groups which flourish on almost ev­ery campus in the land to the much smaller but just as well organized Christian Science and Latter-Day Saints Clubs, the average college stu­dent can find a means to continue his religious training and interest.

The Orthodox student has for the most part nothing. An extensive sur­vey recently conducted by the GOY­AN magazine uncovered only a doz­en or so organized student Orthodox groups on the nation’s campuses. They have all been set up independ­ently of each other and only by chance do two bear the same name. In no case is there a regular full-time Orthodox chaplain at any Univers­ity.

Any institution of fair size has an elaborate student religious set-up which fosters all denominational groups on the campus. These are us­ually run by a board consisting of the full-time university chaplains of the various faiths and lay leaders. They openly welcome the formation of Or­thodox groups and assist in every way possible.

But as this author has discovered in his attempts to organize a group at Cornell, there are several major problems which stand in the way of such organizations. First and foremost, as I have already touched on is the total lack of support from the hierarchy of the Orthodox churches in America. Certainly they support such movement, but this support comes in the form of words, not deeds.

Campus religious groups need ad­ministrative, financial, and spiritual aid directly from the mother church,

which in the case of most denomina­tions comes in the form of a full-time chaplain paid for by the archdiocese or governing body of the faith. Some attempts at an organized college program have been made within the Or­thodox Church but have floundered for one reason or another.

Notable among these was the move­ment started in the early 1950’s by the Rev. Alexander Warnecke, pres­ently pastor of St. Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church in Syra­cuse. With several colleagues from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in New York, he worked to set up a col­lege office within the church. The movement had great success especial­ly at Columbia University, but soon the church needed Father Warnecke as a parish priest and the organiza­tion faded.

Another factor which holds back the progress of Orthodoxy on the campus is the great diversity of na­tional church backgrounds represent­ed by the students. For example, at Cornell there are 92 students who listed the Orthodox faith on registra­tion day. Of these, 43 are Greek Or­thodox, 22 are Russian Orthodox, and the others represent the Syrian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Armenian, and even the Coptic faiths. Anyone who has ever tried to run a meeting of just Greeks and knows how hard it is to get any kind of agreement even on procedural matters, will quickly rec­ognize the near futility of attempting to organize such a mixed group all with a similar hot temperament.

This difference in national background leads to another problem, that of language, Greek students tend to feel ill at ease or will sometimes even boycott a service in Slavonic, while Russians or Syrians tend to look down upon a service done in Greek. The answer here is simple and the one that is practiced presently by the Orthodox chaplains serving in the Armed Forces. All services are done in English, which is the common language. Following the lead of other Orthodox campus groups, the newly formed Cornell group has set a policy that any service under its jurisdiction must be said for the most part in English.

Orthodox priests in and near college towns are more than anxious to aid the students in any way they can. They often make great personal sac­rifices to conduct services on the campus or visit ill students in the col­lege infirmary, but their basic re­sponsibility is to the parish which is paying them and therefore they have little time for work among the stu­dents.

The solution to this problem must come from two areas. First, a full-time Pan-Orthodox Office of College Ministry should be set up under the jurisdiction and support of ALL the Orthodox Churches in the United States. Perhaps this could come un­der the authority of the recently or­ganized standing Council of Ortho­dox Bishops. This office would seek to interest seminary graduates in be­coming college chaplains and serve as a clearing house for their assignment, regulation, and support.

But even more important, financial support must come from the lay lead­ers of the church for such a program. The Orthodox of all churches in this country must recognize the challenge of training the future leaders of the church and be willing to support it, if Orthodoxy is to be truly the fourth major faith in the United States.

Reprinted from — The ‘ Voice’ of the Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church, Broadview, Illinois February, 1962