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!

Unexpected Blessings on the Student Leadership Board

Unexpected Blessings on the Student Leadership Board

By Jeanine Kaileh

It’s that time of the year again — Student Leadership Board (SLB) applications are OPEN! 

My name is Jeanine Kaileh and I have served as the Southwest Regional Student Leader (RSL) on the SLB for 2 years, and I’ll be serving as SLB Chairwoman for the upcoming academic year!

In April 2019, I was volun-told by two friends of mine to apply for the Southwest RSL position. I did not know much about what I was getting myself into, but I did know that it was for the Church, and that in itself is what drew me to apply. During that summer, I met with a few SLB members to discuss our upcoming year, gaining a better sense of what being on the SLB entailed. It was not until the Summer Leadership Institute (SLI) in August 2019, that I fully understood what my responsibilities and expectations were. After two years (and moving onwards with a third year), I can confidently say that applying without fully knowing what was going to happen was one of the greatest, most unexpected blessings of my life. 

If you apply for the SLB, here’s what you’ll be getting into: 

Whatever your position may be, it’ll be the work of the Lord. That work, along with the work of our project committees, more often than not, is done in companionship with fellow SLBers who will likely become your closest friends while you’re on the board, and lifelong friends thereafter. Along with that, the work that comes into fruition impacts fellow students of the OCF community and allows not only them, but yourself, to spiritually grow in such a transformative time of our lives. Like anything in life, there are moments of frustration, confusion, and even disappointment, but the joy, beauty, grace, and Christ-centeredness of it all is what drives the SLB to continue on with the work of the Church and the faith. 

Being on the SLB is the gift that keeps on giving. As written in 2 Corinthians 9: 6-8, Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

 

Why did you join the SLB?

“I joined because I wanted to do more for the Orthodox Christian Fellowship and for the college students in this ministry. The people who encouraged me to apply and those who I knew who were on the board currently had the greatest most loving hearts, souls, and minds. I had a feeling that it would probably change my life to work with them and get to know them. I was not wrong.” – Alethia Placencia

I joined the SLB because I wanted to contribute to an organization that I have grown to love over my college career. Hearing the stories from previous SLBers inspired me to apply to the board so that I could work to make OCF the best it could be. – Thomas Retzios

I joined the SLB because I wanted to find a way to build a connection with my faith and the people around me on a deeper level. I also wanted to learn professional skills that could help shape me as an individual  – Jenna Riadi

What do you like about being on the SLB? 

“The SLB is an answer to praying in bringing me a community who supports me in my work and who I can be my authentic self around. I know I could call up anyone on the board, and they would be there for me to listen or help in any way. I love everyone I have met so much, and I know these people care about me deeply! I love how supportive we are of each other. Every person puts their whole heart into their work and wants to create a beautiful experience for their fellow students.” – Anna Spencer

“I love all the community and love and all the new friends I have made.  Everyone is so amazing and willing to help with whatever I need.  The SLB has provided me with great people who push me in my faith and as a leader and help me do my best work for OCF.” – Alexandra Gluntz

How do you feel it has changed your college experience?

“I have made my closest friends through this program. It less “changed” my college experience and more *defined* it.” – George Powell 

“Being on the SLB has given me a deeper understanding of my faith.” – Teli Stathopoulos

“SLB has made me a better student, friend, Orthodox Christian, and individual! Wait, you want me to elaborate? SAY LESS. Serving on the student leadership board has strengthened my time management and communication skills! I find it much easier to stay on top of my responsibilities as a student and EMT as I’ve learned to maximize my time to ensure everything gets done immediately!” – Remy Salloum

“Serving on the SLB has changed my college experience by connecting me with other Orthodox Christians around the country, and through our work on the SLB, we have all developed close relationships.” – Thomas Retzios

Do you have any advice to anyone applying? 

“Even if you’re not sure you’re qualified, apply! This is a space for learning and growth, it’s a safe space! Don’t be afraid to apply and ask questions :)” – Jenna Riadi

“Bring your ideas to the table. OCF is dedicated to growing and improving while having fun :)” – Analisa Callendar

“I had no idea what this year would look like due to the pandemic, but I am so glad I took the leap and applied for my position. Joining the SLB helped me experience love and support in more ways than I knew existed. My experience with OCF has been amazing so far, and I hope others can benefit from this organization as much as I have. APPLY!!!” – Peggy Polydoros

“Make OCF a priority and you won’t regret it.” – Sofia Kroll

“Be ready to have a good time.” – Tino Kayafas

Jeanine Kaileh

Jeanine Kaileh

Southwest Regional Student Leader

I am a 3rd year biopsychology major at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I enjoy cooking, baking, reading, journaling, and tatreezing (traditional Palestinian embroidery). I’m serving currently on the Student Leadership Board as the Southwest Regional Student Leader for my second year and next year I will serve as the Chairman of SLB! I love OCF with all of my heart! Email me at southweststudent@ocf.net with any questions!

Ask yourself: what brings me peace?

Ask yourself: what brings me peace?

“Peace begins with a smile.” I still remember hearing that quote by Mother Teresa from a friend one summer at church camp. Honestly, I didn’t think it was true. It sounded too simple. This may have been because growing up I heard phrases like “world peace” or the Bible verse “a peace that surpasses all understanding.” Peace seemed so big, like an immense undertaking or something to accomplish.

However, I was wrong. Peace is right in front of us. It’s inside of us and it’s a gift from God. One way to seek peace, then, is to turn inward. Ask yourself: what brings me peace?

For me, stillness is often the answer. Psalm 46:10 tells us “Be still and know that I am God.” There is so much external noise and there always will be. Stillness provides a refuge from the noise and the distraction. Because we are all created uniquely, stillness can look different for each one of us. A priest once told me, “Do what brings you closer to God.” He didn’t give me a recipe with all the ingredients and measurements. Instead, he encouraged me to listen to my heart and to trust myself. I mentioned to him that I love journaling at the beach to which he replied, “Great! Do THAT!” Naturally, I listed off a whole bunch of other activities in which I feel close to God: surfing, baking, reading books, talking with friends. He smiled at me and nodded his head. As I was listing these things it occurred to me that I was drawing near to God during these activities because I felt at peace doing them. They are stress relievers and they calm my heart and my mind, allowing me to be still (even if I am not physically “still”), be at peace, and be with God.

Something I have to remind myself of, something I think is important to remember, is that we have an external environment–what others say and do, what’s going on in the world–that we cannot control. However, we have an internal environment–our soul, our relationship with Christ–that we can control.

When the internal environment is at peace, things happening in the external environment are easier to handle. Internal peace provides stability, a foundation for us to act from. That foundation is Christ, who is goodness and life. St. Philaret of Moscow prays, “Teach me to treat all that come to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Thy will governs all.” This prayer reflects the difficulty we can undergo in dealing with our external environment and encourages us to take care of our internal environment through Christ.

Another aspect of peace I like to remember is that peace is powerful. St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire a spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” Peace is contagious! Just looking at someone in church who is deep in prayer, or gazing at the icons, or smiling as they cross themselves I feel at peace. They aren’t doing anything crazy like finding a cure to world hunger. They’re doing simple acts that stem from a spirit of peace. Seeing them helps me refocus inwardly, to block out the noise and return to myself and Christ in me. And it gives me peace.

The Prodigal Son struggled with noise and the temptations of his external environment. In Luke 15:17 it reads that he eventually turns inward, “But when he came to himself…” realizing his need for his father, to be in relationship with him and to be in his house. Always return to yourself, to Christ. Surround yourself with people who refocus you when the noise grows louder and becomes distracting.

This week we enter into the Lenten season. I don’t know about you, but being a vegan for forty days doesn’t bring me immediate peace. In fact, it stresses me out. Yet, in the Prayer Before The Icon of Christ (found in our little red prayer book) it says, “We cry aloud unto thee: thou hast filled all things with joy, O our Savior, for thou didst come to save the world.” There is profound peace knowing Christ has filled all things with joy, even suffering. We can think about the martyrs who had peace and joy in their suffering, in their death. I know that if the martyrs experienced peace and joy in death, I can experience Christ’s peace and joy in ‘little deaths’ to meat and cheese. We are being called to partake in Christ’s suffering for these next 40 days, but we are also being called to partake in His peace and His joy. In dying to ourselves we will experience life, just as the martyrs’ death brought them to be in paradise with their holy King, and be in a place where there is only “a peace that surpasses all understanding.” Doesn’t sound as daunting anymore, does it?

Peace be with you, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Andrew Gluntz

Tatiana Speier

Hello everyone! I’m Tati. I was raised in the Orthodox Church with both my grandfathers being parish priests here at St. Athanasius in Santa Barbara, CA. I have been a camp counselor at Camp St. Nicholas and have served as a leader for Youth Equipped to Serve.

Some things I love to do in my free time are trying a new recipe, going to the beach (I just learned how to surf! I’m terrible, but I enjoy it), and spending time with my nieces and nephew.

In December I graduated from nursing school and I just got hired by the local hospital to work in the oncology unit. I recently learned the term “oncology” comes from the Greek word Onkos which means burden; the illness was imagined to be a burden carried by the body.

Our faith teaches us to carry our cross, our burdens, something we know we can’t do without our Savior and without each other. I feel blessed to serve those struggling with the weight of cancer.

5 Ways to Practice Peace

5 Ways to Practice Peace

Our theme on the OCF blog this March is Peace.

We are about to embark on our Lenten journey. No matter what your practice is during Lent, it seems that some seed of what we need is brought to us throughout these long 40 days. This may be an important realization about life and the faith, a wake-up call when struggling to even give up one small thing, or even a quote or sermon posted by a friend which calls you to the Lenten spirit when you least expect it. 

In Lents past, I have come in full force craving a change and a distinct moment of growth in my life: departing from the routine of cluttered unrest and obtaining a clean new slate etched with sacrifice, prayer, charity, and steadiness.  

This is a wonderful ideal. Is it realistic?

If we push ourselves to handle practices that appear to reflect spiritual strength we may actually be glorifying ourselves and our ability to follow practices, rather than glorifying God and practicing the faith. 

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

Practicing the faith is showing up for the practices and through these things becoming a source of harmony for the world, and love for the people around us. Before we start this time of preparation, let us first find ways to practice peace. 

What are some practical ways of doing this?  

  • Set Boundaries: Setting boundaries on the ways we spend our time and on the number of things we take on is a skill that we will probably be working on forever. Setting app limits, and choosing what obligations to say no or yes to is a great start!
  • Declutter and find time for silence: Sometimes at the end of a long day, all we want to do is relax by watching a show or listening to music. These things are not bad in themselves, however, after we are done “relaxing” we may feel even more unrested because we did not have time in true silence. Or maybe after “relaxing”, we return to our cluttered room with the task of cleaning it still on deck for tomorrow. Sometimes our retreat must be to the other thing we need to do. Spending time to declutter and time in true silence are simple (not always easy) ways to cultivate peace.
  • Create a routine: Routines can be flexible but still routine. Maybe it is as small as committing to wake up each morning and say a small prayer. Make your bed each day. Drink a set amount of water. Our lives have a rhythm for a reason, the sun rises and sets, we have cycles of sleep, eating, rest, and responsibility (even the liturgical calendar gives rhythm to our year and our week). Find something small for you to keep consistent with each day so that you have a “routine” to hang onto. If all else erupts into chaos you know that at 11 pm you will go to sleep, or you will drink the 8th glass of water, or you will say the Jesus prayer at 12 pm. 
  • Recall our dependence on Christ: “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)  He made this entire earth and every fiber of you! We are already completely dependent on Him. Even if a different version of us outwardly shows up to OCF, movie night, or work, our minds, souls, and bodies are always His. Try to walk through life as one full person dependent on Christ. Turn to Him with the big decisions and the difficult news because He already has been there in all the small things. 
  • Ask someone else how they are: We can get in a spiral of thoughts and definitely need to talk things out with someone close to us. We have been blessed to be there for the other people in our lives as well. Sometimes taking a moment to focus on another instead of ourselves gives us the separation we need from something we are stressed about. Our relationships will be strengthened and we may even get a new perspective on our own life. 

Read these out to yourself. If you are with others alternate reading them aloud. Think to yourself of 2 or 3 you have trouble with and would like to work on cultivating in your life. Commit these to yourself or share them with those you are with. 

“Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)

We won’t do these things perfectly, but God willing, we are able to try to do them however imperfectly we can manage. The pursuit will last our lifetime so what better time to start than now — as we prepare to learn more about ourselves and Christ this Lent. 

Let us begin with peace. 

 

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

Hoping Through February

Hoping Through February

January is full of new beginnings, rededication, resolution, looking forward to what’s to come. 

What is to come? 

We made it to February; so what now? 

This month, our theme is hope. Paul tells us that the things that remain are Faith, Hope, and Love. Once we start something or make a decision, how do we continue? How do we stay constant in our faith or remain loving through the struggles we endure. We hope.

I see this time of year as one that necessitates hope. 

We push on through the path we have chosen with it. 

But how do we hope in the right way? Hope is a confident expectation. It is not just a passive looking off to the future that one-day things will come together, but a confident expectation that the Kingdom is right here with us. 

C.S Lewis, in Mere Christianity, points out that when we say in the Creed, “Thy will be done” we often say it thinking about the far-off future and are less likely to be so willing to relinquish our life at each present moment to the will of God. 

And perhaps, after setting our goals, small failures along the way bog us down. Perhaps they discourage us from wanting to run the race altogether.

However, having confident expectation does not have to proceed from past moments of “success,” but simply from the knowledge that each moment we have here is ready to be used for God. Each next moment, even the one right after we get done binging Netflix for 5 hours can be used to choose love, care, patience, service… Our lives are made for picking up each of our crosses and going. 

So with hope as a confident expectation let us go. Whatever we have chosen up to now and choose in the next moment go and give it back to God: Thy will be done.

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

Forget Me Not: On Finding Hope in the Small Things

Forget Me Not: On Finding Hope in the Small Things

“We should follow the example of the birds. They’re always joyful whereas we are always bothered by something.” -Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

Sometimes it can be easy to forget about the presence of God in our daily lives, especially when we experience pain, loneliness, fear, or spiritual drought. In moments such as these, we might believe that these feelings give us more cause to despair in our suffering, rather than push us to seek reasons to hope in spite of them. During this past year particularly, I have found myself paying more attention to the simple blessings in life that I would normally take for granted. These ordinary, little blessings often remind me of God’s presence in my daily life and fill me with hope for the new day. Blessings come in a myriad of forms. As a result, there are endless ways that one could feel hopeful. For the sake of brevity, I wish to relate one particular day that I experienced last semester in order to illustrate what I mean when I say the simplest blessings can give us hope.

“All true beauty has the power to draw the soul towards thee, and to make it sing in ecstasy: Alleluia!” -Akathist of Thanksgiving

Back in early September, I was having a really rough time… a lot of things had piled up and I felt very low. In an attempt to calm down, I stepped outside in my yard to be by myself for a just few minutes. It was very chilly that evening, but I didn’t mind because it smelled so refreshing and I enjoyed the touch of the cold grass under my bare feet. While I was walking through my yard trying to focus on my breathing I began to cry, but I had been fighting tears throughout the evening, so it felt liberating to let it all out for just a few minutes. It was around 5:00 and the moon was slowly rising as the sun sank low into the west, casting a pink light onto the lavender clouds to my left. I became somewhat lost in the silence and birdsong of dusk, but after a few turns around my yard, I came back inside to a steeping cup of hot tea, and into the arms of my mother.

“Stand at the brink of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little, and have a cup of tea” – Elder Sophrony of Essex

As a result of the cold temperatures of the outdoors the heat of my home became more welcoming to me, the warm tea was made more desirable than it was before, and my solitude made the company of others more pleasurable. Within the simplicity of the evening, I found that my struggle did not seem quite so formidable as it did before I went outside. At the time I felt so horrible about myself and yet looking back on those few minutes, I now see that they were a gift from God… a sort of reset button. After returning indoors from the stillness of the evening, I felt like I had fresh eyes to see the little blessings that I was unaware of only minutes before; this realization gave me hope to push onward because I felt the love of God around me made manifest is the simple blessings before me.

“In your spiritual life engage in your daily contest simply, easily, and without force. What is simple is also what is the most precious.” -St. Porphyrios

That evening I was reminded that there will always be trials to face, but more importantly, I realized that oftentimes the most subtle blessings can be reason enough to provide us with hope for a better tomorrow. Sometimes we become so wrapped up in our own suffering that we forget to pay attention to these little, hidden blessings which can open both our eyes and heart to God’s presence and His everlasting love. Christ never ceases to bless us, even in the tiniest of ways and he gives us infinite reasons to hope each day just through our wondering at His greatness and love for us. 

“We should be spectators every day of the wonders of God.” -Mother Gavrilia

Some of us may be familiar with the greeting “Christ is in our midst,” and even though that can be a difficult thing to remember… He is and ever shall be. Whether we are reminded of His presence in the deliciousness of a homecooked meal, the taste of a warm mug of tea (or coffee), in the time spent with others, music that we listen to, or in the laughter of a small child (I could go on and on… ad infinitum!), we should always remember that God is present there with us! Such seemingly commonplace things give me hope because they remind me of His everlasting love for mankind. Glory be to God for all things!

“Do not fight to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul. Instead open a tiny aperture for light to enter and the darkness will disappear.” -St. Porphyrios

by Magdalena Hudson

Hello, my name is Magdalena and I am currently pursuing a degree in Nursing. I attended CrossRoad Summer Institute a couple of years ago, which ultimately led me to my first experience with OCF at SLI 2019, needless to say both of these events changed my life!  In my free time I love to learn new things, read, listen to music, be outdoors, draw, spend quality time with loved ones, and the list just goes on! This past year I made many wonderful friends through online opportunities and I am looking forward to the experiences yet to come.