I Can Do All Things – and the SLB!

I Can Do All Things – and the SLB!

Flashback to one year ago this spring: I was sitting in my dorm room when I got a call from my Regional Student Leader (RSL) telling me to apply for the OCF Student Leadership Board (SLB) and that I would make a great College Conference Student Leader. I wasn’t fully aware of what the SLB is, but I did know what College Conference was having attended myself in 2019. I had even thought about leading it before, but I was hesitant to apply since I was heading into the infamous junior year as both a music and mechanical engineering double major while also balancing many other extracurricular commitments. Despite my crazy schedule, and to the dismay of my mom who thought I was already overcommitted, I decided to apply anyway, trusting that it would all work out.

Fast forward to this past summer: I’m a counselor at the Antiochian Village (AV), I’m the new College Conference Midwest Student Leader, and I still have no idea how I’m going to balance my schoolwork, extracurriculars, and SLB work come the start of the semester. But, God has a way of helping us figure things out, and it just so happened that our theme as AV staff was Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Coincidence? I think not.

Now, we’ve all heard that verse before, but I’m here to remind you of it and let you know that it is 100% true. All of the things you are doing now, you can continue doing along with the SLB because Christ will give you the strength to do it. That is what I have found to be true this past year, and I know it would be true for you too.

So that’s how you can do the SLB, but now the current SLB and I want to tell you why you should. The Student Leadership Board is a group of devout and talented Orthodox Christian college students devoted to serving their peers and responsible for carrying out the work of OCF. From planning events, connecting people, to implementing programming, most everything that OCF does gets touched by the students on the board. Below are quotes from the current SLB which have been sorted into 3 different categories: Life-Giving Relationships, True Service, Spiritual Development – 3 reasons why you should apply!

True Service: Being on the SLB means you will be actively carrying out the ministry of OCF.

“As the regional leader, I advise and support chapter presidents at each university. They’re the ones who run the engine of the day-to-day OCF life – the ones who can foster a nurturing environment for Orthodox Christian college students to grow in their faith. I also really liked being in a position to run the retreats for my region. I saw the potential for regional retreats to be a truly transformational time to encourage Orthodox students to live a life in Christ.” – Nathan Liu, Mid-Atlantic Regional Student Leader

 

“I love the close connection and mentorship that the OCF staff gives the SLB. I feel much more acquainted with the beginning-to-end process of creating ministry efforts than I did before I began. OCF provides so much support and resources that I feel confident that I am maximizing my contribution to the ministry.” – Evan Roussey, Real Break Student Leader

 

“I think I’ve been a strong reference point for my community as they reach out to young adults, and I think that my involvement has been able to help me reach out to my Orthodox friends who feel less connected in their college communities.”- Catherine Thompson, Northwest Regional Student Leader

Life Giving Relationships: You’ll build some of the deepest and most life giving relationships with the other SLBers, OCF Staff, and the peers you serve.

“One of my favorite parts about being on the SLB includes the amazing community. After connecting in Dallas I now have a nation-wide support system of fellow Orthodox Christians. I feel comfortable talking with anyone on the SLB about anything, because they are all amazing people.” – Elyssa Koutrodimos, Great Lakes Regional Student Leader

 

“I like the connection and closeness of the leadership board and being able to meet new people via my district student leaders and others.”– Kiki Gormanos, Southeast Regional Student Leader

 

“ Since joining the SLB, I have felt of one spirit with everyone, and has been one of the most life-giving things I have ever experienced. I know that everyone on the SLB and on staff are committed to the same mission, the same God, and that I am one member in a greater effort. Yes, we work together, but we also have become close friends.” – Evan Roussey, Real Break Student Leader

 

“I love the strong community of friends that I have all over the country. Even though we are hundreds or even thousands of miles away from each other, everyone feels like family. I am extremely grateful this past year to have developed relationships that are fulfilling, both mentally and spiritually. We are all devoted to helping each other become better Orthodox Christians, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to surround myself with.” – Danielle Rallis, Podcast Student Leader

 

“It has changed my college experience because I have met so many people around the country both from the board and working to create events, and from those I now have a network of Orthodox Christians that I connect with on a very deep level. “-Thomas Retzios, Video Student Leader

Spiritual Development:

“I have always been a very reflective person. I always wanted to have a place to have conversations and open discussions about young adults in the Orthodox Church. I hoped to get, as well as give, more insight about the reality of how Orthodox Christians use their faith, and how we can all grow in our spiritual journey. As podcast student leader, I have been put in a position to think about the faith on a more consistent basis. I hoped this would happen, as now it has become more habitual to not only think about my own spiritual life, but how we are young adults in the church are all trying to learn how to develop a stronger faith.” – Danielle Rallis, Podcast Student Leader

 

 

“Being part of the SLB has shown me how to take the gifts I have received from God and begin to put them to use. I integrate what I learn in school into the responsibilities that I have on the SLB; contributing to the SLB and OCF ministries has taught me how to participate more intentionally in the other parts of my life such as music and social life. I feel a sense of contribution and momentum; my efforts in academic, personal, and spiritual spheres all feel related. I thank God for that and know that the SLB was the key to integrating my experiences, equally for the tasks that it asked of me and the people that it gave me to share my life with.”
– Evan Roussey, Real Break Student Leader

 

“It can be easy to feel inadequate, but remember you (especially in a leadership role on the SLB) have the potential to change someone’s life in an instant. If you ever feel deficient in any way, never forget that God has given everyone countless, daily opportunities to share His love with each other and to draw closer to Him together. Every moment has the potential to be transformed into something beautiful – whether it be holding a two hour conversation on the phone with someone you hardly know or a 15 minute, positive interaction you had on a zoom call. I have had many opportunities where someone changed my life in a matter of minutes. When you open your heart to this possibility, approach every relationship and pray, “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace…” – Magdalena Hudson, Publications Student Leader

After reading all of this, I’ll assume you’re thoroughly convinced that being on the SLB is a life-changing experience to do Christ’s work, so I cordially invite you to apply. Please do not hesitate to reach out to myself or any of the current SLBers with any and all questions you might have. Descriptions of each position are listed within the applications found below. So apply, just do it.

Application Link: https://www.ocf.net/student-leadership-board-applications/
Current SLB contact info: https://www.ocf.net/about-ocf/#slb

Elias Anderson

Elias Anderson

Incoming SLB Chairman 2022-2023

Elias is a Junior at Valparaiso University studying music and mechanical engineering. He loves to lead his OCF chapter and will be serving as next year’s SLB chairman. When he’s not working on schoolwork, he enjoys playing his trumpet or guitar, beating his friends in ping pong, and laughing unnecessarily hard at marginally funny things. You can contact him at ccmidweststudent@ocf.net.
Are you in Love?

Are you in Love?

“Are you in love?”… Are you in love? Certainly, this is a strange question to receive out of the blue, but don’t be alarmed just yet. Love is a broad subject that many have written and spoken about in length. It seems to consume much of the media, our culture, and even our own lives. And most of the time, this “love” we hear about is of the romantic nature. So, it may be the case for you as it is for me, that when you hear, “are you in love?” you think of just that. However, we cannot leave it as just that because there is a bigger reality surrounding us at all times. Love Himself, our God, is calling us to Himself. So, the question, “are you in love?” becomes an all more important one we must ask ourselves every now and again. Are we in Love? Do we find ourselves in our Creator, our dear God?

Back when I was 14, I started wondering about many things, (as kids do around that age). One of these queries was one not too unfamiliar to many of you – “How do I know if they’re the right one? And how did other people know??” Stepping from middle school to high school, finding a significant other seemed to be an essential quest and valiant pursuit. And is that search really less of a big deal now that we’re in college? You may even have well-intentioned family and friends on your case about getting married sooner rather than later! Anyway, continuing on with our story, such an important question couldn’t go unanswered, and so I found myself cornering my dear mentor and teacher at coffee hour one Sunday, asking him to reveal his secret. . . How did he know his wife was the one? His response was insightful and still sticks with me today. This is the point it boiled down to: “Marriage,” he said, “is the beginning of a journey towards God. The person you marry is your partner in the journey. God is the only one that can complete us.”

“God is the only one that can complete us.” Wow! How incredible and freeing is that? Before all else, we must remember our first love and our soul’s bridegroom. Seeking marriage (which is such a beautiful Mystery), or monasticism (another beautiful and blessed path of salvation our church offers), is wonderful, but we shouldn’t fixate on it or think of it as an “end all, be all.” As is the case with all things, we must orient ourselves to Christ. The last Sunday before kicking off Lent in full reminds us of this lost paradise. That loss of being near to God and walking with Him. In his book, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, Fr. Alexander Schmemann says,

“By now we know that man was created for paradise, for knowledge of God and communion with Him [See his section on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son!]. Man’s sin has deprived him of that blessed life and his existence on earth is exile. Christ, the Savior of the world, opens the door of paradise to everyone who follows Him, and the Church, by revealing to us the beauty of the Kingdom, makes our life a pilgrimage toward our heavenly fatherland.”

And as C.S. Lewis so succinctly puts it, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” This is merely conjecture on my part, but maybe the reason the world around us and we ourselves become at times so fixated on finding that perfect love that fulfills all of our needs either in another person or something else is because we have forgotten what, or rather Who, love really
is.

There is perhaps no better place to read and rediscover this true love than in the pages of St. John’s first letter where he says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love . . . and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” And so, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is good to remind ourselves of this when we ask, “Am I in Love?”

Ruby Pendergraft

Ruby Pendergraft

I’m currently a second year Philosophy major at the University of Central Oklahoma but will be transferring to the University of Oklahoma to study Letters this fall. I dove headfirst into OCF as soon as I was able through opportunities like the Summer Leadership Institute and College Conference. I’m part of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, and by the grace of God, I strive to love Him and be a true Christian (a little Christ!), every day. Writing, chanting, cats, and tea – some of my favorites these happen to be, and glory to God for them and all things!
What is Love?

What is Love?

For me, it is sheer delight to be with you, even in script. I have so many fond memories of my time with many of you, though some of you I have not met.

What is love, really? We Orthodox always begin at the same place, namely with Christ who is God, who is Love. He is love, He gives love, He gives us the capacity to love. Without Him we cannot love, we would have a loveless life. He is “all in all.” He gives us persons to love us and whom we can love. But, it is easy to forget or override this basic truth.

In our culture we use the word “love” casually and loosely. I know that I do, rather unwittingly. I can say, “I love Haagen Dazs French vanilla ice cream,” or “I love watching videos on the history channel,” or “I love walking in the rain with an umbrella.” So, what does love mean?

Love in its deepest sense means a sharing with another human being the very energy of Christ. Well, doesn’t that sound elusive? Yes, it seems elusive but after some thought, it is not elusive at all. It can be very simple yet very difficult to sustain.

It can be hard to embrace the truth that love is not primarily about feelings. We know that we can love someone and feel distant from them at the same time. We can love someone and be ‘at odds” with them for awhile. A father can be walking in his pajamas, carrying his crying newborn daughter at 2:30 AM. Walking while she is screaming. He is fatigued, grumpy and doing the “loving thing” that he chooses to do. He loves his daughter and he feels nothing of love at that moment. He feels distraught.

Love for College Students

For you, college students, romantic love is not primarily about feelings. Yes, feelings are part of being human but can very easily be deceptive. You know that from your own experience. We all have such experiences in our past. You know others who have been tragically hurt because they let their feelings get the best of them, only to pay a high price later. Of course, we all enjoy feeling “good.” But, we are also looking for something deeper. College students are of an age where they are aware of the desire for a life-partner. They may not put that desire as front-and-center but it is not far off. That is what we are talking about.

Dating is a fine part of life. And, as the old saying goes, “You win some and you lose some.” That is, some dates are nourishing and some dates can be depleting for a host of reasons. OK.

When a relationship seems to become serious what is the criterion for authenticity? What makes a relationship “real,” “of Christ?” The direct answer is “commitment.” Another way to say “commitment” is self-sacrifice. Is this person demonstrably willing to put aside their needs and wants for me? Am I willing to put my needs and my desires aside for this person? The deepest level of self sacrifice is, “Are they willing to die for me?” Sounds lofty but I know persons who can clearly say that, “I know my partner would die for me.”

The converse is clear. In a shaky relationship the couple makes choices for exclusively enjoyable activities, avoiding the “work” of a sustainable human relationship. Yes, real relationships require work and require living with dissonance simply because we are all children of Adam and Eve, like it or not.

Physical and emotional attractiveness are not the essence of a relationship, although such attractiveness is often the beginning of something deeper. Often we are attracted to someone who is attracted to us. We love to be loved. That can be a problem.

Love and Lust

When pondering a romantic relationship we acknowledge the difference between lust and love. Lust and love “feel” the same but have polar opposite consequences. Lust is about self gratification, self pleasure. Love is about self-sacrifice, putting the other above my pleasures. Lust leads to darkness and alienation. Love leads to light and to union. All this is countercultural, going against the many narcissistic messages we are getting. You and I do have narcissistic tendencies that we need to vigilantly surrender to Christ. Our narcissistic tendencies are vulgar. Our surrender means that we say, “Lord have mercy,” arrow prayers, through the day and night as we become aware of our narcissistic thoughts or behaviors.

A wonderful relationship with all its joys and sorrows is life-giving and beautiful, as given to us by Christ,. We move our ego out of the way and we let Christ in, and then He gives us the person He wants us to have. Some in Orthodoxy teach that the life-partner is not only our “soul mate” but also our “sandpaper,” all for our growth in love. Life is paradoxical. As Father Hopko often said, “Orthodoxy is paradoxy.”

Conclusion

In conclusion, love really is a mystery, a mysterion, a gift from Christ for us to give and to have, to embrace with all our being because love is the only way we can thrive on this planet. Love is a sacrament. Only love can make a memory.

Dr. Albert Rossi

Dr. Albert Rossi

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Albert Rossi is a licensed clinical psychologist and Christian educator who has written numerous articles on psychology and religion. He has published two books through Ancient Faith Publications entitled, Becoming a Healing Presence and All is Well. Dr. Rossi was a member of the SCOBA Commission on Contemporary Social and Moral Issues for six years. He hosts the podcast Becoming a Healing Presence on Ancient Faith Radio.

Making Room for Christ

Making Room for Christ

Do you know the story of Wally? He was a nine year old second grade. He should have been in fourth grade but everyone knew that Wally had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd in the Christmas pageant one year but the play’s director knew that there were too many lines for Wally to memorize. Instead, she assigned him the role of the Innkeeper who only had a few lines. For weeks he practiced his part and his lines. The biggest concern for the play that year was that Wally didn’t mess his part up and embarrass himself.

Church was packed the day of the pageant. No one was more caught up in the magic of the event than little Wally. Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop.
Wally the Innkeeper was there, waiting.

“What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open with a gruff gesture.

“We seek lodging.” Joseph responded.
“Seek it elsewhere.” Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously. “The inn is filled.”

“Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary.”

“There is no room in the inn for you.” Wally looked properly stern.

“Please, good innkeeper, my wife is pregnant and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”

Now, for the first time, Wally relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.

“No! Begone!” the prompter whispered from behind the curtain.

“No!” Wally repeated automatically. “Begone!”

Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper did not return inside his inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the desperate couple. His mouth was open, his brow
creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears. It was right then that Wally realized exactly what had happened that night. And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all the others.

“Wait! Joseph, don’t go!” Wally cried out. “Bring Mary back.” And Wally’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room.”

YOU CAN HAVE MY ROOM!

What an unexpected twist to a very familiar story. And yet, Wally’s actions leave us much to think about. What would WE have done 2000 years ago in Bethlehem? We can even ask, what do we do today when we are placed in a similar situation?

In today’s world, not too many people would fault with the innkeepers. They didn’t know that Mary would give birth to the Savior of the world. For all they knew, it was just another peasant woman giving birth to another child in this world. They were preoccupied with their own cares
and lives!

Does that sound a little familiar?

How many of us don’t have time for Christ to enter into our lives at school? During our
recreation? Among our friends? How many of us don’t make room for Christ to interfere with our busy schedules?

In the midst of our busy lives, will we have the eyes to see Christ when he comes unexpectedly.

I’m not only talking about making time for Jesus as a part of our schedule. We need to begin there and set aside time each day to pray and have a quiet time, as well as each Sunday to meet Christ in the Divine Liturgy.

Yet, what about during the unexpected times when Jesus surprises us? The Christmas story, from the perspective of the innkeepers, is more about having the eyes to see the Christ even when we are extremely busy and He comes at an inconvenient time. Will we see Jesus in each and every person whom we meet day by day. Our Lord said, “Whatever you have done to the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done to me.”

Wally may have mixed up his lines in the Christmas pageant, but he surely revealed the true spirit of Christmas to all those who were watching.

“Wait! Joseph, don’t go!” Wally cried out. “Bring Mary back.” Wally’s face grew into a bright smile as he proudly proclaimed, “You can have my room.”

This Christmas may each of us reflect upon how we can make room for Christ to be born anew, in our lives.

Here’s a prayer we can offer daily during this holy season:

Lord Jesus Christ, you have come so many times to us and found no resting place. Forgive us for
our overcrowded lives, our vain haste and our preoccupation with self. Come again, O Lord, and
though our hearts are a jumble of voices, and our minds overlaid with many fears, find a place
however humble, where You can begin to work Your wonder as you create peace and joy within
us. If in some hidden corner, in some out-of-the-way spot, we can clear away the clutter, and
shut out the noise and darkness, come be born again in us, and we shall kneel in perfect peace
with the wisest and humblest of people. Help us enter into this Christmas season with humility, with joy, and most of all with a desire to discover you anew! Yes Lord, give us a Christmas from
within, that we may share it from without, on all sides, all around us, wherever there is a need.
God help us, every one, to share the blessings of Jesus Christ with others, in whose name we
keep Christmas holy.

Fr. Luke A Veronis

Fr. Luke A Veronis

Fr. Luke Veronis is a priest of Saints Constantine and Helen Church in Webster, MA (www.schwebster.org) and the director of the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity at Hellenic College Holy Cross (www.missionsinstitute.org). He and his wife, Presbytera Faith, are the parents of four, including two college students, a college graduate, and a soon to be college student! His most recent book is “Sharing the Light: Meditations on the Good News of Jesus Christ” which can be found on Amazon.

The Transfiguration of the Secular World

The Transfiguration of the Secular World

Last month I was in Washington D.C., and I met up with a friend of mine from the Antiochian Village. We spent the day walking around the National Mall just enjoying the city and each other’s company. Afterwards, she said that it was, “a nice break from the secular world.”

BUT WAIT!

Did we not just spend the whole day at the center of the United States’ government; the very heart of the secular world? How could we have escaped the secular world by immersing ourselves in its very core?

Before I offer my answer to that question, let’s take a step back and define what we mean when we say the “secular world.” Secular refers to something that has no religious or spiritual basis; so the secular world, then, is the world where religion and spirituality do not exist. From this definition, our minds often draw a dichotomy between our church worlds and everything else. And it seems natural to do this, for in one world we very clearly see Christ in the center of the dome or in the chalice, but in the other world, all we see is endless work, frequent annoyances, and countless obligations. But is this dichotomy even real? Does there exist a world without religion and spirituality? A world where Christ doesn’t exist?

The world often appears dark, for there are many evils and troubles in it, but that does not mean Christ is not present. In fact, “It is only when in the darkness of this world we discern that Christ has already ‘filled all things with Himself’ that these things, whatever they may be, are revealed and given to us full of meaning and beauty” (Schmemann). As Father Alexander Schmemann reminds us in his book For the Life of the World, Christ is everywhere and in all things. ALL things! It may be difficult to see at times, but “A Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. And this joy transforms all his human plans and programs, decisions and actions, making all his mission the sacrament of the world’s return to Him who is the life of the world” (Schmemann).

There is only one world and Christ is The Life of it. There is no distinction, then, between the secular world and the religious world. We see the one world we are in and can choose to either secularize it by taking God out of it, or sanctify it by recognizing the world for what it truly is–God’s creation, and everyone in it for who they truly are–an image of Christ.

Now, this should be great news! If there is no distinction between worlds, and all is one in Christ, then that means we can escape the secular world everywhere and every time! If we train ourselves through the tools the Church gives us of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, then we can clean the lens of our souls and be with Christ no matter where we are. Even though we know it, we often forget that Christ is everywhere. This beautiful prayer of St. Patrick (yes, THE St. Patrick) reminds us of that simple reality:

“Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.”
– St Patrick, the Enlightener of Ireland

When we attend summer camps, retreats, and other Orthodox events there is no doubt that we feel closer to Christ and truly feel refreshed and away from the troubles of the secular world. My point today is that those feelings you have at those kinds of events can be felt anytime of year, even when you’re by yourself. How? By reminding yourself constantly that Christ is always with us, for “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20). Through this reminder, the Transfiguration of the secular world occurs and places like Washington D.C can become places of great warmth and love in Christ.

Elias Anderson

Elias Anderson

College Conference Midwest Student Leader

Elias is a Junior at Valparaiso University studying music and mechanical engineering. He loves leading his OCF chapter and coming up with ideas for College Conference Midwest. When he’s not working on schoolwork, he enjoys playing his trumpet or guitar, beating his friends in ping pong, and laughing unnecessarily hard at marginally funny things. You can contact him at ccmidweststudent@ocf.net.