Make a “Small” Decision: Discover Where Christ Leads You

Make a “Small” Decision: Discover Where Christ Leads You

Have you ever made a seemingly small decision that changed your life? Maybe you sat next to someone new in class who became your best friend or maybe you spontaneously bought a book that influenced your career choice. Looking back, you probably did not give much thought about whether to choose that chair or turn that first page, but it is difficult to imagine your life if you had not done so. An opportunity felt inviting, so you simply stepped forward into it and Christ led the rest of the way.

For me, one of these decisions happened back in December 2019. Before this, I had only heard brief mention of Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF). The main event I had heard about was College Conference (CC) from a few camp friends. However, being from Kansas and knowing only a handful of people on the East coast, I was hesitant to attend. Thankfully, a friend who’d attended assured me people were welcoming and open to meeting new friends, so I decided to register my junior year of college.

I stepped foot in the Antiochian Village Conference Center (Where CC East is held) and was overwhelmed in the best way. First, the conference started out with the participants being blessed with myrrh from a miraculous myrrh-streaming icon. Then, the conference continued with workshops on topics like analyzing the Parable of the Good Samaritan and how we “are called to love our neighbor now, not when we are ‘good enough,’” how “there is no greater poverty than the poverty of love,” and how we should be wary of efficiency as this idea comes from viewing the world as a machine. I left each workshop with practical points and new perspectives to incorporate into my life. Additionally, being around hundreds of other Orthodox college students was incredible. I kept meeting amazing people up until the moment I got in the car to leave, and I could’ve talked for hours with each person! The three and a half retreat days went much too quickly, but I was ecstatic to find out there were more ways to get involved with OCF.

Through CC, I was encouraged to attend OCF’s Real Break program (Spring break and summer service and pilgrimage opportunities) and went abroad for the first time to Pro Vita Orphanage in Romania. Pro Vita is a place that embodies Christ’s teachings through welcoming and caring for anyone who needs assistance: orphaned children, people fleeing domestic violence, people with mental illness, and elderly people with nowhere to go. I wanted to connect other students with opportunities such as this, so I applied for OCF’s Student Leadership Board (SLB) as Real Break Student Leader for my final year of college.

With my plans to study abroad getting cancelled, school going online, and traditional Real Break trips being cancelled, this last year of college did not look like I had imagined. I was grateful to be healthy and have a safe place to live, but also, as many people did, I felt isolated. However, through the uncertainty, I knew I could count on OCF. I thrive off of connecting with other people, and OCF still made this possible. This community brightened up some lonely months through bringing me new mentors and friends with virtual programming of small groups, hybrid retreats, and prayer calls.

For example, while navigating the new pandemic situation with Real Break, I gained an invaluable mentor through working closely with Christina Andresen, Director of Ministries for OCF. Even though we don’t have weekly meetings anymore, I continue to be inspired by her faith, guidance, and hospitality. Additionally, I see my friendships from the SLB and other OCF events lasting a lifetime. These relationships are an answer to prayer. We can speak vulnerably about how to address struggles in our lives, share thought-provoking books, such as Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives and Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father, serve together at places like Camp Catanese, and even teach each other different, fun cultural dances.

Even after graduating, OCF continues to add blessings to my life. For instance, I am leading a weekly OCF small group this fall and am grateful to get to know wonderful women from across North America, from Alabama to Canada. Additionally, I am now interviewing for Physician Assistant school and am not sure where I will be living next year. Even with the uncertainty of waiting to hear back, I am confident there will be OCF connections wherever I end up geographically.

Fast forward almost two years from that seemingly small decision I made back in 2019, and I truly cannot imagine my life without the community, mentorship, and growth OCF has given me. My only regret is that I wish I could have discovered it earlier in college! If you are looking to enrich your faith and fellowship life in any way, join OCF! Go to your nearest retreat or conference. If that is not feasible, you are still in luck! Join small groups or call in to one of our zoom discussions. OCF is here to meet you wherever you are as you step forward on your path towards Christ. Make that “small” decision today.

Anna Spencer

Anna Spencer

Former Real Break Student Leader

Anna Spencer graduated from Kansas State University in May 2021 with her degree in Nutrition & Health and is currently interviewing for Physician Assistant schools. She loves learning about the world and the people around her through exploring new places, reading good books (she would love to hear your recommendations!), having conversations with strangers, and surprises. She is a Youth Equipped to Serve Leader, former OCF Real Break student leader, and has been a counselor for several different camps throughout the country. She loves new friends and OCF so email her if you want any extra encouragement to get involved at annaspencer517@gmail.com

Lighting the Beacons: Letting Our Light Shine Before Others

Lighting the Beacons: Letting Our Light Shine Before Others

Again, Jesus spoke to them saying, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Picture yourself standing inside church; it is just before midnight on Holy Saturday, and it is completely dark as you stand in deafening silence with an unlit candle in your hand. After waiting a few minutes, the priest chants within the darkness: “Come receive the light…” Shortly later, the altar servers bring the light from the priest to you and the rest of the congregation. Once your own candle is aflame, you turn and pass the light to the person standing nearest to you and then he passes it on to the next until finally the entire church is illuminated solely by the glow of every parishioner’s candle.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Christ is the light of the world and yet he also says that we are to be the light of the world. This image of sharing the light on Holy Saturday reminds us not only of the importance of carrying the light of Christ within ourselves, but what it means to share the light which we first received from Him with those around us. The Resurrection of Christ is for all of humanity to partake in and so we must share the joy of the light of Christ with all our brethren. While it is easy to share the light with those who love us, we often find it more difficult to share it with those who make it difficult for us to love them.

“It seems that we do not understand one thing: it is not good when we return the love of those who love us (and) yet hate those who hate us. We are not on the right path if we do this. We are the sons of light and love, the sons of God, his children. As such we must have His qualities and His attributes of love, peace, and kindness towards all.” – Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

The presence of darkness necessitates light; it is in sharing the light of Christ that we open ourselves and the rest of the world up for transformation. We are called to reflect the light of His divine love and we are expected to share that light with everyone in our life by giving again what we have first received from Our Father. Sharing the light can be as simple as sharing a meal with our family, a friend, or a stranger because we are showing them hospitality and inviting them into our hearts. The absence of light becomes an invitation for us to become more Christlike by choosing goodness over ease. When we manifest the fruit of the Holy Spirit towards our brothers and sisters in Christ we cultivate our relationship with Him and tend to the garden of our hearts.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23)

Rather than be content to live in it, we must learn to see darkness as an opportunity for transformation. The world is full of many dark places, but it is within darkness that we are given new occasions to be bearers of the light. We are given these opportunities to not be merely small flames but beacons signaling to others that the love of Christ is everywhere present and filling all things! If we make the conscious decision to keep the fire of Christ alive within us and to share it with others, we will come to find that darkness is merely a passing thing, and more importantly – the light of Christ is eternal. Glory to Thee who hath shown forth the light!

Magdalena Hudson

Magdalena Hudson

Publications Student Leader

Magdalena is a nursing student at Lakeshore Technical College. In her free time she loves to read, draw, listen to music, be outdoors, and spend quality time with loved ones. She enjoys all the comforts of home, as well as a good adventure now and then. If you would like to contribute to the blog, please reach out to Magdalena at publicationsstudent@ocf.net

Holy Priorities: How Living as Children of God First Empowers Us in Everything Else

Holy Priorities: How Living as Children of God First Empowers Us in Everything Else

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Take a moment to mentally travel to outer space. You’re in a telescope powerful enough to see people down on the surface. You decide to zoom in on yourself and see what it looks like to observe your day from an outside perspective. What would the video feed from the telescope look like?

The day of an average student probably includes, at some point or another: Waking up in the morning, going to bed in the evening, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, attending class, hanging out with friends, going to club meetings, maybe playing sports, studying around exam times, and going on the occasional weekend trip. Options for activities abound, and the variety is endless. We live complex lives every day from sunup to sundown.

Since our lives are so complex, is there anything that we all have in common? Yes, and it’s quite simple: we act on our priorities. Each person starts their day with a new sixteen hours of attention and time; we direct these towards what we consider important enough to deserve them. Our daily cycles of behavior, both habitual and novel, reflect our inner beliefs about what matters, and we cannot help but act on these beliefs.

Priorities are a hot topic in business and always connect to questions of time management, productivity, and relationship development. These are important topics, but in this brief post, let’s go deeper into this question. Priorities aren’t our to-do lists at their core, they are philosophical and belief driven. They depend on our answer to the question “What does it mean to be a human being?” Since whatever we believe a human being should do all day, that’s what we do, consciously or unconsciously. Let’s explore the answer to that question and consider how our beliefs – and therefore our priorities – impact our lives as Orthodox Christians, especially Orthodox Christian college students.

We as Orthodox Christians have a wonderful answer to the question of what it means to be a human being. We are the children of God, made in His image and likeness, the crown of creation. God Himself became one of us. The outer space exercise was not designed to make you feel inconsequential or small. Rather, its purpose was to show you the unique opportunity we have of living on this Earth and the importance of living it as a true human being.

Knowing that a human being is a child of God begs the question: What does it mean to live as a child of God? What does a child of God do all day? We are all unique, so the answer won’t look exactly the same for anyone. However, certain things are for all of God’s people, and Holy Scripture points us towards what these are.

Jesus Himself teaches us how to live as a child of God. He teaches many things, but I want to call your attention to two specific aspects.

Firstly, The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5 begins with the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”), which we hear at every Sunday Liturgy at the Third Antiphon. The beatitudes make clear that much of being a child of God has to do with our daily spiritual attitude. Christians are called to know their dependence on God, to live meekly, cultivating the fruits of the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5:22-23) such as gentleness, patience, and self-control. We recognize that God is large and that we are small – but we take refuge in this and use this knowledge to trust even more that God is arranging all things for our good.

How do we acquire this knowledge of God and our dependence on Him, so that our spiritual attitudes become those that befit children of God? If we get to know Him, then we can’t help but begin to acquire the humility and meekness that God asks of us. As children of God, we should consider our relationship with God, our worship of Him, and living our lives according to His spiritual principles and commandments to be our most important endeavor as human beings. This is normal and natural for us—it’s what we were meant to do. It’s not easy, but the more we struggle to act in accordance with our true nature, the more grace God will give us to accomplish it.

Secondly, Jesus calls us to live our lives according to our context. Consider Zacchaeus, the tax collector. He, like many other tax collectors, partook in fraud and theft, taking advantage of people under the guise of a public servant. After Zacchaeus met Christ, however, he repented and became generous; Christ even said, “This day has salvation come into [Zacchaeus’] house” (Luke 19:9). But Zacchaeus remained a tax collector for many years – only this time, he lived as a righteous tax collector and carried out his work in the manner befitting a child of God. Herein lies the key for us to discovering our priorities and living out our calling.

As college students, we should take heart. If we have made it this far, it is clearly part of God’s will for us to participate in this special time of learning and discovery. Now we must welcome God into our lifestyle.

What do we do, then, practically speaking? With the guidance of a spiritual father, we make morning and evening prayer into our source of strength, beginning and ending our days with the Lord. We build the reading of the Scriptures into our prayer routines. We approach our studies with the mindset that God is the Source of all knowledge and that we are blessed to study His creation and increase our knowledge of it. We “sprinkle” our days with the sign of the Cross and the Jesus prayer to remain close to God. We tithe. We attend Church on Sundays and, if we are able, at times during the week. Most of all, we strive to radiate kindness and to love every soul that we encounter: our friends, our classmates, our professors, our families, and strangers. These practices shape our spiritual attitude and prepare our souls for whatever God may send us by means of our experience in college. Second, King Solomon instructs us “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with [all] your might” (Eccl. 9:10). Build excellence into your study habits, your organization involvements, and your relationships, one step at a time. God will help you to do it all; all that must happen is that you must begin!

Christ’s teaching to seek first the Kingdom of God comes with a promise: “that all these things (everything needed for life on Earth) shall be added to you.” Therefore, we can trust that if we put God first, we will finish that homework assignment, we will find great joy in that club, we will develop great relationships with friends and mentors. God empowers us to live lives that are pleasing to Him and that give Him glory, both in ways that we can see and in ways that only He knows.

With the power of God, our path on the Earth becomes imbued with life. We can go about our days in joy and peace, knowing that God is working all things for our good. If we put Him first, we can do all things – and we will receive the grace of eternal life. Let us run forth, then, to glorify our God in all that we do.

Evan Roussey

Evan Roussey

Real Break Student Leader

Evan is a senior at the University of North Texas studying Communication. He loves being a part of OCF, and also enjoys jazz trombone, chess, Jiu Jitsu, and planners. When he’s not at UNT, you’ll find him in the great outdoors or catching a good vibe with his best friends.

Ebb and Flow: On Mental Health and Coping With Ambiguity

Ebb and Flow: On Mental Health and Coping With Ambiguity

I’ll begin by spilling my heart.  I have the deepest respect for you all who are OCF students and I would do all I could for you.

So, what is mental health and what is ambiguity?  Basically, mental health is an ability to cope with stress, connect with others, and have a positive outlook on life. As Orthodox Christians we would say “having peace and joy in Christ.”

Mental health is, of course, variable and it ebbs & flows with different circumstances.  

Ambiguity is simply an awareness of “I know that I don’t know.”  For college students, ambiguity can be a regular state of mind.  For instance, “I don’t know where I will be in five years,” or “I don’t know how many of my friends will remain friends once we graduate,” or “What does life (Christ) want me to do as my vocation.”

Mmmmm.  With each class and each relationship our mind can take on new colors, not unlike the veritable kaleidoscope.  For lack of better language, I’ll call that “normal” for a college student.  The question is, “So what,” or “What can I do about it.”

I would say that, fundamentally, we try to absorb and accept an attitude of surrender to Jesus Christ.  Doesn’t that sound impossible?  Not really.  An attitude of surrender is a gift from Christ that grows slowly, up and down as we age.  The strategy is this:

  • A. I don’t know.
  • B. Christ knows.
  • C. I try to trust Him.

We certainly don’t know the future.  We never say to someone, “Things will get better.”  The person we are talking with might die later that day.  We are not God.  We can’t predict the future and we don’t have access to the details of exactly what is coming.  That is a great gift from God, to help us cope in the present moment with less concern.

But, there is a ‘control freak’ in each of us.  We are tempted to over-control our circumstances and the circumstances of others.  Our control-freak tendencies can lessen as we learn to trust in the guidance of Christ.  I would add that control-freak tendencies come from fear and our fears can lessen as we learn to live more with Christ.  It is much easier to detect control-freak tendencies in others than in ourselves.  Lord, have mercy.  And, He does.

Truthfully, we don’t even have full access to the details of the present moment.  We are limited in our ability to be aware of our pre-conscious and surely, our unconscious.  That’s what human existence is like for all of us.  All humans are children of Eve and Adam.  And, we don’t have much knowledge of the motivations and deliberations of others, even those close to us.  I know an old couple, married happily for 65 years, who walk hand in hand. The wife said, “I know my husband like the back of my hand but I will never fully understand him.” That is real life with mega ambiguity. We don’t know much about the full back-story of anyone so we try to cut them slack in our minds.  My own personal attitude is to try to say, “Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have… even Biden and Trump.”  Of course, I have no idea if they are for not, but I am more stabilized and joy-filled if I can maintain such an outlook.

I’ll conclude by saying that I have much ambiguity in my life and so do you.  We walk together and we do the best we can with what we have.  Father Hopko often said, “Stay close to Jesus.”  Together, let’s try to do just that.

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.

Managing Anxiety: How to Find Peace

Managing Anxiety: How to Find Peace

Discussing the current state of the world within our social circles often fills us with fear, doubt, and anxiety over what lies ahead. Beginning a new school year and being forced to navigate even more uncertainty can be overwhelming – perhaps even paralyzing. It is so easy to become weighed down with anxiety over the future because we will always fear what we don’t know. Fear is our natural reaction to unknowns, and it is to be expected. A certain degree of fear is needed to push us to succeed, but an overabundance will prevent us from maintaining a spirit of peace by causing us to emotionally disconnect from others in an attempt to preserve our sense of control. Building a wall of emotional detachment is a temporary fix to satisfy our need to be in control of our own life, but it is not a sustainable solution for preserving our spiritual and emotional health in the long run.

Peering out from behind our wall, we hope to have the outward appearance of being in control and unafraid of what lies ahead of us, but we must accept that we cannot always be in control of everything. Strength is not in the height or depth of our wall; strength is being able to face what is out of our control with grace by trusting in God’s love and mercy for us. There are plenty of things we wish did not happen in our lifetime and even more we wish we could change, but we cannot allow our fear to dominate our life and dictate our actions as we continue to move forward. We risk a disconnection from love if we live for ourselves within an enclosed, safety wall. To love Christ and our neighbor is to know peace; cultivating a spirit of peace is a sustainable means of controlling one’s anxiety. It follows then that we must first find Christ if we are to find love; finding Christ shouldn’t be too difficult if one pays attention to their surroundings because He is “everywhere present and filing all things.” He is present in the company of loved ones, the glance of a stranger, the laughter of a child, and the warm embrace of a friend. He is with us in the liturgy and church services. He is there in the ache of a broken heart, the salt of tears, and the hours leading up to homework deadlines. He is in the fall of rain, the bright light of the sun, the touch of grass, and the scent of flowers. He is there in silence and the rhythm of song. We must allow this realization of His eternal presence to fill us with such overwhelming love that all else becomes insignificant.

“When you find Christ, you are satisfied, you desire nothing else, you find peace. You become a different person. You live everywhere, wherever Christ is. You live in the stars, in infinity, in heaven with the angels, with the saints, on earth with people, with plants, with animals, with everyone and everything. When there is love for Christ, loneliness disappears. You are peaceable, joyous, full. Neither melancholy, nor illness, nor pressure, nor anxiety, nor depression nor hell.” – St. Porphyrios.

It is a challenge to love, but the fulfillment is unmatched. If we open ourselves up to it, the love of Christ will surpass our earthly cares and allow us to experience peace in a world where we are continually surrounded by turmoil. While we might feel a mixture of emotions as we start this new school year, let us not forget God has the power to transcend all our present circumstances. Through His love we will find the strength necessary to meet each coming day with peace. One can always expect to struggle, to endure pain, and to doubt; but we must always remember that we will always have His love. We will find both wholeness and healing by opening the floodgates of our heart to Christ’s all-consuming love; once we do that, we will find that there can be no room for anything else. Radiate love, and peace will come about naturally.

“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.” (2 John 1:3)

Magdalena Hudson

Magdalena Hudson

Publications Student Leader

Magdalena is a nursing student at Lakeshore Technical College. In her free time she loves to read, draw, listen to music, be outdoors, and spend quality time with loved ones. She enjoys all the comforts of home, as well as a good adventure now and then. If you would like to contribute to the blog, please reach out to Magdalena at publicationsstudent@ocf.net