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.

Cultivating a Heart for Service vs. A Heart of Consumerism

Cultivating a Heart for Service vs. A Heart of Consumerism

In the months of November and December we are inundated with messages of ‘giving thanks’
and ‘spreading Christmas cheer.’ While nice sentiments on the surface, they all point towards
one thing: consuming. To prepare for Christmas, we are told we need to start shopping as early
as October 1st to get the perfect gift. We are encouraged to wait in line on black Friday for that
one-time-only sale. On Thanksgiving, we are shown images of tables overflowing with food and
the latest decorations to give the day ‘that holiday feel.’ These messages come through the
medium of commercials, targeted Instagram advertisements, Hallmark movies, and signs on the
side of the highway. It’s easy to get caught up in the consumerist mentality of the holiday
season and feel like these are the markers we need to meet in order to participate in and
prepare for the joy of Christmas. I have certainly been guilty of that at points in my life!

And yet, when I look to the Church for how to prepare for Christmas, the great Feast of the
Incarnation of Christ, I hear very different messages. Instead of consuming and indulging, we
are called to abstain through fasting, to empty ourselves so that we may increase our prayer life,
and to give as we have received. And what have we received? LIFE and life abundantly! As we
heard in the Epistle this past Sunday, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with
which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together
with Christ…” Ephesians 2:4-5). It was out of love, that God created us and gave us His only
begotten Son so that we may learn to love as He loved. As Orthodox Christians, the season of
advent leads us to the humble beginnings of the birth of our Lord and Savior, whose mother
gave up her own will to allow the will of God to be made manifest.

In contrast to the messages of consumerism, when we inundate our hearts with the messages
the Church provides us during this season, the natural response becomes: how can I “praise the
Lord, exalting him evermore” (1st Canon of the Nativity) and consider more deeply what I can
do to offer that love back to God and my neighbor.

So what can we do to offer that love?

To me, it begins with cultivating a heart for service. And how do we do that? First and foremost,
we immerse ourselves in the life of the Church, the word of the Lord, and become intimately
familiar with the ways in which Christ served. Christ’s service on earth was radical acts of love
where he broke societal norms and boundaries to heal the wounds of others and enter into the
sufferings of those most ostracized. His life was a life of service and that is what we are called
to cultivate–a life of service that is rooted in the love of Christ.

This is not something that happens overnight. It happens in the small ways in which we
intentionally choose to switch our attention from ways we can consume to ways we can give out
of our abundance for the sake of the other and out of love for God. This season, consider: what
is one thing you could do, however small, to cultivate a heart for service?

If you are someone who is yearning to cultivate a heart for service and feels a desire to serve in
a radical way, I invite you to consider looking into the newest ministry of the Assembly of
Canonical Orthodox Bishops—Orthodox Volunteer Corps (OVC). The mission of OVC is to
ignite and equip Orthodox young adults to catalyze transformative service for the Church and
world. Through an immersive 10-month experience, young adults will live in solidarity with the
most vulnerable, learn to embody justice and mercy, and give of their head, hearts, and hands
in service. Corps Members will work four days a week at a local nonprofit, live in community with
other Orthodox young adults, participate in faith and leadership formation seminars, and
immerse themselves in the life of the Church. If you are between the ages of 21-29 and you feel
called to a life of service, we encourage you to begin that process by applying to OVC!
Applications are due February 15, 2022 and you can apply online here:
https://orthodoxvolunteercorps.org/

Kyra Limberakis

Kyra Limberakis

Director of Strategic Growth for CrossRoad Institute and Chair of the Orthodox Volunteer Corps Advisory Council

Kyra Limberakis received her bachelor’s degree from Villanova University and her Master of Theological Studies from the Boston College School of Theology
and Ministry where she focused her studies on youth and young adult ministry and the ministry of women in the church. Kyra’s experience in youth work spans 10+ years and includes serving as staff for her metropolis camp, Ionian Village, Orthodox Christian Fellowship, and CrossRoad—all programs that were part of her own faith formation. As a college student, she participated in OCF’s College Conference and Real Break programs and later on served as the Real Break Thessaloniki lay leader in 2018 and 2019. She will be a workshop speaker at this year’s College Conference East.

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.