Better Than A Seventh Cup of Coffee: Takeaways from the Fall 2015 Northeast Retreat

Better Than A Seventh Cup of Coffee: Takeaways from the Fall 2015 Northeast Retreat

Students at the Fall 2015 Northeast Retreat

Students at the Fall 2015 Northeast Retreat

My name is Basil Vergados, and I participated in the 2015 Northeast OCF Retreat! As a college freshman and Orthodox Christian, I have found that maintaining a relationship with Christ is of the utmost importance in college. It gives one a sense of peace in a new environment, and setting aside even five minutes for prayer or Gospel reading can actually yield more focus than that seventh cup of coffee the day before exams. Yet in college, it is easy to forget that a relationship with other Orthodox Christians can be just as important as our relationship with Christ. OCF is one such way to forge this spiritual fellowship, and at the Northeast OCF conference I was able to see firsthand the fruits of this holy program.

I got to meet new friends, as well as reconnect with my old friends from other parishes of our Metropolis. We sat down for a discussion lead by Fr. Patrick of the Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Allston MA, and together we shared our perspectives on different issues that are so important to Christians in today’s society. This was followed by a beautiful Vespers service, and then some icebreaker games. One of my favorite parts of the night actually took place afterward, right before we went to bed. Some of us went back into the church and held a small Akathist service, illumined by the physical light of a few candles and the spiritual light of Christ.

The next morning we brought breakfast to some of the homeless people in Boston and sat down to spoke with them. Personally, this was very edifying because it helped me learn how to see Christ’s divine image in every person, no matter what life they lived. One of the people we had breakfast with even told us that God was the only strength he had in life, and he thanked God for leading us to him and keeping him company. I was astounded by the man’s faith, and when we went back to the church we were able to reflect and share in each other’s experiences.

The 2015 NorthEast conference was a wonderful way for me to grow as a Christian, nurture my relationship with others, and frankly, it was so much fun. I encourage any college student reading this to search for their local OCF chapter and join me in anticipation for the Fall 2016 Northeast OCF Retreat. God bless!


IMG_6351Basil Vergados is a first year at University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He hails from the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston where he participated in the MBC summer camp and is a Hellenic American Academy alumni.

More Than Just a Profile Picture

More Than Just a Profile Picture

578710_10151063063219244_1407120850_nBlack-and-white OCF logos are flooding my Facebook newsfeed. It’s official – Orthodox Awareness Month 2015 is in full swing.

Surely we’ve all made the effort to share an enlightening quote from our favorite saint, to post a photo from our past Real Break trip, or to invite our Facebook friends to listen to an Ancient Faith Radio podcast they would rather listen to than study. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be one of the biggest, furthest-reaching Orthodox Awareness Months ever, and I congratulate you all for taking the time to plant these seeds for others to see.

But now that we have all changed our profile pictures I’m left questioning,

What is Orthodox Awareness Month?

It seems like a silly question, right? But what are we called to do in order to fully embrace OAM as college students? As student leaders? As witnesses of Christ in the modern world?

I also find myself asking, have I done anything this month to embrace OAM in my prayer life? In service to others?

Or, generally, have I done anything more than change my profile picture?

As we are reaching the half-way point of OAM, these are important questions to ask. But even more important is how we choose to answer them on our college campuses.

It is only appropriate that the theme for OCF this year is Modern Martyrs: Witnesses of the Word. The phrase Modern Martyr isn’t one we hear often, but when we break it down it offers us a unique viewpoint from which we can approach living our lives for Christ.

When we think of the first martyrs, we think of the Roman Empire before the legalization of Christianity, and call to mind those blessed saints who refused to deny Christ by worshiping pagan idols. These martyrs bore witness to Christ in a society that would not accept Him.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Following the legalization of Christianity, martyrdom transformed. Monasticism became a new type of martyrdom, and the great Desert Fathers became a model for ending a worldly life for a life of prayer and fasting. These martyrs bore witness to Christ by fleeing the world.

Thus martyrdom, or the way we bear witness to Christ, has changed and evolved to fit its landscape over the centuries. Societies, peoples, ideologies, and governments have all changed, and so too have Christ’s saints changed with it. Christians became martyrs during WWII, under communism, during the Crusades, and more.

In so many ways, these martyrs “changed their profile pictures” – or more accurately, through their actions they changed the image of how the world saw them. They weren’t seen in pride, in vanity, or as slaves to their passions, but rather the profile picture they showed to the world was the image of Christ.

Which brings us to ask, what does martyrdom look like today?

Are we comfortable crossing ourselves before we eat in the dining hall? Are we prepared to be labeled as haters and bigots when we stand behind the Orthodox Church’s teachings on marriage and abortion? Would we be ready, as were the students whose lives were taken in Oregon, to declare Christ’s name in the face of a gun?

All of these situations, and more, are actual scenarios in which we may find the opportunity to change our profile picture for Christ. Thus, embracing Orthodox Awareness Month becomes more than just changing our profile pictures on social media; it challenges us to prepare ourselves to become perfect images of Christ.

By keeping this in mind and following the model of the martyrs and the saints before us, we will surely humble ourselves to others and bear witness to Christ in our modern world.

About the Author

DSC_0206Andrew Abboud graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in Biological Sciences and Religious Studies. He is continuing his education as a medical student at the University of Pittsburgh. Andrew was the Chairman of the 2014-2015 OCF Student Leadership Board, and he loves taking any chance he gets to stay involved with the ministry which afforded him so much.

My OCF Story: Lindsey Birdsall

My OCF Story: Lindsey Birdsall

In this series, “My OCF Story,” alumni share their experiences from their time in OCF and its impact on their transition and life in the post-grad real world.

My name is Lindsey Maria Birdsall and I am a proud OCF alum. I studied English and Political Theory at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX and graduated in 2008. I currently teach music, drama, and literature to grades K through 6 at Park Street School in Boston.


Lindsey (Maria) on Real Break

I was chrismated as an Orthodox Christian in college, largely due to the witness of OCF. We had a very small, yet very close knit, group that sometimes met for morning prayers and dinner after Saturday night Vespers. While the official programming at my college was not extensive, it’s through the friendships that I made in OCF that I came to know about the Orthodox faith. Going on a Real Break trip to Guatemala was also a pivotal moment for me. Before this trip, I questioned whether the Orthodox Church was indeed still living and fulfilling the “great commission,” to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:6-20). After seeing the nuns of the Hogar Rafael Ayau living out their faith, my question was answered.  The Orthodox Church is indeed Christ’s living body on earth. Hearing about the nuns’ conversion and all the hardships they have endured with such joy made me eager to receive “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.”


Lindsey (Maria) with her husband and son at Holy Resurrection

After graduation, I leaned on my OCF connections more than ever. Sometimes I jokingly call my first year out of college my “freshman year of life.” I moved from my suburban hometown in Texas to New York City to teach at a high school in the South Bronx, and I had a lot to learn. It was tempting to get swept away in the stress of all these changes, but my friends from OCF were a grounding influence on me. That first year, while traveling to meet up with some OCF friends in Boston, I met my husband. With a few more visits I slowly became a part of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Boston, a parish that is now like an extended family to me. Since then, I have moved to Boston, gotten married, had our first child, and taught at a couple of excellent Christian schools.

I am truly grateful to God for all the blessings that OCF has brought to my life. Whether it was having company at church services and deep discussions over meals in the cafe, traveling to College Conferences, serving on the Student Advisory Board, participating in the national Day of Prayer, and traveling on two Real Break trips to Guatemala and Greece, the experiences all truly changed my life. In OCF, I was so inspired to see the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the Church on local, national, and global levels. In Guatemala, I saw that work of the Holy Spirit was greater than I could fathom, and yet from my OCF chapter, I learned that it was also as simple as befriending my neighbor in the dorm.  OCF has given me peace, perspective, and some friendships that have now lasted for a decade.

How Real Break Changed My Life

How Real Break Changed My Life

Real Break, a program of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, provides week-long service and pilgrimage trips for college students over spring break. Real Break is built on four pillars of fellowship, education, worship and service. As an alternative option to the modern day spring break, Orthodox college students are given the opportunity to travel the world while growing to understand the meaning of seeing Christ in your neighbor.

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Alex with some of the children of Pro Vita Orphanage

Simply put, Real Break changed my life. Going into my freshman year of college I was a graphic design major with big dreams of living in a city and living a life full glam. That spring, I traveled on a Real Break trip to the Pro Vita Orphanage in Romania. My eyes and heart were opened to a whole new love and passion for serving my brother in Christ. We spent the first half of our trip interacting with the children and adults at the orphanage, playing, helping with homework, and completing tasks around the property. We could see how grateful the children were to just have the opportunity to spend time with us and to laugh and share the love of Christ.

The second half of our trip was spent in Bucharest, exploring the city and visiting monasteries. Romania has a such a rich Orthodox history that it was really an inspiration for us all. I distinctly remember that during the second half of the trip, we all could not stop thinking about all of the beautiful people at the orphanage. We had come to love them so much, and we wanted nothing more than to return back to the orphanage and spend more time with them.

Upon return, I without a single question, switched my major to social work and ultimately changed my lifestyle. Since then I am constantly striving to live a life of service. I joined a service fraternity, interned with FOCUS, traveled to Nicaragua where I taught English and built homes, and most importantly, I have turned my experience in to an opportunity to be the Real Break leader for this year and enable others to have the same experience.

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Real Break Romania 2014

Now, I’m not saying everyone is going to go on Real Break and have this life epiphany and become a social worker and move to a third world country… but I am saying that Real Break will make you more culturally- and globally-aware. You will be pushed outside your comfort zone in a different culture, and from that, you will grow spiritually and mentally. I hope that all my brothers and sisters in Christ will take this beautiful opportunity that is before them and experience the same passion I did two years ago. I am eternally grateful for Real Break and the way it has shaped my life.

REGISTER for Real Break 2016 today!


About the Author

Alexandra Abboud is a junior at University of Miami in Ohio studying social work. She serves as the Real Break Student Leader on the Student Leadership Board. You can read her full bio here.

My OCF Story: Presbytera Stephanie Petrides

My OCF Story: Presbytera Stephanie Petrides

In this series, “My OCF Story,” alumni share their experiences from their time in OCF and its impact on their transition and life in the post-grad real world.


Fr. Alexandros, Presbytera Stephanie, and their two sons, Niko and Chris

I graduated from Gordon College in 2008 with a degree in English and Secondary Education and I taught high school for a short time before attending Holy Cross Seminary for one year. I met my husband at an OCF retreat at Penn state in 2007, we were married in 2010, and we welcomed our first son in 2011. After getting married, I went back to work to help put my husband through seminary and was there until my husband graduated and was placed at a parish in Bethlehem, PA. Our second son was born about 6 months after we were placed and I am now a stay-at-home mom with my two sons, ages 4 1/2 and 1 1/2. In my spare time (which isn’t much), I help run our Moms & Tots group at church, I’m involved in the PTO at my son’s school (which is also our parish’s school), and I tutor to keep my foot in the door with education. My dream is to work at or help start an Orthodox School someday.

My most remarkable memory of OCF was at my first College Conference. I knew only two of the 200 or so students who were attending so I was a little nervous. But as I stood in church alongside all of these other college students, as I sat in discussion groups and listened to them asking questions, and as I got to know so many of them and their stories, I felt so encouraged in my faith. Up to that point I had a handful of Orthodox friends at church, some from camp, a few from my college, but it was hard not to feel a little alone in my faith. But being surrounded by so many other Orthodox young adults who were also striving to live a moral and faithful life in the midst of all of the temptations of college life, I felt an overwhelming sense of support and community. Those OCF friendships that I began forming that week carried me through the rest of my college experience.

Presbytera Stephanie on Real Break El Salvador

Presbytera Stephanie on Real Break El Salvador

That leads me to how OCF has influenced my life. I was blessed to have a wonderful OCF at my college where we did daily morning prayers, weekly meetings, and frequent dinners and get togethers. I attended four College Conferences, served on the Student Advisory Board [now the SLB], and did Real Break El Salvador. And by my senior year of college, I was also traveling every other weekend or so to attend other colleges’ OCF retreats all over the northeast and sometimes beyond. The relationships that I built from all of these OCF events and programs are the people that I have relied on over the past almost 10 years. They are the ones who encouraged me in my faith, who helped me through difficult situations at work, and who stood up with me at my wedding–not to mention that I met the man I married at one of these OCF retreats 🙂 And it is because of all this that I also encouraged my sister and sisters-in-law to get involved in OCF and now, as a presbytera, the local college students at our parish. OCF played such a crucial role in strengthening me in my faith during the challenging college years and in fortifying me to go out into a world that does nothing but attack and challenge everything that we believe. And in a world where everything is focused on making money, getting ahead, and earning degrees, awards and recognition, OCF helped shift my focus and reminded me that my vocation should be centered on who I am (an Orthodox Christian), not what I am. For all of the retreats, programs, but most importantly the people OCF brought into my life, I am forever grateful.