When was the last time you saw a caterpillar in all of its colorful and bizarre glory? The first image in my head comes from the beloved children’s classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle. As the young reader is introduced to the finer points on counting food, a very important message also comes across: caterpillars are amazing, single-minded creatures. Their goal is one day to become butterflies.
The main difference between caterpillars and us, of course (beyond the obvious ones like molting), is freewill. Freewill. That means caterpillars will always progress towards their goal, and barring an external struggle like being eaten, they will succeed. They will become butterflies.
Now, imagine if caterpillars had free will. Imagine if they could just choose to stay caterpillars. What would the goal of their life be? Maybe it would just be about who eats the best leaves and who has the most effective looks for that goal. (Google them, some of their camouflage is amazing.)
Or worse yet, imagine if they didn’t even know they could become butterflies. What if their butterfly-ness was broken for millennia and finally a caterpillar savior came to restore them and show them the new way? How crazy would those few caterpillars look in their cocoon or their chrysalis? Can you imagine the trolling? “Look at that crazy one hanging upside down!” “Are you judging me for staying a caterpillar?” “Why are they limiting themselves when they should just be enjoying life?”
Sisters and brothers, you and I are caterpillars with free will! Christ is Risen from the grave, and humanity is healed. We know our path. Yet we are living in a fallen world which says that your only vocation is “you do you.” Eat the most leaves, have the best zip code, and pursue comfort while you can.
Thankfully, our Church surrounds us with the truth about butterflies.
Every icon shows us who we are called to be like. Christ shows us that we are His beloved children, called to pick up our cross and follow Him, called to lose our life and thus find it for Christ’s sake (maybe we do have molting in common), called to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy (Matt. 17:24,25; 1 Pet. 1:15). Our overarching vocation is to become saints through the sacrificial love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and our neighbor as ourselves.
When we emerge from the chrysalis of COVID-19, will we be further along in our transformation to holiness? Will our lives proclaim Christ’s transformative love to the world much as a chrysalis clears and shows a hint of the wings to come? We are caterpillars with free will. Let’s show by our good works that we are children of God, amazingly and single-mindedly working towards the transformation of all of creation, being transformed into His likeness. Be a caterpillar that chooses to become what we are meant to be. Become a butterfly.
Dr. Presvytera Athanasia Mellos Kostakis (DMin, LMSW, MDiv) is an enthusiastic OCF alumna who loves to encourage people in their relationship with God, their neighbor, themselves, and creation. When not talking with someone or devouring books like a biblical locust, you can find her and her two boys loving their neighbor through unsolicited baking. She, Fr. Peter, and their family are blessed to live and serve in Dallas.
“Noise is one of the most common pollutants. It is often ignored because it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. And yet it can have negative effects on human well-being” (ASHA.org). Did you know that a hair blow dryer can cause hearing damage because of the amount of noise it produces? We live in a world today that is surrounded by noise. It is extremely difficult to find silence.
I was at a winter retreat a few years ago, and Fr. Silviu Bunta challenged us to sit in silence for five minutes every day. At the time, I thought he was crazy. There was no way I was going to sit in silence for five minutes every day. I love to talk, and anyone who knows me can attest to this. I asked Fr. Silviu if I could listen to music and reflect that way.
He looked at all of us and said, “No.” Just no.
Fr. Silviu continued to tell us that when people were tortured for information, the torturers would play loud and fast music. When this happens, our minds become overstimulated, and we can’t take much more, and our bodies start to shut down. Someone then asked if loud and fast music and noises are okay in moderation, and Fr. Silviu said, “If you fill yourself with noise, how can you expect to hear God”.
That made me think of the Bible, where God speaks to Elijah.
“Then He said, ‘Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it…”
1 Kings 19:11-13
Elijah did not hear the Lord during the noise but in a “still small voice”. Some translations write that it was a stillness, others a whisper. Throughout my life, I wished that God’s voice would come in a booming thunder, that it would shake the heavens and declare its victory through the world. God could totally do that, but instead he speaks to us through silence. We must quiet our hearts, thoughts, desires, and earthly cares in order to hear God.
Saint Isaac the Syrian once said, “Silence is the sacrament of the world to come.” St. Iassac has a point. As much as I hate to admit it, we can see in the story of Elijah, we will not be able to speak with God with so much background noise. Imagine you’re at a party or a large social gathering. Your friend is speaking in a normal voice but ends up shouting, so you can hear them. So, imagine trying to whisper in a crowded room and expecting your friend to hear you. It’s probably not going to happen.
If we fill our lives with noise how will we hear God? When I think of sacraments, I think of baptism, chrismation, and communion, three important things that help us towards our salvation. For St. Isaac to call silence a new sacrament, it must be essential to guiding us towards salvation.
If we want to look at the scientific side of things, there are proven things that can happen to our bodies with excess noise exposure. Excess noise exposure can cause: a change in blood pressure, change in heart rate, change the way the heart beats (possible abnormal palpitations), disturb digestion and harm your organs, contribute to premature birth, and disrupt sleep. But don’t forget that on top of all of that, we can start to lose our hearing. I am not saying we should live the rest of our lives in complete silence shutting ourselves out from the world. That would also be detrimental to our health because we need human interaction to survive. So, what are we supposed to do if we should live in silence, but not shut ourselves up in our rooms?
Fr. John Breck writes, “Silence is not just the absence of ambient noise. Nor does it mean the lack of laughter or music or shared reflection. Silence is a state of mind and heart, a condition of the soul. It is inner stillness. Silence in heaven reigns amidst joyous song and ceaseless celebration. It is awe in the presence of the Divine.”
One of my favorite parts of that quote is that silence “is awe in the presence of the Divine.” The presence of God is everywhere and fills all things. He is in me and you and your next-door neighbor. He is everywhere, so when we are in the presence of the Divine, we must be in awe. By quieting our souls through prayer, fasting, and vigilance we can hear God.
My mom used to always tell me, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Fr. John helps us see that listening to music isn’t evil and speaking with friends isn’t detrimental, but we have to remember that it canbe. If we listen to music that is harmful to our souls and bodies, our souls are no longer quieted, but aroused with the passions. If we speak wrongfully and with hatred, we add fuel to the fire of the burning passions.
I want to hear God. That is a goal, but I haven’t because of the noise in my life. It’s time to drown out the noise, to listen for the still small voice. I have been trying to practice silence. It’s hard, but the more I do it, the more possible it becomes. Not only has this been quieting my soul, but it has helped me to keep my thoughts and words in check.
I pray that you will find the silence needed to hear God and listen. I pray that like the other sacraments we can join together to find the silence we need. I pray that we can find our state of awe and together stand in the presence of our Holy Father. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 11:15)
I am Evyenia Pyle. I am freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I am majoring in Speech and Hearing Sciences with double concentrations in neuroscience of communication and speech-language pathology. This year I am the Central Illinois District Student Leader! I love to sing, especially byzantine chant. I play a lot of instruments including guitar, bass, piano, and more. I have two amazing dogs, they are my pride and joy. I am so excited to be contributing to the OCF blogs this year!
My alarm goes off at 6:30 AM this morning. I hop in the shower, get dressed, say my morning prayers, and head off to church for the Royal Hours for Nativity. Since I am a tonsured reader, I help read some of the psalms, Old Testament, and Epistle readings for the service and also intone some of the hymns and prayers here and there. The Royal Hours is, objectively speaking, an astonishingly beautiful service, speaking of the immense power and humility of God to become incarnate as a baby boy in order to redeem humanity. And I felt none of that beauty.
You see, I have a disease called major depressive disorder. The main symptom of this disease is the inability to feel pleasure and meaning in things that used to feel pleasurable and meaningful. And so even though I am active in the Church and OCF, try to say my prayers every day, and try to pay attention during the services, I hardly ever feel anything positive during them. On the contrary, I spend a lot of my time in prayer internally wondering whether God is listening or not, questioning why He would give me such a screwed-up brain if He supposedly loves me so much.
And yet, the Church proclaims that God is good. The Church tells me that Christ came to earth and suffered in the flesh, being crucified and resurrected in order to destroy death and raise the dead from the tombs. And I really do believe these things with all my heart, even when my brain is telling me otherwise.
I pray because I believe Christ rose from the dead. “I believed, therefore I have spoken” proclaimed King David in the psalms, and so I, too, speak in prayer because I believe (Psalm 115:10). This is why the services of the Church are so important to me: they call me to pray even when I don’t feel like it, even when my brain is giving me every reason not to. I need the constant call of the Church to “again and again in peace pray to the Lord.” I need the reminders that God loves me, even when my brain is incapable of seeing it.
God loves you, too. He loves each one of us more than we know how to love. And it is this love, given to me through the Church’s discipline of liturgical prayer, that encourages me to pray, even when I can’t feel that love around me.
This discipline, I believe, has saved my life on more than one occasion from the dark and self-destructive thoughts that often haunt those of us with depression. I hope that the same love of God also encourages you to pray, regardless of whether you feel that love or not.
This post was written by an anonymous OCF student. If you would like to contribute to the OCF blog, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Read the Whole Orthodox Study Bible
I know this sounds like a daunting task to complete in one year, but this PDF gives you a guide to reading the entire Orthodox Study Bible in one year. The PDF starts on September 1st (for the Ecclesiastical New Year), but you can still start the guide and finish reading the whole bible in one year. By reading less than five chapters a day, you can feel extremely accomplished and become more knowledgeable at the end of one year.
2. Join or Support a Mission Team
Being apart of missions has been some of the best experiences of my life. There are many Orthodox organizations that make it possible for you to participate in short- or long-term mission trip. You can check out the awesome mission and service trips that are set for 2019 through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center, the International Orthodox Christian Charities, and Project Mexico. You can also check out some awesome OCF Real Break options through each one of those great organizations!
3. Sit in Silence for at Least 10 Minutes a Day
In our very busy lives, we usually forget to just take a few minutes to reflect on our day. Learning how to sit in silence for a few minutes a day will help you to wind down and be peaceful. And when I say sitting in silence, I don’t mean sitting on your phone in silence. Remove all distractions and take a few minutes each day to reflect and give praise to God for the blessed day.
4. Choose a Book to Read and Finish It
One of the things I love about Orthodoxy is how the faith can reach everyone, no matter what their interests are. Whatever you love in this life, you will be able to find an Orthodox book that peaks your interest. Want to learn how Orthodoxy differs from other religions? Check out Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: Finding a Way to Christ in a Complicated Religious Landscape. Are you an aspiring actor or artist? Check out The Mystery of Art: Becoming an Artist in the Image of God. A fiction fan? Check out Letters to St. Lydia or Icon. If you find it hard to pick up a book and read, check out some audiobooks that you can listen to. You can find all these books and more at Ancient Faith online bookstore.
5. Go to Confession at Least Three Times a Year
A good rule of thumb when deciding when to go to confession is to try and go during the major fasting periods of the church. The three main fasting periods are Advent (Christmas Fast), Great and Holy Lent (Pascha Fast), and the Fast for the Dormition of the Theotokos (First 15 days in August). By going to confession during these time periods, you would be going to confession every four months. This gives you time to reflect and take a lot of the burdens from your soul away throughout the year.
6. Listen to a Podcast that Interests and Inspires You
Ancient Faith Radio has so many cool podcasts you can choose from. You can download the Ancient Faith Radio app on your phone and have hundreds of podcasts at the tip of your finger! Some of them are even led by college students! Check out this blog post from November to learn about some of the great podcasts you can find on their app.
7. Learn More about a Saint that Interests You
There’s a Saint for That is a great way to learn about saints that can help you in your everyday life. There are saints who intercede for traveling, for education, for health, for finding things that have been lost, and for many other reasons. You can also check out stories of the saints of the day on the OCA Website. OCA’s website gives you the story of multiple saints daily so you can learn about a new one everyday!
8. Connect with an Orthodox Community
One of the best ways to grow in your faith is to surround yourself with others who are immersed in the same faith as you. You can meet some of your life-long friends at your campus OCF meetings, OCF regional retreats, and at College Conference. Check out the current listing of OCF events to register! Also look into your parish to see opportunities for you to meet and hang out with young adults in your area.
9. Talk to a Priest about Questions You Have
Make a list of a few questions to ask your spiritual father or parish priest. Talking through your questions with them will strengthen your knowledge about the faith and also your relationship with your spiritual father.
10. Go to a Service or an Orthodox Church that You Have Never Attended Before
Step out of your comfort zone and check out other parishes in your area. Visit Greek Churches, Russian Churches, Romanian Churches, etc. Go and experience Orthodoxy in every language you can. Also try and attend services you don’t attend regularly. There are services offered weekly like Saturday Vespers or services offered only a few times a year like the Salutations, Paraklesis, and Presanctified Divine Liturgy.
Hi everyone! My name is Joanna Psyhogios. I am from Wilmette, Illinois, and I am a member at St. John the Baptist Church in Des Plaines, Illinois. My first experience with OCF was during College Conference East, and I have been active in participating in College Conference and OCF retreats ever since. In my free time, I love to play and watch every sport, coach basketball to youth teams, watch movies and TV Shows, and play Jungle Speed (shoutout to CC Midwest!). I am really excited to share what I have learned about the Orthodox faith through the OCF blogs!
As college students, we have a lot to be thankful for. We are thankful for our family, our friends, our home. A lot of times, we are thankful for simple things like the free food on campus or the email from our professor canceling our 8 a.m. class. I don’t know about everyone else, but every time one of those small things occur to me, I think to myself, “Thank God” and then continue on eating my free pizza or roll back into bed.
But let me tell you something I never do.
I don’t wake up for my 8 a.m. classes and say, “Thank God.” I also don’t utter those words when I use the money that I have to pay for my meal. I usually don’t remember to thank Him at all. Why is that?
Well, as a society, we have a small problem. We love to express our thankfulness to God when things are going well in our lives. But, when everything is just average or going poorly, we forget about God and even question his intentions. Instead of thanking God constantly for what He has given us, we question why He has given us struggles in our lives.
As the Thanksgiving season has come and gone, we have to ask ourselves, how can we work towards being thankful to God every day, no matter what is occurring in our lives? Even if we do not realize it, we do give thanks to God in many ways throughout our daily and spiritual lives.
Did you know that we can give thanks to God by receiving Holy Communion? The word “thanksgiving” translates to Eucharistia in Greek. In turn, the word Eucharist is used in the Orthodox Church to describe the act of the Orthodox faithful receiving the consecrated body and blood of Christ, otherwise known as the sacrament of Holy Communion.
St. John Chrysostom teaches us that one way to be thankful to God is to participate in the Eucharist consistently. He states that “the dread Mysteries, full of such great salvation, which are celebrated at every Liturgy, are also called a Thanksgiving [Eucharistia] because they are the remembrance of many benefits…and in every way cause us to be thankful to Him.” By receiving Holy Communion, we are not only bringing Christ into our lives, we are thanking Christ for giving us life and the hope for the resurrection by remembering what He sacrificed for us all.
St. John Chrysostom also states:
Whenever we are either in poverty, or in sickness, or are being insulted, then let us intensify our thanksgiving; thanksgiving, I mean, not in words, nor with the tongue, but in deeds and works, in mind and in heart; let us give thanks to Him with all our souls.
Here, he gives us new meaning to how we as Orthodox Christians can practice thanksgiving in our lives. He encourages all of us to give thanks to God with our entire soul. According to him, to achieve this we must focus on not only offering our thanksgiving to God with our prayers, but with our acts towards others.
One of my favorite verses from the Bible comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I never really thought about how I could incorporate the message of this verse in my everyday life until about a year ago.
In the summer of 2017, I was given an opportunity to travel to Rosarito, Mexico and spend a week working on building a home for the Ramirez family with Project Mexico. While building the home for the Ramirez family, we all saw how much they rejoiced with us every minute of the day with their radiant smiles and loving hospitality towards us.
We saw their love for Christ when they welcomed us into their home and made a group of thirty missionaries homemade meals every day, even though they barely had money to make ends meet. They were thankful for everything that they had, even though they had very little.
My greatest takeaway from this trip was not that I built a home for a family in need, but that I was able to learn from the Ramirez family what it means to rejoice always and give thanks for everything every single day.
This is why, I believe, St. John Chrysostom states that by helping others, we can and will be able to open our hearts and be able to learn how to be thankful to God with all our souls. Christ gives us many opportunities to give thanks to Him daily in different forms, either through Holy Communion or through good acts towards others. We just have to work on acting on those opportunities given to us by Christ so we can remember to give thanks to him daily and not just one month of the year.
Hi everyone! My name is Joanna Psyhogios. I am from Wilmette, Illinois and I am a member at St. John the Baptist Church in Des Plaines Illinois. My first experience with OCF was during College Conference East and I have been active in participating in College Conference and OCF Retreats ever since. In my free time, I love to play and watch every sport, coach basketball to youth teams, watch movies and TV Shows, and play Jungle Speed (Shoutout to CC Midwest!). I am really excited to share what I have learned about the Orthodox faith through the OCF blogs!