OCF Announces Annual Student Information Collection Drive

OCF Announces Annual Student Information Collection Drive

Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF), the official campus ministry of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, is proud to announce the commencement of its annual Student Information Collection Drive and “First Forty Days” Campaign. This initiative, a collaborative effort between OCF and Assembly jurisdictions’ youth departments and parishes, aims to foster a deep connection between students and Christ as well as His Church throughout their college years.

Under the guidance and endorsement of His Eminence, Metropolitan Gregory of Nyssa, OCF’s Episcopal Liaison to the Assembly of Bishops, all parishes, parents, grandparents and students are warmly invited to partake in this initiative. Through the simple act of submitting student contact details directly to OCF, parents and parishes can rest assured that their students will receive outreach from local OCF leaders within the initial forty days and on-going regional and national program information for the 2024-2025 academic year. This outreach will provide invaluable opportunities for students to integrate Christ and His Church into their college lives.

OCF Executive Director, Deacon Marek Simon shares, “The first few weeks of college mark a crucial period during which students form lasting relationships and habits. By ensuring that the Church becomes an integral part of their college experience, First Forty Days and our communications seek to connect every student with an OCF chapter, a local parish and our programs within this pivotal timeframe.”

Parents, parishes, and youth program coordinators are encouraged to submit student contact information for their graduating high school seniors online at https://www.ocf.net/submit/. All information submitted by July 15, 2024 will be appropriately distributed in advance of the fall semester. Rest assured, each student’s contact details will remain confidential and will only be shared with officially recognized OCF leaders.

 

About OCF

OCF is dedicated to transforming the lives of college students by guiding them on the path to Jesus Christ through His Church. Through the cultivation of a vibrant campus community centered on worship, witness, service, fellowship, and education, OCF endeavors to make a lasting impact. To learn more about these essential ministries, visit us online or send an inquiry to info@ocf.net.

Staff Book Pick | Metropolitan John D. Zizioulas: Remembering the Future

Staff Book Pick | Metropolitan John D. Zizioulas: Remembering the Future

Recommended by Jacob Sparks

By: John D. Zizioulas, Metropolitan of Pergamon This long-awaited, posthumous book by Metropolitan of Pergamon John Zizioulas, with an insightful and heartfelt prologue by Pope Francis, is a comprehensive exploration of eschatology and its profound implications for theology and ontology. It is divided into five chapters, each addressing a specific aspect of eschatology and its relationship with various theological themes. Through rigorous analysis and theological insight, the book explores how eschatology shapes our understanding of existence, purpose, and ultimate destiny. This scholarly work offers a deep dive into the theological and philosophical aspects of the Eschaton, providing readers with valuable insights into the Christian understanding of the future and its implications for the present. With meticulous attention to detail and a rich array of topics, this book is invaluable for theologians and scholars seeking a deeper grasp of eschatological thought. It is written for those who have accepted the fact of the Resurrection of Christ and are interested in the “logical” consequences that follow the acceptance of this fact: “credo ut intelligam”.

>> On Amazon

St. Symeon the New Theologian: Hymn 25 | Curated Content Discussion Guide

St. Symeon the New Theologian: Hymn 25 | Curated Content Discussion Guide

Introduction

Of the multitude of saints in the Orthodox Church, only three are given the title of “Theologian”. St. Symeon’s intimate experience of God, as detailed in his Hymns of Divine Love, grants him this honor. To learn more about St. Symeon’s life, please read this month’s There’s a Saint for That. Today, we will be discussing his twenty-fifth hymn.

We recommend sharing this recording of St. Symeon’s pre-communion prayer with your OCF chapter. The choir, whose parish is dedicated to this saint, brings out the beauty of St. Symeon’s poetry.

Text

But, O what intoxication of light, O what movements of fire!

O, what swirlings of the flame in me, miserable one that I am, coming from Thee and Thy glory!

The glory I know it and I say it is Thy Holy Spirit, who has the same nature with Thee and the same honor, O Word;

He is of the same race, of the same glory, of the same essence, He alone with Thy Father and with Thee, O Christ, O God of the universe!

I fall down in adoration before Thee.

I thank Thee that Thou hast made me worthy to know, however little it may be, the power of Thy divinity.

I thank Thee that Thou, even when I was sitting in darkness, didst reveal Thyself to me, Thou dost enlighten me, Thou dost grant me to see the light of Thy countenance that is unbearable to all.

I remained seated in the middle of the darkness, I know, but, while I was there surrounded by darkness, Thou didst appear as light, illuminating me completely from Thy total light.

And I became light in the night, I who was found in the midst of darkness.

Neither the darkness extinguished Thy light completely, nor did the light dissipate the visible darkness, but they were together, yet completely separate, without confusion, far from each other, surely, not at all mixed, except in the same spot where they filled everything, so it seems to me.

So I am in the light, yet I am found in the middle of the darkness.

So I am in the darkness, yet still I am in the middle of the light.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does this passage demonstrate how we interact with God on earth?
  2. In what ways does St. Symeon’s experience of Christ compare with that of the apostles?
  3. How does St. Symeon’s twenty-fifth hymn explicate St Athanasios famous maxim, “God became man so that man may become God”?
  4. What are ways in which our souls are covered by darkness and how can rationalization sometimes relate to that darkness? 
  5. The Old & New Testaments as well as another prayer said before Holy Communion refers to God as Fire: 

Behold, I approach the Divine Communion. O Creator, let me not be burnt by communicating: For Thou art Fire, consuming the unworthy. But, rather, purify me of all impurity. (St Symeon Metaphrastes)

What is it about light and fire that causes them to be some of the primary ways we refer to both God and the Mysteries of the Church?

Guided Discussion: The Experience of Love in St. Symeon the New Theologian

Guided Discussion: The Experience of Love in St. Symeon the New Theologian

Introduction

Everyone knows St. John the Theologian as the author of the Gospel of John, and most Orthodox Christians know of St. Gregory the Theologian as a member of the Cappadocian Fathers and the Three Holy Hierarchs, but very few are familiar with St. Symeon the Theologian, a 10th and 11th century Byzantine diplomat turned monastic. St. Symeon is one of only three saints to be universally given the title of “Theologian” by the Church. Who is this man that the Church so reveres, and why should we care about who he is and what he said?

Before we begin our discussion, let’s begin with 120 seconds of silence. It’s been a long day. 

Take this chance to come into the presence of God and his saints as a group. Sit still. Breathe slowly and deeply. Say the Jesus prayer.

Part I: Experience

Reflection

St. Symeon lived during a time when the great empires of the world had official court theologians to help them keep their doctrine straight, and the Byzantine Empire was no exception in this regard. As a highly educated member of the imperial nobility, Symeon could have easily become one of these court theologians while still enjoying nearly every material pleasure that could have been offered to him at the time – food, wealth, social status, comfort, etc. However, Symeon rejected all of these things because of a single encounter he had with a monk as a teenager. The monk was from the Stoudios Monastery in Constantinople, and his name was also Symeon. 

Young Symeon the Theologian became convinced that this Studite monk was a saint due to the  direct experiences the monk had of God. He decided that the possibility of also having that direct experience was worth more than all of the wealth that his position among Byzantine nobility could afford him. By the time he reached his mid twenties, Symeon forfeited all of his wealth and property to also become a monk at the Stoudios Monastery and for the rest of his life he wrote prolifically about the importance of seeking a direct experience of God and learning to do so from those who have that direct experience. For example, in one of the saint’s beautiful poems, Symeon the Theologian says:

Listen only to the admonitions of your father,

give to him humble answers,

and tell him your thoughts as to God,

even mere temptations, and may you hide nothing from him,

nor do anything without his opinion…

Therefore do not be led astray, nor suppose that you have found,

before you have acquired spiritual eyes,

and before the ears of your heart have been cleansed

by your tears that wash out the filth,

before all your senses begin to be changed,

and you begin to see and to hear spiritually.

For you shall gaze upon many things beyond telling,

and you shall hear extraordinarily more things,

which you cannot express with your tongue. 

And so to hear spiritually is a spine-chilling wonder

Divine Eros: Hymns of St. Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn 4

St. Symeon’s words are reminiscent of St. Paul the Apostle who says, “though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15) and that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9). St. John the Theologian speaks similarly when he  writes of the day when we “shall see Him [Christ] as He is” (1 John 3:2). With these things in mind, Symeon sought out a relationship with a spiritual father and endeavored to become pure in heart, because he knew that the pure in heart will see God (cf. Matt. 5:8).

Discussion Questions

  • Christ often says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (cf. Matt. 11:15). How does one acquire “ears to hear,” or in the words of St. Symeon, how does one cleanse “the ears of your heart”?
  • If we are spiritually blind because of our sins, how do we learn to see?
  • Do you have a spiritual father? What role has your spiritual father played in your life?
  • St. Symeon says that to hear spiritually is “a spine-chilling wonder.” Would anyone be willing to share their own experience of God?

Part II: Love

Reflection

“The greatest of these is love.” -1 Corinthians 13:13

What St. Symeon saw in his direct experiences of God was the fire of God’s love for all humanity and the entire world. But beyond God’s general love for the world, Symeon knew deep in his bones that God loved him specifically, just as he loves and creates each human person distinctly. Symeon uses profound and (at times) shocking and embarrassing language to describe his thoughts and experiences about the union he shares with Christ:

For if you also wish, you shall become his member,

and thus every member of each one of us

shall become a member of Christ, and Christ our members,

and He shall make all shameful things decent

by the beauty of his divinity and by his glory He shall adorn them,

and when we are united to God we shall at the same time become gods,

not looking upon the indignity of the body at all,

but completely made like Christ in the whole body,

and each of our members shall be the whole Christ.

For while we become many members He remains one and indivisible,

and each part is the whole Christ himself.

And so thus you well know that both my finger and my penis are Christ.

Do you tremble or feel ashamed?

But God was not ashamed to become like you,

yet you are ashamed to become like Him?

“I am not ashamed to become like Him.

But in saying He is like a shameful member

I suspect that you speak blasphemy.”

So then, you suspected badly, for there are no shameful members!

They are hidden members of Christ, for they are covered,

and on account of this they are more revered than the rest, 

as hidden members of Him Who is hidden, they are unseen by all,

from Whom seed is given in divine communion, 

awesomely deified in the divine form,

from the whole divinity itself, for He is God entire…

Divine Eros: Hymns of St. Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn 15

Because “God is love” (1 John 4:8), St. Symeon emphasizes that one must feel and experience God’s love to even begin to speak of God. Indeed, Symeon goes as far as to say that love is the divine essence itself, that by which everything else can be comprehended:

All that is incomprehensible [in God] ignites my love,

And all that is comprehensible is personified love,

For love is not a name, but the divine essence,

Both participable and yet incomprehensible, but totally divine

Divine Eros: Hymns of St. Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn 52

Having dedicated his life to repentance, St. Symeon experienced this love himself. Therefore he was truly able to say along with St. Paul that “Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:8).

Discussion Questions:

  • Have you experienced God’s love? What is the best way you can describe that experience?
  • How can we learn to love ourselves in the same way that God loves us?
  • How can we learn to love others, even our enemies, in the same way that God loves them?
  • St. Symeon describes even his “shameful members” as Christ. What does this say about God’s love for us in the incarnation?
  • In what ways does learning to love God strengthen our ability to love others, and in what ways does learning to love others strengthen our ability to love God?

Closing Prayer

Conclude your meeting with this prayer by St. Symeon from his Hymns of Divine Love:

We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,a
we wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

Divine Eros: Hymns of St. Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn 15

The Life of St. Symeon the New Theologian – There’s a Saint for That

The Life of St. Symeon the New Theologian – There’s a Saint for That

St. Symeon, born in Galatia in the year of 949, is one of three saints in the Orthodox Church to have received the venerable title of ‘theologian’. During his childhood, he encountered Elder Symeon the Pious at the Studion Monastery, influencing his decision to aim his life towards Christ and monasticism. Under Elder Symeon’s care, St. Symeon became incredibly familiar with the writings of St. Mark the Ascetic and regarded his teachings as extremely important for spiritual growth. He cared for the people that he lived with, praying until midnight after the completion of his physical duties.

Seven years before St. Symeon entered the monastery, he experienced a blinding light during his prayer. A second light was present, and St. Symeon seemed to see Elder Symeon the Pious.

At the age of twenty-seven, St. Symeon entered the monastery, but was later sent to the Monastery of Saint Mamas in Constantinople after facing false accusations from other brethren. In the year 980, St. Symeon was made Abbott of that monastery, attaining a high spiritual level and spending time reading the Holy Scriptures. He served in this position for twenty-five years, establishing a strict monastic discipline for those monks around him. However, a few of the monks resented St. Symeon for his strict discipline and attacked him one day after Liturgy. St. Symeon begged for their pardon and they were permitted to live in the world without any punishment from the civil authorities. In 1005, St. Symeon stepped down as Abbot, and lived for the next sixteen years composing theological works that would eventually end up in the Philokalia. St. Symeon described the importance of striving towards spiritual perfection, while battling worldly passions with prayer. St. Symeon did not invent these ideas per se, but he did uncover them for those who had forgotten. St. Symeon fell peacefully asleep in the Lord in 1021 in the monastery of St. Makrina.

The life of St. Symeon was documented by St. Nicetas Stethatos, his cell-attendant.

Feast Day: March 12 or October 12 (depending on when Lent begins)

Learn his Troparion

Since you received divine enlightenment within your soul, O Venerable Father Symeon, / you were shown to the world as a most radiant light, / driving away its darkness, and persuading all to seek the grace of the Spirit which they had lost. / Earnestly intercede with Him to grant us great mercy

Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8INPa-PeELI

How can St. Symeon intercede for us?

St. Symeon is known for his embodiment of heroic struggles in renewing the Church while facing opposition from his brethren. Much like St. Nektarios, he can be invoked for intercession when being slandered or persecuted.

Pray to him:

Since thou hadst received within thy pure soul God’s enlightenment, O righteous Father, thou wast shown to the world as a blazing light which drove away its thick darkness and moved all men to seek the grace of the Spirit which they had lost. O all-holy Father Symeon, intercede with Him to grant great mercy unto us who honor thee.

From the apolytikion to St. Symeon the New Theologian

Discussion Questions

  1. St. Symeon faced many false accusations during his time in the monastery, yet reacted to these accusations with grace and compassion. How can we be more like St. Symeon when faced with false accusations, especially with those who are close to us? Why is it so countercultural for us to not make a big fuss for something that is ‘unfair’?
  2. St. Symeon saw the uncreated light of God in a vision along with his spiritual father, Elder Symeon the Pious. Have you had any direct experiences of the grace of God? What are they and what was it like?
  3. St. Symeon was recognized for his teachings regarding ceaseless prayer and spiritual struggle. What struggles in our lives prevent us from praying without ceasing? What small things could we implement in our lives as college students in order to allow for deeper prayer?