With Great Love

With Great Love

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

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

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

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

Andrew Gluntz

Wadeed Fakhoury

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

Permission to Struggle

Permission to Struggle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Gluntz

Fr. Niko Tzetzis

Great Lakes Regional Spiritual Advisor

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

Making “One Story” Decisions

Making “One Story” Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Gluntz

Demetra Chiafos

OCF Alumna

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

Blog banner photo taken by Ben Gluntz
Finding Fellowship Across the Sea

Finding Fellowship Across the Sea

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

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

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

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

Eirini

Eirini Symeonidou
(Ειρήνη Συμεωνίδου)

Berea OCF Chapter Leader

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

Woven and Knit

Woven and Knit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Gluntz

Alethia Placencia

Publications Student Leader

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

Living and Loving Through Our Crosses

Living and Loving Through Our Crosses

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Spencer

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

Awake, O Sleeper

Awake, O Sleeper

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

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

Awake Sleeper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr. John

Fr. John Valadez

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

Being Happy Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Gluntz

Andrew Gluntz

Student Leadership Board Chairman

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

Mike Posner and Meeting Christ in Each Moment

Mike Posner and Meeting Christ in Each Moment

There is something indefinable about being in the present moment.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alethia Placencia

Alethia Placencia

Publications Student Leader

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

Caterpillars with Free Will

Caterpillars with Free Will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith and Trust

Faith and Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek Simon

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

Good Grief

Good Grief

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

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

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

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

His Grace Bishop JOHN (Abdalah)

His Grace Bishop JOHN (Abdalah)

Guest Contributor/Bishop

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

How Shall I Live?

How Shall I Live?

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

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

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

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

Consider it for a moment: How shall I live?

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

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

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek Simon

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

Help! I’m Stuck Inside!

Help! I’m Stuck Inside!

By Evyenia Pyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student Leader

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

Coronavirus: A Faith Perspective

Coronavirus: A Faith Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek Simon

Executive Director

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

The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter

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

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

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

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

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

How shall I live?

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek Simon

Executive Director

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

The Lesson of Sadness

The Lesson of Sadness

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

“Sounds like a crappy deal,” Michael responds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Standish

Alison Standish

Guest Blog Contributor

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

The Joy of Discomfort and Pain

The Joy of Discomfort and Pain

by Evyenia Pyle

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

She still didn’t understand. 

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

Lent is coming.

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

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

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

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

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

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student Leader

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

Why Apply?

Why Apply?

Why Apply by Andrew Gluntz

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

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

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

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

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

You get the drift.

Apply for the board.

Andrew Gluntz

Andrew Gluntz

Great Lakes Regional Student Leader

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

Elevator Pitch

Elevator Pitch

by Evyenia Pyle

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

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

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

  

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

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student Leader

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