by Fr. John Abdalah
The importance of giving pastoral care to college-age people is certainly no secret to those who are doing it – and even more so in our time, when we have moved into what is called the “postmodern era.” Developmentally, the college years are a crucial and eventful time of moral, spiritual, physical and intellectual growth. I would suggest that the changes that occur in the four college years are so dramatic that, frequently, the college freshman is hardly recognizable as the same person when he or she graduates. College is also, in my opinion, the first time that individuals have the developmental skills and life experience really to understand the Christian message and dedicate themselves to Christ. Regardless of the effectiveness of our catechetical programs during childhood, those who are even younger are simply not prepared to understand abstract concepts like Trinity or Incarnation, and the implied relationships. Providing college-age Orthodox Christians an opportunity to discover, strengthen and (or) commit to Orthodox Christianity should certainly be a priority of the Church. Many Orthodox don’t return to the church after these years away at school. While the various statistics may be conflicting and controversial, all will agree that the loss to the Church of many young people, and the loss to the students of the Church, are of significant concern for the Church.
“The apostles returned to Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.
And he said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat”. (Mk 6:30-31)
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”.(Mt 11:28)
In emulation of Our Lord Himself, priests are “on call” at all times. As St. Mark records of Jesus in his Gospel (1:33-34): “And the whole city was gathered together about the door. And [H]e healed many who were sick with various diseases…The priest, the icon of the healing Christ, is the instrumental physician of the souls they pastor. In the role of healer, the priest must hear their flock recount their personal problems. As discussed in Morelli, 2006c). many of these problems involve uttermost human and spiritual suffering, the disclosure of dysfunctional emotional reactions such as anger, anxiety and depression, the confession of helplessness, hopelessness and estrangement from God.