With Great Love

With Great Love

Growing up in the church, I thought I had an understanding of the basics of my religion. I understood that Sunday activities included attending church and receiving Holy Communion. To me, these seemed to be straightforward and doable tasks that made me an Orthodox Christian. My religious routine consisted of going to Confession once every few weeks and attending church every Sunday to be prepared to take Holy Communion. Naively, throughout the week I wouldn’t think too much about church until the following Saturday night as I picked out my clothes for that Sunday morning. As I began talking to more priests, reading about the lives of the saints, and participating in different church services, I started to sense that there was a large piece missing from my spiritual life. It almost felt as if I were in class, listening to lectures and understanding the material, but when I went home I couldn’t complete the homework. I never understood why I felt this disconnect until I attended my first YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) trip. YES taught me the importance of taking home the liturgical lessons and practicing them in my daily life. It helped me to understand what it meant to “serve” Christ throughout our daily lives. It brought Christ’s written words to life. I understood quickly what serving Christ through “word and deed” truly meant.  

I thought service was something that must be planned for and organized — something that always included a transfer between one group who had something to another group who did not. Over the years, I have learned that servant leaders don’t just give tangible things but are those who are capable of creating Kingdom moments. When I say Kingdom moments, I am referring to moments where we see the Kingdom of God breaking into this world. How do we even do that? It occurs in the seemingly simple act of thinking outside of oneself and being aware of what is most needed from you in any given situation. It is important to remember that this is not always done by sharing money, clothes, or food, but can be done in the form of spending time, sharing a smile, conversation, or even simply holding the door open for someone. In essence, it is to recognize the human soul in front of us.

We should all strive to be servant leaders with the intention of delivering Christ’s love through our working hands and hearts, not out of a desire to be recognized by others. At the very core of any service is love; love for the church and love for your neighbor. We serve not from our pride or ego, but from our hearts. Christ, who loves us, gives us the ability to love others — which naturally looks different in each situation and is unique to each person.

Attending church teaches us how we should interact with the world around us — through our service. Sometimes we don’t see the fruit from the seeds of love we sow, but we must make sure to leave those seeds every chance we get. In college, it can be hard to always get to church, especially right now. However, it’s simple to bring love in small ways to those around us. It is these small ways that allow for moments where the world shines as God created it. As Mother Teresa tells us, may we take every small action and do it with great love. This is how we can truly live out our faith.

Andrew Gluntz

Wadeed Fakhoury

My name is Wadeed Fakhoury. I am in my third year studying Mechanical Engineering at George Mason University. I love seeing people and talking with them, and watching and playing sports! I have been involved with YES for many years and have learned and grown so much from my experience. I am also a member of the OCF at George Mason University and was a District Leader for Virginia!

Permission to Struggle

Permission to Struggle

It’s been some years since I went off to college, but those intense memories of the first time away from home and newly found independence are burned into my mind. I was in a suite with 5 other guys – young men who came from all walks of life with all kinds of different perspectives. I remember we found each other on Facebook with our new accounts —- back when you couldn’t get on Facebook until you had an official college email. We worked together before we had even met to pitch in for a TV and other goodies for our suite. I could go on and on about my experiences and memories from going off to college for the first time at Binghamton University, but what I really remember was my fear of struggle.

I was confident I could make friends. I was confident I could handle the courses. I was confident I could manage my time. I believed in myself, and I put a lot of stock in that belief.

The problem was, once I got to college, I struggled.

Of course I did, right? I mean how else could it have been? Who has ever gone off to college and just checked all the boxes on the way to their degree?

But, to be totally honest, I wasn’t OK with struggling. I had the Yoda “do or do not, there is no try” mentality, and I had convinced myself that my struggles were a failure. Can’t figure out what to do on your first Friday night at college, even though you thought you had just made great friends in your suite and that you’d all hang out together? Failure. Promised yourself you’d keep up with all of your homework and readings, but you didn’t even keep up through the first week? Failure. Missed callbacks on that acappella group you were so excited to join because you didn’t read the flyer all the way through? Failure.

What do you do when you’re told to be successful, but you’ve already failed?

You drop that entire binary mindset, and you struggle, of course.

In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, we hear about his struggles. Paul writes “…as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger…” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5 RSV) in an effort to convey not his virtues, as we would have seen in Greek texts of the time, but his struggles. It is an incredibly Christian thing to boast in our struggles.

Though, to this college freshman, that feeling of struggle felt so insignificant compared to the others in the world. What do I have to complain about when others have it so much more difficult?

This is where if I could go back and talk to myself, I would offer one piece of advice. The smaller struggles train you for the bigger struggles. Asking for help connecting with new friends and enduring the struggle to navigate those relationships would have helped me ask my TA to assist me in understanding the Chemistry course I was already struggling to keep up with. Asking my TA to help me with Chemistry would have encouraged me to talk to my advisor about balancing my course load by taking Calc II over the summer. Asking my advisor to help me with my course load would have led me to ask my priest why I was struggling to connect with my faith while living on campus with no Orthodox Christian peers.

Learning to struggle teaches us to ask for help. Asking for help teaches us humility. Through struggle, even with the small things, we build the skills necessary to grow. When we accept struggle as a central component of our lives as Orthodox Christians, we will find ourselves in a pattern of growth that will train us for a life full of struggle, and ultimately, toward eternity.

If you learn to embrace struggle and to ask for help while you’re in college, you won’t be surprised when your first job points out your flaws. You won’t be surprised when you’ve found “the one,” but marriage turns out to be a lot more work than Disney had promised. You won’t be surprised when your newborn son loves to sleep when he wants to but loves to party when you’re trying to sleep. So embrace your struggle. Ask for help. Always remember that our job is not to live a perfect life, but a life of constant effort – constant struggle – in repentance toward Christ.

Andrew Gluntz

Fr. Niko Tzetzis

Great Lakes Regional Spiritual Advisor

Fr. Niko is the associate priest at Holy Trinity – St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Cincinnati, Ohio and the Regional Spiritual Advisor for the Great Lakes region of OCF. Fr. Niko was ordained to the priesthood recently, in September of 2020, and he and Presvytera Ivey welcomed their son Tommy into the world this past summer.

Making “One Story” Decisions

Making “One Story” Decisions

This October, we have been able to learn through Orthodox Awareness Month that OCF has four pillars it builds its ministry around. One of these pillars is “education.” Throughout my four years in OCF I had steadfast support in learning more about our faith, myself, and the world. I’d like to focus on a specific experience I find relevant this month with the impending election (don’t worry, I won’t tell you who to vote for).

This past March I went on Real Break Romania — an alternative spring break trip where we served the people living at Pro Vita — a large village that functions as an orphanage and a refuge for the “othered” from society. While we were there, we learned about the rule of a certain communist regime in Romania and the lasting impact it has had — on the lives of the people we were interacting with, the country as a whole, and Orthodoxy in Romania. Children were abandoned in cribs in institutional orphanages with limited human interaction. People who were physically disabled were thrown aside and left to die. Christians were tortured and killed, including clergy, for teaching to “seek first the kingdom of God,” because it was subversive to the state. Despite this, people were lowered into courtyards on bedsheets to hear priests speak, unshakably holding on to their faith.

How can we use the knowledge gained from encounters such as this, to seek first the kingdom of God with vigor? Recently, I have been re-reading a book I originally heard about at an OCF retreat, titled Everywhere Present by Fr. Stephen Freeman. In this book, Fr. Stephen explains that many Christians who live in the West (including Orthodox Christians) perceive the world as a “two-story” universe. In other words, western Christians think that we live “down here” on the first floor, and God lives “up there” on the second floor, only coming down to interact with us sometimes. However, Fr. Stephen calls us to reform our worldview so that we understand the truth taught by the Orthodox Church — that the universe is all “one story,” and that God, the saints, and the departed are fully alive in Christ right here on this same floor with us. The message of God and His kingdom is everywhere and filling all things!

This understanding outlined in Everywhere Present adds an extra weight to certain verses of Scripture, including: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:3 NKJV) As Orthodox Christians, we should understand that everyone we interact with — an orphaned child, disabled man, someone who has wronged us, even politicians we may disagree with — is an image of Christ, handmade by God. No matter how muddied that image may become, it is still there. 

To this end, we should try to make sure that our souls are not sleeping, especially in times of strife and division. Christ calls us all to one communion — and to love one another, regardless of affiliations or wrongdoings. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NKJV) I challenge you this political cycle to find common ground with people you disagree with and to remember that we all live in a one-story universe.

Awaken your soul. Pray for the whole world, pray particularly for your enemies (and if you’re struggling with genuinely desiring good for them, ask the Lord to help you humble yourself). Seek first the kingdom of Heaven, and place your trust only in Christ our Savior. One way to start doing this is to get involved with your local OCF chapter and national events. You will receive abundantly, in education, fellowship, service, and worship.

Andrew Gluntz

Demetra Chiafos

OCF Alumna

My name is Demetra Chiafos! I was involved in OCF during my four years at The Ohio State University, serving on the student officer board for three years at OSU and participating in national events. I graduated in 2020 with a BFA in Dance and a BA in Japanese. I am currently teaching dance while completing my MA in Translation (Japanese) through SOAS University of London. I play piano and cello, and sing in church choir whenever I can!

Blog banner photo taken by Ben Gluntz
Finding Fellowship Across the Sea

Finding Fellowship Across the Sea

 Leaving Greece to come to America for college, I had no idea how I would maintain my faith without having the ‘church’ around me – I was scared of my exposure to different religions and denominations because I had never experienced that before. In Greece, I found it uncommon to have religion-related differences. While I grew up in a God-centered family, I never questioned why I was Orthodox. Upon living in America, I found myself beginning to challenge many concepts and ideas I perhaps took for granted. Becoming a part of OCF, I was able to find a community with the resources to help me with these new questions.

It wasn’t until an entire year of college had passed that I randomly found out about OCF from a friend at church who invited me to a regional retreat. Let me tell you, I was a bit skeptical in the beginning knowing nothing about the organization. At that same point in time, I had been talking with my Russian friend about starting a club to unite all the Orthodox students on our campus, since we did not have anything like that yet. After researching the work of OCF on their website, I was genuinely fascinated. My first thought was, “we don’t have that in Greece.” Fast forward a day later and both my Russian friend and I registered for the retreat, which was coming up the following week. Immediately after our experience at the retreat, we started our club on campus as an OCF Chapter!

Everything happened so fast. I was so happy and excited to be part of a community where I could be 100% myself and not feel judged about my beliefs. I would have never imagined the blessings that OCF has brought to my life. I have gotten to meet people I can have fun with and connect with on a spiritual level. There is so much meaning in friendship and an even deeper connection when you share the same values and beliefs with someone. I didn’t even have that in Greece!

OCF opened the door for me to be with people who can understand and help me when I need advice or guidance. Through OCF, I’ve been able to participate in a Real Break Trip to Texas, a YES day, and other retreats . Ever since I learned about OCF, I went to all events I could! Real Break in Texas this past March was a life-changing experience. I got to serve with like-minded people knowing that we all chose to be there and serve. We worked to provide a home for someone who lost it due to hurricane Harvey. It was a very humbling experience I will never forget, alongside the program’s amazing leaders that brought all the fun! It is safe to say that OCF has been the best part of college.

Eirini

Eirini Symeonidou
(Ειρήνη Συμεωνίδου)

Berea OCF Chapter Leader

Eirini Symeonidou is an international student from Thessaloniki, Greece and goes to Berea College in Kentucky. She is a junior majoring in Agriculture and minoring in Sustainability and Environmental Studies. She is also a farmer at the college’s organic farm and loves spending time outdoors and going to the beach (when in Greece)! Eirini is a founding member of her college’s OCF chapter and loves to organize events and activities.

Living and Loving Through Our Crosses

Living and Loving Through Our Crosses

No matter who you are, you have experienced some sort of struggle in your life. You may have asked yourself: why is God allowing this to happen to me? Fr. Calinic Berger gave a beautiful homily (1:39:15) on this topic focusing on the verse: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24]. He explained how a cross is an unavoidable challenge God allows for those He loves. We can allow ourselves to become resentful or choose for it to bring us closer to Him. 

While in Romania last spring for Real Break (where we almost got locked out of the US… but that’s a story for another time), I learned about Fr. George Calciu (1925-2006). Fr. George was a Romanian priest living under Communist rule who boldly dared to preach The Gospel and bring hope to the Romanian people. Because of this, he was imprisoned and suffered through horrendous torture, some of which was “1984-style mind control experiments,” for twenty-one years. Fr. George eventually escaped to the United States where one of our trip leaders, Fr. Robert Miclean, was blessed to know him. Fr. Robert told us how Fr. George not only forgave his tormentors and prayed for them, but also he thanked them for bringing him closer to Christ. Fr. George was given a cross that he bore with such grace and humility. (For those who would like to read more of his story: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/46636.html). 

Here in America, we thankfully do not have to fear torture for our faith, but we still all have crosses to bear. This is not to make us angry and frustrated, but for the reason Fr. George saw: to bring us closer to God. Hearing this story in Romania was deeply humbling and solidified my belief that God uses everything for good. 

One experience that comes to mind is when my baby sister was diagnosed with a tumor. I am the oldest of six kids and had prayed and prayed for a sister. After four amazing brothers, God blessed me with a sister a month before I turned 13. However, before she turned 6 months old, the doctors found a rare tumor near her eye. Only around 300 people ever had suffered this type of tumor, and we were scared we would lose her or that she would have brain damage or be blinded. Her tumor miraculously went away, but for 6 years, it was a fearful and uncertain time of traveling 9 hours to MD Anderson in Houston. Our church family completely enveloped us with love, offering their homes to my parents while they stayed in Texas and taking care of their other five kids back in Kansas. A fruit of this cross regarding my sister’s health is now considering people family who I otherwise might not have known. We have even been gifted the opportunity to open our arms and share love with others going through health crises. 

These two stories are crosses that are outwardly visible, but crosses can also be more internal. A friend of mine felt disconnected, lonely, and deeply insecure during middle school and parts of high school. This was a time guided by low self-worth, but she realized that this experience formed her into a more inclusive, empathetic individual. Because of it, she has grown into the person she needed during that time and is able to connect on a deeper level with other young people currently going through similar struggles. 

We must remember not to compare our struggles to others’ and to rely on God’s grace to bring us towards the ultimate goal: salvation. Whatever your personal cross may be, know that you are not alone in your journey. We are together in the Body of Christ. May we all learn from examples like Fr. George as we strive to stay on the path towards Christ. 

Anna Spencer

is a senior at Kansas State University studying Nutrition & Health. She loves getting to know people, reading, traveling, eating good food, and anything outdoors (if it is not cold). She is Real Break Student Leader this year and would love it if you came to Real Break office hours (Time TBD) later this semester!