5 Pieces of Advice Worth Holding on to

5 Pieces of Advice Worth Holding on to

Of these five pieces of advice I have here, four were from a teacher I had my senior year in high school and one is from my father. I’m going to give the pieces of advice then a couple sentences on what they have meant to me the last four years.

 

Commit beautiful things to memory.

 

This could be Scripture verses, poetry, snippets of books, quotes from people you love, or just good sayings to have at the tip of your tongue. I’ve personally done this with poetry more than anything else. (Email me if you want suggestions.) Our words are very powerful things. They shape us as much as we shape them. I think this piece of advice also means that you should always keep an eye out for beautiful things. Speaking from experience, it really is amazing how much beauty can be captured and dwelt in in the words we use. It’s probably a good idea to look to the greatest users of words so that we can get better at using them ourselves.

 

Notice what the people around you find funny.

 

Anyone who knows me in person will know that this is something I do all the time and love doing. The ability to make others laugh and laugh with them is the fastest bonding experience I have ever felt. This doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everyone, admittedly, but I believe it’s a form of love that can and should be practiced more. Similar to the piece of advice stated above, if you keep your eyes and ears (and heart) oriented towards loving the world and others, things that cause and engender laughter will develop out of them naturally, given time and patience.

 

Recognize that it takes a long, long time to make good friends.

 

One of the things that makes my best friend my best friend is that we have been going to school together for 10 years: 6 years in middle school and high school, and now 4 years of college. This piece of advice has helped me get through arguments with him, because I know that arguments and problems come with time. As it turned out, those arguments and problems that have arisen between us have actually brought us closer together. I hope he would say the same. No matter if we go separate ways after graduation, I know that I will always be greeted with a firm handshake and a pleasant hug with a laugh at times past and times to come.

 

Come back.

 

On the sheet my teacher gave us one of the last days my senior year, this was one of the last pieces of advice. My teacher grew up in Kansas, went to college in Michigan, taught for a few years in Minnesota, and has been living in Indiana for a few years now. He’s no stranger to home and all the various ways it manifests itself over the course of a young person’s life; home changes for all of us. For some of us, it’s tied to a specific location, for others, family, for others still, the smell of a city or farm brings us back to some mysterious childhood we forgot we had. In this piece of advice, I hear my teacher telling me to not only think about coming back home, but I also hear him telling me to think about how I carry home with me inside my heart and how I should try and return to that as much as I should return to all the homes I’ll make over the course of my life.

 

Say okay.

 

This piece of advice from my dad I heard over and over again from the ages of 6 to 16. I needed to hear these two words as a toddler and young boy, especially regarding dinner, baths, and bedtime as well as apologies to my siblings and my mom. I mean, who among us didn’t hear this over and over when we were young? The older I got, the less I heard my dad say it explicitly, but the more I heard him say it implicitly in his actions and in his love for me. It was first used to correct and discipline me, and then it was used to teach and instruct me. I have learned that to “say okay” once is to be obedient, but to always “say okay” is to learn how to accept things as they come with grace and fortitude, much like my dad has sought to do, even if he isn’t always certain things are okay.

Andrew Gluntz

Marcus Lotti

Podcast Student Leader

I am a senior English major at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. When not leading my small but mighty OCF, hosting dinner parties, studying in the library, making playlists, running, or spending time in church, I am busy creating the worst dad jokes you can possibly imagine. As a senior, I spend plenty of time reminiscing and thinking about the many ways OCF has shaped my college experience. The only piece of advice I feel fully qualified to give is to cherish the OCF friends you have made or will make. You’ll definitely hear me say that a lot on my podcast The Fourth Antiphon, to be found on Ancient Faith Radio as well as Spotify, Apple Music, and wherever you find your podcasts!

The Best Advice I’ve Ever Heard: You are Created to be Love

The Best Advice I’ve Ever Heard: You are Created to be Love

This month the blog is going to feature the best advice contributors have ever received! Share the best advice you have ever gotten in an email to publicationsstudent@ocf.net or message us on social media!

I wanted to start with a short reflection on a piece of advice I heard from a friend this summer. This is something her mom always told her as she was growing up.

Her Mother used 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to give her a priceless tool. This verse is one that many of us know well and hold dear.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

The advice is simple: every time “Love” or “it” is mentioned replace these words with your own name. Prior to talking of Love’s indispensability, St. Paul speaks of our place in the Body of Christ. We are each a member of this body and cannot survive if we do not use our gifts for each other, just as our bodies cannot survive if each part is not working in its own way to support the whole. However, whatever our gifts may be, we can do nothing without love. Christ is love. To be a part of the body we must also do everything in love. My friend’s mom used this small practice as a reminder of what we are made to be. What God created us to be: love. 

Try it out. In every blank space use your name instead.

____ is patient, _____ is kind. She/He does not envy, She/He does not boast, She/He is not proud. She/He does not dishonor others, she/he is not self-seeking, she/he is not easily angered, she/he keeps no record of wrongs. _____ does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. ______ always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

This may have felt weird to say. I know it does for me. This is because at any point in time I am struggling in many of these areas!

However, the advice is not so that we can believe that we are those things currently, but so that we can be reminded that this is our true form: this is what we are made to be and what has been made possible for us to attain once more through Christ’s life for us, completely led with love. 

 

Andrew Gluntz

Alethia Placencia

Publications Student Leader

I am a senior at the University of Kentucky studying philosophy and microbiology. I love hiking, staying active, and enjoying great books and food! Above all, I love the family OCF has given me. Whatever your story may be, there is a place for you in this community! Reach out to learn more about OCF or if you would like to contribute to the blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net

When Do We Hear Our Inner Heart & How Do We Respond?

When Do We Hear Our Inner Heart & How Do We Respond?

Christ is born, everyone! Glorify Him!

There is an inherent relationship between growing closer to Christ in our personal lives and growing closer to Christ in relationships. I’d like to explore this topic with the help of a Psalm and some writers I encountered this last semester in class. These last few months have undoubtedly been hectic and difficult for everyone, but in this Nativity season, calling to mind our inner heart and learning how to offer it to those around us in love and thanksgiving is one of the greatest ways to participate in Christ.

We hear these words in Psalm 50: “My inner and secret heart that Thou hast made manifest unto me.” We cannot find this place on our own power because God alone can unveil this inner, hidden place to us through prayer, fasting, and a life in the Church. God is always calling us to this place. It is a place we can only strive to be in moment by moment; we will never be able to permanently inhabit it. I think this is the case because in my own prayer life, I often feel like I cannot express what I want to express. In a way, my loss for words in prayer teaches me that I pray in order to learn how to pray. As a matter of fact, praying when we know how bad we are at praying helps remind us why we are praying in the first place: humility, mercy, and peace. Knowing that we are not the origin of these things and approaching God in that spirit of seeming helpless can in fact be the most honest kind of prayer.

In the words of French philosopher Jean-Louis Chrétien, prayer helps us see “reality of our fallenness, and it points us…to the possibility of our restoration, by the grace of God.” Chrétien’s reasoning behind saying this is that we must first see the reality of our fallenness for our restoration to begin. Our restoration begins to unfold when we accept that we cannot, on our own power or agency, take ourselves out of that fallenness into community with others. In this Nativity season, this restoration is on its fullest display, for Christ has come into the world and provided the way for man to be restored to his original communion with God. Interestingly, on the Nativity, St. Gregory of Nazianzus says that “we are coming to celebrate today the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God.” 

Take the prayer to the Holy Spirit for example. Said at the beginning of practically all services in the home or in the church, begins with an invocation of who we are addressing: “O Heavenly King.” The next line is the appositive phrase “the Comforter.” Recognizing the Holy Spirit, and by extension, God, as a comforter does not remove our sufferings, but a comforting hug, a comforting smile, or even a comforting cup of coffee can change our attitude towards our struggles. The things before us are cast into a different light when we look outside of ourselves for help. When we begin our prayers with “O Heavenly King, the Comforter,” we are calling to mind our struggles and asking to be granted the proper disposition we need to deal with them. It begins to restore us, but this restoration has already happened because Christ is born, now and always. 

Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras (who is still alive today) says that “knowledge of God begins when we live our faith.” At this juncture between us and God in the act of prayer, our restoration has already begun. Not only that, but because we need mercy and grace of God in order to say anything, this restoration has always been happening because we are made in the image and likeness of Christ. This moves us outside of ourselves and into communion with others, and with God. As we continue to maneuver through this pandemic and these physically distant times, let us remember the spiritual communion that we continue to participate in as we live and breathe every moment of every day. This moment, this very moment, is all we are given, so let us love one another to the extent that we can, and let us also take comfort in the knowledge that approaching God in silent humility is better than not approaching Him at all. 

Andrew Gluntz

Marcus Lotti

Podcast Student Leader

I am a senior English major at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. When not leading my small but mighty OCF, hosting dinner parties, studying in the library, making playlists, running, or spending time in church, I am busy creating the worst dad jokes you can possibly imagine. As a senior, I spend plenty of time reminiscing and thinking about the many ways OCF has shaped my college experience. The only piece of advice I feel fully qualified to give is to cherish the OCF friends you have made or will make. You’ll definitely hear me say that a lot on my podcast The Fourth Antiphon, to be found on Ancient Faith Radio as well as Spotify, Apple Music, and wherever you find your podcasts!

7 Questions to Reflect on before the Feast of Our Lord’s Nativity

7 Questions to Reflect on before the Feast of Our Lord’s Nativity

Chances are the feeling, meaning, and practices of Christmas have changed for you over time. From childhood to adulthood the way we prepare and understand the Blessed feast of the Nativity has grown. Whatever way we ourselves interpret the season does not change what is at the heart of it! I want to share a portion of St. John Chrysostom’s sermon on the Nativity of Christ:

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness. 

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit that He may save me. 

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels. 

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. 

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.

St. John Chrysostom shows us what the birth of Christ means for the world. It is the redemption of the flesh through God becoming man. By becoming man he “wroughts a clear path out of confusion.” Christ came to be ‘with us’ in a way which was incomprehensible — Our God who surpasses the heavens was humbled to lie in a manger, and became the very flesh He created. 

Emmanuel means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). In the incarnation, God is now “commingled” with us. Our relationship with him as humans forever changes after this moment, and even after the Ascension, when his physical body no longer remains on earth, this relationship remains.

This is overwhelmingly amazing but where do we go from here? How do we continue to realize this in our lives? Through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, receiving communion, and confession first and foremost of course! The Church has given us ways to participate simply and receive the overwhelmingly amazing meaning of this Feast in these constant practices. 

This year I have also put together a list of 7 questions which I am reflecting on this week (I want to stress that this is just a list of questions that I have heard or asked myself and have been helpful for me personally). These questions have been a great help in recalling this truth that St. John Chrysostom expresses in his sermon. There are many opportunities for lengthy reflections in each of these, so it may be helpful to choose just a few to tackle in one sitting! I heard a few of these come up in an Advent Series program with YES North America as well as a spiritual discussion with Fr. Panagiotis Boznos. 

1. How do we see or talk about ourselves?

Christ’s image has been redeemed in us. Does this understanding guide our perception of ourselves? Are we quick to talk ourselves up or be too harsh on ourselves?

2. How do we see or talk about the people around us?

Every single person who has ever lived or will ever live is made in the image of God. How do we treat the people around us currently? How do we talk about those we are close to and those we don’t know as well, too? 

3. When do we feel God with us?

What is a time when you have been aware that God is with you? Where were you? What was happening? Were you with other people…maybe you were in prayer? What other factors were playing a role in your life at that point in time?

4. When is it hard to feel God with us?

What is a time where it was difficult to feel God was with you? What is one word which you would use to describe how that moment felt? What factors were playing a role in your life at this point? Where was your focus? Christ promised that He would always be with us. Even though it felt as if God was absent, looking back, are you now able to see any ways in which He was with you?

5. When we struggle, what do we focus on?

The place we give our energy and thoughts determines a lot of our experience and takeaways from difficult times. When going through a struggle what do you see yourself focusing on the most?

6. When we succeed what are we focusing on?

Are we using a success to raise ourselves up or to benefit those around us and raise up Christ? 

7. In this very moment where do you see Christ?

Take 2 minutes to sit in silence. Screens out of sight, music paused. Maybe go outside! Ask yourself where you see Christ here at the beginning of the two minutes? What did you find? Did you focus on your surroundings, thinking of the people in your life currently, a personal struggle, turn to prayer? 

Our understanding of this upcoming Holiday grows with us, the meaning is always constant. From the first Christmas (the Nativity of Christ) until that one year when you were 7 (and thought the world would end if you didn’t get Heelys for Christmas), until Christmas 2020 (undergoing the stresses of navigating togetherness in an isolated world), God has become man and will be with us always. 

As we come to the end of 2020, I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and congratulate all my fellow struggle bus college students for making it through. I love you all! I pray that St. John Chrysostom’s sermon on the Nativity was useful in better understanding the Feast of the Nativity, and that these questions for reflection were helpful!

Andrew Gluntz

Alethia Placencia

Publications Student Leader

I am a senior at the University of Kentucky studying philosophy and microbiology. I love hiking, staying active, and enjoying great books and food! Above all, I love the family OCF has given me. Whatever your story may be, there is a place for you in this community! Reach out to learn more about OCF or if you would like to contribute to the blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net

4 Saints Who Demonstrated the Image of God and How to Get to Know Them

4 Saints Who Demonstrated the Image of God and How to Get to Know Them

In the very first book of the Old Testament, we are told that, “God created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27, NKJV.) Any detailed examination of the Orthodox faith will show that the largest calling we have received from God is to become like Christ. St. John explains this in the Gospel:

“He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (John 2:4-6)

In other words, if we say we’re Christians, we must walk the walk and strive to live our lives like Jesus lived His.

However, it’s easy to say that we must walk the walk. The more difficult question is, how do we walk the walk? Especially in today’s world, we hear so many different things about what’s right and what’s wrong, and what we’re “supposed” to do to love our neighbor. Especially on college campuses, we are constantly assailed with conflicting messages from different sources. It is so easy to become confused about which paths we should follow.

The good news is, we have as sources of wisdom and intercession those who have walked the walk before us! Truly, out of all people, the saints of our Church have most fully realized the image of God within themselves. When we read their lives, we can see how they have been set on fire with love for Christ, and we can see how that love looks different in each of their lives. Some saints, like St. Mary of Egypt, flees into the desert to wage war against their temptations. Others, like St. Luke, are surgeons—or midwives, like St. Olga. Some are artists, like St. Romanos the Melodist. Some are royalty, like St. Constantine and his sons. Some are martyrs, some are single, some are married, some are monastics. Regardless of your strengths, struggles, and callings, you can find a saint who shares them with you.

Notice that I am writing about the saints in present tense. The saints are not people who lived a very long time ago, then died, and that’s the end of that. They are people who lived earthly lives, and now in eternity intercede for us, constantly participating in our lives. And, importantly, there are people living their earthly lives today who will become saints, if they are not already! Every one of us is called to become a saint.

St. Nektarios of Pentapolis, after his death, said, “It’s as if we saints are in retirement…the people don’t pray to us, don’t entreat us, don’t ask us for anything, don’t give us any handiwork to do. They don’t give us the opportunity to pray to God for them.” The saints are looking for opportunities to help us! It’s up to us to become more aware of their presence.

It took me a long time to learn that the saints are still living and interacting with us, and my prime realizations of this fact occurred on OCF: Real Break trips. On my first real break trip, Thessaloniki 2018, I venerated the body of my patron saint, St. Demetrios, and saw the exact place where he was run through with lances. St. Demetrios is overwhelming for anyone to visit, because myrrh still streams from his body to this day—to the point that on his feast day, they open his reliquary and mop it up with towels! The Akathist to St. Demetrios reads, “Rejoice, you who ride throughout the world as one alive.” One can feel the power of his presence by how strong the smell of his myrrh is, even upon reaching the threshold of his cathedral.

Another example from my Thessaloniki trip is the relics of St. Gregory of Palamas. I visited him after St. Demetrios, but there is a little glass window in St. Gregory’s reliquary, through which you can see one of his bones. I watched a drop of myrrh materialize, seemingly out of thin air, and run down the length of the bone. It completely overwhelmed me. I had to step out of the room—but even though I had left that room and entered the nave of the church, I couldn’t get away from the smell of the myrrh! It was so strong, it almost hurt my nose. Even though, overcome with their holiness and their active presence, I had to turn away from them, the saints were still with me!

Finally, on my second Real Break trip—Romania 2020—we all became very stressed on the second-to-last day of our pilgrimage. It was at the height of COVID-related anxieties, since it had just been elevated to pandemic status. With travel bans instated and Europe suddenly spiking to high risk, we had to get home as soon as we could. We had just been informed we were leaving that night. We were fatigued, uncertain, and—speaking at least for myself—afraid. But our trip leader, Fr. Robert, took us to venerate the hand of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of travelers. The woman watching over his relics removed the glass in the reliquary so we could directly kiss his hand. I was brought such a sense of peace. I knew that St. Nicholas was watching over us and magnifying our prayers for safe travels, and that he would be present with us on our journey home.

Since the saints are powerhouses of intercession and full of wisdom, how can we get to know them better? There are practical steps you can take! I recommend learning more about your patron saint. Who are you named after? Is there an Akathist to them? Read their story and learn their Kontakion and Troparion.

Another step you could take is Googling Akathists to Orthodox Christian saints. You will be shocked at the number of saints you’ve never heard of, and you will truly feel their presence as you beseech them for their intercessions and learn their life story through prayer. You will start to see yourself in different saints and their walks of life, which will encourage you.

Finally, OCF has a resource as well, called There’s a Saint for That. It would also be a great idea for your chapter to have a meeting about saints, where people can share the lives of their patron saints or other beloved saints. In this time leading up to Christ’s birth, let’s all look to the saints together and, through their prayers and examples, learn how to emulate Christ.

Andrew Gluntz

Demetra Chiafos

OCF Alumna

My name is Demetra Chiafos! I was involved in OCF during my four years at The Ohio State University, serving on the student officer board for three years at OSU and participating in national events. I graduated in 2020 with a BFA in Dance and a BA in Japanese. I am currently teaching dance while completing my MA in Translation (Japanese) through SOAS University of London. I play piano and cello, and sing in church choir whenever I can!

Dressing up for Christmas as Christians

Dressing up for Christmas as Christians

Around this time of year, I find myself buying fun decorations and lights. Perhaps I’ll put together a gingerbread house or find some other cute Christmas treats to bake. Let’s not forget the ugly Christmas sweaters, fuzzy socks, and Santa hats. In fact, while writing this blog entry, I’m sitting here in my Christmas themed pajama-pants complete with dogs in scarves skiing down a hill. 

It is tradition to adorn our homes and even ourselves festively this season. In doing so, we are communicating a piece of the joy of the Nativity. But these adornments, even some silly pajamas, might point to something more profound. We feel the warmth, cheer, and joy of the holiday season when hearing Christmas music or seeing beautiful lights and we want to spread this cheer into the world. 

This joy flows from the knowledge that Christ is Born! Glorify Him! Our Nativity feast reminds us that through the birth of Christ the image of God in us was restored. As the Canon of the Nativity of Our Lord says:

Man was made in the image of God, but he sinned and lost immortality. He fell from the divine and better life, enslaved completely by corruption. Now the wise Creator fashions him again, for He has been glorified!

Our adornments spread the feeling of joy of this wonderful season. These traditions are beautiful, fun, and are part of the awe-some experience of our lives on earth. Although they are associated with Christmas and connect us back to this holiday they may actually cause us to forget the harder work we must do to truly adorn ourselves to celebrate Nativity–to truly adorn ourselves and the world around us in response to the redemption of the image of God within us.

 Christ is the true image of God. Christ is true humanity. In him, we find the kind of human life we were meant to live. As Christians we put on this life as a garment, “For all of you that have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27).

So instead of only dressing-up and decorating our world with physical reminders of Christmas, in following Christ, God prepares us for the true festivities: “See, I have taken your guilt away from you and will clothe you with festive robes” (Zach 3:4).

To adorn ourselves with these festive clothes is to become Christ-like –to serve the world with sacrificial love –to care for the poor, feed those who are hungry, seek those who are lost, care for the sick, and love our enemy.

There is much suffering at this time. It will be one of the hardest and loneliest Christmases for so many. Let us remember that we who are made in the image of God are called to put on Christ. We are called to clothe ourselves in the true garments of Christmas (this can be in addition to our ugly Christmas sweaters of course) and go into the world to serve with Christ’s sacrificial love. This is how we can truly adorn this holiday and spread the joy of the Christmas season. 

Andrew Gluntz

Alethia Placencia (in collaboration with Nathan Placencia)

Publications Student Leader

I am a senior at the University of Kentucky studying philosophy and microbiology. I love hiking, staying active, and enjoying great books and food! Above all, I love the family OCF has given me. Whatever your story may be, there is a place for you in this community! Reach out to learn more about OCF or if you would like to contribute to the blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net

22 Orthodox Ministries to Support this Giving Tuesday

22 Orthodox Ministries to Support this Giving Tuesday

Every year, on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, our social media feeds and inboxes are flooded with opportunities to support nonprofits, charities, and ministries that impact the world around us. While it might seem overwhelming, Giving Tuesday is a perfect opportunity to learn more about the organizations which address the things that matter most to us and to be reminded that almsgiving and philanthropy are an integral part of our spiritual lives. Here’s a list of Orthodox ministries and organizations we want you to know about this Giving Tuesday. We encourage you, no matter your age or income, to consider giving to at least one of these incredible ministries! Be part of the good work of the Church in the world!

Ancient Faith Ministries

Ancient Faith is the media hub of Orthodoxy in America. From books to podcasts to blogs, you can find something on almost any topic on Ancient Faith to strengthen your own faith or share Orthodoxy with someone else. You can even find our OCF podcasts here and here! And if you give between November 24 and December 2, your gift will be matched up to $50,000! 

Give Now to Ancient Faith Ministries >>

Antiochian Village

Antiochian Village is a summer camp program located in Bolivar, PA. Home to generations of Orthodox kids and families, AV, like other camps, has felt the brunt of 2020 significantly. All end-of-year gifts up to $100,000 will be matched, so there’s never been a better time to support this beloved camp.

Give Now to Antiochian Village >>

Camp Catanese

Camp Catanese is a comprehensive college-preparation program for inner-city Phoenix high school students founded and staffed by Orthodox Christians. 98% of their graduates are enrolled in college, many of them first-generation college-goers. Camp Catanese also provides scholarships for graduates who have gone through their program.

Give Now to Camp Catanese >>

CrossRoad Summer Institute

CrossRoad is a ten-day academic summer institute that prepares high school juniors and seniors to make big life decisions and invites them to connect with the Orthodox Christian theological and spiritual tradition. If you’re an alum of this program, you know what a big impact it can have on who you are and how you live.

Give Now to CrossRoad Summer Institute >> 

Faithtree Resources

Faithtree Resources is dedicated to helping Orthodox Christian churches, leaders, and all Christian people thrive. They create high-quality resources for parishes–their current library includes programs addressing marriage, manhood, relationships and mental health for teens, and disabilities.

Give Now to Faithtree Resources >>

Fellowship of St. Moses the Black

FSMB serves to equip Orthodox Christians for the ministry of racial reconciliation and to share the Orthodox Christian faith with African Americans and people of color. They host an annual conference, participate in educational opportunities and dialogues, and publish books on topics related to Orthodoxy and race, African saints, and healing.

Give Now to the Fellowship of St. Moses the Black >>

FOCUS North America

The Fellowship of Orthodox Christian United to Serve engages people in Christ’s call to serve by providing opportunities and resources designed to support communities in need. Through their national initiatives as well as their FOCUS centers in seven cities, FOCUS addresses needs related to food, occupation, clothing, understanding, and shelter.

Give Now to FOCUS North America >>

International Orthodox Christian Charities

IOCC offers emergency relief and development programs to those in need worldwide, without discrimination. They currently have programs in twelve countries/regions in the world–from rebuilding homes in the US after hurricanes to building schools in Uganda to developing co-ops in rural Greece, IOCC is committed to serving others in ways that are life-giving and dignified.

Give Now to IOCC >>

Ionian Village

Ionian Village is a unique summer camping program located in Greece where teens and young adults can venerate the relics of saints, walk in the footsteps of the Apostles, and visit significant sites of Greek history and culture. Earlier this year, they experienced significant damage on their grounds from a tornado are are looking for donors to support repairs.

Give Now to Ionian Village >>

Martha and Mary Maternity House

Located in the suburbs of Chicago, IL, the Martha and Mary Maternity House is a home for pregnant women in need of support which provides for the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of both mothers and children. 

Give Now to Martha and Mary Maternity House >>

Neighborhood Resilience Project

Engaging in Trauma-Informed Community Development in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Neighborhood Resilience Project supports the transformation of neighborhoods from trauma-affected communities to resilient, healing, and healthy communities. Their programs include an emergency food pantry, transportation assistance, a free health clinic, a trauma response team, and leadership development.

Give Now to Neighborhood Resilience Project >>

Orthodox Christian Mission Center

OCMC serves as the missions agency of the Assembly of Bishops in the US, striving to make disciples of all nations by bringing people to Christ and His Church.

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Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry

OCPM provides resources and training for local prison ministry programs as well as letters, Bibles, and other Orthodox resources directly to prisoners.

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Philoptochos

For more than 85 years, Philoptochos has served as the philanthropic arm of the Greek Orthodox Church in the US. With more than 400 chapters nationwide, they serve both local, national, and international needs of various kinds and also support other ministries of the Church, including OCF!

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Philoxenia, Inc.

Serving the community in New York City, Philoxenia, Inc. provides food and clothing for those experiencing homelessness.

Give Now to Philoxenia, Inc. >> 

Project Mexico

Serving the community of Tijuana, Mexico, Project Mexico builds homes for impoverished families and runs a boys orphanage and school.

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Reconciliation Services

Reconciliation Services works to bring the community of Kansas City together across dividing lines, especially focusing on the area of the city with the highest rates of crime, poverty, and trauma. Part of their work includes Thelma’s Kitchen, a pay as you can cafe, as well as mental health services, a foster grandparents program, and a leadership initiative.

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St. Basil’s Academy

Located in Garrison, NY, St. Basil’s Academy provides a home for children and sometimes families in need. Their services include schooling, a residential program, and mental health services.

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St. John the Compassionate Mission

St. John’s has been serving the Toronto community for over 30 years by creating an inclusive community of love, healing, and nourishment by offering meals, family programs, job opportunities at their bakery and thrift shop, and hospitality to the whole community.

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The Treehouse

In Wichita, KS, the Treehouse provides educational programs and supplies for mothers in need. They also support a thrift shop with children’s clothing and further supplies at a discounted rate.

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Youth Equipped to Serve

A part of FOCUS North America, YES deserves its own shout-out! YES works with teens and college students to engage with the poverty of their city, equipping them to become servant leaders in their own communities. We’re very grateful at OCF to often partner with YES and their leadership team!

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ZOE for Life

This organization supports a women’s health center in Ohio as well as various programs that support mothers and children, including mental health programs, children’s supplies, and housing and medical referrals.

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Of Incense and Thank You Cards

Of Incense and Thank You Cards

If my life came with a pack of thank you cards, I would have sent them all by now. One for my father and his steady reassurance in every circumstance. One for my aunt, with her welcoming kitchen and mugs of tea. Two for my best friend and the way she makes me laugh, and the list goes on. If I had thank you cards for my gratitude I would have stuffed so many envelopes by now that USPS would dread stopping at my mailbox. 

And yet, as easy as it is for me to show my thanks to the people I love, I often find myself caught on the idea of writing a thank you note to God. How do I pour nineteen years worth of gratitude for all the joys and sorrows of my life into a 4×6 card? And even if I could, how do I get past the fact that my prayer is too insignificant – that my miniscule act of praise is not enough, that even though my cup runneth over, it is too messy to put a stamp on and mail to God? 

When I am overwhelmed with thoughts like these, I think of the second verse of Psalm 140.

 “Let my prayer arise before thy sight as incense, and let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.” (Psalm 140:2 OSB)

While prayer and sacrifice may seem entirely unrelated to gratitude, they hold more in common than you might think. As Orthodox Christians, we know that thankfulness is ultimately demonstrated in sacrificial love. We see this in the Gospel reading from this past Sunday (Luke 12:16-21).

In Sunday’s reading, we hear Christ tell his disciples a parable of the man who, after seeing how plentiful the yield of his crops is, decides to tear down his barns and build even larger ones so that he can store up all his grain. In other words, the farmer chooses to celebrate the plentitude of the crops all by himself. He fails to recognize that his grain is a gift from God and that the purpose of a gift is to share it. Instead of showing gratitude for his gift by distributing it to others and sacrificing the wealth that he has accumulated, the farmer holds on to his goods tighter than ever. 

Like the farmer, I often find myself failing to show proper gratitude for the gifts I have been given. More often than not, I am unwilling to share my gifts with others. I would rather keep to myself, orbiting around what I’ve been given by God. 

Yet as St. Basil tells us in his homily on the parable of the farmer and his barns, “You have been made a minister of God’s goodness, a steward of your fellow servants. Do not suppose that all this was furnished for your own gullet! Resolve to treat the things in your possession as belonging to others.” Though it is easy to be selfish, to put on a pair of blinders and view achievements as solely our own or focus on the benefits that we alone can reap from what God has given us, we are called to give thanks for what we have been given by sacrificing it for others — by opening our barns and celebrating the good things God has given us. 

I may not know how to write a thank you card to God, but reading the earlier verse from Psalm 140 through the lens of this week’s Gospel lesson makes the answer crystal clear.  The way to thank God for the gifts he has given me is by lifting up my hands in sacrifice — lifting my hands and reaching out to give what I have been given back to God. Christ shines through each and every one of us. Every sacrifice we make to the world whether it be time, money, or the smallest kindness swirls before God’s eyes like rose-scented smoke on Sunday morning.

So when I begin to close in on how I compare to the people around me — when I want to close the doors and count my gifts, grain by grain, I am reminded that this is no evening sacrifice. When I forget the incense of my actions, when I hang my head instead of lifting up my hands, then I am reminded of the celebration that comes with giving thanks. It is then that I push open my heart and treat people with kindness, as living icons of Christ. Only then can I watch my actions turn into incense, and lift my life up as an evening sacrifice.

Andrew Gluntz

Catherine Thompson

Student at Seattle Pacific University

I am a second-year student at Seattle Pacific University with a major in sociology. When I’m not sending letters to my friends, you can find me serving as a student leader in my dorm, re-reading my favorite books, or wading through the Seattle rain. It’s an honor to be an OCF student!

The Simplest, Littlest Things

The Simplest, Littlest Things

If you looked at my 2020 planner in January, you would see back-to-back classes, club meetings, assignments, and exams, as well as vacations, road trips, summer camp, and OCF events lined up for the year. 

That planner was basically useless a few months later. By March, as we all know, plans were postponed, with some eventually leading to cancellation. As someone who loves being on-the-go with an endless to-do list, it was difficult to feel thankful when I realized I wasn’t going to be living the 2020 I envisioned and planned for at the beginning of the year. 

When the initial shutdown occurred, I moved back in with my parents. Emotions were heightened: I was frustrated with the transition to remote learning, stressed because I simultaneously became IT, secretary, barber, chef (not a brilliant one, might I add), and chauffeur as soon as I parked in the garage at my parents’ home. I was disappointed that I couldn’t physically attend church, saddened by having to postpone or cancel plans, and distraught at the sight of the world amid the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic. As I created a new routine and schedule, I gave myself two options: sulk around in my sorrows or search for joy. It took me some time, but I chose to search for joy, and that’s when my attitude suddenly snapped together. 

Being back at home with my family allowed me to do things I regretted not doing prior to moving out in 2018, or doing things I missed doing with them while at UCSB. 

My mom attempted to teach me how to cook her Arab recipes. 

My dad and I visited our family vineyards more frequently, allowing us to breathe fresh air that felt stripped away when wearing a mask. 

My older sister and I bonded and spent more quality time together than we probably ever have in our lives. 

My education was (and still is) quite literally at my fingertips in a virtual world through my laptop.

Most importantly, my God is always surrounding me.

As challenging as it felt in the beginning, I found that it was the simplest, littlest things that I should have been more grateful for all along: my family, friends and community, my home, food, education, and faith. 

In a chaotic world that has felt like it’s crumbling this year, we should remember to be grateful to God and what He blesses us with, to be grateful for the plan He writes out for us, rather than trying to write it for ourselves. In the words of St. Basil the Great, 

“When you sit down to eat, pray. When you eat bread, do so thanking Him for being so generous to you. If you drink wine, be mindful of Him who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness. When you dress, thank Him for His kindness in providing you with clothes. When you look at the sky and the beauty of the stars, throw yourself at God’s feet and adore Him who in His wisdom has arranged things in this way. Similarly, when the sun goes down and when it rises, when you are asleep or awake, give thanks to God, who created and arranged all things for your benefit, to have you know, love, and praise their Creator.”

Andrew Gluntz

Jeanine Kaileh

Southwest Regional Student Leader

I am a 3rd year biopsychology major at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I enjoy cooking, baking, reading, journaling, and tatreezing (traditional Palestinian embroidery). I’m serving on the Student Leadership Board as the Southwest Regional Student Leader for my second year and love OCF with all of my heart!

Eucharist Each Moment

Eucharist Each Moment

November! It’s here! Just a few more weeks of fall semester, powering our way through the intensity of school, while the holidays await us. On Thanksgiving, my family has a practice of going around and having each person say what they are thankful for that year. We often say something which has turned out for the best that year or thank God for the family, friends, successes, and moments of beauty in our lives. 

These things are BEAUTIFUL. They are full of life and love and show us pieces of God’s kingdom. Although it may be a challenge to always notice these moments, in some sense it is easy to give thanks for these things.

What about the other moments? What about the pain, the hurt, and the tears we shed? When we look back on our year and recall what we are thankful for, should we ignore these moments?

Christ’s sacrificial love is abundant and always present. Even in our moments of pain and struggle, He is with us just as much as He is in the “good” times. 

This past week, I had the joy of hearing the Akathist of St. Marina. St. Marina was a saint who was martyred when she was only fifteen years old. The Akathist praises her steadfastness, wisdom, and beauty of soul throughout her life and martyrdom. In a prayer before being beheaded,  she said,

 “O Beginningless, Immortal, Timeless, Incomprehensible and Unimaginable Lord, the God of all and Creator of all creation, the Foreseer and Savior of all, as I have hoped in You, I thank You, that You have brought me to this hour, as I approach the crown of Your righteousness.” 

While undergoing horrendous torture and ultimately dying for her faith, St. Marina was still in a state of thanksgiving. Even the Akathist of Thanksgiving, (which we will be praying together on 11/19 at 8 EST, find the details and zoom link here…I hope to see you there!) was written by Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov while he was in a prison camp! At the darkest points of life, we see the wisest people responding in the same way. With thanks. 

I have heard from many of my friends and can relate personally as well, to the struggle of this semester. Pre-existent stresses and underlying problems we faced are magnified through our current situation with this global pandemic. New challenges, a barrage of disheartening news, and the pain and struggles of people we know can bring forth these moments of hurt and tears. It is not our natural instinct to remain steadfast in our thanksgiving in these moments. However, when we look at the examples of St. Marina and Fr. Petrov we see that this is exactly what they did. 

Eucharist literally means thanksgiving in Greek (ευχαριστία). Liturgy is the celebration of the sacrifice Christ made for us. What we often forget is that the entire liturgy happens again each moment. Every single second of our lives Christ goes to the cross for us. Eucharist is in each moment, and that is how we can give thanks at all times for each moment, whether that moment is filled with laughter or with tears, it is always filled with the love of Christ. Glory to God for all things!

Andrew Gluntz

Alethia Placencia

Publications Student Leader

I am a senior at the University of Kentucky studying philosophy and microbiology. I love hiking, staying active, and enjoying great books and food! Above all, I love the family OCF has given me. Whatever your story may be, there is a place for you in this community! Reach out to learn more about OCF or if you would like to contribute to the blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net

With Great Love

With Great Love

Growing up in the church, I thought I had an understanding of the basics of my religion. I understood that Sunday activities included attending church and receiving Holy Communion. To me, these seemed to be straightforward and doable tasks that made me an Orthodox Christian. My religious routine consisted of going to Confession once every few weeks and attending church every Sunday to be prepared to take Holy Communion. Naively, throughout the week I wouldn’t think too much about church until the following Saturday night as I picked out my clothes for that Sunday morning. As I began talking to more priests, reading about the lives of the saints, and participating in different church services, I started to sense that there was a large piece missing from my spiritual life. It almost felt as if I were in class, listening to lectures and understanding the material, but when I went home I couldn’t complete the homework. I never understood why I felt this disconnect until I attended my first YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) trip. YES taught me the importance of taking home the liturgical lessons and practicing them in my daily life. It helped me to understand what it meant to “serve” Christ throughout our daily lives. It brought Christ’s written words to life. I understood quickly what serving Christ through “word and deed” truly meant.  

I thought service was something that must be planned for and organized — something that always included a transfer between one group who had something to another group who did not. Over the years, I have learned that servant leaders don’t just give tangible things but are those who are capable of creating Kingdom moments. When I say Kingdom moments, I am referring to moments where we see the Kingdom of God breaking into this world. How do we even do that? It occurs in the seemingly simple act of thinking outside of oneself and being aware of what is most needed from you in any given situation. It is important to remember that this is not always done by sharing money, clothes, or food, but can be done in the form of spending time, sharing a smile, conversation, or even simply holding the door open for someone. In essence, it is to recognize the human soul in front of us.

We should all strive to be servant leaders with the intention of delivering Christ’s love through our working hands and hearts, not out of a desire to be recognized by others. At the very core of any service is love; love for the church and love for your neighbor. We serve not from our pride or ego, but from our hearts. Christ, who loves us, gives us the ability to love others — which naturally looks different in each situation and is unique to each person.

Attending church teaches us how we should interact with the world around us — through our service. Sometimes we don’t see the fruit from the seeds of love we sow, but we must make sure to leave those seeds every chance we get. In college, it can be hard to always get to church, especially right now. However, it’s simple to bring love in small ways to those around us. It is these small ways that allow for moments where the world shines as God created it. As Mother Teresa tells us, may we take every small action and do it with great love. This is how we can truly live out our faith.

Andrew Gluntz

Wadeed Fakhoury

My name is Wadeed Fakhoury. I am in my third year studying Mechanical Engineering at George Mason University. I love seeing people and talking with them, and watching and playing sports! I have been involved with YES for many years and have learned and grown so much from my experience. I am also a member of the OCF at George Mason University and was a District Leader for Virginia!

Permission to Struggle

Permission to Struggle

It’s been some years since I went off to college, but those intense memories of the first time away from home and newly found independence are burned into my mind. I was in a suite with 5 other guys – young men who came from all walks of life with all kinds of different perspectives. I remember we found each other on Facebook with our new accounts —- back when you couldn’t get on Facebook until you had an official college email. We worked together before we had even met to pitch in for a TV and other goodies for our suite. I could go on and on about my experiences and memories from going off to college for the first time at Binghamton University, but what I really remember was my fear of struggle.

I was confident I could make friends. I was confident I could handle the courses. I was confident I could manage my time. I believed in myself, and I put a lot of stock in that belief.

The problem was, once I got to college, I struggled.

Of course I did, right? I mean how else could it have been? Who has ever gone off to college and just checked all the boxes on the way to their degree?

But, to be totally honest, I wasn’t OK with struggling. I had the Yoda “do or do not, there is no try” mentality, and I had convinced myself that my struggles were a failure. Can’t figure out what to do on your first Friday night at college, even though you thought you had just made great friends in your suite and that you’d all hang out together? Failure. Promised yourself you’d keep up with all of your homework and readings, but you didn’t even keep up through the first week? Failure. Missed callbacks on that acappella group you were so excited to join because you didn’t read the flyer all the way through? Failure.

What do you do when you’re told to be successful, but you’ve already failed?

You drop that entire binary mindset, and you struggle, of course.

In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, we hear about his struggles. Paul writes “…as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger…” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5 RSV) in an effort to convey not his virtues, as we would have seen in Greek texts of the time, but his struggles. It is an incredibly Christian thing to boast in our struggles.

Though, to this college freshman, that feeling of struggle felt so insignificant compared to the others in the world. What do I have to complain about when others have it so much more difficult?

This is where if I could go back and talk to myself, I would offer one piece of advice. The smaller struggles train you for the bigger struggles. Asking for help connecting with new friends and enduring the struggle to navigate those relationships would have helped me ask my TA to assist me in understanding the Chemistry course I was already struggling to keep up with. Asking my TA to help me with Chemistry would have encouraged me to talk to my advisor about balancing my course load by taking Calc II over the summer. Asking my advisor to help me with my course load would have led me to ask my priest why I was struggling to connect with my faith while living on campus with no Orthodox Christian peers.

Learning to struggle teaches us to ask for help. Asking for help teaches us humility. Through struggle, even with the small things, we build the skills necessary to grow. When we accept struggle as a central component of our lives as Orthodox Christians, we will find ourselves in a pattern of growth that will train us for a life full of struggle, and ultimately, toward eternity.

If you learn to embrace struggle and to ask for help while you’re in college, you won’t be surprised when your first job points out your flaws. You won’t be surprised when you’ve found “the one,” but marriage turns out to be a lot more work than Disney had promised. You won’t be surprised when your newborn son loves to sleep when he wants to but loves to party when you’re trying to sleep. So embrace your struggle. Ask for help. Always remember that our job is not to live a perfect life, but a life of constant effort – constant struggle – in repentance toward Christ.

Andrew Gluntz

Fr. Niko Tzetzis

Great Lakes Regional Spiritual Advisor

Fr. Niko is the associate priest at Holy Trinity – St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Cincinnati, Ohio and the Regional Spiritual Advisor for the Great Lakes region of OCF. Fr. Niko was ordained to the priesthood recently, in September of 2020, and he and Presvytera Ivey welcomed their son Tommy into the world this past summer.

Making “One Story” Decisions

Making “One Story” Decisions

This October, we have been able to learn through Orthodox Awareness Month that OCF has four pillars it builds its ministry around. One of these pillars is “education.” Throughout my four years in OCF I had steadfast support in learning more about our faith, myself, and the world. I’d like to focus on a specific experience I find relevant this month with the impending election (don’t worry, I won’t tell you who to vote for).

This past March I went on Real Break Romania — an alternative spring break trip where we served the people living at Pro Vita — a large village that functions as an orphanage and a refuge for the “othered” from society. While we were there, we learned about the rule of a certain communist regime in Romania and the lasting impact it has had — on the lives of the people we were interacting with, the country as a whole, and Orthodoxy in Romania. Children were abandoned in cribs in institutional orphanages with limited human interaction. People who were physically disabled were thrown aside and left to die. Christians were tortured and killed, including clergy, for teaching to “seek first the kingdom of God,” because it was subversive to the state. Despite this, people were lowered into courtyards on bedsheets to hear priests speak, unshakably holding on to their faith.

How can we use the knowledge gained from encounters such as this, to seek first the kingdom of God with vigor? Recently, I have been re-reading a book I originally heard about at an OCF retreat, titled Everywhere Present by Fr. Stephen Freeman. In this book, Fr. Stephen explains that many Christians who live in the West (including Orthodox Christians) perceive the world as a “two-story” universe. In other words, western Christians think that we live “down here” on the first floor, and God lives “up there” on the second floor, only coming down to interact with us sometimes. However, Fr. Stephen calls us to reform our worldview so that we understand the truth taught by the Orthodox Church — that the universe is all “one story,” and that God, the saints, and the departed are fully alive in Christ right here on this same floor with us. The message of God and His kingdom is everywhere and filling all things!

This understanding outlined in Everywhere Present adds an extra weight to certain verses of Scripture, including: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:3 NKJV) As Orthodox Christians, we should understand that everyone we interact with — an orphaned child, disabled man, someone who has wronged us, even politicians we may disagree with — is an image of Christ, handmade by God. No matter how muddied that image may become, it is still there. 

To this end, we should try to make sure that our souls are not sleeping, especially in times of strife and division. Christ calls us all to one communion — and to love one another, regardless of affiliations or wrongdoings. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NKJV) I challenge you this political cycle to find common ground with people you disagree with and to remember that we all live in a one-story universe.

Awaken your soul. Pray for the whole world, pray particularly for your enemies (and if you’re struggling with genuinely desiring good for them, ask the Lord to help you humble yourself). Seek first the kingdom of Heaven, and place your trust only in Christ our Savior. One way to start doing this is to get involved with your local OCF chapter and national events. You will receive abundantly, in education, fellowship, service, and worship.

Andrew Gluntz

Demetra Chiafos

OCF Alumna

My name is Demetra Chiafos! I was involved in OCF during my four years at The Ohio State University, serving on the student officer board for three years at OSU and participating in national events. I graduated in 2020 with a BFA in Dance and a BA in Japanese. I am currently teaching dance while completing my MA in Translation (Japanese) through SOAS University of London. I play piano and cello, and sing in church choir whenever I can!

Blog banner photo taken by Ben Gluntz

Finding Fellowship Across the Sea

Finding Fellowship Across the Sea

 Leaving Greece to come to America for college, I had no idea how I would maintain my faith without having the ‘church’ around me – I was scared of my exposure to different religions and denominations because I had never experienced that before. In Greece, I found it uncommon to have religion-related differences. While I grew up in a God-centered family, I never questioned why I was Orthodox. Upon living in America, I found myself beginning to challenge many concepts and ideas I perhaps took for granted. Becoming a part of OCF, I was able to find a community with the resources to help me with these new questions.

It wasn’t until an entire year of college had passed that I randomly found out about OCF from a friend at church who invited me to a regional retreat. Let me tell you, I was a bit skeptical in the beginning knowing nothing about the organization. At that same point in time, I had been talking with my Russian friend about starting a club to unite all the Orthodox students on our campus, since we did not have anything like that yet. After researching the work of OCF on their website, I was genuinely fascinated. My first thought was, “we don’t have that in Greece.” Fast forward a day later and both my Russian friend and I registered for the retreat, which was coming up the following week. Immediately after our experience at the retreat, we started our club on campus as an OCF Chapter!

Everything happened so fast. I was so happy and excited to be part of a community where I could be 100% myself and not feel judged about my beliefs. I would have never imagined the blessings that OCF has brought to my life. I have gotten to meet people I can have fun with and connect with on a spiritual level. There is so much meaning in friendship and an even deeper connection when you share the same values and beliefs with someone. I didn’t even have that in Greece!

OCF opened the door for me to be with people who can understand and help me when I need advice or guidance. Through OCF, I’ve been able to participate in a Real Break Trip to Texas, a YES day, and other retreats . Ever since I learned about OCF, I went to all events I could! Real Break in Texas this past March was a life-changing experience. I got to serve with like-minded people knowing that we all chose to be there and serve. We worked to provide a home for someone who lost it due to hurricane Harvey. It was a very humbling experience I will never forget, alongside the program’s amazing leaders that brought all the fun! It is safe to say that OCF has been the best part of college.

Eirini

Eirini Symeonidou
(Ειρήνη Συμεωνίδου)

Berea OCF Chapter Leader

Eirini Symeonidou is an international student from Thessaloniki, Greece and goes to Berea College in Kentucky. She is a junior majoring in Agriculture and minoring in Sustainability and Environmental Studies. She is also a farmer at the college’s organic farm and loves spending time outdoors and going to the beach (when in Greece)! Eirini is a founding member of her college’s OCF chapter and loves to organize events and activities.

Woven and Knit

Woven and Knit

Picture this: Family outing, you are walking through the halls of a museum, feeling a little more boujee and artsy than your usual self. You trot through the high-ceilinged, awkwardly chilly, and oh so silent galleries, glancing at different installments and occasionally reading how a piece of art was made. You step into a hall of large tapestries. You first think, why are these rugs so big? You begin to spend a bit more time there, only to be completely entranced by the magnitude, complexity, and time it must have taken to put something like this together!

This is a very specific situation you may or may not have ever experienced, but I think we got to a place where we can all picture it. If you didn’t know how tapestries are made, they are compiled of many strings, woven together on a loom. The pieces are placed in just the right way so that the front of the tapestry seamlessly presents an awe-inspiring picture. On the backside however, the picture is often inverted, disjointed, with more strings sticking out than frizzy hairs after an intense workout. 

Consider these majestic tapestries. Is there a significance in the finished product which is displayed and the back which marks the struggles, inconsistencies, and mistakes that went into making it? How do we see ourselves? At each moment in time do we recognize the beauty which is formed through our lives or are we often caught in the tangling disjointedness? 

The comparison of the Christian life to a tapestry is one that resonates and allows us to clarify a way to see the unique identity and journey we have in Christ. There is a certain inner harmony and freedom available in this understanding as well. We are able to recognize our wholeness as fulfilled through layers of our brokenness as our, “Wonderful Counselor” guides us to unity within ourselves. 

We are now able to see that the pieces of our life are woven together, but what about each other? Our communities? Are these not woven too? 

So much of our worldly experience is accompanied with unrest, disagreement, misunderstanding, pride, and so many other opportunities for division. 

In a quote from Mother Teresa she says, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” In Colossians 2:2, Paul, while away, wishes he was with his flock and hopes “that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love.” The devil is always inciting division. He gives us ways to spend our time and things to care about which may seem harmless. Yet ultimately, it is these things that bring us farther from our brothers and sisters and most importantly, from Christ! 

When I was first introduced to OCF, I didn’t know much about Orthodox Awareness Month each October. My interpretation now is that it is a time to reflect on how we can knit our lives together — to be aware of the way we use our time and fill it with things that bring us closer to Christ and each other. We can see Christ in every person — our Orthodox brothers and sisters and our Non-Orthodox friends alike. Let us be aware of the ways we, through sin divide, and through love connect. Let us thank God for the wonderful tapestries of our lives and let us do our best to knit them to one another. 

Andrew Gluntz

Alethia Placencia

Publications Student Leader

I am a senior at the University of Kentucky studying philosophy and microbiology. I love hiking, staying active, and enjoying great books and food! Above all, I love the family OCF has given me. Whatever your story may be, there is a place for you in this community! Reach out to learn more about OCF or if you would like to contribute to the blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net

Living and Loving Through Our Crosses

Living and Loving Through Our Crosses

No matter who you are, you have experienced some sort of struggle in your life. You may have asked yourself: why is God allowing this to happen to me? Fr. Calinic Berger gave a beautiful homily (1:39:15) on this topic focusing on the verse: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24]. He explained how a cross is an unavoidable challenge God allows for those He loves. We can allow ourselves to become resentful or choose for it to bring us closer to Him. 

While in Romania last spring for Real Break (where we almost got locked out of the US… but that’s a story for another time), I learned about Fr. George Calciu (1925-2006). Fr. George was a Romanian priest living under Communist rule who boldly dared to preach The Gospel and bring hope to the Romanian people. Because of this, he was imprisoned and suffered through horrendous torture, some of which was “1984-style mind control experiments,” for twenty-one years. Fr. George eventually escaped to the United States where one of our trip leaders, Fr. Robert Miclean, was blessed to know him. Fr. Robert told us how Fr. George not only forgave his tormentors and prayed for them, but also he thanked them for bringing him closer to Christ. Fr. George was given a cross that he bore with such grace and humility. (For those who would like to read more of his story: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/46636.html). 

Here in America, we thankfully do not have to fear torture for our faith, but we still all have crosses to bear. This is not to make us angry and frustrated, but for the reason Fr. George saw: to bring us closer to God. Hearing this story in Romania was deeply humbling and solidified my belief that God uses everything for good. 

One experience that comes to mind is when my baby sister was diagnosed with a tumor. I am the oldest of six kids and had prayed and prayed for a sister. After four amazing brothers, God blessed me with a sister a month before I turned 13. However, before she turned 6 months old, the doctors found a rare tumor near her eye. Only around 300 people ever had suffered this type of tumor, and we were scared we would lose her or that she would have brain damage or be blinded. Her tumor miraculously went away, but for 6 years, it was a fearful and uncertain time of traveling 9 hours to MD Anderson in Houston. Our church family completely enveloped us with love, offering their homes to my parents while they stayed in Texas and taking care of their other five kids back in Kansas. A fruit of this cross regarding my sister’s health is now considering people family who I otherwise might not have known. We have even been gifted the opportunity to open our arms and share love with others going through health crises. 

These two stories are crosses that are outwardly visible, but crosses can also be more internal. A friend of mine felt disconnected, lonely, and deeply insecure during middle school and parts of high school. This was a time guided by low self-worth, but she realized that this experience formed her into a more inclusive, empathetic individual. Because of it, she has grown into the person she needed during that time and is able to connect on a deeper level with other young people currently going through similar struggles. 

We must remember not to compare our struggles to others’ and to rely on God’s grace to bring us towards the ultimate goal: salvation. Whatever your personal cross may be, know that you are not alone in your journey. We are together in the Body of Christ. May we all learn from examples like Fr. George as we strive to stay on the path towards Christ. 

Anna Spencer

is a senior at Kansas State University studying Nutrition & Health. She loves getting to know people, reading, traveling, eating good food, and anything outdoors (if it is not cold). She is Real Break Student Leader this year and would love it if you came to Real Break office hours (Time TBD) later this semester!

Awake, O Sleeper

Awake, O Sleeper

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.”

St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (5:14-16)

Awake Sleeper

In Greek myths, the personification of sleep was the god Hypnos who lived in Hades near the river of Lethe (forgetfulness) with his brother Thanatos (death). In many stories he is kind, gentle, and calm, however he possesses those human lives whom he lulls to sleep. From this god’s name we get the word hypnosis, for myths involving him reveal that it is the hypnotist that gains possession and control over the one he puts to sleep. From the time of Christ until now, the world has been attempting to lull the souls of Christians to sleep with its hypnotic way of life. We experience it today with an onslaught of flatteries, ideologies, comfortabilities, etc. These attacks on the soul are made in order that the Christian would fall into a deep spiritual sleep, for to fall asleep under the world’s hypnosis is to be possessed by it and to dwell in forgetfulness and death. This is what sin does to our souls. In commenting on this verse in Ephesians, St John Chrysostom writes, “By the sleeper and the dead, he means the man that is in sin; for he both exhales noisome odors like the dead, and is inactive like one that is asleep, and like him he sees nothing, but is dreaming, and forming fancies and illusions.”

We all experience the intoxicating slumber of this world and have some area of our spiritual life that is not awake. However, we are not created to be sleepers, but to abandon sin and be a people who rouse the soul. St Paul calls us to an exalted life, commanding us to awake and receive the light of Christ. Therefore, we must ask the question: How do we awaken our souls to receive this light?

According to the Fathers and Mothers of the church, in order to raise the soul out of the slumber of sin there are three practical habits that we can form.

The first of these habits is the mystical practice. This means to participate in the divine services and sacraments of the Church. Our life needs to revolve around these things as absolute essentials for keeping our souls alive and awake. The divine services of the Church bring is into direct contact with the Living God and they impart transformation to the soul. The sacraments are great medicines that allow us to partake of divine grace and give us strength to battle our own sins.

The second of these habits that we can form is the ascetical practice. This means to start and end our day at our icon corners or home altars, to read Scripture and the lives of the Saints daily, to keep the fasts prescribed by the Church, and to do as much as we can to fill our lives with the grace of God. Many times this second habit is hard because it requires us to set time aside, to give up some things we like, and to force ourselves even when we don’t feel like it. That’s ok! Nobody becomes a professional athlete or gets an advanced degree without first forcing oneself to set aside time to push forward for achievement. In fact, the very definition of asceticism is to deny oneself, as our Lord commanded us to do (Matt 16:24).

The third habit to awaken the soul is the practice of alms-giving. This means to give ourselves for others. This can be in the form of treasures like money or possessions, but this can also be in our time and talents. If we find it hard to give up things for others, especially earthly things, then we know that our soul is asleep and we need to awaken to a deeper spiritual life. How we raise up our soul is to sacrifice for others.

Awakening the soul can require a lot of effort, but our reward is beyond compare and the comfort that comes after is worth more than any struggle. St Paul says that if we rise and awaken our sleeping or dead soul, Christ’s light will be given to us. We are given an opportunity in this life not to just experience Christ’s paschal light, but to be given it—to live it. This is why our saints are painted with halos, because this great light shines from their awakened and alive sanctified souls. Let us Christians strive to be like them and embark on a path toward forming habits today that will keep our souls risen for eternity.

Fr. John

Fr. John Valadez

is the pastor of St. Timothy Antiochian Orthodox Church in Lompoc, California and is the Spiritual Advisor of SOYO in DLAW. He is a convert to Orthodoxy and was ordained to the holy priesthood in 2017. Fr. John is married to Khouria Krystina and they have five children.
Being Happy Here

Being Happy Here

Happiness is simultaneously the most simple, pure, and childlike emotion we experience and is also the most misunderstood and difficult to achieve. This isn’t our fault. We are constantly fed many lies about happiness and well-being that distort our notion of what happiness is and how we are to go about achieving it in our own lives. Often we are told that happiness is tied with success, including, but not limited to, wealth and status (it’s hard to cry when you’re sitting in a Bugatti), popularity (TikTok was made for a reason), appearance (just the fact that thinspo exists), or even just the experiences we cultivate (what I wouldn’t do to be sipping an oat milk latte in a trendy cafe right now).

Given that the simultaneous possession of each of these things is impossible, we cope with this “loss” by telling ourselves that we must work harder, longer, take more photos to nourish our aesthetic, and run ourselves into the ground (literally) in order to “live our best lives.” Then one day, if we’re lucky, we’ll be happy.

Unfortunately, I can tell you from my years of experience, it doesn’t work. Society has taught us to treat happiness as a commodity — something that can somehow be possessed, bartered for, and accrued. And thus, we can save it, forgoing happiness in our present situation in order to have more at a future time (imagine that RUSH you’ll get when you finally cash in all your happiness tokens — euphoric).

A while ago, during a routine Facebook scroll, I came across an article titled 25 Uncomfortable Things You Need To Do If You Don’t Want to Regret Your 20s.” Brianna, as she promised, gave us 25 darn good things. But #26 was the kicker.

BONUS: 26. Learn to be happy here, now, today. If you do not learn how to be happy in the present, no job, no partner, no success, no trip, no money, nothing that you are working for will be as enjoyable as you think. You cannot save up your happiness to be released when you think you deserve it. You either have it now, or you have it never.

This quote presents us with a new proposition. How are we to “be happy here, now?” This sets us on a course towards joy, a lasting, divine happiness.

My 3rd grade teacher used to say “it’s called the present because each moment is a gift.” As Orthodox Christians, we can continue that analogy to realize that each moment in our lives is an opportunity to encounter Christ. In his book Everywhere Present, Fr. Stephen Freeman explains that our concept of the universe is problematically two-storied. God lives upstairs, we live downstairs. But this is antithetical to a God who is, as we say at the beginning of every Divine Liturgy, everywhere present and fills all things. As we begin to understand our one-storey universe, we realize that “we are never separated from God who is freely with us, but also giving Himself to us in everything around us.” As we learn to realize God’s presence on Earth, we live our lives transformed, allowing Christ to make Divine what was mundane, and speaking to us in every interaction with His creation. 

Since Christ is continually calling us into communion with Him, the burden falls on us to hear His call, and in doing so, choosing to respond in a way that brings us joy. In the Akathist of Thanksgiving, we read:

We give Thee thanks for all Thy mercies, seen and unseen; for eternal life, for the heavenly joys of the Kingdom which is to be.

It has long been said that gratitude is the foundation for joy, so this should come as no surprise to us. The Psalmist, in describing how the Lord shepherds His people, writes, “You anoint my head with oil, my cup runs over,” and later, in Psalm 136, “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever” repeating the final line 26 times in the same Psalm. Clearly, joy, wholeness in Christ, and, yes, happiness, are ours for the taking. Our job becomes opening our hearts to the mystery of God’s grace, and choosing in each moment to give thanks.

And so, in a world with so many choices, choose Joy.

Andrew Gluntz

Andrew Gluntz

Student Leadership Board Chairman

Andrew Gluntz is a senior at The Ohio State University studying Chemical Engineering and is currently the Chairman of the Student Leadership Board. In his free time, he enjoys drinking coffee, reading good books, and getting college students involved in OCF. So join today!

Mike Posner and Meeting Christ in Each Moment

Mike Posner and Meeting Christ in Each Moment

There is something indefinable about being in the present moment.  

Our theme for this year is “Awake O My Soul” — taken from Psalm 57, and we also hear it in the Canon of St. Andrew. When we read this verse we are calling upon our own souls to wake up.  

What are we waking up from? What are we waking up to?

One of my all time favorite middle school nostalgia songs is, Cooler Than Me by Mike Posner. Mike is forever tied to my childhood memories, but recently he has had my attention for a new reason.  

In 2019, he walked across the United States. After the passing of his dad and one of his good friends, he set out on a journey. He documents this journey in the music video of his song, Live Before I Die.

In the music video for his song, Move On, he explains why he decided to do this. He sings, “Beginnings always hide themselves in ends.” In tragedy he saw hope; hope to make a change in the way he was living, hope to truly wake up to life.  

In his song, Live Before I Die, he says, “Dear Lord, won’t you please give me wisdom, grant me peace, ‘Cause i just wanna live before I die.” 

When we say the phrase “live before I die,” we may think it means doing as many things as we can before we leave this world. However, we have the potential to grow closer to truly living or dying each day. The way we live out our moments allow us to choose to be awake to life or stay asleep.  

In Genesis 28:16, Jacob, upon waking from sleep, proclaimed, “the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” Christ waits for us at each moment. We must remind our souls of this truth and to be attentive to each second we have been given.  

Right now we are starting back at school. Many of us are coming back online. We may need a call to awake our souls now more than ever! With all that we have experienced the last few months, it may be difficult to feel that we are directing and not drifting through our lives. How can we wake up? How can we truly live at a time like this?   

In the Canon of St. Andrew, translated by Sister Katherine and Sister Thekla, we hear, “Awake, O my soul…that thou gain a mind to see God.” (pg.97)  

In A Message for our Graduates of 2020 on YouTube, His Grace Bishop Anthony said, “Keep Christ before you, the Holy Spirit beside you, and the Father above you.” If we were to carry this out in our lives each moment would be fulfilled. “He died for us, so that we could live for him.” This is how we may live before we die: to be seeking, guided, and fueled by our Lord at all times and at every hour.  

Even after Mike Posner began his journey he faced challenges. After traversing over half of our country, he was bitten by a rattlesnake and had to learn to walk again before he could continue. We don’t know what is in store for us, but what we can do is call upon ourselves, at every moment, to be awake to Christ extending to us. Awake, O My Soul, so that I may truly live before I die. 

Alethia Placencia

Alethia Placencia

Publications Student Leader

My name is Alethia Placencia! I am a Senior at the University of Kentucky. Christ often reveals himself through the people in your life. I’m so grateful for the way He has worked through OCF and those I’ve met through this ministry! 

Caterpillars with Free Will

Caterpillars with Free Will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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