I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the summer. Growing up in rural Virginia, the summer meant spending long days mostly alone. As I went off to college, the summer signaled a disconnection from my friends I had grown to see as family. At the same time, summertime also meant a welcome end to what seemed like a never-ending barrage of papers and assignments. So I welcomed the summer because it meant a chance to finally breathe.
The arrival of summer is also an end to the usual routine of the rest of the year. Sometimes, this might translate to “taking off” from the Liturgy much like we’d take off from our studies. This disconnection from our faith during the summer can set us up for a bad start up when we go back to school. Like with working out (so I hear), we need to stick to practicing our faith for it not to become just a routine, but a productive and life-giving activity.
So how can we stay connected to our faith and to Christ during the summer? Here are four things you might want to consider to bolster your faith today.
1. Include the Church in your future plans
Are you about to head off to college, or are you in high school looking at schools? Then make sure to include the Church in your deliberations. Is there an Orthodox Church nearby? What about Orthodox Christian Fellowship? Do a simple google search, or check out the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops website to find a canonical Orthodox Church in the area.
Have you just graduated college, and you’re either looking for work or preparing for that big move? Then I challenge you to find out what churches are in the area of that new job. Just as you’d check to see if you’re living in a safe area or an area with culture, make sure you’ll have a church to attend.
Whether you’re on the college hunt, or you’re going off to college, or moving to a new job this summer, make the Church a priority in your search. Having a community of faith nearby will ensure that family is never far away.
2. Attend more church services
During the school year, we seem to find all sorts of legitimate excuses for skipping Liturgy. We have to study, we have sports practice, we’re tired from studying all night Saturday...the list goes on and on. But during the summer, we have opportunities to go to services we might not be able to during the school year. For example, when was the last time you went to a weekday service besides Holy Week? Most of our communities have weekday liturgies and vespers services throughout the month. Check your church calendar and try one out.
Another option is to visit a different Orthodox parish in your area. It’s easy to become so parochial-minded, or so focused just on our community, that we forget that the Orthodox world is much bigger than just our local parish. I have benefited a lot from attending Antiochian, Ukrainian, and Russian Orthodox parishes over the years. Each bears their own traditions and ways of doing things, yet all express the same one Orthodox faith.
So attend a weekday liturgy, or visit another community this summer. You won’t regret it!
3. Read an Orthodox book
When we’re in school, we can’t even think of reading for pleasure. A book? What’s that?! All we know are the books we have to read for class. But what happens during the summer? At a certain point, we start to twiddle our thumbs in boredom even if we don’t want to admit it. So why not take up an Orthodox book to fill our time with? Here are three recommendations that I can’t recommend enough: Wounded by Love by Saint Porphyrios, The Way of the Pilgrim translated by Helen Bocovcin, and The Mountain of Silence by Kyriakos C. Markides. Each of these books will bring a depth of understanding to your faith and will leave you thirsting for more.
It goes without saying that we should be reading spiritual texts alongside Scripture, never in the place of it. So pick up that Bible of yours during your quiet time too.
During the school year, we can hardly get away for a weekend. But during the summer, we have the chance to travel and to see new things. Once we’re all done with college and we’re working, we’re never going to have the amount of vacation we have during high school or college. So take advantage of it! Set aside some money to visit holy sites in a traditionally Orthodox country like Greece, Romania, or Russia. Or take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
If you can’t manage a trip outside the country, visit the relics of American saints like St. Raphael of Brooklyn who rests at Antiochian Village in Bolivar, PA or St. Alexis Toth whose relics are at St. Tikhon’s in South Canaan, PA. Take a trip to San Francisco to visit the incorrupt relics of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. If you’re in Boston, visit the grave of our beloved Bishop Gerasimos of Abydos on the campus of Hellenic College Holy Cross. Summer is also a great opportunity to spend a few days at an Orthodox monastery for a personal retreat. Just make sure to call ahead of time to make sure they’re available to host you.
Travel, especially international travel, has a way of maturing us, of giving us experiences that give us a new perspective on life. The money we spend on trips like these are an investment not only in our future (it shows potential employers that we’ve seen a thing or two) but is also an investment in our spiritual life.
So travel while you can! Visit holy sites and recharge your spirit with a trip you’ll never forget.
The summer can be a time of boredom and spiritual languishing, or it can be a time of growth and of new experiences. Use this time to plan for where you’ll go to church during whatever stage is next for you. Check out some new services, and pick up a new spiritual book to read. And, if you have the resources, take a trip abroad to experience your faith in a different place.
What are your plans for the summer? What will you do to stay connected to the Church and to Christ today?
Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.
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