There’s A Saint For That : St. Silouan the Athonite

There’s A Saint For That : St. Silouan the Athonite

St. Silouan the Athonite

Icon by the hand of Janet Jaime

How can St. Silouan intercede for us?

As we can see in his simple yet complicated life, there may be no saint better acquainted with the depths of despair and despondency than St. Silouan. Although our temptation to hopelessness may look differently than Silouan’s, he still understands that same feeling. He was a young man when he first began battling despondency in full force. He is right here with us, and he shows us how to keep getting back up and resolutely place our trust in Christ. When we are perplexed, frustrated, apathetic or catch ourselves thinking or feeling some pretty negative things, we can turn to him as our friend and ask for his help. He in turn can help guide us to Christ and see His light even in the blackest hell. He can lead us by his prayers to the peace and love we find in our Savior Jesus Christ. As his spiritual son, St. Sophrony of Essex, says, “Stand at the brink of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little, and have a cup of tea.”

The Life of St. Silouan (1866-1938)

St. Silouan was a Russian peasant who traveled to Mt Athos and became a monk in the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon. He lived so simply, humbly, and quietly that he might have been forgotten had St. Sophrony (Sakharov) not become his spiritual child and, after the saint’s repose, written a book describing his life and teaching, St. Silouan the Athonite, one of the great spiritual books of our time. It was through St. Sophrony’s efforts that St. Silouan was glorified as a saint.

St. Silouan grew up with pious parents but was himself fairly “wordly” for a long while. When he was still a young man, he almost accidentally killed a man with a single punch. He was immediately remorseful and devoted himself with zeal to repentance. However, this newfound fervor only lasted a few months! He returned to his old ways until he had a horrible dream that demonstrated just how displeasing his way of life was to the Mother of God. Grieved in his soul, he devoted himself again, and this time, through the prayers of St. John of Kronstadt, made his way to the Holy Mountain with a fire burning in his heart, so deep was his repentance.

In the beginning, he made many blunders in the spiritual life but his desire for Christ was stronger than his failures. A torrent of temptations that would have led him to give up this life of prayer assailed him but still he persisted. For six months the attacks never lessened. His spirit failed, he began to lose heart and the horror of hopelessness surrounded him. He thought to himself, “God will not hear me!” He felt utterly forsaken, his soul plunged into the darkness of despondency. Sick at heart, he remained in this black hell for about an hour. That very same day, the Lord appeared to the young novice whose whole being was filled with the fire of the grace of the Holy Spirit. The gentle gaze of the joyous, all-forgiving, boundlessly-loving Christ drew Silouan’s entire being to Himself.

The period of time after this, all was beautiful and lovely. He had within himself a sense of peace, reconciliation with God, and strength to continue on. However, this gradually faded, and he was perplexed and feared losing what he had. He sought counsel from an elder concerning his experiences and worries and received good advice on prayer, but amazed at the spiritual depth of the novice, the man mistakenly praised him as well. Silouan soon found himself struggling with thoughts of vainglory among other things. He fell into despair, despite his perpetual prayer. Having known the peace and grace of the Holy Spirit, his soul grieved, begged, prayed, and wept for the return of that Light. Weary years of alternating grace and withdrawal of grace now set it.

St. Silouan was called to serve as steward to the monastery. Though he now supervised some two hundred men, he only increased his prayers, withdrawing to his cell to pray with tears for each individual worker under his care. For more than fifteen years, he struggled with demonic attacks during prayer until he was almost in despair. At this point Christ spoke to him in a vision, saying “The proud always suffer from demons.” Silouan answered, “Lord, teach me what I must do so that my soul may become humble.” To this he received the reply, “Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.” St. Silouan made this his discipline in every moment of his life with joy and thanksgiving and was granted the grace of pure prayer. He said that if he ever let his mind wander from the fire of hell, disruptive thoughts would once again plague him. In his humiliation, he was filled with a pervasive love for all — he said many times that the final criterion of true Christian faith is unfeigned love for enemies, and that “to pray for others is to shed blood.”

Adapted from: http://www.abbamoses.com/months/september.html and St. Silouan the Athonite by St. Sophrony of Essex

 

Read more about his life here: https://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2012/09/st-silouan-athonite-1938.html

And even more in this book by St. Sophrony of Essex: https://svspress.com/saint-silouan-the-athonite-new-edition/

Learn his Troparion

By prayer thou didst receive Christ as thy teacher in the way of humility,
and the Spirit bore witness to salvation in thy heart.
Wherefore, all peoples called unto hope rejoice in this day of thy memorial,
O sacred Father Silouan. Pray unto Christ our God for the salvation of our souls.

Apolytikion of St. Silouan the Athonite

by Orthodox Christian Fellowship

Pray to him

O chosen ascetic and earthly angel of Christ, all-blessed father Silouan, most excellent emulator of the fathers of Athos in vigils, fasting and humility! Through thy thirst for God and burning love for Him thou didst acquire abundant grace for thy soul, O most blessed one. Imitating Christ, thou didst crucify thyself with tearful prayer for those languishing in hades, for the living and for those yet to come. Of this thy love deprive us not, who amid the vale of sin ask thine intercession before God and cry out with compunction: Rejoice, O father Silouan, inextinguishable burning of love in thy prayer for the world!

 

Akathist to St. Silouan, Kontakion I

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Podcast: Despondency with Nicole Roccas

Podcast: Despondency with Nicole Roccas

Despondency | Your Orthodox Voice on Campus: OCF Campus Ministry Podcast

In this episode Samuel Dutschmann, College Conference Midwest Student Leader, is joined by author, podcaster, and trauma coach, Nicole Roccas. They discuss despondency in the life of college students. Nicole shares insights from her work and how students might work through these restless moments of our lives.

St. John the Hut-Dweller | There’s a Saint for That

St. John the Hut-Dweller | There’s a Saint for That

St. John Calybytes “the Hut-Dweller”

Saint Nektarios of Aegina - Icon by the hand of Deacon Matthew Garrett

How can St. John intercede for us?

St. John is known for his love for his parents and his gratitude. Pray to him to grow closer to your family while you are away for college. Ask him to implore the Holy Spirit to give you a spirit of thanksgiving for all things.

Discussion Questions

  1. In the days of St. John, the Gospel was hard to come by, so St. John read it constantly as soon as he obtained it. Meanwhile, we are privileged to have the Gospel in our prayer corners and on our phones, but most of rarely make use of these resources. How can we set aside more time to read our Savior’s words?
  2. St. John lived a life of worldly luxury, but he chose to give it all up so that he could focus more on growing closer to God. What little “time-sucks” can we leave out each day to give more time to prayer?
  3. St. John couldn’t stand to be away from his parents. How can we honor our parents in this phase of our lives when we spend less time with them?

The Life of St. John

St. John was born in Constantinople to wealthy parents in the 5th century. By the age of twelve, St. John knew he wanted to enter the monastic life. Meeting a monk on his way to Jerusalem, St. John made him promise to take him to the monastery on his way back from the Holy Land.

St. John asked his parents to use their riches to commission a copy of the Gospel. When he received the copy –– bound in gold and covered in gems —- he could not put it down.

When the pilgrim monk returned, he kept his promise and took St. John to the Monastery of the “Unsleeping Ones” (Ακοίμητοι). He received the monastic tonsure, and the fathers were shocked by the young man’s zeal in prayer, obedience, abstinence, and perseverance.

After six years, he began to undergo temptations. He remembered his parents, how much they loved him, and what sorrow he caused them. He regretted leaving them, and he was desperate to see them again.
After explaining this to igumen St. Marcellus, he was released from the monastery. Asking his blessing, he prayed with the brethren that he would not succumb to temptation in the city.

When the young saint returned to Constantinople, he dressed as a beggar to avoid being recognized and given the luxuries of his worldly life. He settled by the gate of his parents’ home, like the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. His father, unlike the Rich Man, sent him food from his own table. For the three years he lived in the hut, he was insulted by the servants and braved freezing weather, conversing unceasingly with the Lord and His angels.

Before his death, the Lord spoke to him, telling him he would enter Paradise in three days. St. John then asked a servant to bring his mother to the hut, for he had a message.

At first, his mother didn’t want to come, but she wanted to know what a beggar could say to her. He explained that he would soon die and that he was thankful for her charity. Asking to be buried in rags under his lowly hut, he gave her his copy of the Gospel, saying, “May this console you in this life, and guide you to the next life.”

After showing the Gospel to her husband, they discerned that it was the Gospel they gave their son. They went back to the hut, intending to ask the pauper how he got the Gospel. St. John then told them that he is their son, and his parents wept tears of joy. He reposed in the Lord, not even twenty-five years old. His parents built a church atop his hut, and they cared for the strangers that passed through it until they reposed.

Adapted from Orthodox Church in America, “Lives of the Saints”

Learn his Troparion

(Tone 4)
From infancy fervently you loved and longed for the Lord;
you therefore renounced the world and every worldly delight,
and excelled in ascetic feats.
You set the hut you dwelt in before the gates of your parents.
Therein, all-blessed struggler, you crushed the snares of the demons.
And therefore, O John, Christ has glorified you worthily.

Troparion of St. John the Hut-Dweller

by Samuel Dutschmann

Pray to him

Kontakion

Having loved that poverty which no one can rob, you turned down your parents’ wealth, O John. Taking the Gospel of Christ in your hands, you followed Him; now pray for us unceasingly.

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St. Nektarios of Aegina | There’s a Saint for That

St. Nektarios of Aegina | There’s a Saint for That

St. Nektarios of Aegina

Saint Nektarios of Aegina - Icon by the hand of Deacon Matthew Garrett

The Life of St. Nektarios

Anastasios Kephalas was born on October 1st, 1846, in Eastern Selyvria of Thrace (now Turkey). He was one of six children and grew up very poor, but his parents taught him from a young age to be a pious Orthodox Christian. After elementary school, he went to Constantinople with not a penny in his pocket with the hopes of earning some money to help his poverty stricken family. He was determined to study theology, a desire which stemmed from his growing love for Christ. He did not even have the money to buy a ticket for the boat ride but the sailors took pity on him and let him go. After arriving in Constantinople, he eventually found work in a factory with a tobacco merchant and earned barely enough money to feed himself, he could not even afford shoes. However, he found comfort with the lord and never cared about materialistic things. He wanted to write about his circumstances and send the letter to someone, and that someone became Jesus Christ. The letter said: “My little Christ, I do not have an apron or shoes. Please send them to me. You know how much I love you. Anastasios”. The envelope said “to the Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven”. A merchant who took the letter to mail it out saw what it said and, overcome with emotion, anonymously sent the boy money and advice on how to use it wisely.

In his young adult years, he became a monk. This was a dream come true to him because it allowed him to study the scriptures more than ever before. He fasted and prayed daily, many nights he did not sleep and just prayed until sunrise and then prayed the eternity of the next day. He was eventually ordained a deacon due to his holiness and given the name “Nektarios”. The uncle of one of the sailors from the boat many years ago, John Horemis, who was touched by the young boy, paid for him to further his studies in Athens. He then went to Alexandria, Egypt where he became very close with the Patriarch Sophronios. After furthering his education he was ordained priest, then Metropolitan of Pentapolis and eventually secretary to the Patriarch.

The holiness which radiated from the Saint in every encounter he had resulted in him being adored by everyone. He touched the lives of everyone he came across and was known for his kindness and pureness, especially to those in poverty/homeless. It is said people were drawn to him like a magnet. This led to the bishops and higher clergy to slander his name and convince the Patriarch to write a letter of suspension from the Metropolis. Saint Nektarios never tried to defend himself, instead, he prayed to the Lord and trusted his will. People became very angry and upset at the treatment he was facing and he would instruct them to remain calm and keep their faith. He eventually left very secretly for Athens to avoid any uproar. Those who committed slander against him wrote many letters to influential people in Greece saying his good virtues and kindness was all an act and he was never genuine.

Once in Athens he was refused a position in the Church of Greece by the state and Church authorities. At some point, the best and practically only option was to go to Mount Athos where he would at least have food and shelter, but he refused because he wanted to stay and help others more so than himself. He was eventually appointed a preacher by the Minister of Religion, despite this being a huge step down from his former position, he was never embarrassed to have this position. Throughout all of this, the Saint prayed for those who persecuted him and never questioned God’s will or became angry. There were a few people who came to realize the Saint was truly a good man and had been falsely accused. Their good influence led him to be appointed as dean of the Rizarios Seminary in Athens. Despite his role in the administration, he still lived as a monk with constant prayer, meditation, fasting, and ascesis.

Saint Nektarios decided he wanted to eventually leave the loud and noisy world and retreat to a place where he could just pray and enjoy the silence. He had a few spiritual daughters who wished to become nuns and together they founded a small  monastery on the island of Aegina where he retired in 1908. He had also founded a small church which was once a monastery dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The Saint would say to the nuns: “I am building a lighthouse for you, and God will put a light in it that shall shine unto the breadth and length of the whole world. Many shall see the light and come here to Aegina.” But the nuns could not understand what he was trying to tell them. It was only after the recovery of his holy relics and miracles that he began working in such abundance that they understood. He meant that his way of life, his very holy body, were the lighthouse, and if God pleased He would send his light, and it would shine throughout. Thus the words which the Saint used to say to them have been fulfilled.

Saint Nektarios often preferred to be alone only with the company of the saints and the Virgin Mary, they often appeared to him during liturgy or in his cell. After the first World War he taught his nuns to always rely on God and never keep any food in storage for themselves and give everything to the poor. He was eventually overcome with illness (cystitis) and relied on Christ through it all and never complained. He even thanked God for putting him to the test just like he did when he was faced with slander. There was a paralyzed man in the bed next to him and when he finally gave up his spirit his sweater was removed and placed on the paralyzed man’s bed and almost immediately he rose and began walking, all while glorifying God. They took his body to Aegina where they gave him a simple burial at the Convent of the Holy Trinity.

His Glorification

Many people saw Saint Nektarios as a Saint during his lifetime because of his humility, miracles, great virtues and purity he constantly upheld. His relics were removed from the grave in September of 1953 and exuded a beautiful fragrance. However, it was not until April 20, 1961, that he was recognized a Saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Since then, thousands of miracles have been attributed to his intercession, especially in cases of cancer or serious illness being cured. In 1998, the Patriarchate of Alexandria released an official apology statement on behalf of their predecessors who mistreated the Saint.

Fun Facts

● His best friend and co-confessor was Saint Savva of Kalymnos (who painted the first icon of Saint Nektarios)
● He is the author of the renowned hymn, “Agni Parthene/O Pure Virgin” to the Holy Mother
● His body smelled of fragrance so strong when he died, nothing they did would get rid of it
● He was the most popular confessor in Greece at his time
● He is the author of many writings on ethics, Church history, and theology

Discussion around St. Nektarios

 

  1. Saint Nektarios always forgave and prayed for those who persecuted him. He also never tried to defend himself and relied on Christ through everything. What are some ways we can incorporate these virtues when we ourselves are struggling with similar circumstances?
  2. Like many other Saints, Saint Nektarios used fasting as part of his regular prayer rituals. In the midst of school and social obligations, how can we as busy students incorporate fasting into our own prayer rituals?
  3. The man who funded the Saints initial studies in Athens, John Horemis, was touched by the Saint from the time he was a young boy only fourteen years old before even meeting him in person. Discuss what this tells us about the impact he must have had on people throughout his life.

A prayer to the Virgin Mary by Saint Nektarios

Take away from me, O Virgin, the fetters of sin,
Of my lusts and other transgressions: the terrible carelessness and the overcaring, the evil curiosity and the talkativeness, the useless incontinence and the haughtiness, the negligence, the drunkenness and the lack of mercy, the bad desires, the terrible impurity, the extravagance, the darkness, the great insensitivity. Take away the tendency to say jokes, the enjoyment, the prodigality. The laughter of immorality and every evil. Give me, O maiden, fasting, carefulness, vigilance and perfect obedience. Give me carefulness in all and acute discernment, silence, order and holy patience. Grant to me O Lady, eagerness to work and to attain my perfection, and zeal for virtues and exercise. Keep, O most- Holy One, my soul, my heart and my mind and guard it in virginity.

Learn his Apolytikion

O faithful, let us honor Nectarios, divine servant of Christ, offspring of Silivria
and guardian of Aegina, who in these latter years was manifested as the true friend of
virtue. All manner of healing wells forth for those who in piety cry out, “Glory to
Christ who glorified you; glory to Him who, through you, wrought wonders; glory to
Him who, through you, works healing for all.”

Learn His Kontakion

“In joy of heart let us hymn with songs the newly revealed star of Orthodoxy,
the newly erected bulwark of the Church; for, glorified by the activity of the Spirit, he
poureth forth the abundant grace of healing upon those who cry: Rejoice, O Father
Nektarios, model of patience and lover of virtue.”

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St. Seraphim of Sarov | There’s a Saint for That

St. Seraphim of Sarov | There’s a Saint for That

St. Seraphim of Sarov

Saint Seraphim of Sarov

Pray to him

Hear our prayer, Saint Seraphim, from the innermost being of each one of us, from our greatest yearnings for truth and love, and from our deepest needs for intervention into our struggles in this temporal life. Proclaim to us, “Christ is Risen,” and guide all our steps to eternal life. We choose to walk on the path of prayer, in whatever station of life God has placed us, and we ask for your blessings and intercession. We thank you for your heavenly aid, Saint Seraphim, and we go forward in the peace of your holiness. Amen.

From the Akathist to Saint Seraphim of Sarov

How can St. Seraphim intercede for us?

Saint Seraphim struggled with illness during many times in his life and can intercede for us to be healed as he was. He also was known for his pursuing Christ in the Holy Spirit, even in the face of temptation, and he can help us to build Christ-centered habits.

The Life of St. Seraphim

Saint Seraphim was born in the town of Kursk in 1759. From childhood, he was under the protection of the most holy Mother of God, who, when he was nine years old, appeared to him in a vision, and through her icon of Kursk, healed him from a grave sickness from which he had not been expected to recover. At the age of nineteen, he entered the monastery of Sarov, where he amazed all with his obedience, his lofty asceticism, and his great humility. In 1780, the saint was stricken with a sickness which he endured for three years, until our Lady the Theotokos healed him, appearing to him with the Apostles Peter and John.

He was tonsured a monk in 1786, being named for the holy Hieromartyr Seraphim, Bishop of Phanarion (Dec. 4), and was ordained deacon a year later. In his unquenchable love for God, he continually added labors to labors, increasing in virtue and prayer with titan strides. Once, during the Divine Liturgy of Holy and Great Thursday, he was counted worthy of a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who appeared encompassed by the heavenly hosts. After this dread vision, he gave himself over to greater labors.

In 1794, Saint Seraphim took up the solitary life in a cell in the forest. This period of extreme asceticism lasted some fifteen years, until 1810. It was at this time that he took upon himself one of the greatest feats of his life. Assailed with despondency and a storm of contrary thoughts raised by the enemy of our salvation, the saint passed a thousand nights on a rock, continuing in prayer until God gave him complete victory over the enemy. On another occasion, he was assaulted by robbers, who broke his chest and his head with their blows, leaving him almost dead. Here again, he began to recover after an appearance of the most holy Theotokos, who came to him with the Apostles Peter and John, and pointing to Saint Seraphim, uttered those awesome words, “This is one of my kind.”

In 1810, at the age of fifty; weakened with his more than human struggles, Saint Seraphim returned to the monastery for the third part of his ascetical labors, in which he lived as a recluse until 1825. For the first five years of his reclusion, he spoke to no one at all, and little is known of this period. After five years, he began receiving visitors little by little, giving counsel and consolation to ailing souls. In 1825, the most holy Theotokos appeared to the saint and revealed to him that it was pleasing to God that he fully end his seclusion; from this time the number of people who came to see him grew daily. It was also at the command of the holy Virgin that he undertook the spiritual direction of the Diveyevo Convent. He healed bodily ailments, foretold things to come, brought hardened sinners to repentance, and saw clearly the secrets of the heart of those who came to him. Through his utter humility and childlike simplicity, his unrivaled ascetic travails, and his angel-like love for God, he ascended to the holiness and greatness of the ancient God-bearing Fathers and became like Anthony for Egypt.

In all, the most holy Theotokos appeared to him twelve times in his life. The last was on Annunciation, 1831, to announce to him that he would soon enter into his rest. She appeared to him accompanied by twelve virgins-martyrs and monastic saints-with Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Theologian. With a body ailing and broken from innumerable hardships, and an unspotted soul shining with the light of Heaven, St. Seraphim lived less than two years after this, falling asleep in peace on January 2, 1833, chanting Paschal hymns. On the night of his repose, the righteous Philaret of the Glinsk Hermitage beheld his soul ascending to heaven in light. Because of the universal testimony to the singular holiness of his life, and the seas of miracles that he performed both in life and after death, his veneration quickly spread beyond the boundaries of the Russian Empire to every corner of the earth.

Learn more about the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov here.

Learn his Troparion

Tone 4 You loved Christ from your youth, O blessed one, / and longing to work for Him alone you struggled in the wilderness in constant prayer and labor. / With penitent heart and great love for Christ you were favored by the Mother of God. / Therefore we cry to you: / “Save us by your prayers, venerable Seraphim, our father.”

Troparion of St. Seraphim of Sarov - Tone 4

by Orthodox Christian Fellowship

Discussion around St. Seraphim of Sarov

 

  1. St. Seraphim greeted everyone he met by saying “Christ is Risen!”, no matter the time of year. How does constantly living with Christ’s resurrection in mind change the way we live?
  2. Saint Seraphim would also call everyone he interacted with, “my joy”. What can we do to see everyone the way that Christ sees them and learn to delight in their presence? What ways might we help others see their inherent value as beloved by Christ?
  3. One of St. Seraphim’s most famous quotes is, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands around you will also be saved.” What can we do to obtain God’s Spirit of Peace?

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Don’t send your kid to college before watching this.

When Cindy Karos recently asked her daughter, Anna, how OCF impacted her during college, she responded, “How about changed my life?!!” 

Paul and Cindy Karos, beloved OCF supporters, have three children – Peter, Anna, and Joseph – who have all been impacted by OCF’s life-giving ministry. 

We recently asked Paul and Cindy to offer their advice on preparing kids for college life and managing the tension that comes along with that big change. While this video was created for parents of college students, it has a wonderful message for ALL. They share their own experiences with the college transition and how OCF played a key role in keeping their children close to Christ during their time in school. 

As you watch, please consider making a donation to OCF today during our Back to School appeal. All gifts will be doubled until we hit our $30,000 goal…and we are over halfway there!

Will you offer a donation today for college students as they start a new school year?

Paul Karos had an extensive 30-year career in the financial industry, culminating with senior leadership roles at Piper Jaffray where he was the President of Equity Capital Markets and is now active in ministry and coaching. Cindy Karos has been active in ministry for over four decades and has also chaired several important new initiatives for her church. Cindy is also the Executive Board Chair for Faithtree Resources.

St. John of the Ladder | There’s a Saint for That

St. John of the Ladder | There’s a Saint for That

St. John of the Ladder

St. John of the Ladder

The Life of St. John

St. John of the Ladder is honored by the church as a great ascetic and the author of the renowned spiritual book called The Ladder of Divine Ascent, for which he is named. (St. John Climacus in Greek)

There is almost no information about St. John’s origins. One tradition suggests he was born in Constantinople around the year 570, and was the son of Ss. Xenophon and Maria.

John went to Sinai when he was sixteen, submitting to Abba Martyrios as his instructor and guide. After four years, St. John was tonsured as a monk. Abba Strategios, who was present at St. John’s tonsure, predicted that he would become a great luminary in the Church of Christ.

For nineteen years, St. John progressed in monasticism in obedience to his spiritual Father. After the death of Abba Martyrios, St. John embarked on a solitary life, settling in a wild place called Thola, where he spent forty years laboring in silence, fasting, prayer, and tears of penitence.

St. John had a disciple named Moses. Once, the saint ordered his disciple to bring dung to fertilize the vegetable garden. When he had fulfilled the obedience, Moses lay down to rest under the shade of a large rock because of the scorching heat of summer. St. John was in his cell in a light sleep. Suddenly, a man of remarkable appearance appeared to him and awakened the holy ascetic, reproaching him, “John, why do you sleep so heedlessly, when Moses is in danger?”

St. John immediately woke up and began to pray for his disciple. When Moses returned in the evening, St. John asked whether any sort of misfortune had befallen him.

The monk replied, “A large rock would have fallen on me as I slept beneath it at noon, but I left that place because I thought I heard you calling me.” St. John did not tell his disciple of his vision but gave thanks to God.

St. John ate the food which is permitted by the monastic rule but only in moderation. He did not sleep very much, only enough to keep up his strength so that he would not ruin his mind by unceasing vigil. “I do not fast excessively,” he said of himself, “nor do I give myself over to intense all-night vigil, nor lay upon the ground, but I restrain myself.”

The following example of St John’s humility is noteworthy. Gifted with discernment and attaining wisdom through spiritual experience, he lovingly received all who came to him and guided them to salvation. One day, some envious monks reproached him for being too talkative, and so St John kept silent for a whole year. The monks realized their error, and they went to the ascetic and begged him not to deprive them of the spiritual profit of his conversation.

Concealing his ascetic deeds from others, St. John sometimes withdrew into a cave, but reports of his holiness spread far beyond the vicinity. Visitors from all walks of life came to him, desiring to hear his words of edification and salvation. After forty years of solitary asceticism, he was chosen as abbot of Sinai’s St. Catherine’s Monastery when he was seventy-five. St. John governed the holy monastery for four years.

At the request of the abbot of the Raithu monastery, St. John wrote the incomparable Ladder, a book of instruction for monks who wished to attain spiritual perfection.

Knowing his wisdom and spiritual gifts, the abbot requested St. John to write down whatever was necessary for the salvation of those in the monastic life. St. John felt that such a task was beyond his ability, yet out of obedience he fulfilled the request. The saint called his work The Ladder, for the book is “a fixed ladder leading from earthly things to the Holy of Holies” (Gen. 28:12).

The Ladder begins with renunciation of worldliness and ends with God, who is Love (1 Jn 4:8). Although the book was written for monks, any Christian living in the world will find it an unerring guide for ascending to God and a support in the spiritual life.

In The Ladder is a written account of his thoughts, based on the collected wisdom of many wise ascetics and on his own spiritual experience. The book is a great help on the path to truth and virtue. With the exception of the Scriptures themselves and St. Athanasius’ Life of Anthony, it is the most copied and influential book in Christian history.

Learn more about the life of St. John of the ladder here.

Feast Day: March 30th and 4th Sunday in Great Lent

How can St. John intercede for us?

St. John is known for being a great ascetic and monastic. Pray to him for help with spiritual matters: putting down demonic thoughts, strength keeping the fasts, and guidance for prayer.

Discussion around St. John of the Ladder

 

  1. St. John talks a lot about tears of repentance. How can we practice repentance in our own lives?
  2. Early in The Ladder, St. John suggests that we begin our path towards Christ with the foundation of innocence, abstinence (fasting), and temperance. What can we do to cultivate those virtues while in college?
  3. In Step 4 of The Ladder, St. John gives this advice to people in the world, “‘Do all the good you can; do not speak evil of anyone; do not steal from anyone; do not lie to anyone; do not be arrogant towards anyone; do not hate any one; be sure you go to church; be compassionate to the needy; do not offend anyone; do not wreck another man’s domestic happiness;3 and be content with what your own wives can give you. If you behave in this way you will not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven.”
    What are your thoughts on this passage? Is there one area you’d like to focus on in the coming weeks?
  4. His most famous book, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, is still read in monasteries every year during Great Lent to this day. Read a couple of the steps and discuss them with your chapter!
    http://www.prudencetrue.com/images/TheLadderofDivineAscent.pdf

Learn his Troparion

Tone 8

With the rivers of your tears, you have made the barren desert fertile. Through sighs of sorrow from deep within you, your labors have borne fruit a hundred-fold. By your miracles you have become a light, shining upon the world. O John, our Holy Father, pray to Christ our God, to save our souls.

Listen to a recording of St. John of the Ladder’s Troparion

Pray to him

With the streams of your tears, you made the barren desert fertile. Instill in us also, tears of repentance that our hearts too may be made fertile to bear the gifts of the Spirit. Help us to improve our prayer and fasting so that we can grow closer to God. Give us the strength to climb the ladder of divine ascent that we may be counted among the saints. Amen.

Go Back to the Full List

Supporting OCF Chapter Spiritual Advisors

Orthodox Christian Fellowship is dedicated to being the loving presence of Christ and the Orthodox Christian Church on college campuses. While we offer many national programs, virtual programs, and a wide array of chapter resources, one of the most important figures who plays a key role in bringing about this vision is the local chapter spiritual advisor.

Seeking to support our chapter spiritual advisors in the invaluable work they do, we created a survey to give us a clearer sense of the current health of chapters, as well as places for growth and improvement. Over thirty of our chapter spiritual advisors completed the survey, representing a total of 8 of our 9 OCF regions across North America. The results of the survey gave OCF staff a look at what was growing and thriving while also pointing out where improvement can be brought to elevate the level of ministry being done at all OCF chapters.

As we address those issues in our coming ministry year, we wanted to also share some initial findings and key takeaways as a support to the great work being done by our spiritual advisors.

Don’t do it alone

As campus spiritual advisors, we know you have a ton on your plate. Most of you being parish priests who also have families; it’s no wonder that the majority of you shared that you only wish you had more time. We hear you! Interestingly enough, only four of the over thirty chapters which participated in the survey reported that they also have lay advisor supporting their OCF chapter. For this reason, we recommend our dear spiritual advisors to not do it alone! We encourage you all to find a lay person at your parish or in your area who can serve as a lay advisor and parish liaison for your OCF chapter.

This person can help with communications, outreach, coordination, and many more things in order to free up your time to focus on the pastoral work of being the chapter’s spiritual advisor. Bringing on a teammate will make your time on campus more focused and also expand the potential for the ministry that can be done at your campus. Visit our OCF Advisors training hub to access several videos to help get your new lay advisor started!

Diversify your programming

At OCF, we aim to achieve our mission through our four pillars: Fellowship, Education, Worship, and Service. While many of you shared that the programming at your chapter was consistent, many of you also shared the desire to do more, adding new and diverse kinds of ministry to your regular programming. Because of this, we encourage chapters to implement a plan for the year that would include all four of OCF’s pillars.

Incorporating time for fellowship allows students to grow in their relationships with one another and promotes a stronger community. Incorporating education gives substance to the ministry of your OCF chapter. College is a time when students are learning a ton in the classroom and their experience at OCF should also enlighten them on their faith in God and the Church.

Incorporating worship allows for your chapter to be a holy presence on campus and gives students a harbor of calm in the craziness that is student life. Incorporating service allows for each chapter to be the Church in action on their campus, working to meet the needs of those around them. Service is a great way to work with other student groups on campus in order to not duplicate efforts.

Need ideas of how to better incorporate all four pillars into your programming? Refer to our Chapter Toolkit for help!

Stay Up-to-date

Lastly, you all shared your desire to know more about the programs offered by OCF National in order to best take advantage of any resources that are available. The best ways of staying up to date would be to follow our social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook, and to check in on our website regularly for upcoming events. You can also refer to our monthly email newsletter for updates. You can also always get in touch with any of the OCF staff to get an update on what’s happening at OCF.

We hope that spiritual advisors and chapter leaders who are more informed on the offerings and resources produced by OCF National will find the programming support needed to continue to offer the best ministry possible on college campuses.

A Reflection on Personal Prayer

A Reflection on Personal Prayer

 

Once again I have the extreme joy of being with you.  I treasure these moments.  The issue of personal prayer is dear to my heart for a multitude of reasons.  I am convinced that the most  intimate thing that two humans can do is pray together at divine services or privately.  You may ask, “More intimate than the exchange of deep personal vulnerability?”  Yes, and more yes.  Personal prayer is about being directly aware of Almighty God, beyond our every thought or imagination.

My Own Personal Prayer Journey

At age 85 I have a rather regular and developed personal prayer life.  I am closer to end game and I continue to be “crazy as a lunatic.”  The center of my prayer life is the prayer of Metropolitan Philaret and daily meditation.  As a college student my prayer life was, well, to use a sanitized word, “inconsistent at best.”  I was a radically confused camper; I can’t remember having a prayer rule, but I would regularly go to the Roman Catholic Mass after work at the local cathedral.  The Mass at 5:40 PM was an oasis of calm and serenity in my otherwise turbulent life as student council president, fiancee to a lovely coed who loved me dearly, battalion executive officer in ROTC, vice president of the fraternity, and (by the way) a college student who changed his major three times.  Prayer didn’t seem to fit into my whirlwind turbulence.   Life is a process of growing up.  Little did I know that after college I would break up with my precious fiancee, resign as an officer in the army and become a Roman Catholic monk for 11 years; of course I had no idea at all that I would eventually convert to Orthodoxy… the church that brought me to the fullness of truth for which I am eternally grateful. 

Prayer Life of College Students

What I can say to you college students is be gentle with yourself.  Try to love yourselves as God loves you.  Or, said another way and borrowing from St. Irenaeus, “Relax in God’s hands.”  He loves you dearly and accepts your inconstancies.

Where to start?  Please try to have a simple prayer rule that you may not have the discipline to do regularly.  The prayer rule can be an analytic that you use to measure your relationship with Christ.  Some students start by making the sign of the cross upon awakening and making the sign of the cross upon getting into bed.  Not much, but it’s something.  The Trisagion is sometimes used after standing up.  Some students say the prayer by Metropolitan Philaret; but whatever you do please don’t ever despair, say “It really doesn’t matter,” and give up praying.  Despair, also sometimes called nihilism, is the greatest of all temptations.

Conclusion

Personal prayer is about becoming who we really are, becoming our best self who is Christ living within us.  Union without confusion.  “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  Personal prayer is the opening of our hearts to the living, loving God Almighty within us.  What could be better?

Prayer at the Beginning of the Day By Metropolitan Philaret

O Lord, grant me to meet the coming day in peace.  Help me in

all things to rely upon Your holy will.  In every hour of the day

reveal your will to me.  Bless my dealings with all who surround

me.  Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day 

with peace of soul,  and with firm conviction that Your will

governs all.  In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and

feelings.  In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are

sent by you.  Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without

embittering and embarrassing others.  Give me strength to bear

the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring.   Direct

my will, teach me to pray, pray You Yourself in me.  Amen.

Dr. Albert Rossi

Dr. Albert Rossi

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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

I Can Do All Things – and the SLB!

I Can Do All Things – and the SLB!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Spiritual Development:

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

Elias Anderson

Elias Anderson

Incoming SLB Chairman 2022-2023

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

Are you in Love?

Are you in Love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruby Pendergraft

Ruby Pendergraft

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

What is Love?

What is Love?

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

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

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

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

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

Love for College Students

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

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

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

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

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

Love and Lust

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

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

Conclusion

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

Dr. Albert Rossi

Dr. Albert Rossi

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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

Making Room for Christ

Making Room for Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOU CAN HAVE MY ROOM!

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

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

Does that sound a little familiar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr. Luke A Veronis

Fr. Luke A Veronis

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

The Transfiguration of the Secular World

The Transfiguration of the Secular World

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

BUT WAIT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elias Anderson

Elias Anderson

College Conference Midwest Student Leader

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

Cultivating a Heart for Service vs. A Heart of Consumerism

Cultivating a Heart for Service vs. A Heart of Consumerism

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

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

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

So what can we do to offer that love?

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

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

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

Kyra Limberakis

Kyra Limberakis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Spencer

Anna Spencer

Former Real Break Student Leader

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

Lighting the Beacons: Letting Our Light Shine Before Others

Lighting the Beacons: Letting Our Light Shine Before Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magdalena Hudson

Magdalena Hudson

Publications Student Leader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evan Roussey

Evan Roussey

Real Break Student Leader

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

Ebb and Flow: On Mental Health and Coping With Ambiguity

Ebb and Flow: On Mental Health and Coping With Ambiguity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Albert Rossi

Dr. Albert Rossi

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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

The Challenge of Staying Orthodox in an Anti-Christian Environment, and Some Additional Advice From a ‘Non-Wolf’ Professor

Today we share two companion articles of advice for college students. The first is a Facebook post written by the Very. Rev. Abbot Tryphon, Igumen of All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island, Washington. The second offers commentary in response to the post from Fr. Theodore Pulcini. Fr. Theodore recently retired after serving 30 years as as college professor, most recently Assistant Professor of Religion at Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA, and as the pastor of St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Chambersburg, PA. Both articles offer much wisdom and guidance to Orthodox Christian students.

Some Additional Advice to Orthodox College Students from a ‘Non-Wolf’ Professor

This afternoon, in opening my email, I read with great interest the piece written by Abbot Tryphon entitled “The Challenge of Staying Orthodox in an Anti-Christian Environment.” There is much sage advice in his admonishment, and Orthodox students on their way to college would do well to digest that advice. I must admit, however, that I was a bit taken aback by several characterizations presented by this much-respected monastic author and will now presume to comment on them (pace Father Abbot).

In the interest of full disclosure, let me state at the outset that I write this response as a Christian (I have served as an Orthodox priest for over thirty-seven years in the Antiochian Archdiocese) and as an academic (yes, as a college professor at several secular institutions of higher learning for some thirty years). So you will understand why I took some exception to the way college professors are characterized in the article. Without a doubt, there are some college professors that lump Christians together and depict them unfairly and simplistically, but then again there are some Christian commentators who tend to do likewise to college professors. The one mischaracterization does not justify the other—and I dare say that I have been the target of both.

Indeed I have to admit that some of my professorial colleagues over the years could be arrogant, insulting, and power-obsessed. But the vast majority were absolutely not! Yes, professors will sometimes go to considerable lengths to challenge their students to think, to question, and to analyze critically and systematically. For this they should not be faulted. That is, after all, their job. No one should go to college assuming (as many students unfortunately do) that nothing presented to you should make you feel challenged or uncomfortable or obliged to exert effort. In college, as in the larger society, you will not, without fail, have every one of your stances affirmed by everyone else. You must apply yourselves to learn how to argue your opinions with persuasiveness—and yes, with civility, too—in the dialogues you will undoubtedly have with others. This is essential to the development of intellectual and emotional maturity. To avoid such maturation, many around you will take false comfort in aggressive ideology of the sort that seems to be metastasizing at every turn in our society. Good college professors will guide you toward healthy maturation and will embody it in their own interactions with others, including their students. Bad ones will bludgeon others with their ideologies and not tolerate any dissent. Gravitate toward the former and not the latter. And believe me, at any reputable college or university, the good professors far outnumber—and far outshine–the bad. They are not your adversaries, even if they sometimes push you to consider perspectives you may not have had to face before. In short, to depict professors as universally adversarial is simply unfair—and untrue.

In fact, to do so duplicates an error of bad professors, who tend to depict groups they oppose as monoliths, all of whose constituent parts are uniform. For example, the aggressive anti-Christian professors of the sort to which Abbot Tryphon refers, tend to caricature Christianity as a monolith, implying all Christians are the same. Then they single out those Christians who (to use Abbot Tryphon’s words) are blatantly “closed-minded and backward-looking” (and let’s face it, many are!) and then attribute such undesirable traits to all Christians. They attack the “straw-man” Christian they create and then, through him, defame all Christians. This is simply dishonest and intellectually faulty argumentation.

As a college student, this is precisely the sort of counter-argument that you have to train yourself to be able to make. Every challenge you face in your courses, if used correctly, can make you stronger. I agree wholeheartedly with Abbot Tryphon when he says that “know from the moment you enter that classroom that the professor is a better debater than you, so don’t place yourself in his scope. If you do, expect to be blown out of the water.” He is right. As the old Shakespearean proverb goes, “Discretion is the better part of valor.” But do not let your discretion simply be an act of surrender and cowardice. If you feel your conviction as an Orthodox Christian is being unfairly depicted and attacked, learn how to disarm your opponents in a situation where you can speak freely and without intimidation (for example, privately, during office hours). Use the unpleasant challenge you have had to face in class as an impetus to accrue the knowledge and develop the rhetorical skills needed to defend your faith convincingly in the face of future attacks. Learn the skills of critical thinking to challenge the flaws in your opponents’ arguments. Build the knowledge that will enable you to show that what your opponent assumes is true of all Christians is not at all true of Orthodox Christians. Show them how Orthodoxy is not just part of some “Christian monolith” but stands apart as unique in so many ways. Use your college career to build your spirit and your mind to grow far beyond where you are on the day of matriculation. If you use your years in college well, at the end of your studies you will advance “to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Shake off complacency and inertia! Rise to that challenge.

Abbot Tryphon begins his reflection by referring to one of my favorite New Testament commands of Christ: ““Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In his advice, Father Abbot, to good effect, tends to emphasize the first part of this passage, urging you to be wary of the wolves who may be your professors. But as a “non-wolf” professor—alongside many other non-wolf (and, yes, even Christian!) professors—I want to join to his admonishments my own bit of advice: While in college maintain your faith in dove-like innocence, but use your college experiences (even those with wolf-like professors) to become as “wise as serpents.” Your wisdom will help your personal faith to mature, and it will benefit the Church at large by virtue of your ability to express and defend that faith in a world full of counter-arguments.

My thoughts converge very well with Father Tryphon’s words in his last paragraph. With him, I encourage you to “build a support system for yourself by gathering together with other college students to form a chapter of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship. Meet on a weekly basis for worship, study, and networking.” No better advice than this can be given to you as you head off to college. May God prosper all your efforts!

–Fr. Theodore Pulcini