Caterpillars with Free Will

Caterpillars with Free Will

When was the last time you saw a caterpillar in all of its colorful and bizarre glory? The first image in my head comes from the beloved children’s classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle. As the young reader is introduced to the finer points on counting food, a very important message also comes across: caterpillars are amazing, single-minded creatures. Their goal is one day to become butterflies.

The main difference between caterpillars and us, of course (beyond the obvious ones like molting), is freewill. Freewill. That means caterpillars will always progress towards their goal, and barring an external struggle like being eaten, they will succeed. They will become butterflies.

Now, imagine if caterpillars had free will. Imagine if they could just choose to stay caterpillars. What would the goal of their life be? Maybe it would just be about who eats the best leaves and who has the most effective looks for that goal. (Google them, some of their camouflage is amazing.)

Or worse yet, imagine if they didn’t even know they could become butterflies. What if their butterfly-ness was broken for millennia and finally a caterpillar savior came to restore them and show them the new way? How crazy would those few caterpillars look in their cocoon or their chrysalis? Can you imagine the trolling? “Look at that crazy one hanging upside down!” “Are you judging me for staying a caterpillar?” “Why are they limiting themselves when they should just be enjoying life?”

Sisters and brothers, you and I are caterpillars with free will! Christ is Risen from the grave, and humanity is healed. We know our path. Yet we are living in a fallen world which says that your only vocation is “you do you.” Eat the most leaves, have the best zip code, and pursue comfort while you can.

Thankfully, our Church surrounds us with the truth about butterflies.

Every icon shows us who we are called to be like. Christ shows us that we are His beloved children, called to pick up our cross and follow Him, called to lose our life and thus find it for Christ’s sake (maybe we do have molting in common), called to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy (Matt. 17:24,25; 1 Pet. 1:15). Our overarching vocation is to become saints through the sacrificial love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and our neighbor as ourselves.

When we emerge from the chrysalis of COVID-19, will we be further along in our transformation to holiness? Will our lives proclaim Christ’s transformative love to the world much as a chrysalis clears and shows a hint of the wings to come? We are caterpillars with free will. Let’s show by our good works that we are children of God, amazingly and single-mindedly working towards the transformation of all of creation, being transformed into His likeness. Be a caterpillar that chooses to become what we are meant to be. Become a butterfly.

Dr. Presvytera Athanasia Mellos Kostakis (DMin, LMSW, MDiv) is an enthusiastic OCF alumna who loves to encourage people in their relationship with God, their neighbor, themselves, and creation. When not talking with someone or devouring books like a biblical locust, you can find her and her two boys loving their neighbor through unsolicited baking. She, Fr. Peter, and their family are blessed to live and serve in Dallas.
Faith and Trust

Faith and Trust

Part of the “How Shall I Live?” Series…

Growing up, I loved loved loved math and science! Calculus was one of my favorite classes in high school… please don’t judge me. Anywho, I eventually attended Butler University and graduated from their School of Pharmacy. As I think about my youth, much of it was geared towards learning as much as I could about a particular subject and applying that knowledge.

I, probably like you, want to KNOW. Ambiguity is not my friend, and I appreciate certainty. I love black or white, and struggle with grey. 

And then there’s God. Does He exist? How do I know for sure?

Truth is, we can’t really know. For those of us who tend towards facts, knowledge, scientific proof, reasonable conclusiveness, and the like, this understanding can pose a challenging hurdle. 

When I say that I have faith or believe in God, what I’m really saying is that I trust in God, or I trust that God really exists. It cannot be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that God actually exists. Re-read that last sentence. There’s no black or white, just grey. Yet, even without 100% certainty, I can trust that God exists and live my life in such a way that reflects this trust.

If I believe/trust in God, then what? Is it just a mental exercise or a thought that I have? Certainly, there must be more, something next that would follow. Trusting in something or someone implies that we do or act in a manner that reflects this trust. Simply put, our choices and actions- that which we do- must be in alignment with our trust.

If I say that I believe, then I’ve got to step up to the plate. I can’t say and not do. I can’t tell myself or others, “I trust in God”, and not act accordingly. And it’s how we act, it’s what we do, that will be our subject matter moving forward. So, til next time… how will you live?

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek is the Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Fellowship. He is passionate about serving and mentoring young people, helping them explore their faith, and growing the ministry of OCF so that all college students have the opportunity to participate. Dn. Marek lives in the Nashville area with his wife and two children.
Good Grief

Good Grief

By His Grace Bishop JOHN, Diocese of Worcester and New England

Feeling a little anxious or blue these days with all the changes in our lives? Good grief! That is good grief.  What if I told you that is the healthiest response I can think of? The term “good grief” always makes me first think of Charlie Brown and brings a smile to my face. But that’s not how I’m using the term “good grief” today. Today I mean that any change in routine is experienced as a loss. If nothing more than a loss of the routine to even our old sense of normalcy. Social distancing, completing coursework over social media, working from home, not going to the gym, locked out of restaurants and stores are all new experiences for us. I’m amazed at how well we have adapted. It is a sign of our resiliency, nevertheless some of us despite well crafted coping behaviors are climbing the walls and want to break the law and play frisbee or something. Good grief or grieving for me is the healthy response that is a part of a process that leads us to problem solve, accept that which we can’t change, adapt to new situations and survive. More than survive, perhaps we can reframe what is happening as an opportunity to grow spiritually, psychologically, emotionally and perhaps even physiologically.  I’m not saying God has sent this to us, but we can choose to use the time well. Grieving is the normal response to loss, and every change in our lives necessarily involves a loss. Grief here is normal and healthy, but we don’t want to get stuck in it.

This is where I want to talk about the opportunities that we are presented. Locked in the house or isolated at work offers us a chance to quiet down. Once we allow ourselves some silence, we can embrace our situation and discover God who has been waiting for us inside all along. We can let Him in, talk to Him, pray, read scriptures and really take some time to listen. We can discover and understand the mystical worlds of me, of God, of God and me! Worlds that are as complex as the galaxies, and no farther away than where we are right now. 

Like Deacon Marek and OCF, many of our clergy and parish leadership are taking advantage of your time at home to reach out and connect. They are using the often-disparaged social media outlets to do holy work, live stream worship and make individual contacts. There are support groups, chat rooms, bible studies, community virtual worship, web sites, spiritual resources and many other efforts going on keeping the web very busy.  It may be a good use of time to pay attention to some of these messages, listen to God inside, and be a better Orthodox Christian for it. To recap, I’m suggesting that we unplug, visit God, and then plug in and visit God with all our Orthodox comrades who are fighting the good fight together. This is a real fight and we are all in it together.

His Grace Bishop JOHN (Abdalah)

His Grace Bishop JOHN (Abdalah)

Guest Contributor/Bishop

Bishop JOHN (Abdalah) holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in Pastoral Care from Pittsburgh Theological
School, a Master of Divinity from St. Vladimir’s Seminary, a Master’s equivalency certificate in Pastoral
Counseling from Pittsburgh Pastoral Institute, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from
Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. Bishop JOHN resides over the diocese of Worcester and New England for the Antiochian Archdiocese.
How Shall I Live?

How Shall I Live?

A priest posed this question during his sermon recently, “How shall I live?” I immediately thought to myself, “Wow, this is a really good question!”- and I decided to start a blog. How would I answer? Was I paying attention to how I was living, or simply going through the motions? Did I realize that my choices each day- how I spent my time, who I spent it with, what I ate, what I read or watched- might be indicative of what’s important to me?

I found myself thinking about what he asked for the rest of the day. What is my purpose? For whom or for what am I living my life? What do I value? His question really sparked a desire in me to consider how I was living each day.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of possible answers to the question, “How shall I live?” We all know some of the most common answers people might give- for God, for family, for sports, for friends, for entertainment, for power, for wealth, for material possessions, for others, for retirement, for pleasure, for __________.

My three-year old son loves trains. He builds a train track, reassembles it in different configurations, plays with the blue train then switches to the green one, makes train noises, and even just sits and stares at a small, wooden train as he slowly rolls it back and forth. He doesn’t stop to think about how he’s living his life. Not yet. He just likes trains. I have the capacity to think about how I spend my time though. You do too.

Consider it for a moment: How shall I live?

We all face moments in our lives when we wrestle with this question more earnestly, especially connected to faith, our belief in God, and our understanding of who Jesus Christ is and why it might matter. Frankly, it’s just a good question to think about.

In future blog posts, I’ll explore the question “How shall I live?” in a way that is relevant to our lives. I’ll address topics such as faith and God’s existence, the path that He lays out for us, forgiveness, repentance, our ego, feelings, thankfulness, and much  more. My hope is that you and I will both learn something along the way that might help us better answer the question, “How shall I live?”

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek is the Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Fellowship. He is passionate about serving and mentoring young people, helping them explore their faith, and growing the ministry of OCF so that all college students have the opportunity to participate. Dn. Marek lives in the Nashville area with his wife and two children.

Help! I’m Stuck Inside!

Help! I’m Stuck Inside!

By Evyenia Pyle

I have officially been cooped up in my house for a week, but that’s not the worst part: this was supposed to be my spring break, so not only am I stuck at home but my mom is here, too. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom; she’s really cool. However it’s been way too many days of just each other’s company. I have found myself hiding away in my room losing hope for the rest of the academic year while the rest of the world around me is in chaos. 

My mom has been reading a lot to pass the time and recently read a book called Time and Despondency. This title seems perfect for this occasion because not only do I have way too much time on my hands, but I am despondent. What is despondency? According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary, despondency is “being in extremely low spirits; loss of hope; depression.” Now, my despondency started with me being bored and sad because I am stuck inside and couldn’t go on vacation. But as I was listening to other people complain about how tired they were and how sad they were that things are getting cancelled and that they have to stay inside, it further saddened me that so many more people are also feeling a sense of despondency (even though it was also nice to know I wasn’t alone in my feelings). It wasn’t until recently when churches started closing their doors and services were getting cancelled that I realized the severity of this situation. The loss of church, especially during Lent, a time where I needed it most, was really hard for me. My sadness and tiredness have escalated. I am despondent. 

Then something happened; God knew what I needed to hear. I accidentally came across a quote from St. Barsanuphius of Optina, and it was exactly what I needed. “You need not be despondent. Let those be despondent who do not believe in God. For them sorrow is burdensome, of course, because besides earthly enjoyment they have nothing. But believers must not be despondent, for through sorrows they receive the right of sonship, without which is impossible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” It made me realize: yes, our current situation isn’t fun, and yes, I am so bored being cooped up in my house, but we have so much to look forward to. Because we believe in God, we know that even in this time of social distancing and quarantine we are loved by Him who is Himself Love. We know that even in our sufferings Christ won’t abandon us. We know that even when we feel “extremely low” someone is going to be there to catch us.

My dearest friends, now is not the time to be despondent. It is time to do things that benefit your soul and your health. Go on a walk, clean your room, call a friend, and pray. There are so many things we can do to be active during this time. Remember, there are people out there who have no hope. We must be the examples to show that Christ is our hope. We need to remind the people that God is our refuge, and He will keep us safe according to His will. As St. Barsanuphius said, through sorrows we can be in closer communion with Christ. 

I am challenging myself to be respondent and not despondent; hopeful and not hopeless. I hope you will join me in this challenge of responding to those around us and praying for the peace of the world. People are scared, but we know that Christ has so much joy to offer in the salvation we yearn for. So, let us respond in love and let us support one another, we will get through this together and with Christ. 

As always feel free to reach out to me anytime at publicationsstudent@ocf.net, especially now in this time of quarantine: I am quite bored and would love to chat. 

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student Leader

Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net .

Coronavirus: A Faith Perspective

Coronavirus: A Faith Perspective

Wash your hands! Buy Clorox wipes! Disinfect! Stay at home! Don’t touch! No hugs! Be safe! Virtual courses and classrooms! Fear, fear, fear! Overwhelmed by the onslaught of information? Not sure what to believe? Not sure what to do? This is serious stuff, all kidding aside…

How does all of this relate to our faith? It most certainly does, by the way.

As Christians, the central message of the gospel is to love our neighbor. No matter what the headline of the day is- Coronavirus, Spring Break, March Madness, St. Patrick’s Day, and the list goes on- nothing takes precedence over our effort, attitudes, care for, and love towards our neighbor.

Wait, you mean I shouldn’t worry about this virus? Let’s be clear, that is not the message being conveyed. We should all be mindful of the latest news about the virus and recommendations from trusted sources, and seek to follow their guidance. Yet, the reality of the matter for Christians is that no virus, nor anything else, should prevent us from actively loving our neighbor. What might this look like practically? 

For all of us, a first step in loving our neighbor includes taking the necessary precautionary measures to ensure that we are not exposed to or continuing the spread of the virus.

Perhaps it means that your classes are cancelled and you have free time. What are you going to do with that free time, or better stated, how will you serve your neighbor(s) with that extra free time? 

Do you know someone who is sick, or immunocompromised, or considered to be more “at-risk”? They likely wouldn’t mind a volunteer going to the grocery for them, running errands, even spending time with them since they likely are greatly reducing time spent in public spaces.

There are many who struggle with loneliness, and no one wants to feel alone. Chances are, with the fear and lifestyle modifications due to this virus, many of us are more likely to feel alone today and in the upcoming weeks, thus what can I do to share time and love with someone who might be struggling?

Prayer, like the one below, is important as well- for those who are sick, for sound discernment, for those who are traveling, and more. Let’s not skip the above though and just pray. Our faith is one of action, and no doubt that God is calling each of us every day to do something which is in service to someone else.

“O God, our help in time of need, look down and have mercy upon us and deliver from the troubles we face. Grant your divine helping grace, and endow us with patience and strength to endure this hardship with faith. I flee for relief and comfort, trusting in your infinite love and compassion, that in due time you will deliver us from this trouble, and turn our distress into comfort. Amen.”

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek Simon

Executive Director

Dn. Marek is the Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Fellowship. He is passionate about serving and mentoring young people, helping them explore their faith, and growing the ministry of OCF so that all college students have the opportunity to participate. Dn. Marek lives in the Nashville area with his wife and two children.

The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter

I recently saw the following headline and article tagged in a social media post: “Cincinnati church wipes out $46.5 million in medical debt for 45,000 families.” Perhaps more interesting to me was the accompanying post, which was simply “We could do this. But would we?”

Think about it. What should we be doing? And why aren’t we doing it?

This has implications in our personal lives and for the Church as a whole. Sure, it would be easy to simply ask the question, “Why doesn’t my church do something like this?” or “Why are we spending large amounts of money on impressive churches or impressive icons or impressive liturgical items?” And those are questions that our leaders must be willing to ask and answer. But for us, something else is at the heart of the matter.

Take a moment and think about the past day, week, even year. How much time, energy, and talent was spent with an inward focus looking for or achieving an inward result? Would I summarize my actions, what I actually do, as primarily self-fulfilling or self-emptying? And, if I call myself a Christian, are my actions aligned with what Christ taught and did?

I don’t know the specifics about this Cincinnati church and what they were able to do. It’s not for me to analyze or judge. I do know that there are people in need. Financial need, emotional need, medical need, hunger, alone, unloved, uncared for, and the list goes on. What strikes me is that I spend most of my time and days ensuring that the needs above are taken care of for myself. How much time will I spend ensuring that they’re taken care of for others?

How shall I live?

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek Simon

Executive Director

Dn. Marek is the Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Fellowship. He is passionate about serving and mentoring young people, helping them explore their faith, and growing the ministry of OCF so that all college students have the opportunity to participate. Dn. Marek lives in the Nashville area with his wife and two children.
The Lesson of Sadness

The Lesson of Sadness

In season 2 of NBC’s The Good Place, the character Michael (who is an immortal being) learns about the human concept of death. His sudden grasp of the concept throws him into an existential crisis, until the protagonist of the show, Eleanor Shellstrop, intervenes. “I don’t know if what I’m going to say is going to hurt or help, but screw it,” she says to him. “Do you know what’s really happening right now? You’re learning what it’s like to be human. All humans are aware of death. So, we’re all a little bit sad, all the time. That’s just the deal.”

“Sounds like a crappy deal,” Michael responds.

“Well yeah, it is. But we don’t get offered any other ones,” Eleanor continues. “And if you try to ignore your sadness, it just ends up leaking out of you anyway. I’ve been there. Everybody’s been there. So, don’t fight it.”

I’m an avid binger of The Good Place, and this particular moment in the show is most definitely the one that’s had the most impact on me. Just the simple concept of “we’re all a little bit sad, all the time” is such an accurate description of human nature. It’s true that our lives are filled with that perpetual sense of sadness and anxiety that stems from the notion of death, whether that be the fear of death, the presence of death, or the death of something we hold dear to our hearts. Life is filled with death: the death of loved ones, the death of specific times and eras, the death of childhood, of innocence, of love, and of relationships. Death can be seen in many different forms, and all of the various manifestations of death are difficult in their own unique way.

Currently, I’m dealing with the death of a specific time and era. I recently moved from Illinois to Colorado for college, which meant I had to leave behind my family, my friends, and my boyfriend. My boyfriend and I are now in a long-distance relationship, and one thing I’ve noticed throughout the week we’ve been apart is that his absence has settled into me in the form of a perpetual ache. I’m enjoying my new classes and my new environment, but that constant little ache is something that most likely won’t leave. This means that I need to learn how to integrate that ache into my life.

That idea of accepting sadness as embedded into daily human life isn’t just something talked about on The Good Place. It’s also an idea that’s very well-articulated in Orthodox Christianity, specifically, when it comes to depression. When I was depressed during my junior year, I wasn’t very open to Orthodox Christianity. I was more or less agnostic: constantly wrestling with religion and unable to produce or find answers to satisfy myself. Because of this, I was trying my hardest to find comfort and solace in what the secular world was providing for me. I followed advice pages on Instagram, I looked through self-help books and blogs, and I watched a myriad of YouTube videos. They were often very helpful, and provided me with a few techniques for combating negative thoughts and feelings that I still use today. However, there was one common theme among them all. They all seemed to point me towards superficial solutions, such as talking to friends or practicing self-care. An idea that was fairly common in the secular ideology was that sadness was bad and that we shouldn’t feel sad because we have the right to be happy. I was bombarded with the impression that I should constantly be doing things that would take away the sadness; I should be filling my life with things that made me feel warm, fuzzy, and happy. This brought me into a very toxic mindset where I would indignantly ask myself why on earth I couldn’t be happy if I, in fact, deserved happiness and where my sadness seemed isolating and ostracizing because I thought that I was “supposed to be happy.” I felt like the world was against me; It seemed like everything was unfair because I didn’t feel the way I wanted to feel.

Secular western culture is very focused on individualism. We see this in our career paths: children are more likely to leave their parents and family in order to follow their own personal vocation than they would be in other cultures or in past eras. We see this in our concepts of entertainment: we are more likely to focus on what we prefer to do in our free time rather than what our families want to do. This idea of individualism is also very evident through the secular view on depression. Basically, we are told that if we do not feel happy and fulfilled in our individual lives, there is something wrong. We are bogged down with the concept of personal fulfillment, and we are constantly trying to obtain it in any way we can. We spend time in toxic habits, such as chronic partying, drinking, or drug use because it makes us feel good which we believe is how we’re supposed to feel.

You may wonder where I’m going with this. When I was in my state of depression, I went to a Greek Orthodox monastery with my sister to see if it would make me feel better. During this time, I was having difficulty sitting in church because church services were something that made me anxious and upset, particularly because of the never-ending pressure I received from my church community to combat my depression with prayer along with the ongoing criticism I faced because of my perpetual religious doubt. So, while my sister attended Vespers, I wandered around the empty monastery until I found an interesting book in the bookstore. I don’t remember what it was called, but I know that the book was about the Orthodox perspective on depression. Though the Orthodox Church was, at the time, something I was really struggling with, I was searching for answers in any place I could get them. So, I began to read.

The book mentioned something that I had never heard before: humans are supposed to be sad. We are supposed to be a little bit sad, all the time, just like Eleanor Shellstrop said. And just like the quote in The Good Place, masked sadness will always find a way to leak out. The book was a little more in depth than The Good Place, however. It talked about how humans are, because of the fall, separated from God. And with that separation comes death, and with the realization of death comes the reality that we are meant to be a little bit sad all of the time. During that night of reading, I learned that the first step to conquering depression is to realize that, as humans, we aren’t supposed to be happy all the time. But at the same time, we aren’t supposed to let the reality of death bog us down. Instead, we are called to find a way to mingle that very human sadness with the divine joy of eternal life. We are supposed to learn how to be hopeful and filled with joy while simultaneously recognizing the ever-present ache that settles inside us. The idea that sadness shouldn’t be constantly ignored or shut down is a concept that I still hold very near and dear to my heart.

So how does this relate to long-distance relationships? Well, I haven’t been in a long distance relationship for long, but it’s my experience that the pain of separation shows up as a constant ache. It’s sort of a dull roar, if you will, of sadness that is manageable but always present. But I know that that kind of ache isn’t something that’s bad or unnatural. It isn’t something I’m supposed to get rid of. Rather, it’s a good lesson on what being human is really like. It’s just a part of the ache we all feel in being separated from (or, if you’ll allow me the comparison, in a long-distance relationship with) God. We are all aware of death in its many different forms. Because of this awareness, we are all a little bit sad, all the time. And maybe that’s not wrong. Maybe that’s not something we should suppress or ignore. Our sadness, no matter the source, is just a manifestation of our humanity. Humanity is bittersweet and ambiguous, and pain and sadness are realities that are hard to accept. But we are called to unify our sadness and our joy, and ignoring the sadness is like ignoring an aspect of our humanity. As Eleanor Shellstrop says: “I’ve been there. Everybody’s been there. So, don’t fight it.”

Alison Standish

Alison Standish

Guest Blog Contributor

My name is Alison Standish. I grew up in Aurora Illinois, but I am currently in my freshman year at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado. I am pursuing a major in Mass Communications, and I hope to eventually have a career where I can tell stories for a living. Some of my favorite things include: writing, reading, listening to music, longboarding, and spending as much time as I possibly can exploring the outdoors. 

The Joy of Discomfort and Pain

The Joy of Discomfort and Pain

by Evyenia Pyle

Yesterday was a typical day for me. I got up, went to class, and then went to the gym. The workout I did yesterday was a bit more intense than my normal workouts. I lifted/squatted more than normal and did more miles on the elliptical than I normally do. When I woke up this morning, I was in a lot of pain. When I went to the gym today, I had to take it a bit easier not only to recover but so that I didn’t put myself through more pain. I was texting my group of friends and told them that my body was sore, and while most of them also work out, one asked why I would put myself through that. Why didn’t I stop before I hit my limits? Why did I push through them? I tried to explain to my friend that if I push myself, what is hard now becomes easier, and I improve my fitness. 

She still didn’t understand. 

I used my experience doing cross country in high school to try and explain. Our races were three miles, and we ran at least six miles on our distance days once a week, because it is easier to quickly run three miles when you can moderately run six or more. We did speed workouts where we did mile repeats—a set of miles where you have to run the mile as fast as possible and you get around a 2-4 minute break in between each one (yes it is torture, no I do not recommend it), we did hill workouts, and we even lifted. This was so that we would become the best runners we could be. One could say that it worked: our team won state twice and were runner up the year we didn’t win. So why endure the pain of running and workouts? Not only did it make me a better runner, but it taught me endurance. Now I know working out isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It definitely wasn’t mine, but we are approaching something similar to a difficult workout. 

Lent is coming.

Lent? Already? It’s only February?! Start eating the meat and cheese out of your refrigerator because it will be here before we know it. As a kid, I always dreaded Lent. I didn’t understand why my friends at school could still eat meat but I couldn’t. My mom used to tell my brother and me that fasting built our spiritual muscles. That was not what we wanted to hear. Fasting was hard, and we didn’t want to do it. So why do we do it? Why do we experience the suffering and pain that comes with Lent?

Pain is something that is hard to understand. In the book A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, he compares pain to visiting the dentist. Going to the dentist isn’t fun, and sometimes it’s painful, but we do it so that we stay healthy. Imagine you’re in surgery to fix something. The doctor starts cutting, but it hurts. You tell him to stop. But what happens if the doctor stops? Not only are you open on a table exposed to germs that could cause infection and the intent of the surgery might not be carried out, but if you are left open on the table, you could bleed and die. If the doctor stops cutting and doesn’t complete the surgery, the procedure that was supposed to save your life will do the opposite. So, is that pain worth it?

Is it worth it to go to the dentist and experience discomfort to keep your health in check? Is it worth it to push yourself when exercising to become stronger and more fit? Is it worth it to go through surgery even though there is pain during and after if the surgery will save your life? I think so. What I am trying to portray is the idea that suffering isn’t fun. Pain isn’t something we want to go through. As we approach Great Lent, we are going to experience discomfort and suffering of some kind. Instead of thinking of it as the worst thing ever, like I did as a child, think of it as a way to grow. This is our chance to become spiritually healthy. To experience a small amount of discomfort to strengthen our relationship with God and our life in the Church.

I wish you all well during Lent. Remember that the pain is temporary. “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

As always please feel free to reach out at any time, I pray that our lent this year will bring joy and anticipation to the resurrection of Christ. 

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student Leader

Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net .
Why Apply?

Why Apply?

Why Apply by Andrew Gluntz

It seems weird that only a year ago, I was staring at my computer screen trying to write my SLB application. I was nervous, sure. I didn’t know if I could manage the work. I didn’t really know what I had to offer to the board, and I certainly couldn’t tell you three reasons why I was fit to be an RSL (hint: this will be important when you’re writing your app). I didn’t even have a solid professional reference. But what I did have was two years of amazing experiences in OCF. I had an incredibly supportive chapter that I had helped lead my sophomore year. I had been to two College Conferences and a retreat. I had friends I had made through OCF, random small group leaders who became my people (spoiler alert: OCF gives you friends). And lucky for me, I had two role models showing me exactly what serving the church on the SLB looked like.

 I’m sure anyone on the board could tell you all the great things about being a servant leader, the amazing community and support of other young, Orthodox leaders, and all the great times we have when we’re together. You’ve heard it. I’ve probably said it. You can most definitely hear it again if you ask (and you might not even have to). So today I’m going to tell you all the crummy things about being on the SLB.

  • Coordinating meetings across four time zones is a NIGHTMARE. Working with people who are just waking up when you’re having lunch is the most frustrating thing ever. Your free time never lines up. EST is stuck in my head forever.
  • Goodbyes suck. And when you’ve spent a week praying, working, and laughing alongside your best friends you met a week ago, they really suck.
  • Thanks to Google Drive and Slack, I have ANOTHER thing to procrastinate with when I really should be doing homework. I know, OCF work is better than homework, but unfortunately, I can’t put midterms on pause just because it’s for church (maybe I can get an exception?)
  • Let’s just say time zones exist for a reason. When you haven’t seen your friends in months and the closest you’ll ever be is a five-hour plane ride away, it’s heartbreaking when you realize SLI is eight months away.
If you’ve held on to this terrible monologue this long, I have a feeling you’ve got what it takes. Stamina is a given. Determination helps a lot too, especially when the odds of pulling off an event are seriously stacked against you. You must love OCF a lot if you were even mildly entertained by this, so that’s another step in the right direction. And if you’re reading this in the first place, you want to serve. You want to get involved, and you want to be a steward of your talents. You know that God is calling you to serve His Church, and you know OCF has impacted you in so many ways and you know you want to step up.

So, apply. Don’t apply because I told you to (but you should apply). Don’t apply because your friends are applying (but you should encourage your friends to apply). Don’t apply because you want to get cool t-shirts (but you should design some cool merch for us). Don’t even apply because it sounds like fun (but I can guarantee, it will be fun).

Don’t apply because you think you can afford to give yourself over to Christ’s calling in your life. Apply because you can’t afford not to. 

You get the drift.

Apply for the board.

Andrew Gluntz

Andrew Gluntz

Great Lakes Regional Student Leader

Andrew is the current student leader residing over the Great Lakes region, and is next year’s SLB Chairman. Andrew goes to THE Ohio State University and is a Chemical Engineering major. In his free time, Andrew enjoys cooking, swimming, and playing music. He is also ambidextrous! His favorite saint is  Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnika. If you have any questions for Andrew feel free to reach out to him at greatlakesstudent@ocf.net    

Elevator Pitch

Elevator Pitch

by Evyenia Pyle

A couple years ago in Sunday school, my mom, who was our teacher, challenged the class to give an elevator pitch about Orthodoxy. We were asked to come up with a 30-second pitch that might spark someone’s interest in the church.. I never thought too far into it. I think I used Psalm 135 in high school to say that if His mercy endures forever, that is a comfort and reassurance. It wasn’t until a recent OCF meeting at my school that I was asked a new question. “Why are you Orthodox?” My answer was that back in November of 2000 my parents allowed me to get dunked under water and that was that. The discussion leader didn’t think it was as funny as I did but nudged me further and said, “Okay, but why are you Orthodox today?” Why am I Orthodox today? I could give my elevator pitch, but at the time my elevator pitch didn’t make sense. I didn’t know what to say. 

I was sitting there thinking, there are few times I can be rendered speechless and this was one of them. Then I realized why I was Orthodox. “I hit rock bottom” I said. Everyone looked at me. “I had to hit rock bottom, to realize that I needed to choose Orthodoxy.” Now at the time I didn’t have the time to share what that meant. I have had a few days to reflect and I wanted to tell other OCF people about my experience. Rock bottom does not mean I was sitting in a corner crying rocking back and forth not knowing what to do, I mean I did that, but way before rock bottom. Rock bottom was when I realized there was nothing else that could fill my heart like God. I was trying to find anything to self-medicate and fill this hole in my heart. I was searching for a love that I couldn’t find surrounding myself with friends, strangers, family, and the only thing that could fill the hole was not on my mind. It was God. Everyone has their struggles in life, and while my specific struggles are beyond the scope of this post, I’d like to share my thought process with you.

I needed to start to pray, but I didn’t know where to start, but if I could just say the Jesus prayer, maybe that would help. So over and over again I said the Jesus prayer until the words started to sink in, and then it hit me. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner”. Have mercy on me the sinner. I went from that to the pre-communion prayer, “I believe O Lord and I confess that you are truly the Christ who did come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.” It was then that I thought about St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4, that we are the garbage of the world, but we are everything in the eyes of God. I looked in the mirror at that moment and said, “I am the garbage of the world, but I am everything in the eyes of God”. In that moment I felt myself begin to cry. As the sudden realization that as the first among sinners, the garbage of the world, and the sinner God still loved me to an extent I could never imagine. God still loved me, a broken and hurt soul, because in His eyes I am everything. I thought about John 3:17 where it says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Not only did that help me remember that God loves me, but that He doesn’t want to punish us, He wants to save and love us. Then I looked up at my icon wall and I saw my icon of the Good Shepherd. I have two versions of this icon, of course I have the one with Jesus holding the sheep, but then I have another one where Jesus is carrying a man. At that moment I knew that Christ would carry me while I was broken. 

  

The overwhelming emotion that I experienced of being loved by the One who is love is something indescribable. The distractions of social media and earthly cares that I used to hide my own brokenness never lasted. It was like putting a band-aid on during open heart surgery to stop the bleeding. It didn’t hold and it would never hold. The only thing that filled my heart and healed it was Christ. The only person who would always truly love me even at my worst was Christ. So, there I was, at rock bottom, in my room, waiting for an answer, to discover that I had it all along. If you asked me today what my elevator pitch is for Orthodoxy, I would tell you that it is the most healing medicine there is. The Church is the greatest hospital in which to realize that in my brokenness, Christ will still love me. Even if I was the garbage of the world, even though I was the sinner, and the first among sinners, God sees me as His perfect creation. How could I have forgotten something so fundamental to our faith. Why do I choose Orthodoxy? I choose Orthodoxy because it is through my faith in Christ that I can deal with whatever life throws at me. It is through the most healing hospital of Christ that I can be beautifully broken and put together by God. I choose Orthodoxy because I can be broken, and I can be the garbage of the world, but no matter what, I am everything in the eyes of God.
Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student Leader

Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net

Living Superheroes in the Church

Living Superheroes in the Church

By Elias Anderson

With the new Joker movie coming out and the countless other superhero movies that have been released over the past few years, it is clear that superheroes are a large part of our modern society. But who are the superheroes of Orthodoxy? The obvious response, and what you’re thinking right now, is of course the church fathers and other saints. And yes these holy people certainly are the foundation of the Church, and we would not know Christ the same way today without them. One thing all these people have in common, however, is that they’re mostly departed from this life. Though they certainly still live among us in the icons on our walls and in the relationships we can, and should, cultivate with them, they are not alive in the same way as those who still walk the Earth. This then raises the question, “who are the living superheroes of Orthodoxy?” 

One obvious answer to this question is, the deacons, priests and bishops that serve us. They, after all, have the most education and active spiritual lives, leading our churches in worship every week. However, they are only a small part of what holds up our Church today. The fact is we all have the power to become superheroes, so how can we as college students do that? 

Let’s start by looking at our clergy because their job is very much that of a superhero. Bishops, being the heads of the church and chief shepherds to all the churches and people under them, have a life full of travel. Never being in the same place for very long makes it challenging to develop good relationships with all their sheep. Hierarchs that don’t lose sight on what’s most important are the super bishops and are a prime example to us aspiring superheroes. 

Furthermore, many deacons, in addition to helping lead the church in worship every week, may also have a full time job in the secular world. Whether that job be teaching at a university or performing surgery at a hospital, living an active life in both the workplace and church is what makes deacons, super deacons and an example to us on how we can live our lives. It is by no means necessary for everyone to spend all of their time at church or doing religious things. Instead, we should dedicate our time appropriately between study, fellowship and faith.

Next, priests also serve multiple roles. First of all, being the priest at a parish is like being the CEO of a small company. Priests, especially in smaller parishes, have to do much of the administrative work of the church such as keeping track of stewardship, running meetings, making calendars, paying bills, and countless other tasks that have little to nothing to do with the theology they learned in seminary. Furthermore, they still have to be a good priest which entails much more than leading Liturgy on Sunday morning. In one day alone they could go from doing work at the office to having lunch with a college student to performing a funeral to a parish council meeting all before coming home to put the kids to bed or spend time with their wife. The balance of being a good husband, father and shepherd to their flock is a feat only a superhero could handle. This kind of dedication and well roundedness shows us how we can serve the church in many unique ways.

What would Batman be without Robin, Knight rider without KITT, or a priest without his wife? Now of course not all priests have wives and certainly are no less of a superhero because of it, but priests’ wives themselves are another kind of living superhero. Many of them feel they live under a mask of “the priest’s wife” when they’re at church and feel they’re under a lense where everything they do will be looked at with scrutiny. Also, they are often used as the mediator between parishioner and priest when the concern has nothing to do with them. Dealing with all of this extra pressure while still supporting their husband and children in all that they do is what makes a presbytera, khouria, matushka or simply “first name”, a super priest wife. Their example of unwavering, self-sacrificing support is one we should all strive to emulate in our dealings with our local parishes and school communities.

Superpowers aren’t limited to members of the clergy and their wives however. Just look around your parish and you’ll see that being a superhero is much more common than it may seem. During the week someone runs the church office and helps the priest with the administrative things listed above. Also, the youth director is hard at work planning and running activities for the kids to stay active in their faith. Using individual talents to serve others is something everyone can do to become a superhero.

On any given Sunday the acts of many different people are seen to be super. Starting first with the chanters who join the priest the night before for vespers/vigil and the morning of for orthros/matins. Their amazing, talented voices along with their commitment to the church is what make chanters, super chanters. Walking into the church we see the people that gave the car-less college student a ride to church holding the door open for the daughter who’s pushing her aging mother in a wheelchair. Entering the Narthex, they are greeted by the friendly ushers who sacrifice standing in the sanctuary for making sure everything runs smoothly from candles to communion to collections. Communion itself involves much more than just the clergy serving it. From the people that baked the prosphora (Holy Bread) the night before to the person that hand washed the red communion cloths to the altar boy that holds the antidoron (Holy Bread), communion takes the powers of many to happen. After liturgy, the Sunday school teachers teach the kids the faith while the adults enjoy a meal and fellowship that someone generously hosted. All of these people are superheroes in their own special ways and are the living pillars of Orthodoxy.

All of these examples should give us an idea of how we college students can use our God given powers to become superheroes. What are those powers? All of us have the gift of the Holy Spirit inside of us but how it is manifested in our talents and abilities is unique to each person. So discover what you are good at and do what you can do to serve the others around you. Whether that be helping out more with OCF rather than just attending and letting the leader do most of the work or continuing to help others find a way to church, do what you can do to be the superhero that you are.

 

Elias Anderson

Elias Anderson

Guest Author

Hi I’m Elias Anderson. I’m from Libertyville Illinois and grew up at Saints Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview, Illinois. I’m currently a freshman at Valparaiso University majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in music. I attended the CrossRoad summer institute in 2018 and this past summer I was a CIT at the Antiochian Village and participant at Project Mexico. When I’m not in class or doing homework, you can find me playing my trumpet in the jazz or concert band or guitar in my dorm room. I love everything Pan-Orthodox and am always down to converse about anything religion.

From Being Superhuman to Being Truly Human

From Being Superhuman to Being Truly Human

By Demetra Chiafos

 

This time of year, everyone starts talking about what they’re dressing up as for Halloween, and especially in the age of Marvel films we are currently living in, people want to dress up as a superhero—or superhuman, depending on your semantics. But when I think of a superhuman, I think of someone who is truly human. Someone who has found their way through all the layers of debris this world coats us with, excavating through to their true self the way that Christ created them. Christ is the definitive human, the example we are all called to live up to despite constantly falling short. We should be Christlike, we say so often without thinking. Saints are people who have given up their life for Christ and thus gained their life back, living out the true image that God created in them.

One of my favorites of these saints is St. Demetrios, my patron saint. St. Demetrios followed Christ to personal detriment and even unto death. When the emperor told St. Demetrios, a military leader, to go out and kill all Christians, St. Demetrios instead went out to preach the Gospel. The emperor called St. Demetrios before him and demanded to know what he believed in. “Only in Christ do I believe,” St. Demetrios said, very simply and very boldly.

When a series of events related to St. Demetrios occurred that undermined the pagans—including the emperor—the emperor was angry and ordered for St. Demetrios to be killed. St. Demetrios told his faithful servant, St. Lupus, to disperse all his earthly riches amongst the poor and told him to prepare to receive heavenly riches with him. An angel of the Lord appeared to St. Demetrios while he was praying in preparation for his martyrdom and told him not to be afraid. The emperor sent men to lance St. Demetrios, and after he was killed, St. Lupus began to heal people with his blood-soaked garments. (St. Lupus was also martyred.)

Can you imagine being like St. Demetrios? Going against the orders of an emperor? Publicly preaching the Gospel in a time and place where confessing Christ would get you killed—and then saying to the emperor’s face that all the rumors the emperor heard were true and you were a Christian? Calmly asking your servant to disperse your belongings and prepare to receive heavenly riches? Clearly, St. Demetrios reached a place where God’s grace had filled him so thoroughly that he was able to become superhuman—that is, truly his most human, becoming Christlike by God’s grace.

One may look at the story of St. Demetrios and say, “Well, that was then when the earth was still full of saints, but in modern times I can’t live like that.” To the contrary, my dears! As college students, there are many ways we can seek to emulate St. Demetrios and the fruits of the spirit that he was blessed with. Many times in college—and in life, if we’re being honest—we feel separated for our faith. Perhaps it’s not as black and white as St. Demetrios’ dilemma of either killing Christians or being killed for being a Christian. Perhaps it’s in other less dire ways.

Perhaps your roommate doesn’t understand why you pray in the morning and makes it awkward. Perhaps your classmate asks you about your cross or your prayer rope. Perhaps you cross yourself before you eat and someone at your table says, “Why do you do that?” Perhaps you’ve spoken up about an important issue on your campus, about which the Church has a currently unpopular teaching, and someone has acted aggressively toward you in response. Even in the face of a genuinely curious classmate who just wants to know more, we can become afraid.

Should I speak for Christ? What is this person going to say, do, or think in response? Is this dangerous for me? Am I really qualified to teach others about the faith? I’m going to mess it up. I’m going to say the wrong thing. I’m not ready for this.

In those moments, we are called to confess Christ, just as St. Demetrios did. We can take courage from his example. He died for Christ. We can certainly pray in the morning, tell our classmate what a prayer rope is, and tell the person eating with us that we cross ourselves to ask God to bless our food before a meal. The more that we do these little things and try to let Christ visibly live in us, the more courageous we will become.

More than these small forms of confessing Christ in the day-to-day, in college and our future jobs and any other scenario, we can also take courage from St. Demetrios’ reaction to physically dying to this world for Christ’s sake. When we see depressing and evil news, it is so tempting to despair. But St. Demetrios knew exactly what was up. The accounts of his life say that he joyfully awaited his suffering, because he knew what his reward in Heaven would be.

How many of us can say the same? Do we still have joy and thanksgiving, even in our times of suffering? I know I often don’t. Of course, it is healthy to be sad. Of course, we sometimes struggle. Of course, we are many times afraid. When something terrible happens, we should weep for our brethren and bear their suffering with them. However, it is important as Christians to keep our eyes on the prize, as St. Demetrios did, and remember the riches of heaven.

Let us all go forth and strive to confess Christ to the world as St. Demetrios did. Let us struggle to become our most human—or superhuman, if you prefer—selves. May St. Demetrios intercede for all of us that we may receive the fruits of the spirit and be brave in our spiritual warfare, as he was brave and gave his life for Christ.

Demetra Chiafos

Demetra Chiafos

Guest Author

My name is Demetra Chiafos and I am a senior at The Ohio State University! I am originally from Iowa. My dual degree is in dance and the Japanese language. This is my third year as a member of the student leadership board for the OSU OCF chapter. I love reading, writing, and traveling. I also play piano and sing in the choir at my school parish!

Prisoner #18376: God Will Not Abandon His People

Prisoner #18376: God Will Not Abandon His People

Hi everyone! Quick disclaimer, this blog post is a bit longer than normal, but there was so much that I wanted to put in that I couldn’t tell myself to stop. Below you will read an inspiring story of one of my favorite church heroes. So, sit back, relax, and I hope you enjoy this blog post!

 

By Evyenia Pyle

When I think of superheroes, I tend to think of super strength. While thinking about superheroes of the church I thought of what it meant to have super strength in the church. Sure, we could look at Sampson in the Old Testament and read about his hair, but that was a long time ago. What if I told you that a church superhero lived in the 20th century with super strength? To open things up I have a question: How much does it take to survive the harshest conditions? I can tell you plainly that in my walks to class last winter, although they were at most 15 minutes, felt like if I didn’t get inside right then and there, I would surely die. On average it was probably 20 degrees Fahrenheit. While I admit I am a bit of a wimp, it was brutal. Today I am going to tell you the story of a man who survived unimaginable conditions in -27 degree Fahrenheit weather, a man who must have had the kind of strength only God can give you, a man who is a superhero of the church, and someone who I keep very close to my heart. This man is Father Arseny.

To give some background information before I go into the story, I should probably tell you about the prison camps. These camps were spread across Russia in its period of communism under Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. They were labor camps where “enemies of the government” were sent to die/be worked to death. You aren’t supposed to survive these camps. The conditions were terrible. Hygiene was nonexistent, no heat, barely any food, and one pair of clothes. This is where most of our story will be taking place, as Fr. Arseny was in one of these prison camps.

In the book Father Arseny 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father, it opens the scene portraying a dark morning, with gusty winds, around -27 degrees Fahrenheit. We see the people in the prison camps get out of bed for role call. Those who didn’t make it out were either dead (due to the cold, sickness, and exhaustion) or on the verge of being dead. Fr. Arseny wasn’t old, but he certainly wasn’t young, but he was always on duty. He was sent to the camps with many other priests and religious figures at the time. Most priests had to be priests in secret because of the fact that they would most likely be arrested. A middle-aged man was out in negative 27-degree weather chopping wood. Now, axes weren’t allowed on the grounds of the camp, so Fr. Arseny split the half frozen and damp wood with a wooden wedge, and another log to function as a hammer. If he failed to do this, they would have no firewood and would surely die, but Fr. Arseny was vigilant. He said the Jesus prayer has he worked, he knew that if the wood wasn’t done on time he would be punished and beaten by not only the guards, but the prisoners too. So, this was Father Arseny’s daily life, I could write so many pages on how the conditions should have killed him, but I will spare you for now. Now that you have a feel for the daily routine, I’m going to tell you about Father Arseny made it out of the place he was brought to die.

So, for starters I talked about super strength. In the book it reads, “‘Have mercy on me a sinner. Help me. I place my trust in Thee, O Lord, and in you, O Mother of God. Do not abandon me, give me strength,’ prayed Father Arseny, almost falling from exhaustion as he carried bundle after bundle of logs to the stoves.” Imagine being so close to falling down but knowing that God has a hold of you. Father Arseny trusted God to keep him upright, but the story doesn’t end there. How could he get damp frozen wood to light, he did not want to be beaten, so he prayed the Jesus prayer and at the end he added, “Thy will be done!” hoping to find dry wood. He searched and searched but found nothing. An infamous criminal saw him and asked what he was doing. This criminal reportedly committed so many crimes he could not remember them all. He evoked fear from all of the other prisoners. Fr. Arseny was afraid but told him he needed some dry wood. The criminal told Father to go with him, Fr. Arseny thought it was a trick, but went to see what would happen. The criminal had a large pile of dry wood he kept for himself, but he offered it to Father Arseny, who was a bit reluctant thinking that he might have been set up for stealing. Father finally accepted and started taking some. The criminal told him to take more and more, and then he himself picked up the dry logs and they carried it back to the stoves together. A criminal, who brought fear and despair among people and prisoners, gave Fr. Arseny what he needed so he would not be beaten. This is one beautiful example of how God never left Fr. Arseny’s side in the camp.

Another thing Fr. Arseny was known for was giving parts of his daily bread ration to the sick. Imagine working in such cruel conditions, but with only a small amount of food to help other people. I am not sure I would have the strength to do that.

Every night, even when Father Arseny didn’t get any food, he would pray the Akathist to the Theotokos, St. Nicholas, and St. Arsenios and pray for his spiritual children. When he awoke the next morning he would feel rested and full of new strength almost as if he had eaten the night before.

Some nights Fr. Arseny would stay up late and take care of the sick. He would feed them and make them hot water. This meant he would usually not get any sleep. One of the sick patients Fr. Arseny knew well. In fact it was the exact man that sentenced him to the death camp (when the government was tired of an official they too went to the death camps). Not only did Fr. Arseny forgive him, but he thanked him for sentencing him to the camp instead of sentencing him to be shot. The man was amazed by how genuine Father Arseny was and became a friend to Father Arseny. How much strength would it take to forgive someone who sentenced you to a long terrible death? Super strength.

One day Fr. Arseny was watching the prisoners fight and kill one another, he went and pleaded with a criminal who respected him, to ask him to stop the fighting, to prevent more from dying. All the criminals would listen to this man because he was one of the worst, but the criminal laughed and told Fr. Arseny that “his God” would do it if he really cared about his people. Fr. Arseny frustrated with these words cried aloud in prayer, “In the name of God, I order you. Stop this!” and immediately Fr. Arseny retreated inside himself so deeply into to prayer that he did not see the fight stop, and the living fighters caring for one another’s wounds. The criminal told Father Arseny that he doubted his God, but he wouldn’t any longer, for he had witnessed a miracle. How amazingly strong Father Arseny had to be in Christ to stop people from killing each other with words! This is yet another example of the super strength he received from God.

Now, let’s talk about how Father Arseny got the flu, with a 104-degree fever, and was expected to die in two days. Everyone was sad and tried to help, until the dreadful day came. According to the witnesses Father Arseny was physically dead. Father Arseny later reported that it was God showing him that the people in the camp were twice the ascetic he was and that he had more work to do within himself. Then the mother of God spoke to him and sent him back, and Fr. Arseny woke up and arose as if nothing had happened.

Another account of Father Arseny’s super strength is from a prisoner who was certain he would die. He couldn’t keep his boots dry for fear of them being stolen or worse, being beaten for warming his boots with the criminals. He eventually got frostbite in his feet and could not get out of bed and work. One night, Father Arseny took the man’s boots, and the prisoner assumed they were being stolen, but he had no strength to fight back. When he awoke the next morning, he was greeted by Fr. Arseny with dry boots. Every night Father Arseny would take the boots and put them by the stove and stayed and kept watch over them so that they would not be stolen. Imagine the super strength it must have taken for him to barely sleep and still be able to function enough the next morning to do the hardest work anyone has ever had to do! That is super strength.

I could go on about Father Arseny all day, I love him, but I need to make sure this blog is readable. So, again, I want to highlight the amount of strength Father Arseny had to survive the prison camp. Not only did he survive the most brutal conditions that almost no one else survived, but he lived many years after being released. Through his prayers to God, his faith, and his unwavering trust Fr. Arseny was able to bear the intolerable. It is superheroes of our church like this that cause me to yearn for this spiritual strength that is indescribable by those who witness it. I pray that one day I will have the super strength Father Arseny had in the camp, and I pray that all of you will find Fr. Arseny’s story an inspiration, a remembrance that God will always help us.

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student Leader

Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net 

The Birth Giver of God: My Superhero

The Birth Giver of God: My Superhero

By Fr. Gregory Jensen

Every day, or at least most days, I read the life of one of the saints being commemorated. As we hear in the Divine Liturgy, this includes “forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and for every righteous spirit made perfect in faith, especially for our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary.”

Though I’ve taught about many saints and have a devotion to many more, it is probably the Mother of God who is most important to me. 

My relationship with the Mother of God began in college which was a hard time for me.

Like many undergraduates, it was the first time I was away from home. While new people and my classes were interesting, they were also challenging. To be honest, especially in my freshman year I wasn’t up to the challenge.

My grades were bad. I didn’t know how to study. And while I did very well in high school college meant sitting in classes with people who had done at least as well, and often better than I did. I simply didn’t understand that last year’s high school “A” was this year’s college “C.” 

Because of this, I felt bad about myself. Added to this, I was shy and pretty insecure in my new environment. As a result, I was terribly lonely and probably more than a little depressed.

One consolation I had was that the campus chapel was always open. I would frequently spend time there praying and thinking about my life.

On the left side of the chapel, there was a statue of the Virgin Mary (I attended a Catholic university, so our chapel had statues). I would often sit in front of the Mother of God and simply talk to her. And I would talk for hours.

As our conversation unfolded, as I read the Scriptures, studied more theology, and began to understand more about life, I came to appreciate the strength and faith it took for Mary to say yes to God.

Here was a girl who when she was younger than me agreed to carry the Son of God. Me? I was having trouble remembering to say grace before I ate or to get up in time for church on Sunday morning.

But Mary? Mary said yes to God and, in doing so, played a role in the salvation of the world!

But like me though, Mary sometimes struggled with following Jesus. St Luke tells us she was troubled by the angel’s greeting. She was often unsure about what her Son was doing. And, of course, she stood at the foot of His Cross and watched Him die for the life of the world.

She was able to do all this because “she pondering in her heart” the things she heard and saw. Mary was a woman of deep prayer.

Now as a priest, I will often tell people to look at the Mother of God as an example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Not only is she the first disciple of Jesus, but she is also the first evangelist.

I work to draw close to Him but He came to live in her.

I tell people about Jesus; Mary gave birth to Jesus. 

Like her Son, Mary did all this for our sake. And so, I tell people, go to the Mother of God not simply as an example of how to live the Christian life but for help in being a Christian.

Let me tell you a story about this last point. 

Years ago, a woman came to me about becoming Orthodox. Her husband REALLY, REALLY wanted to become Orthodox but she wasn’t sure. She was raised in a black Pentecostal church and so she had a lot of theological questions. She also had some concerns about joining a largely white community. She wondered, reasonably enough, if she and her biracial children would be accepted.

After we talked for a while, I pointed to the icon of the Mother of God on the iconostasis. I told the woman the story I just told you and suggested she talk to the Virgin Mary about her fears. “Talk to Mary like she was your mother.”

She hesitantly agreed and I went back to my office.

About 30 minutes or an hour later, she came into my office. I looked up and asked her what was on her mind. 

Looking straight at me and she said, “Mom says I should become Orthodox, it will be ok. Oh, and my new name is Monica, St Augustine’s mom.” Augustine is another of my favorite saints, but that’s a story for another day!

Feasts of the Mother of God are always a joy for me. When I serve them, I remember what it was to be a scared, 18 year old freshman far from home and at the start of a new life.

Throughout that life, which for all its bumps, bruises and set back has, thanks be to God turned out pretty good, the Mother of God has been there with me. Yes, sometimes I forgot she was there or didn’t appreciate her as I should have. But the Theotokos never forgot me.

May Christ our true God, through the prayers of His most holy Mother, bless, protect and keep us all as we follow Jesus as His disciples and witnesses on our college campus!

In Christ,

Fr Gregory Jensen

Fr. Gregory Jensen

Fr. Gregory Jensen

Guest Author and Priest in Madison, WI

Fr. Gregory Jensen, Ph.D. (Duquesne University) is a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-USA and a professor at St Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary where he teaches social ethics and young adult faith development. Currently, he is the priest of Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church. The parish is located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also the Spiritual Advisor for the OCF at the University of Wisconin-Madison

Saints and Superheroes

Saints and Superheroes

Happy Orthodox Awareness Month!

So October is Orthodox Awareness Month, and I thought, what better way to participate than to have the blog focus on the “superheroes” of the church that make this month possible. As Halloween is also approaching and kids are getting their superhero outfits, I thought it would be a fitting theme for October. We are going to hear about Holy People, both alive and dead, and I am super excited for what this month’s publications will bring!

I am going to kick us off with a personal favorite saint of mine, St Evyenia (or Eugenia) of Rome. Okay yes, she is my patron saint, but she is still super cool! So let’s dive in.

The Holy Martyr Evyenia was a Roman by birth. She lived in Alexandria, where her father Philip was sent by Emperor Commodus (180-192) to be Prefect of Egypt. Evyenia was noted for her beauty and good disposition. Many illustrious youths sought her hand, but she did not wish to marry anyone, for she was determined to preserve her virginity.

She became acquainted with the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, and yearned with all her soul to become a Christian, but kept this a secret from her parents. During that time, Christians were banished from Alexandria by the command of the emperor. Wishing to learn more about Christianity, she asked for permission to visit one of the family estates outside the city, supposedly to enjoy the countryside. She left with her two servants, Protus and Hyacinthus, dressed in men’s clothes. She and her companions were baptized at a monastery by Bishop Elias, who learned about Evyenia in a vision. He blessed her to pursue asceticism at the monastery disguised as the monk Eugene.

By her ascetic labors, St. Eugenia acquired the gift of healing. Once, a rich young woman named Melanthia turned to her for help. Seeing “Eugene,” this woman burned with an impure passion, and when she was spurned, she falsely accused the saint of attempted rape. St. Eugenia came to trial before the Prefect of Egypt (her father), and she was forced to reveal her secret. Her parents and brothers rejoiced to find the one for whom they had long grieved.

The entire family accepted holy Baptism. Philip, after being denounced by pagans, was dismissed from his post. However, the Christians of Alexandria chose him as their bishop. The new Prefect, fearing the wrath of the people, did not dare to execute Philip openly, but sent assassins to kill him. They inflicted wounds upon St. Philip while he was praying, from which he died three days later, so her dad was also a saint, how cool is that.

St. Evyenia traveled to Rome and continued with monastic life, bringing many young women to Christ. She, along with St. Claudia, built a wanderers’ hostel and aided the poor. After several peaceful years, Emperor Galienus (260-268) intensified the persecution against the Christians, and many of them found refuge with Sts. Claudia and Evyenia.

The pagans dragged Sts. Protus and Hyacinthus, her servants, into a temple to make them sacrifice to the idols, but just as they entered, the idol fell down and shattered. The holy Martyrs Protus and Hyacinthus were then beheaded. They also brought St. Eugenia to the temple by force, but she had not even entered it, when the pagan temple collapsed with its idol. They threw the holy martyr into the Tiber River with a stone about her neck, but the stone became untied and she remained unharmed. They then cast her into a pit, where she remained for ten days. During this time, the Savior Himself appeared to her and said that she would enter into the heavenly Kingdom on the day He was born. When this radiant Feast came, the executioner put her to death with a sword. After her death, St. Eugenia appeared to her mother to tell her the day of her own death (information taken from http://ww1.antiochian.org/node/17207 and stories from my mom).

Okay, so is she not one of the coolest people ever. I was thinking about how she had to stumble across the epistles of St. Paul, and I realized how fortunate I was to be able to actively read the bible without facing persecution. As one of the readers of the Epistle at my local church, I have access to people who lived with Christ! St. Evyenia didn’t have that same luxury. She had to run away to become acquainted with literature concerning Christ.

So, why is she my superhero and a superhero of the church? Well, for starters the fact that God delivered her from her persecutors is amazing. It reminds me of the Psalms we sing in vespers, “Deliver me from my persecutors for they are stronger than I”. Another reason she is a superhero of the church is that she was able to perform miraculous healings! I truly believe that she and St. Pelagia were kick starters for women monasticism because they both disguised themselves as monks. I recently went to the Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan (mother Gabriella is the Abbess). We were in church a lot, and I looked up during one of the services and right next to me was a huge icon of St. Evyenia, honestly bigger than I am. I realized that while she is one of my superheroes, she is also a superhero to nuns and monastics everywhere. After talking with mother Gabriella, I discovered that it is not rare to have an icon of her at a women’s monastery. Also, she was a princess. A costume most girls dress up for Halloween in, and something every little girl most likely wants to be.

My family celebrates the feast day of the patron saint, almost more than we celebrate birthdays, we have parties, no joke. The hard thing with St. Evyenia though is that she is celebrated December 24, so the parties usually have fasting food (a real tragedy because my brother gets lamb). But another reason she is my superhero is because I got presents on the 24 for my nameday and then presents on the 25 for Christmas!

 

As we delve into more saints the rest of the month I challenge you all to either learn more about your patron saints, and/or learn about different superheroes of the church!

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student Leader

Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net 

The Light Will Not Be Overcome!

The Light Will Not Be Overcome!

As September has officially come to a close, and October has started, I have been looking back at our blog contributions. I was very moved at the sight of blog posts written by other students who also wanted to serve the Orthodox Christian Fellowship. Throughout September we focused on the OCF theme, John 1:5, “And the light shines in the darkness, and then darkness did not overcome it.” After spending a month reflecting on our theme, and reading other student’s reflections I found the Epistle reading on the last Sunday of September to be a perfect compliment to our work so far this year. This past Sunday we heard the Epistle of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians. Paul writes, “Brethren, it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ…So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6-15).” It is fitting for Paul to write this, if we remember the story of his conversion to Christianity he is a physical example of Christ’s light overcoming darkness. 

In the Acts of the Apostles we read about a man named Saul who persecuted Christians, in fact it was on his way to persecute the Christians in Damascus that he was given, “a wake up call” so to speak. We read in Acts 9 that a bright light shone forth from the heavens and God said to Saul, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”. Through that bright light Saul found himself blind and journeyed to Damascus without eating or drinking. He was found by St. Annanias who was recently celebrated (the 1st of October), (we honestly couldn’t have planned this better if we tried) and Annanais helped Saul receive his sight again. It is said in Acts 9:18 that “immediately things like scales fell from his eyes”. Saul was then baptized and his name became Paul, who is one of the most widely recognized church fathers, in fact in the icon of Saints Peter and Paul we see them holding a church together. In my opinion this was a huge breakthrough in seeing that God can create light from the darkness. In all actuality it was the light of Christ that took Saul’s sight to show him where to find the truth. The fact of the matter is, Saul found the truth without seeing! What faith! I don’t know if I would have been able to have faith like that. Yet, a man who had once killed people for declaring a man as the Christ, was now himself proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah. The man who once hunted the people who followed Christ became the one who was being hunted. 

The man who was once blinded by the light is now writing to the people of Corinth that, Christ is the light who overcomes the darkness. Let’s go back to what he wrote. “Brethren, it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” So basically, the Light, aka God, through us is shining His light to give us more light so we can glorify God. That’s a lot of light. Okay what’s next, “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” Our Earthly bodies will one day fail, we are going to die, but with Christ’s light we will have eternal life. If Christ lives in us, we will never die, so while our Earthly bodies will, our spirit will not. So, through Christ’s not only will I be illumined, but I will live in life everlasting with God. How cool is that?! I mean, think about it. If I were hearing this I would definitely say, “sign me up!” It is like that flashlight infomercial I gave in an earlier blog (read it here https://www.ocf.net/turning-on-the-light/) I wrote about how we have flashlight that guides us in our lives. 

So, the other part of the epistle I will leave to your interpretation, but think about this: Paul’s conversion was that of light, when Jesus was baptized the heavens opened and the heavens house the sun which produces light, and on the feast of the Transfiguration we hear that when Moses came down from Mount Tabor his face was still glowing and shining because it had been in the presence of Christ’s light, and we even see that his face was too bright for some of the people with him! It all comes back to light. Imagine your face glowing because you were in such deep communion with God that His light shone so brightly that it hurt other people’s eyes. I think our goal should be to achieve that, but not just because it’s amazing, but because Christ causes the light to shine in the darkness. What if you are a beacon that guides people to Christ with your light? That sounds to me like the best job ever! So the point I’m trying to make is that even in the darkness Christ’s light will shine, whether it be through you, me, or it blinds someone because they didn’t listen to anyone else. Paul went from killing Christians and persecuting the church to being the one depicted in icons as holding up the church! Someone who made it their life’s mission to destroy the church, became one of the biggest protectors of the faith! If God’s light can shine so brightly that it brings the biggest persecutor to the faith, then maybe even a little bit of that light in us will cause us to bring multitudes as Sts Peter and Paul did. Christ’s light will never be overcome by the darkness. Don’t forget that. He has illumined us all with His divine grace. The Light of lights, the True God, and the giver of light, may He intercede for us as we go through college, a time with lots of darkness that needs to be overcome. 

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student Leader

Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this opportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net 

This Little Light of Mine

This Little Light of Mine

When I was younger, one of my favorite songs was“This Little Light of Mine”. The best part of the song, at least in my 4 year old opinion was when you sing, “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine!” To be honest I had no idea what a bushel was, but it was the only time my mom would ever let me enthusiastically scream the word “no”. This year, our OCF theme is John 1:5 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it (NKJV).” During the time of my absolute love for the song, I was also afraid of the dark, as I am sure most kids are. Monsters under the bed and in the closets can be the perfect means of traumatizing someone, especially a young kid. I used to sleep with a night light, I’ll admit it. I also could only fall asleep listening to music, usually byzantine chant. Somehow, with my small nightlight and byzantine chant playing in the background, the room didn’t seem as dark. 

Today, I no longer sleep with a nightlight, nor do I have to listen to music to fall asleep. I wouldn’t say I am afraid of the dark the way I was when I was a kid, but I am afraid of the darkness. Almost every Tuesday morning, a group from my OCF goes to the local church at 6 am for First Hour Prayers. The entire service is lit by candles. Usually only one for each of us, and the votives for the icons at the Iconostasis. Somehow, even in the dark, we see. It is one of the most beautiful services, and it is mainly dark. If my candle were to go out, I wouldn’t be able to see. That is just one candle. So thinking back to the song from earlier, if I were to hide my light, what effect would it have on the light of the world?

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Every little bit counts!”? Sometimes I think to myself, “does it really?” If I were to add a drop of water to a container every day would the water level rise? Probably, but why am I telling you this? Because even if your light doesn’t make up the entire candle that is the Orthodox Church, if you hide it under “a bushel” eventually it will make a change. If I were to extinguish my flame, the light will get just a little bit dimmer. Now think about the drastic new statistic that has recently come to light. 60% of teens and young adults are leaving the Christian Church. That’s over half! So if over half of the population is extinguishing their flame, how much harder will it be for people to see? We face a crisis today, some may even say it’s an epidemic. 70% of America’s teen and young adult population have been found to be depressed. Their flame is starting to struggle, but it is hard to find your way in the dark, so you have to fight to keep it lit. Maybe the person next to them has a strong flame, that might help them see a little bit. But still, they look for other ways to make the flame burn brighter, and while it may burn brighter for a short time, eventually it will die again. We fill our lives with distractions, things to make us feel better praying that the light becomes strong again. But there is only one way to make our flame strong, and it isn’t drugs, alcohol, or other risk behaviors that make us feel good. It’s God. The only person who can steady our flame is God. Now, there are resources to help, like OCF for example, but unless we allow God to strengthen our flame, it will dim. 

Earlier I talked about being afraid of the darkness. What is the darkness? As many people know I love C.S. Lewis, his books are as relatable now, as they were when he wrote them. In The Chronicles of Narnia:Prince Caspian, chapter 9, Lucy sees a bear, she is used to the animals in Narnia being friendly and talking, so she approaches the bear and tries talking to it. She gets very close to the bear and it still hasn’t “responded” the way she expected it to. Finally, the bear has enough and lunges at Lucy, but thankfully just in time, Peter kills the bear before it can hurt Lucy. Now you might wonder why I am telling you this, but it gives context to what Lucy is about to say that I think is super important. Lucy and Susan walk off to the side while the boys deal with the bear, she says, “Such a horrible idea has just come into my head…Wouldn’t it be dreadful if one day, in our world at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you would never know which were which.” We live in a world of darkness. What Lucy says here I think could be used to describe some of that darkness. To say  “what if men went dark on the inside and look normal on the outside; how would we know who was who?” We are bombarded everyday with darkness, sometimes we can see it, other times it is disguised as normal. Now think back to John 1:5, “…The darkness did not overcome [the light].” God can help steady our light, for He is the light and the giver of light, and all who believe in him will be illumined with the light of Christ. Think about Lucy in Narnia acknowledging that there was darkness she couldn’t see. We have a darkness that will be overcome with light of Christ. So, like in the song, scream “no” when asked if you should hide your light. Share Christ’s light that He has lit in you so that we can overcome the darkness with the One who is the Light.

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student

Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net 

Serve With Your Light

Serve With Your Light

In the Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare there is a quote that says, “How far that candle shines his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” Today’s post isn’t going to be, dare I say, typical. I want to talk about the opportunities we have to serve in OCF. Our theme this month, as has been reiterated over and over again, is John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Shakespeare got one thing right here, and maybe he wasn’t trying to use an Orthodox perspective, but we too believe that the world today has darkness, but the best way to keep the light shining, is to shine our own light. Now you may be thinking, “Um, I am in college, I don’t have the money/resources to do good deeds. Guess what!? OCF can give you everything you need in an easy two step process. 

First Step: Find an OCF YES Day or Retreat near you by clicking this link https://www.ocf.net/events/

Second Step: Register! (Don’t forget to show up! I guess there are three steps…)

What does a YES Day or Retreat have to do with service and good deeds?

YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) Days are an amazing one-day program endorsed by OCF and the offered by FOCUS North America (https://focusnorthamerica.org/) where students gather at a church and complete a service project of some kind. For example, last year I attended the Chicago YES Day. We went to a fast food restaurant and bought a ton of food and handed it out to people on the street and talked with them. It was really cool to hear people’s stories, even if they were just wanting a snack waiting for the bus. To see people be affected by what we did, was an incredible experience. I know I tend to forget how fortunate I am. I have my own car, and a roof over my head, and some people didn’t even have a jacket on a cold October day. People asked us where we were from, and we were given the opportunity to share our faith. Some people had heard of Orthodoxy, and some said they would even try to go to the local church that was hosting us! This truly lifted our spirits, and warmed my heart in places I didn’t know were getting cold. 

 

YES Day Chicago 2018

Last November at the Midwest Fall Retreat we made blankets. What does that have to do with good deeds? Well, we made tie blankets, with cute patterns, and sent them to a pregnancy resource center for babies. Blankets are important because babies being swaddled and wrapped in something gives them a sense of security. Pregnancy resource centers are organizations that help mothers who have difficult decisions to make when they become pregnant. Some mothers lose support from people they relied on and need help. They can go to the pregnancy resource center and receive assistance, baby food, diapers, and blankets. The blankets are important because for a mother that feels like they are losing control, the blanket isn’t just a sense of security for the baby anymore, but for the mom as well, who sees that her baby is being taken care of, and is comfortable.

Midwest Fall Retreat 2018

Last March at the Central Illinois District Retreat, the service event involved going to a place called Salt ‘n Light Ministry. This organization allows people to work and gain store credit to buy groceries, clothing, furniture, basically anything someone might need. We had students stocking fruits and vegetables, printing price tags, sorting clothes, and lots of other chores to help out. This ministry provides people with the dignity in knowing that they aren’t receiving handouts, but are reaping the fruits of their labor.

Central Illinois District Retreat 2019

So, with all those examples of things I did last year, I now am urging you to get involved, and to allow our light to shine as a “good deed shines in a weary world.” You never know when you could be the person to help someone learn to shine their own light. Sign up for an OCF event today! I promise you won’t regret it!

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student

Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net 

Overcoming Darkness in College

Overcoming Darkness in College

by Elias Anderson

Happy New Year! September marks the start of both the Ecclesiastical new year of the church and the new school year for colleges and universities across the country. For students, going back to school can be full of many emotions: excitement to see friends, nervousness about new classes, or maybe even fear of falling ill to the darkness surrounding college life. If we are not afraid of this, we should be — if not for ourselves then for our friends and peers. The statistics are out: young people are leaving the church when they get to college. I won’t delve into the why, but I do want to focus on the how. How do we prevent our brothers and sisters from cutting themselves off from Christ and His Church? The answer can be found in this year’s OCF theme which is to, “be a light in the darkness.” From the Gospel of John we know that, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). In order to defeat the darkness that surrounds college life, we must become a light like Christ who is the Light. 

I’ll continue with a little anecdote from my school’s activity fair. I was standing at our OCF booth and a kid stopped noticing our banner, and said, “Is that Orthodoxy? Like Orthodox Orthodoxy? I had no idea that existed in the Western Hemisphere!” This might make you chuckle a little, but it should also make us all realize how few people know about Orthodoxy in America. As a campus ministry, we should do our best to minister to the whole campus, not just the Orthodox kids, by inviting them to our events so that they too can learn about the Faith. By doing this, we are cultivating the light within us.

On a more individual note, it can oftentimes be harder to stand firm in the faith when we are the only Orthodox person in the room. These times, however, are the most important, as they happen constantly. What does this look like? When someone asks you about the icons on your wall or the prayer rope around your wrist or cross around your neck — give them the real answer. Tell them what it is and who you are. Not every instance needs to develop into a long, deep, conversation, but every instance does need to reveal some truth rather than result in a quick cop out. Furthermore, many times when someone asks about your prayer rope, maybe they are just breaking the ice to talk about the faith. 

Just as bringing two wavering candles together creates a bigger flame, so too, when we gather with other Orthodox Christians, will our spiritual light be bolstered. We have an opportunity every Sunday to restore and strengthen our faith so that we can continue to strengthen others’. Getting yourself to Divine Liturgy every Sunday is great, but making it as easy as possible for others to join you is even greater. Whether that be organizing a carpool or reaching out to friends you haven’t seen at church in awhile, doing everything in your power to physically keep them attending church will, in the long run, keep them in the Church.

So as the year goes on I encourage us all to keep cultivating the light within ourselves, so that it may emanate onto others, making them lights, too.

Elias Anderson

Elias Anderson

Guest Author

Hi I’m Elias Anderson. I’m from Libertyville Illinois and grew up at Saints Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview, Illinois. I’m currently a freshman at Valparaiso University majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in music. I attended the CrossRoad summer institute in 2018 and this past summer I was a CIT at the Antiochian Village and participant at Project Mexico. When I’m not in class or doing homework you can find me playing my trumpet in the jazz or concert band or guitar in my dorm room. I love everything Pan-Orthodox and am always down to converse about anything religion.