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

Managing Anxiety: How to Find Peace

Managing Anxiety: How to Find Peace

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

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

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

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

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

Magdalena Hudson

Magdalena Hudson

Publications Student Leader

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

Lord, It Is Good for Us To Be Here

Lord, It Is Good for Us To Be Here

“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother and led them up a high mountain apart. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light.” (Matt. 17 1-2).

Take a moment and try to imagine what the Transfiguration of Christ might have been like through the eyes of the apostles. Picture yourself standing in the shadow of Mount Tabor, knowing what a long haul it will be to the top. Now try to imagine all the little things that might make the journey uncomfortable along the way: hours spent in the heat of the day, blistered feet, aches, hunger, thirst, and all the brambles. How many times have we felt that we were also standing at the foot of a mountain (whether it be a personal goal/desire, a spiritual journey, or emotional suffering) knowing what a difficult journey it will be to ascend it? Often we might find ourselves standing there frozen and wondering where on earth we will find the strength to journey to the top. When that wonder hits us, we can find ourselves believing we can do it completely alone through sheer will-power, or we can stop to ask God for the grace necessary to meet the task ahead.

It had to have been a long and grueling trip to the top of Mount Tabor, but sooner or later Jesus and the apostles reached the pinnacle. On the top of Mount Tabor the apostles beheld the Transfigured Christ. Peter declared, “Lord it is good for us to be here…” Despite the long and difficult journey, the apostles were in such awe and admiration of Christ’s Transfiguration that they wished to remain there upon the mountain forever rather than make the journey back down. However, remaining on the mount was not to take place. What did take place was yet another transformation – a transformation within their own hearts. After leaving Mount Tabor, they would carry the joy of that encounter as they made their return journey back into the world. That joy allowed them to find Christ within their hearts and gave them strength to push on. St. Anastasius Sinaita has this to say in his sermon on the Transfiguration:

“It is indeed good to be here, as you have said, Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here forever. What greater happiness or higher honor could we have than to be with God, to be made like him and to live in his light? Therefore, since each of us possesses God in his heart and is being transformed into his divine image, we also should cry out with joy: It is good for us to be here – here where all things shine with divine radiance, where there is joy and gladness and exultation; where there is nothing in our hearts but peace, serenity, and stillness; where God is seen. For here, in our hearts, Christ takes up his abode together with the Father, saying as he enters: “Today salvation has come to this house.” With Christ, our hearts receive all the wealth of his eternal blessings, and there where they are stored up for us in him, we see reflected as in a mirror both the first fruits and the whole of the world to come.”

Like the apostles, we too are called to struggle up our own mountains. While the mountains in each of our lives might vary, we each have a shared purpose in our journey – finding Christ within our heart. Once we find Christ in our heart through the struggles we have undertaken, we must hold Him there within ourselves and allow Him to transform our lives as we continue to spread the gospel and grow closer to Him in faith. We will find purpose in our life by choosing to see our trials as an opportunity to grow closer Him on our path towards theosis. The feast of the Transfiguration has much to teach us. No matter the reasons we have to lose heart in the face of adversity, we will find even more cause to press on with faith in Jesus Christ.

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!

I Don’t Know How to Pray: A post about prayer that’s actually about journaling

I Don’t Know How to Pray: A post about prayer that’s actually about journaling

People pray, sometimes. A few people pray, often. Most people feel that they don’t know how to pray at all. We read, listen, think, debate, and ask about it. We try learning to pray. But prayer is tough!

In Psalm 46 we hear “Be still, and know that I am God.” 

St. Paul calls for us to “Pray without ceasing.”

St. Seraphim of Sarov says “Acquire a spirit of peace, and a thousand souls around you will be saved.”

 

These quotes are instructive reminders that can help our prayer take shape. These are just some of the lessons I have taken from these quotes: 

  1. Turn off your phone and be quiet. Move away from distractions. Relax, breathe, and try to be still.
  2. Remember that you are a human being, not a human doing. Take a moment to acknowledge your existence. Try saying the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
  3. Reflect on your existence and acquire a spirit of peace.

Reflect on my existence?! Acquire a spirit of peace?! That sounds really hard.

Sometimes, trying to pray feels like trying to draw the rest of the owl (refer to the image at the top of this post). Luckily, there’s a great tool to help you move forward: journaling!

Many people use journaling as a means of self-reflection. Writing down my thoughts helps me “be still” while still allowing my mind to flow. You may find this to be helpful as well. 

If you like, begin your entry with the date and a prayer of thanksgiving. God, I am thankful for this. God, I am thankful for that. Also thank you for my friends. Etc., etc., et. al. This helps you begin with a good mindset.

As I continue writing, I think about things that have happened to me recently. I think about the things I did (or didn’t do) all day, my friends, and my family. You can do this, too. Think about the good things that happened to you, and the bad things. Think about how they made you feel. Write it down as if you’re telling a friend, or future you, or God.

After that, I take it a step deeper. I ask myself why I did the things I did or felt the way I felt. Do likewise; think about your goals. What did you want to accomplish today? Think about your values. Write everything down! Perfection is not the aim, so if you’re struggling to keep up with your thoughts, think slower (or write faster).

Finally, as you finish, look toward the future. What are you going to do differently tomorrow? This week? This year? What are you going to do the same? Write it all down. If you run out of paper, buy another notebook. 🙂

I like to close by writing down the prayer of St. Ephrem:

Lord and Master of my life, cast away from me the spirit of laziness, idle curiosity, love of power & vain talk.

But grant me, Your servant, the spirit of moderation, humility, patience, and love.

Yes, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brothers and sisters.

For You are blessed forever. Amen.

I had no idea what I was doing when I started journaling months ago. I held close the spirit of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s words: “When you fall, get up immediately and start over.” Or, as Alfred said to Batman: “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” Journaling helped me persevere through tough times and celebrate great times. Pausing to “be still” reminded me to glorify God, give thanks to Him, and face towards Christ once again.

As we remember this year’s Lenten season and celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, reflection becomes crucial if we want to move forward in our faith. We must look back and carefully consider our failures and successes. Then, tomorrow will be better than yesterday, and next year will be better than the last.

Andrew Gluntz

George Powell

OCF Northeast Regional Student Leader

George Powell 

George Powell is from Tyngsborough MA, or Boston if you have never heard of Tyngsborough. A sophomore at Wentworth Institute of Technology, he studies Computer Science with a minor in Writing, Editing, and Publishing. He humbly served as the Northeast Regional Student Leader for OCF in 2020-2021. His favorite hobbies include sleeping and playing Chess, but not at the same time. He dreams of one day being fluent in Spanish. Talk to him on Discord: https://discord.gg/uWT4eqd

OCF April 2021 Highlights

Christ is Risen!

Brand New!

Holistic Living Guide

A guide for Orthodox Christian College students to live better in body, mind, community, and spirit. The Holistic Living Guide includes articles, journal topics, and activities students can explore on their own or as a chapter!

we’ve got Good news…

we’re hiring!

OCF has launched a national search for two new positions within our organization: a Communications Manager and a Ministry Coordinator. These additions to our team will allow us to reach and serve more college students, offering them those most important opportunities to be close to Christ during their time in school.

v

real break now Testimonials

What Students are Saying

During the Real Break Now program, participants discussed the barriers to serving, how service is about people instead of projects, and decompartmentalizing service.

One of the questions covered was, “What are your thoughts on this quote from John Chrysostom: ‘Need alone is a poor man’s worthiness’?”

“This quote boils down all of the societal dynamics around service and giving to its key component: meet a need. No other factor should matter. We should not appoint ourselves judge over a poor man to try and determine whether or not his needs meet our standards. There is only one judge, God, and He is the only one who should judge. If a beggar is lying or deceitful about his need, then God will judge him, but if we don’t show him love and service, God will judge us. We must multiply the mercy God gives us constantly.” -Chase

“This quote perfectly anticipates the response of a hardened heart. Living in a big city, it is easy to become numb or even blind to the poverty and suffering around you. I could easily pass the same homeless man under the same bridge every day and think nothing of it. I love how, in the video and this quote, there is a focus on the softening of the heart and coming to realize our mutual humanity and share in the responsibility of clothing and feeding the poor. I also struggle with making excuses like “there are shelters for that” or “maybe it’s not safe.” But this is indicative of a hardened heart-this shrugs responsibility and places blame on others, caring only for oneself. This quote is humbling in just the right way.” – Cassidy

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Finding Gratitude in Perseverance

Finding Gratitude in Perseverance

Last summer looked abnormal for me, as it did for everyone I knew. In the span of a week, I had been sent home from my freshman year of college on an “extended spring break,” was told I would not be able to study abroad in Italy, summer church camp & the Parish Life Conference were cancelled, and I couldn’t physically be with my friends and family. Even though I was FaceTiming my friends multiple times a day and had more family time than ever before, I felt alone.

Why is this happening?

That was a thought that ran through my head every day I was home. I tried to remind myself that my situation was better than most: I was healthy with a roof over my head, family in the next room, and toilet paper to last me a lifetime. But it was hard. I struggled to find gratitude in the things I was able to experience that summer. As restrictions started to lighten up in Southern California, my friends and I had more freedom to be out and about. I was so happy to be able to leave the house that I didn’t really stop to give the last few months a second thought.

In December, we started planning what OCF at the University of Oklahoma was going to discuss for the spring semester. Katy Powers recommended Robin Phillipps’, Gratitude in Life’s Trenches: How to Experience the Good Life Even When Everything is Going Wrong, a very fitting book for our current situation. As we dove into the book, I started to realize how gratitude and perseverance go hand-in-hand. Robin focuses on the darker side of finding happiness.

People tell you that when you’re sad, you shouldn’t listen to sad music because it makes you more sad (spoiler alert: they’re right). You can follow this same principle when you’re going through life. If you dwell too much on anything going wrong in your life, you will never be able to find gratitude.

The only way to find that light of the end of the tunnel is to trek through the path before you and persevere. 

As we went deeper into the book, all of the good that came out of the last year became clear to me. My dad and I spent a lot of time building a patio in the backyard, we tried tons of new delicious recipes, and my family and I got to hang out and play games almost every night. The more we talked about the book, the more I realized how much stronger I am because of the hardships we faced during this time.

It wasn’t until I sat down to write this blog post that realized how this last year has prepared me for the rest of my life. I still don’t know why God presented us with this challenge. What I do know is that our perseverance as Orthodox Christians has not only helped us grow as individuals, but has shown other people the light of Christ during trying times.

Andrew Gluntz

Sammy Nassief

The University of Oklahoma OCF Chapter President

Hi everyone! I’m Sammy, a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma studying Health and Exercise Science and Sports Management. I was raised in Southern California at St. Nicholas until we started the St. Simeon mission in Santa Clarita. I’m the president of the OU OCF chapter and love going to Camp St. Nicholas in the summer as a camper/counselor. I love to watch sports with my friends, try out new recipes, and travel!

Real Break Now: How it came to be. How it’s going. How to be the church in the world.

Real Break Now: How it came to be. How it’s going. How to be the church in the world.

After serving in Romania on Real Break 2020, I applied to be Real Break Student Leader for Orthodox Christian Fellowship. I wanted to help create other service opportunities for students. What a whirlwind of a year! Back in early Fall 2020, we did not know how long the pandemic would last, and we kept running into barriers in planning. We did our best trying to navigate traveling precautions and eventually saw most schools cancelling their spring breaks. As the year progressed, it became obvious that a traditional Real Break would not happen. To be completely honest, this was frustrating and disappointing. I found myself nervous I would not be able to do the work of my position on the Student Leadership Board. This time was trying, but it was still fruitful!

With a desire to empower students to serve their communities, especially with increased need due to COVID-19, a new program was created! A dedicated team of OCF staff and friends listened to me as I brainstormed ideas, and thus, a flexible 16-week course with nine incredible instructors called Real Break Now: How To Be The Church in The World was formed. Students living in 22 different states and 5 different countries have come together to prepare for the opportunity to apply for two $1000 grants towards a project serving their community this summer.

I am incredibly grateful for each person who helped to make this happen. The students have put so much thought into the material. Here is just a glimpse of the topics we have discussed during the first three modules:

 

Module 1: How Orthodoxy is a Way of Life, Not Just a Religion, led by Fr. Nicholas Belcher

We discussed questions on how to avoid “Phariseeism,” stories of people who have impacted us spiritually, the interaction between church rituals and service, and actions we can take to make our faith more of a way of life. Here is what a few of our wonderful students have to say:

 

”I really like how Fr. Nick addressed the alleged dichotomy between church rituals and good deeds/service. Growing up Orthodox, I have always believed the Sacraments are important. In society, I feel like some say that the church is useless without service and living out the Gospel and act as if the two are mutually exclusive. I like how Fr. Nick simply points out that if you think about it, there is no reason for them to be mutually exclusive and that, in fact, they support one another and are both essential to follow The Way.” -Chase

”I’ve always admired the way that Orthodoxy encompasses all five senses – from the iconography (seeing), to incense (smelling), to Holy Communion (tasting), to the choir and chanters (hearing), to crossing and performing prostrations (feeling). Growing up in a protestant church, I always felt God was at arm’s length, that reverence was an old-fashioned notion. Once I stumbled across the Orthodox faith, (admittedly at first I was skeptical of my first Liturgy due to it being such a different service than I was used to), I could sense that Liturgy was/is so much more than a penciled-in Sunday appointment. Orthodoxy is a faith that brings together – even, as Fr. Belcher described – the seemingly opposing “works” and “spirituality” – We need both! And his talk was a needful, convicting reminder of this.” -Anna-Sophia

”I definitely struggle with living in the Way without making a checklist (lol), but I find I get closer to my spiritual best when I decelerate. Most of the best moments in my spiritual life happen when I slow down, reflect, and truly focus on God and the moment. My faith becomes a checklist when life speeds up, I let myself get too busy, and I start to rush through prayer, my interactions with others, etc. I try to avoid falling into “Phariseeism” by countering moments of pride with thoughts of thankfulness and humility. Galatians 2:20 has really helped me center myself in my spiritual journey; it is the only Bible verse I’ve ever memorized: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” -Peggy

“When he was talking about orthodoxy being a way of life, I got reminded of struggles that I used to have and that I may slightly struggle with to this day – putting God into every aspect of your life. Throughout high school and especially my first two years of college, I was very focused on my academics and career but I never put God into it. I never asked God to lead me, instead, I took things into my own hands. I felt like I was a part-time Christian because I was only asking Him for guidance concerning certain matters. But the thing is God should be put everywhere. He should be the light to your career, your friendships and bonds. Instead of telling God, “Please help me to get into this company I really want to intern with them,” maybe we ought to say, “Lord if it is Your will for me to work with this company then so be it, and if not, then may I be deterred from it.” When I started saying this prayer, I saw that was paving the way for me and it was very much clear.” -Kermena

  

Module 2: How to Have A Hospitable Heart, led by Georgia Mamalakis

We discussed how we have been affected by being given hospitality, the importance of being present, how to cultivate a welcoming spirit, and shared practical suggestions with each other.

 

“I think too often I don’t approach people or am not hospitable because of my own pride- I think do I want to add one more person who could potentially judge me to this moment, or would I rather stay in a safe shell? As soon as we are hospitable to someone and invite them in, we have the potential to get hurt by them, too. And I think that’s where the second point is so important- being hospitable to Christ and having Him dwell in you and giving you that God-esteem, which helps us to be hospitable to ourselves by knowing Christ is in us. Allowing ourselves to give and serve out of pure philanthropia and philoxenia means overflowing with love that we just give in abundance to everyone we meet, not thinking about how they might perceive/judge us in return. Unconditional love is giving without expecting any love back, but it’s also giving without worrying about/expecting certain reactions or approval for self-assurance.” -Nicole 

“One of the things Mrs. Mamalakis mentioned that stuck with me was that we should “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” I think that’s something I struggle with. I might do something nice for someone, but there are times when I’m thinking about how I don’t want to be doing it or what better things I have to do. This is something I need to work on, so that’s what I’m going to try in order to better cultivate hospitality.” -Jane

I had a realization the other day that absolutely blew my mind- maybe y’all have already mentioned or thought about this. The whole topic of hospitality has had such an impact on me in that I think it’s really the basis of the faith- you can’t trust, grow, or cultivate love without being hospitable to at least someone- Christ, your neighbor, or yourself. And I realized the absolute epitome of this is the Theotokos!!! She LITERALLY allowed the Holy Spirit inside of her and allowed Christ to dwell and be born in her, and then continued to give Him a place to lay his head, like Mrs. Mamalakis talked about. We are all called to be “God-bearers”, and since the Theotokos literally bore God, she is the perfect example of hospitality. -Nicole

 

Module 3: Cultivating A Spirit of Service, led by Katrina Bitar

We discussed barriers to serving, how service is about people instead of projects, and decompartmentalizing service. One of the questions covered was, “What are your thoughts on this quote from John Chrysostom: ‘Need alone is a poor man’s worthiness’?”

“This quote boils down all of the societal dynamics around service and giving to its key component: meet a need. No other factor should matter. We should not appoint ourselves judge over a poor man to try and determine whether or not his needs meet our standards. There is only one judge, God, and He is the only one who should judge. If a beggar is lying or deceitful about his need, then God will judge him, but if we don’t show him love and service, God will judge us. We must multiply the mercy God gives us constantly.” -Chase

“This quote perfectly anticipates the response of a hardened heart. Living in a big city, it is easy to become numb or even blind to the poverty and suffering around you. I could easily pass the same homeless man under the same bridge every day and think nothing of it. I love how, in the video and this quote, there is a focus on the softening of the heart and coming to realize our mutual humanity and share in the responsibility of clothing and feeding the poor. I also struggle with making excuses like “there are shelters for that” or “maybe it’s not safe.” But this is indicative of a hardened heart-this shrugs responsibility and places blame on others, caring only for oneself. This quote is humbling in just the right way.” – Cassidy

“Need alone is a poor man’s worthiness” A-MEN. It has taken me a while to truly understand this concept. The houseless in Louisville are often viewed with scorn and are often passed by. It is if not living up to the American Dream of Prosperity, with a house and happy family and a steady job, is a secular sin.” -Elijah

 

Thank you to everyone who has helped to create this beautiful community! Our course still has a few more weeks, and I look forward to learning more in our discussions and zoom calls.

Also, apply for the Student Leadership Board!! Engaging in fulfilling work and gaining friends who have become family has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. You could be a part of this community, too! Learn more about how to apply HERE.

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 is so grateful for the course she has been able to create and the people she has met through OCF programming!