Living Superheroes in the Church

Living Superheroes in the Church

By Elias Anderson

With the new Joker movie coming out and the countless other superhero movies that have been released over the past few years, it is clear that superheroes are a large part of our modern society. But who are the superheroes of Orthodoxy? The obvious response, and what you’re thinking right now, is of course the church fathers and other saints. And yes these holy people certainly are the foundation of the Church, and we would not know Christ the same way today without them. One thing all these people have in common, however, is that they’re mostly departed from this life. Though they certainly still live among us in the icons on our walls and in the relationships we can, and should, cultivate with them, they are not alive in the same way as those who still walk the Earth. This then raises the question, “who are the living superheroes of Orthodoxy?” 

One obvious answer to this question is, the deacons, priests and bishops that serve us. They, after all, have the most education and active spiritual lives, leading our churches in worship every week. However, they are only a small part of what holds up our Church today. The fact is we all have the power to become superheroes, so how can we as college students do that? 

Let’s start by looking at our clergy because their job is very much that of a superhero. Bishops, being the heads of the church and chief shepherds to all the churches and people under them, have a life full of travel. Never being in the same place for very long makes it challenging to develop good relationships with all their sheep. Hierarchs that don’t lose sight on what’s most important are the super bishops and are a prime example to us aspiring superheroes. 

Furthermore, many deacons, in addition to helping lead the church in worship every week, may also have a full time job in the secular world. Whether that job be teaching at a university or performing surgery at a hospital, living an active life in both the workplace and church is what makes deacons, super deacons and an example to us on how we can live our lives. It is by no means necessary for everyone to spend all of their time at church or doing religious things. Instead, we should dedicate our time appropriately between study, fellowship and faith.

Next, priests also serve multiple roles. First of all, being the priest at a parish is like being the CEO of a small company. Priests, especially in smaller parishes, have to do much of the administrative work of the church such as keeping track of stewardship, running meetings, making calendars, paying bills, and countless other tasks that have little to nothing to do with the theology they learned in seminary. Furthermore, they still have to be a good priest which entails much more than leading Liturgy on Sunday morning. In one day alone they could go from doing work at the office to having lunch with a college student to performing a funeral to a parish council meeting all before coming home to put the kids to bed or spend time with their wife. The balance of being a good husband, father and shepherd to their flock is a feat only a superhero could handle. This kind of dedication and well roundedness shows us how we can serve the church in many unique ways.

What would Batman be without Robin, Knight rider without KITT, or a priest without his wife? Now of course not all priests have wives and certainly are no less of a superhero because of it, but priests’ wives themselves are another kind of living superhero. Many of them feel they live under a mask of “the priest’s wife” when they’re at church and feel they’re under a lense where everything they do will be looked at with scrutiny. Also, they are often used as the mediator between parishioner and priest when the concern has nothing to do with them. Dealing with all of this extra pressure while still supporting their husband and children in all that they do is what makes a presbytera, khouria, matushka or simply “first name”, a super priest wife. Their example of unwavering, self-sacrificing support is one we should all strive to emulate in our dealings with our local parishes and school communities.

Superpowers aren’t limited to members of the clergy and their wives however. Just look around your parish and you’ll see that being a superhero is much more common than it may seem. During the week someone runs the church office and helps the priest with the administrative things listed above. Also, the youth director is hard at work planning and running activities for the kids to stay active in their faith. Using individual talents to serve others is something everyone can do to become a superhero.

On any given Sunday the acts of many different people are seen to be super. Starting first with the chanters who join the priest the night before for vespers/vigil and the morning of for orthros/matins. Their amazing, talented voices along with their commitment to the church is what make chanters, super chanters. Walking into the church we see the people that gave the car-less college student a ride to church holding the door open for the daughter who’s pushing her aging mother in a wheelchair. Entering the Narthex, they are greeted by the friendly ushers who sacrifice standing in the sanctuary for making sure everything runs smoothly from candles to communion to collections. Communion itself involves much more than just the clergy serving it. From the people that baked the prosphora (Holy Bread) the night before to the person that hand washed the red communion cloths to the altar boy that holds the antidoron (Holy Bread), communion takes the powers of many to happen. After liturgy, the Sunday school teachers teach the kids the faith while the adults enjoy a meal and fellowship that someone generously hosted. All of these people are superheroes in their own special ways and are the living pillars of Orthodoxy.

All of these examples should give us an idea of how we college students can use our God given powers to become superheroes. What are those powers? All of us have the gift of the Holy Spirit inside of us but how it is manifested in our talents and abilities is unique to each person. So discover what you are good at and do what you can do to serve the others around you. Whether that be helping out more with OCF rather than just attending and letting the leader do most of the work or continuing to help others find a way to church, do what you can do to be the superhero that you are.

 

Elias Anderson

Elias Anderson

Guest Author

Hi I’m Elias Anderson. I’m from Libertyville Illinois and grew up at Saints Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview, Illinois. I’m currently a freshman at Valparaiso University majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in music. I attended the CrossRoad summer institute in 2018 and this past summer I was a CIT at the Antiochian Village and participant at Project Mexico. When I’m not in class or doing homework, you can find me playing my trumpet in the jazz or concert band or guitar in my dorm room. I love everything Pan-Orthodox and am always down to converse about anything religion.

From Being Superhuman to Being Truly Human

From Being Superhuman to Being Truly Human

By Demetra Chiafos

 

This time of year, everyone starts talking about what they’re dressing up as for Halloween, and especially in the age of Marvel films we are currently living in, people want to dress up as a superhero—or superhuman, depending on your semantics. But when I think of a superhuman, I think of someone who is truly human. Someone who has found their way through all the layers of debris this world coats us with, excavating through to their true self the way that Christ created them. Christ is the definitive human, the example we are all called to live up to despite constantly falling short. We should be Christlike, we say so often without thinking. Saints are people who have given up their life for Christ and thus gained their life back, living out the true image that God created in them.

One of my favorites of these saints is St. Demetrios, my patron saint. St. Demetrios followed Christ to personal detriment and even unto death. When the emperor told St. Demetrios, a military leader, to go out and kill all Christians, St. Demetrios instead went out to preach the Gospel. The emperor called St. Demetrios before him and demanded to know what he believed in. “Only in Christ do I believe,” St. Demetrios said, very simply and very boldly.

When a series of events related to St. Demetrios occurred that undermined the pagans—including the emperor—the emperor was angry and ordered for St. Demetrios to be killed. St. Demetrios told his faithful servant, St. Lupus, to disperse all his earthly riches amongst the poor and told him to prepare to receive heavenly riches with him. An angel of the Lord appeared to St. Demetrios while he was praying in preparation for his martyrdom and told him not to be afraid. The emperor sent men to lance St. Demetrios, and after he was killed, St. Lupus began to heal people with his blood-soaked garments. (St. Lupus was also martyred.)

Can you imagine being like St. Demetrios? Going against the orders of an emperor? Publicly preaching the Gospel in a time and place where confessing Christ would get you killed—and then saying to the emperor’s face that all the rumors the emperor heard were true and you were a Christian? Calmly asking your servant to disperse your belongings and prepare to receive heavenly riches? Clearly, St. Demetrios reached a place where God’s grace had filled him so thoroughly that he was able to become superhuman—that is, truly his most human, becoming Christlike by God’s grace.

One may look at the story of St. Demetrios and say, “Well, that was then when the earth was still full of saints, but in modern times I can’t live like that.” To the contrary, my dears! As college students, there are many ways we can seek to emulate St. Demetrios and the fruits of the spirit that he was blessed with. Many times in college—and in life, if we’re being honest—we feel separated for our faith. Perhaps it’s not as black and white as St. Demetrios’ dilemma of either killing Christians or being killed for being a Christian. Perhaps it’s in other less dire ways.

Perhaps your roommate doesn’t understand why you pray in the morning and makes it awkward. Perhaps your classmate asks you about your cross or your prayer rope. Perhaps you cross yourself before you eat and someone at your table says, “Why do you do that?” Perhaps you’ve spoken up about an important issue on your campus, about which the Church has a currently unpopular teaching, and someone has acted aggressively toward you in response. Even in the face of a genuinely curious classmate who just wants to know more, we can become afraid.

Should I speak for Christ? What is this person going to say, do, or think in response? Is this dangerous for me? Am I really qualified to teach others about the faith? I’m going to mess it up. I’m going to say the wrong thing. I’m not ready for this.

In those moments, we are called to confess Christ, just as St. Demetrios did. We can take courage from his example. He died for Christ. We can certainly pray in the morning, tell our classmate what a prayer rope is, and tell the person eating with us that we cross ourselves to ask God to bless our food before a meal. The more that we do these little things and try to let Christ visibly live in us, the more courageous we will become.

More than these small forms of confessing Christ in the day-to-day, in college and our future jobs and any other scenario, we can also take courage from St. Demetrios’ reaction to physically dying to this world for Christ’s sake. When we see depressing and evil news, it is so tempting to despair. But St. Demetrios knew exactly what was up. The accounts of his life say that he joyfully awaited his suffering, because he knew what his reward in Heaven would be.

How many of us can say the same? Do we still have joy and thanksgiving, even in our times of suffering? I know I often don’t. Of course, it is healthy to be sad. Of course, we sometimes struggle. Of course, we are many times afraid. When something terrible happens, we should weep for our brethren and bear their suffering with them. However, it is important as Christians to keep our eyes on the prize, as St. Demetrios did, and remember the riches of heaven.

Let us all go forth and strive to confess Christ to the world as St. Demetrios did. Let us struggle to become our most human—or superhuman, if you prefer—selves. May St. Demetrios intercede for all of us that we may receive the fruits of the spirit and be brave in our spiritual warfare, as he was brave and gave his life for Christ.

Demetra Chiafos

Demetra Chiafos

Guest Author

My name is Demetra Chiafos and I am a senior at The Ohio State University! I am originally from Iowa. My dual degree is in dance and the Japanese language. This is my third year as a member of the student leadership board for the OSU OCF chapter. I love reading, writing, and traveling. I also play piano and sing in the choir at my school parish!

Prisoner #18376: God Will Not Abandon His People

Prisoner #18376: God Will Not Abandon His People

Hi everyone! Quick disclaimer, this blog post is a bit longer than normal, but there was so much that I wanted to put in that I couldn’t tell myself to stop. Below you will read an inspiring story of one of my favorite church heroes. So, sit back, relax, and I hope you enjoy this blog post!

 

By Evyenia Pyle

When I think of superheroes, I tend to think of super strength. While thinking about superheroes of the church I thought of what it meant to have super strength in the church. Sure, we could look at Sampson in the Old Testament and read about his hair, but that was a long time ago. What if I told you that a church superhero lived in the 20th century with super strength? To open things up I have a question: How much does it take to survive the harshest conditions? I can tell you plainly that in my walks to class last winter, although they were at most 15 minutes, felt like if I didn’t get inside right then and there, I would surely die. On average it was probably 20 degrees Fahrenheit. While I admit I am a bit of a wimp, it was brutal. Today I am going to tell you the story of a man who survived unimaginable conditions in -27 degree Fahrenheit weather, a man who must have had the kind of strength only God can give you, a man who is a superhero of the church, and someone who I keep very close to my heart. This man is Father Arseny.

To give some background information before I go into the story, I should probably tell you about the prison camps. These camps were spread across Russia in its period of communism under Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. They were labor camps where “enemies of the government” were sent to die/be worked to death. You aren’t supposed to survive these camps. The conditions were terrible. Hygiene was nonexistent, no heat, barely any food, and one pair of clothes. This is where most of our story will be taking place, as Fr. Arseny was in one of these prison camps.

In the book Father Arseny 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father, it opens the scene portraying a dark morning, with gusty winds, around -27 degrees Fahrenheit. We see the people in the prison camps get out of bed for role call. Those who didn’t make it out were either dead (due to the cold, sickness, and exhaustion) or on the verge of being dead. Fr. Arseny wasn’t old, but he certainly wasn’t young, but he was always on duty. He was sent to the camps with many other priests and religious figures at the time. Most priests had to be priests in secret because of the fact that they would most likely be arrested. A middle-aged man was out in negative 27-degree weather chopping wood. Now, axes weren’t allowed on the grounds of the camp, so Fr. Arseny split the half frozen and damp wood with a wooden wedge, and another log to function as a hammer. If he failed to do this, they would have no firewood and would surely die, but Fr. Arseny was vigilant. He said the Jesus prayer has he worked, he knew that if the wood wasn’t done on time he would be punished and beaten by not only the guards, but the prisoners too. So, this was Father Arseny’s daily life, I could write so many pages on how the conditions should have killed him, but I will spare you for now. Now that you have a feel for the daily routine, I’m going to tell you about Father Arseny made it out of the place he was brought to die.

So, for starters I talked about super strength. In the book it reads, “‘Have mercy on me a sinner. Help me. I place my trust in Thee, O Lord, and in you, O Mother of God. Do not abandon me, give me strength,’ prayed Father Arseny, almost falling from exhaustion as he carried bundle after bundle of logs to the stoves.” Imagine being so close to falling down but knowing that God has a hold of you. Father Arseny trusted God to keep him upright, but the story doesn’t end there. How could he get damp frozen wood to light, he did not want to be beaten, so he prayed the Jesus prayer and at the end he added, “Thy will be done!” hoping to find dry wood. He searched and searched but found nothing. An infamous criminal saw him and asked what he was doing. This criminal reportedly committed so many crimes he could not remember them all. He evoked fear from all of the other prisoners. Fr. Arseny was afraid but told him he needed some dry wood. The criminal told Father to go with him, Fr. Arseny thought it was a trick, but went to see what would happen. The criminal had a large pile of dry wood he kept for himself, but he offered it to Father Arseny, who was a bit reluctant thinking that he might have been set up for stealing. Father finally accepted and started taking some. The criminal told him to take more and more, and then he himself picked up the dry logs and they carried it back to the stoves together. A criminal, who brought fear and despair among people and prisoners, gave Fr. Arseny what he needed so he would not be beaten. This is one beautiful example of how God never left Fr. Arseny’s side in the camp.

Another thing Fr. Arseny was known for was giving parts of his daily bread ration to the sick. Imagine working in such cruel conditions, but with only a small amount of food to help other people. I am not sure I would have the strength to do that.

Every night, even when Father Arseny didn’t get any food, he would pray the Akathist to the Theotokos, St. Nicholas, and St. Arsenios and pray for his spiritual children. When he awoke the next morning he would feel rested and full of new strength almost as if he had eaten the night before.

Some nights Fr. Arseny would stay up late and take care of the sick. He would feed them and make them hot water. This meant he would usually not get any sleep. One of the sick patients Fr. Arseny knew well. In fact it was the exact man that sentenced him to the death camp (when the government was tired of an official they too went to the death camps). Not only did Fr. Arseny forgive him, but he thanked him for sentencing him to the camp instead of sentencing him to be shot. The man was amazed by how genuine Father Arseny was and became a friend to Father Arseny. How much strength would it take to forgive someone who sentenced you to a long terrible death? Super strength.

One day Fr. Arseny was watching the prisoners fight and kill one another, he went and pleaded with a criminal who respected him, to ask him to stop the fighting, to prevent more from dying. All the criminals would listen to this man because he was one of the worst, but the criminal laughed and told Fr. Arseny that “his God” would do it if he really cared about his people. Fr. Arseny frustrated with these words cried aloud in prayer, “In the name of God, I order you. Stop this!” and immediately Fr. Arseny retreated inside himself so deeply into to prayer that he did not see the fight stop, and the living fighters caring for one another’s wounds. The criminal told Father Arseny that he doubted his God, but he wouldn’t any longer, for he had witnessed a miracle. How amazingly strong Father Arseny had to be in Christ to stop people from killing each other with words! This is yet another example of the super strength he received from God.

Now, let’s talk about how Father Arseny got the flu, with a 104-degree fever, and was expected to die in two days. Everyone was sad and tried to help, until the dreadful day came. According to the witnesses Father Arseny was physically dead. Father Arseny later reported that it was God showing him that the people in the camp were twice the ascetic he was and that he had more work to do within himself. Then the mother of God spoke to him and sent him back, and Fr. Arseny woke up and arose as if nothing had happened.

Another account of Father Arseny’s super strength is from a prisoner who was certain he would die. He couldn’t keep his boots dry for fear of them being stolen or worse, being beaten for warming his boots with the criminals. He eventually got frostbite in his feet and could not get out of bed and work. One night, Father Arseny took the man’s boots, and the prisoner assumed they were being stolen, but he had no strength to fight back. When he awoke the next morning, he was greeted by Fr. Arseny with dry boots. Every night Father Arseny would take the boots and put them by the stove and stayed and kept watch over them so that they would not be stolen. Imagine the super strength it must have taken for him to barely sleep and still be able to function enough the next morning to do the hardest work anyone has ever had to do! That is super strength.

I could go on about Father Arseny all day, I love him, but I need to make sure this blog is readable. So, again, I want to highlight the amount of strength Father Arseny had to survive the prison camp. Not only did he survive the most brutal conditions that almost no one else survived, but he lived many years after being released. Through his prayers to God, his faith, and his unwavering trust Fr. Arseny was able to bear the intolerable. It is superheroes of our church like this that cause me to yearn for this spiritual strength that is indescribable by those who witness it. I pray that one day I will have the super strength Father Arseny had in the camp, and I pray that all of you will find Fr. Arseny’s story an inspiration, a remembrance that God will always help us.

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student Leader

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

The Birth Giver of God: My Superhero

The Birth Giver of God: My Superhero

By Fr. Gregory Jensen

Every day, or at least most days, I read the life of one of the saints being commemorated. As we hear in the Divine Liturgy, this includes “forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and for every righteous spirit made perfect in faith, especially for our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary.”

Though I’ve taught about many saints and have a devotion to many more, it is probably the Mother of God who is most important to me. 

My relationship with the Mother of God began in college which was a hard time for me.

Like many undergraduates, it was the first time I was away from home. While new people and my classes were interesting, they were also challenging. To be honest, especially in my freshman year I wasn’t up to the challenge.

My grades were bad. I didn’t know how to study. And while I did very well in high school college meant sitting in classes with people who had done at least as well, and often better than I did. I simply didn’t understand that last year’s high school “A” was this year’s college “C.” 

Because of this, I felt bad about myself. Added to this, I was shy and pretty insecure in my new environment. As a result, I was terribly lonely and probably more than a little depressed.

One consolation I had was that the campus chapel was always open. I would frequently spend time there praying and thinking about my life.

On the left side of the chapel, there was a statue of the Virgin Mary (I attended a Catholic university, so our chapel had statues). I would often sit in front of the Mother of God and simply talk to her. And I would talk for hours.

As our conversation unfolded, as I read the Scriptures, studied more theology, and began to understand more about life, I came to appreciate the strength and faith it took for Mary to say yes to God.

Here was a girl who when she was younger than me agreed to carry the Son of God. Me? I was having trouble remembering to say grace before I ate or to get up in time for church on Sunday morning.

But Mary? Mary said yes to God and, in doing so, played a role in the salvation of the world!

But like me though, Mary sometimes struggled with following Jesus. St Luke tells us she was troubled by the angel’s greeting. She was often unsure about what her Son was doing. And, of course, she stood at the foot of His Cross and watched Him die for the life of the world.

She was able to do all this because “she pondering in her heart” the things she heard and saw. Mary was a woman of deep prayer.

Now as a priest, I will often tell people to look at the Mother of God as an example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Not only is she the first disciple of Jesus, but she is also the first evangelist.

I work to draw close to Him but He came to live in her.

I tell people about Jesus; Mary gave birth to Jesus. 

Like her Son, Mary did all this for our sake. And so, I tell people, go to the Mother of God not simply as an example of how to live the Christian life but for help in being a Christian.

Let me tell you a story about this last point. 

Years ago, a woman came to me about becoming Orthodox. Her husband REALLY, REALLY wanted to become Orthodox but she wasn’t sure. She was raised in a black Pentecostal church and so she had a lot of theological questions. She also had some concerns about joining a largely white community. She wondered, reasonably enough, if she and her biracial children would be accepted.

After we talked for a while, I pointed to the icon of the Mother of God on the iconostasis. I told the woman the story I just told you and suggested she talk to the Virgin Mary about her fears. “Talk to Mary like she was your mother.”

She hesitantly agreed and I went back to my office.

About 30 minutes or an hour later, she came into my office. I looked up and asked her what was on her mind. 

Looking straight at me and she said, “Mom says I should become Orthodox, it will be ok. Oh, and my new name is Monica, St Augustine’s mom.” Augustine is another of my favorite saints, but that’s a story for another day!

Feasts of the Mother of God are always a joy for me. When I serve them, I remember what it was to be a scared, 18 year old freshman far from home and at the start of a new life.

Throughout that life, which for all its bumps, bruises and set back has, thanks be to God turned out pretty good, the Mother of God has been there with me. Yes, sometimes I forgot she was there or didn’t appreciate her as I should have. But the Theotokos never forgot me.

May Christ our true God, through the prayers of His most holy Mother, bless, protect and keep us all as we follow Jesus as His disciples and witnesses on our college campus!

In Christ,

Fr Gregory Jensen

Fr. Gregory Jensen

Fr. Gregory Jensen

Guest Author and Priest in Madison, WI

Fr. Gregory Jensen, Ph.D. (Duquesne University) is a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-USA and a professor at St Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary where he teaches social ethics and young adult faith development. Currently, he is the priest of Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church. The parish is located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also the Spiritual Advisor for the OCF at the University of Wisconin-Madison

Saints and Superheroes

Saints and Superheroes

Happy Orthodox Awareness Month!

So October is Orthodox Awareness Month, and I thought, what better way to participate than to have the blog focus on the “superheroes” of the church that make this month possible. As Halloween is also approaching and kids are getting their superhero outfits, I thought it would be a fitting theme for October. We are going to hear about Holy People, both alive and dead, and I am super excited for what this month’s publications will bring!

I am going to kick us off with a personal favorite saint of mine, St Evyenia (or Eugenia) of Rome. Okay yes, she is my patron saint, but she is still super cool! So let’s dive in.

The Holy Martyr Evyenia was a Roman by birth. She lived in Alexandria, where her father Philip was sent by Emperor Commodus (180-192) to be Prefect of Egypt. Evyenia was noted for her beauty and good disposition. Many illustrious youths sought her hand, but she did not wish to marry anyone, for she was determined to preserve her virginity.

She became acquainted with the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, and yearned with all her soul to become a Christian, but kept this a secret from her parents. During that time, Christians were banished from Alexandria by the command of the emperor. Wishing to learn more about Christianity, she asked for permission to visit one of the family estates outside the city, supposedly to enjoy the countryside. She left with her two servants, Protus and Hyacinthus, dressed in men’s clothes. She and her companions were baptized at a monastery by Bishop Elias, who learned about Evyenia in a vision. He blessed her to pursue asceticism at the monastery disguised as the monk Eugene.

By her ascetic labors, St. Eugenia acquired the gift of healing. Once, a rich young woman named Melanthia turned to her for help. Seeing “Eugene,” this woman burned with an impure passion, and when she was spurned, she falsely accused the saint of attempted rape. St. Eugenia came to trial before the Prefect of Egypt (her father), and she was forced to reveal her secret. Her parents and brothers rejoiced to find the one for whom they had long grieved.

The entire family accepted holy Baptism. Philip, after being denounced by pagans, was dismissed from his post. However, the Christians of Alexandria chose him as their bishop. The new Prefect, fearing the wrath of the people, did not dare to execute Philip openly, but sent assassins to kill him. They inflicted wounds upon St. Philip while he was praying, from which he died three days later, so her dad was also a saint, how cool is that.

St. Evyenia traveled to Rome and continued with monastic life, bringing many young women to Christ. She, along with St. Claudia, built a wanderers’ hostel and aided the poor. After several peaceful years, Emperor Galienus (260-268) intensified the persecution against the Christians, and many of them found refuge with Sts. Claudia and Evyenia.

The pagans dragged Sts. Protus and Hyacinthus, her servants, into a temple to make them sacrifice to the idols, but just as they entered, the idol fell down and shattered. The holy Martyrs Protus and Hyacinthus were then beheaded. They also brought St. Eugenia to the temple by force, but she had not even entered it, when the pagan temple collapsed with its idol. They threw the holy martyr into the Tiber River with a stone about her neck, but the stone became untied and she remained unharmed. They then cast her into a pit, where she remained for ten days. During this time, the Savior Himself appeared to her and said that she would enter into the heavenly Kingdom on the day He was born. When this radiant Feast came, the executioner put her to death with a sword. After her death, St. Eugenia appeared to her mother to tell her the day of her own death (information taken from http://ww1.antiochian.org/node/17207 and stories from my mom).

Okay, so is she not one of the coolest people ever. I was thinking about how she had to stumble across the epistles of St. Paul, and I realized how fortunate I was to be able to actively read the bible without facing persecution. As one of the readers of the Epistle at my local church, I have access to people who lived with Christ! St. Evyenia didn’t have that same luxury. She had to run away to become acquainted with literature concerning Christ.

So, why is she my superhero and a superhero of the church? Well, for starters the fact that God delivered her from her persecutors is amazing. It reminds me of the Psalms we sing in vespers, “Deliver me from my persecutors for they are stronger than I”. Another reason she is a superhero of the church is that she was able to perform miraculous healings! I truly believe that she and St. Pelagia were kick starters for women monasticism because they both disguised themselves as monks. I recently went to the Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan (mother Gabriella is the Abbess). We were in church a lot, and I looked up during one of the services and right next to me was a huge icon of St. Evyenia, honestly bigger than I am. I realized that while she is one of my superheroes, she is also a superhero to nuns and monastics everywhere. After talking with mother Gabriella, I discovered that it is not rare to have an icon of her at a women’s monastery. Also, she was a princess. A costume most girls dress up for Halloween in, and something every little girl most likely wants to be.

My family celebrates the feast day of the patron saint, almost more than we celebrate birthdays, we have parties, no joke. The hard thing with St. Evyenia though is that she is celebrated December 24, so the parties usually have fasting food (a real tragedy because my brother gets lamb). But another reason she is my superhero is because I got presents on the 24 for my nameday and then presents on the 25 for Christmas!

 

As we delve into more saints the rest of the month I challenge you all to either learn more about your patron saints, and/or learn about different superheroes of the church!

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student Leader

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

The Light Will Not Be Overcome!

The Light Will Not Be Overcome!

As September has officially come to a close, and October has started, I have been looking back at our blog contributions. I was very moved at the sight of blog posts written by other students who also wanted to serve the Orthodox Christian Fellowship. Throughout September we focused on the OCF theme, John 1:5, “And the light shines in the darkness, and then darkness did not overcome it.” After spending a month reflecting on our theme, and reading other student’s reflections I found the Epistle reading on the last Sunday of September to be a perfect compliment to our work so far this year. This past Sunday we heard the Epistle of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians. Paul writes, “Brethren, it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ…So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6-15).” It is fitting for Paul to write this, if we remember the story of his conversion to Christianity he is a physical example of Christ’s light overcoming darkness. 

In the Acts of the Apostles we read about a man named Saul who persecuted Christians, in fact it was on his way to persecute the Christians in Damascus that he was given, “a wake up call” so to speak. We read in Acts 9 that a bright light shone forth from the heavens and God said to Saul, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”. Through that bright light Saul found himself blind and journeyed to Damascus without eating or drinking. He was found by St. Annanias who was recently celebrated (the 1st of October), (we honestly couldn’t have planned this better if we tried) and Annanais helped Saul receive his sight again. It is said in Acts 9:18 that “immediately things like scales fell from his eyes”. Saul was then baptized and his name became Paul, who is one of the most widely recognized church fathers, in fact in the icon of Saints Peter and Paul we see them holding a church together. In my opinion this was a huge breakthrough in seeing that God can create light from the darkness. In all actuality it was the light of Christ that took Saul’s sight to show him where to find the truth. The fact of the matter is, Saul found the truth without seeing! What faith! I don’t know if I would have been able to have faith like that. Yet, a man who had once killed people for declaring a man as the Christ, was now himself proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah. The man who once hunted the people who followed Christ became the one who was being hunted. 

The man who was once blinded by the light is now writing to the people of Corinth that, Christ is the light who overcomes the darkness. Let’s go back to what he wrote. “Brethren, it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” So basically, the Light, aka God, through us is shining His light to give us more light so we can glorify God. That’s a lot of light. Okay what’s next, “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” Our Earthly bodies will one day fail, we are going to die, but with Christ’s light we will have eternal life. If Christ lives in us, we will never die, so while our Earthly bodies will, our spirit will not. So, through Christ’s not only will I be illumined, but I will live in life everlasting with God. How cool is that?! I mean, think about it. If I were hearing this I would definitely say, “sign me up!” It is like that flashlight infomercial I gave in an earlier blog (read it here https://www.ocf.net/turning-on-the-light/) I wrote about how we have flashlight that guides us in our lives. 

So, the other part of the epistle I will leave to your interpretation, but think about this: Paul’s conversion was that of light, when Jesus was baptized the heavens opened and the heavens house the sun which produces light, and on the feast of the Transfiguration we hear that when Moses came down from Mount Tabor his face was still glowing and shining because it had been in the presence of Christ’s light, and we even see that his face was too bright for some of the people with him! It all comes back to light. Imagine your face glowing because you were in such deep communion with God that His light shone so brightly that it hurt other people’s eyes. I think our goal should be to achieve that, but not just because it’s amazing, but because Christ causes the light to shine in the darkness. What if you are a beacon that guides people to Christ with your light? That sounds to me like the best job ever! So the point I’m trying to make is that even in the darkness Christ’s light will shine, whether it be through you, me, or it blinds someone because they didn’t listen to anyone else. Paul went from killing Christians and persecuting the church to being the one depicted in icons as holding up the church! Someone who made it their life’s mission to destroy the church, became one of the biggest protectors of the faith! If God’s light can shine so brightly that it brings the biggest persecutor to the faith, then maybe even a little bit of that light in us will cause us to bring multitudes as Sts Peter and Paul did. Christ’s light will never be overcome by the darkness. Don’t forget that. He has illumined us all with His divine grace. The Light of lights, the True God, and the giver of light, may He intercede for us as we go through college, a time with lots of darkness that needs to be overcome. 

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student Leader

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

This Little Light of Mine

This Little Light of Mine

When I was younger, one of my favorite songs was“This Little Light of Mine”. The best part of the song, at least in my 4 year old opinion was when you sing, “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine!” To be honest I had no idea what a bushel was, but it was the only time my mom would ever let me enthusiastically scream the word “no”. This year, our OCF theme is John 1:5 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it (NKJV).” During the time of my absolute love for the song, I was also afraid of the dark, as I am sure most kids are. Monsters under the bed and in the closets can be the perfect means of traumatizing someone, especially a young kid. I used to sleep with a night light, I’ll admit it. I also could only fall asleep listening to music, usually byzantine chant. Somehow, with my small nightlight and byzantine chant playing in the background, the room didn’t seem as dark. 

Today, I no longer sleep with a nightlight, nor do I have to listen to music to fall asleep. I wouldn’t say I am afraid of the dark the way I was when I was a kid, but I am afraid of the darkness. Almost every Tuesday morning, a group from my OCF goes to the local church at 6 am for First Hour Prayers. The entire service is lit by candles. Usually only one for each of us, and the votives for the icons at the Iconostasis. Somehow, even in the dark, we see. It is one of the most beautiful services, and it is mainly dark. If my candle were to go out, I wouldn’t be able to see. That is just one candle. So thinking back to the song from earlier, if I were to hide my light, what effect would it have on the light of the world?

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Every little bit counts!”? Sometimes I think to myself, “does it really?” If I were to add a drop of water to a container every day would the water level rise? Probably, but why am I telling you this? Because even if your light doesn’t make up the entire candle that is the Orthodox Church, if you hide it under “a bushel” eventually it will make a change. If I were to extinguish my flame, the light will get just a little bit dimmer. Now think about the drastic new statistic that has recently come to light. 60% of teens and young adults are leaving the Christian Church. That’s over half! So if over half of the population is extinguishing their flame, how much harder will it be for people to see? We face a crisis today, some may even say it’s an epidemic. 70% of America’s teen and young adult population have been found to be depressed. Their flame is starting to struggle, but it is hard to find your way in the dark, so you have to fight to keep it lit. Maybe the person next to them has a strong flame, that might help them see a little bit. But still, they look for other ways to make the flame burn brighter, and while it may burn brighter for a short time, eventually it will die again. We fill our lives with distractions, things to make us feel better praying that the light becomes strong again. But there is only one way to make our flame strong, and it isn’t drugs, alcohol, or other risk behaviors that make us feel good. It’s God. The only person who can steady our flame is God. Now, there are resources to help, like OCF for example, but unless we allow God to strengthen our flame, it will dim. 

Earlier I talked about being afraid of the darkness. What is the darkness? As many people know I love C.S. Lewis, his books are as relatable now, as they were when he wrote them. In The Chronicles of Narnia:Prince Caspian, chapter 9, Lucy sees a bear, she is used to the animals in Narnia being friendly and talking, so she approaches the bear and tries talking to it. She gets very close to the bear and it still hasn’t “responded” the way she expected it to. Finally, the bear has enough and lunges at Lucy, but thankfully just in time, Peter kills the bear before it can hurt Lucy. Now you might wonder why I am telling you this, but it gives context to what Lucy is about to say that I think is super important. Lucy and Susan walk off to the side while the boys deal with the bear, she says, “Such a horrible idea has just come into my head…Wouldn’t it be dreadful if one day, in our world at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you would never know which were which.” We live in a world of darkness. What Lucy says here I think could be used to describe some of that darkness. To say  “what if men went dark on the inside and look normal on the outside; how would we know who was who?” We are bombarded everyday with darkness, sometimes we can see it, other times it is disguised as normal. Now think back to John 1:5, “…The darkness did not overcome [the light].” God can help steady our light, for He is the light and the giver of light, and all who believe in him will be illumined with the light of Christ. Think about Lucy in Narnia acknowledging that there was darkness she couldn’t see. We have a darkness that will be overcome with light of Christ. So, like in the song, scream “no” when asked if you should hide your light. Share Christ’s light that He has lit in you so that we can overcome the darkness with the One who is the Light.

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student

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

Serve With Your Light

Serve With Your Light

In the Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare there is a quote that says, “How far that candle shines his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” Today’s post isn’t going to be, dare I say, typical. I want to talk about the opportunities we have to serve in OCF. Our theme this month, as has been reiterated over and over again, is John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Shakespeare got one thing right here, and maybe he wasn’t trying to use an Orthodox perspective, but we too believe that the world today has darkness, but the best way to keep the light shining, is to shine our own light. Now you may be thinking, “Um, I am in college, I don’t have the money/resources to do good deeds. Guess what!? OCF can give you everything you need in an easy two step process. 

First Step: Find an OCF YES Day or Retreat near you by clicking this link https://www.ocf.net/events/

Second Step: Register! (Don’t forget to show up! I guess there are three steps…)

What does a YES Day or Retreat have to do with service and good deeds?

YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) Days are an amazing one-day program endorsed by OCF and the offered by FOCUS North America (https://focusnorthamerica.org/) where students gather at a church and complete a service project of some kind. For example, last year I attended the Chicago YES Day. We went to a fast food restaurant and bought a ton of food and handed it out to people on the street and talked with them. It was really cool to hear people’s stories, even if they were just wanting a snack waiting for the bus. To see people be affected by what we did, was an incredible experience. I know I tend to forget how fortunate I am. I have my own car, and a roof over my head, and some people didn’t even have a jacket on a cold October day. People asked us where we were from, and we were given the opportunity to share our faith. Some people had heard of Orthodoxy, and some said they would even try to go to the local church that was hosting us! This truly lifted our spirits, and warmed my heart in places I didn’t know were getting cold. 

 

YES Day Chicago 2018

Last November at the Midwest Fall Retreat we made blankets. What does that have to do with good deeds? Well, we made tie blankets, with cute patterns, and sent them to a pregnancy resource center for babies. Blankets are important because babies being swaddled and wrapped in something gives them a sense of security. Pregnancy resource centers are organizations that help mothers who have difficult decisions to make when they become pregnant. Some mothers lose support from people they relied on and need help. They can go to the pregnancy resource center and receive assistance, baby food, diapers, and blankets. The blankets are important because for a mother that feels like they are losing control, the blanket isn’t just a sense of security for the baby anymore, but for the mom as well, who sees that her baby is being taken care of, and is comfortable.

Midwest Fall Retreat 2018

Last March at the Central Illinois District Retreat, the service event involved going to a place called Salt ‘n Light Ministry. This organization allows people to work and gain store credit to buy groceries, clothing, furniture, basically anything someone might need. We had students stocking fruits and vegetables, printing price tags, sorting clothes, and lots of other chores to help out. This ministry provides people with the dignity in knowing that they aren’t receiving handouts, but are reaping the fruits of their labor.

Central Illinois District Retreat 2019

So, with all those examples of things I did last year, I now am urging you to get involved, and to allow our light to shine as a “good deed shines in a weary world.” You never know when you could be the person to help someone learn to shine their own light. Sign up for an OCF event today! I promise you won’t regret it!

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student

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

Overcoming Darkness in College

Overcoming Darkness in College

by Elias Anderson

Happy New Year! September marks the start of both the Ecclesiastical new year of the church and the new school year for colleges and universities across the country. For students, going back to school can be full of many emotions: excitement to see friends, nervousness about new classes, or maybe even fear of falling ill to the darkness surrounding college life. If we are not afraid of this, we should be — if not for ourselves then for our friends and peers. The statistics are out: young people are leaving the church when they get to college. I won’t delve into the why, but I do want to focus on the how. How do we prevent our brothers and sisters from cutting themselves off from Christ and His Church? The answer can be found in this year’s OCF theme which is to, “be a light in the darkness.” From the Gospel of John we know that, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). In order to defeat the darkness that surrounds college life, we must become a light like Christ who is the Light. 

I’ll continue with a little anecdote from my school’s activity fair. I was standing at our OCF booth and a kid stopped noticing our banner, and said, “Is that Orthodoxy? Like Orthodox Orthodoxy? I had no idea that existed in the Western Hemisphere!” This might make you chuckle a little, but it should also make us all realize how few people know about Orthodoxy in America. As a campus ministry, we should do our best to minister to the whole campus, not just the Orthodox kids, by inviting them to our events so that they too can learn about the Faith. By doing this, we are cultivating the light within us.

On a more individual note, it can oftentimes be harder to stand firm in the faith when we are the only Orthodox person in the room. These times, however, are the most important, as they happen constantly. What does this look like? When someone asks you about the icons on your wall or the prayer rope around your wrist or cross around your neck — give them the real answer. Tell them what it is and who you are. Not every instance needs to develop into a long, deep, conversation, but every instance does need to reveal some truth rather than result in a quick cop out. Furthermore, many times when someone asks about your prayer rope, maybe they are just breaking the ice to talk about the faith. 

Just as bringing two wavering candles together creates a bigger flame, so too, when we gather with other Orthodox Christians, will our spiritual light be bolstered. We have an opportunity every Sunday to restore and strengthen our faith so that we can continue to strengthen others’. Getting yourself to Divine Liturgy every Sunday is great, but making it as easy as possible for others to join you is even greater. Whether that be organizing a carpool or reaching out to friends you haven’t seen at church in awhile, doing everything in your power to physically keep them attending church will, in the long run, keep them in the Church.

So as the year goes on I encourage us all to keep cultivating the light within ourselves, so that it may emanate onto others, making them lights, too.

Elias Anderson

Elias Anderson

Guest Author

Hi I’m Elias Anderson. I’m from Libertyville Illinois and grew up at Saints Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview, Illinois. I’m currently a freshman at Valparaiso University majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in music. I attended the CrossRoad summer institute in 2018 and this past summer I was a CIT at the Antiochian Village and participant at Project Mexico. When I’m not in class or doing homework you can find me playing my trumpet in the jazz or concert band or guitar in my dorm room. I love everything Pan-Orthodox and am always down to converse about anything religion. 

Turning on the Light

Turning on the Light

In my opinion, one of the best movie franchises of all time, is the Harry Potter series (PS: Harry Potter has Orthodox themes, read about them here https://www.ocf.net/harry-potter-and-the-fight-between-good-and-evil/). Anyway, in the third Harry Potter Movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban, Dumbledore says something that stuck with me. “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” Our OCF theme this year is John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (NKJV).  In the Psalms we see that the “Lord is [our] light and [our] salvation” (Psalm 27:1 NKJV). Let me infomercial this for you:

Do you ever wake up in the night when it’s dark and you just can’t see?! 

Trip over your dog on the way to the bathroom?

Tired of those bulky flashlights that are just too hard to use?

Well, fear no more! Now introducing Christ!

With Christ you will never need a flashlight again!

This could be yours for only the price of faith as small as a mustard seed!

This has a lifetime warranty!

Order now, and we will throw in a free church recommendation!

Okay I’m done. But, think about it. Christ is our light in the darkness! The darkness doesn’t overcome Him! Okay but what does this have to do with Dumbledore? So, while my “infomercial” was a little on the overdramatic side, it’s true, sometimes we can’t see because it’s dark. In my life, sometimes the sorrow I have overwhelms me, and I retreat into “the darkness.” If wallowing in self-pity was an Olympic sport, I would have a gold medal. One could say, I “catastrophize” — go to the worst case scenario and stay there. So in this time of feeling sorry for myself, I sit in the darkness, waiting to be rescued, but why? Can’t I just save myself? The answer is yes. Though I am not sure I am spiritually or emotionally mature enough to practice this, I could just…turn on the light. If I were to sit in darkness, and think of everything bad, what a terrible life I would live. When I really think about it, it seems miserable. But then I realize that I do live like that! But why?! 

I have the source of light that will never go out! I have a guardian angel who is really good at protecting me. I have saints who pray for me. If I truly let the light of Christ live inside of me, I would never need to turn on the light. But being human I fall short. I think Dumbledore knew that we retreat to the darkness and forget we have the power to “flip the switch,” which is why he said, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” In John 16:22 Jesus says, “Therefore, you now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” Jesus makes this promise to the Apostles, and to us! We are going to retreat sometimes into the darkness of sorrow, fear, pity, ETC, but if we remember to turn on the light, we will see the path Christ has set forth for us, and the thousands of angels standing guard around us. For as Christ promises, while we may sorrow now, when we lay our eyes on Him who is the source of light, our hearts will be filled with a joy that no one can take from us! What a beautiful promise and an amazing correlation to our theme. Remember that the darkness cannot overcome Christ’s light, and through Him, we can remember to “turn on the lights.” For when we allow Christ’s light to shine in us, we will be filled with joy.

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student

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

Come Receive the Light

Come Receive the Light

by Demetra Chiafos

Every year on Pascha, the church goes dark and the priest emerges from the altar holding a single candle, its flame burning brightly. He chants, “Come, receive the light from the light that is never overtaken by night.” It is simple in its beauty, and it contains Christ’s promise to us. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Drink from the well of eternal life and never thirst again. Come, receive the light.

This promise is beautifully comforting. Unfortunately, the world we live in is full of darkness, and we are flooded with heartbreaking news. Even in our own lives, our own cities, on our own college campuses, suffering is never too far out of reach. We live in a broken world. However, despite this brokenness, Christians are called to rejoice in the knowledge that Christ reigns triumphant, ever drawing us closer to His eternal Kingdom.

When we acknowledge that this earthly life is not permanent, orienting ourselves toward Christ and His eternal Kingdom, we begin to see the world differently. When we focus on Christ triumphing over death, shattering the gates of Hades by dying on the Cross, we begin to see His candle through the darkness much more clearly. At OCF’s Summer Leadership Institute, we talked about how Christ never forsakes us. Even when it feels like God isn’t answering our prayers, or like senseless evil surrounds us, God will never abandon us. As it is written in Psalms 139:7-12 (NKJV):

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.

The OCF story that I tell frequently, however, is how my OCF chapter and parish community at school were there for me during one of the most difficult weeks of my life. My dad passed away during finals week in December of 2018. At its most intense and acute, grief felt like a physical ache that would never go away. I felt blinded by it, stumbling through each day, trying to do the things that needed to be done.

However, through my OCF chapter, God made the night “shine as the day” like in the Psalm. I texted our group chat that I didn’t want to be alone and they surrounded me like my personal battalion of angels. My dad died Sunday night. They compared schedules and made sure that one of them was with me Monday through Friday until I could get home, studying with me, eating lunch with me, or taking me to church. Anything I needed, anything they could say or do, they were there. No questions asked.

They are the perfect example of Christ’s love: eager to serve, immediate to help. There’s a quote attributed to Fred Rogers about how even in the times of worst despair throughout history, there have always been helpers, and instead of despairing we should look for the helpers. Through this experience, I have realized that to be true. There are always so many helpers: those who stand up for their bullied peers in high school, those who give the food they’re holding to the homeless with no second thought, those who have ripped the shirt off their back to staunch someone else’s bleeding. My friends who rallied around me in my time of need. I can think of more examples than I can list here.

 “Come, receive the light.” It is indeed a promise that no matter how dark our world gets, the light will never be overtaken. Beyond a promise, though, it is also a calling. We are called to be the helpers and to embody Christ’s light. Let us all approach Christ, our good and loving God, and rejoice in Him—for no matter how dark the world looks, He will never abandon us.

 

Demetra Chiafos

Demetra Chiafos

Guest Author

 My name is Demetra Chiafos and I am a senior at The Ohio State University! I am originally from Iowa. My dual degree is in dance and the Japanese language. This is my third year as a member of the student leadership board for the OSU OCF chapter. I love reading, writing, and traveling. I also play piano and sing in the choir at my school parish!

Light Shining in the Darkness

Light Shining in the Darkness

by Paul Murray

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend [overcome] it,” (John 1:1-5).

​This is the beginning of the Gospel account of St. John, in which he beautifully and poetically retells the story of creation. His readers knew the story so well, but here he shows that Jesus was there from the very beginning. So much can be said on these five verses, so we can only scratch the surface in this brief blog post. The whole thing can be summarized like this: Jesus is God, and He always existed and was involved with creation. He created everything, including all life, meaning the life that He gives shines throughout the world as light. OCF’s theme for this year centers around verse 5, “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” so we will dig in deeper to what this means.

What is the darkness?

Do we see darkness around us? Just yesterday as I was getting a haircut, my barber, knowing that I am in seminary, asked about what I thought about everything going on in the world. He said, “At my age, having seen what I’ve seen, I had hoped things would be better by this point.” We don’t have to look very far to see the darkness in the world. We see so much pain and destruction, so much needless suffering, so much hatred, such clear failure of empathy, so many people crying out in distress yet so few ears open to hear their cries. How do we battle such monstrous darkness?

Light in darkness

St. Porphyrios has a simple answer, as he does to most complex issues. “Don’t fight to expel darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for the light to enter, and the darkness will disappear.” Think of this along with John 1:5: “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” What darkness can overpower light? Light always wins out over darkness; there is simply no other way for things to be. If there is darkness, light is not present, and if there is light, there cannot be darkness.

So what do I do?

“You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). This is what Christ tells His disciples, in whose footsteps we now follow. If Christ is the true light (John 1:4) and we are the light of the world, that means that we, the Church, are called to be the presence of Christ in this world. We are battling darkness, and He is the light; what chance do we have in our battle without Him? How could we eliminate darkness without light?

Okay, but really, what do I do?

First, we pray. Prayer opens us up to dialogue with God. We need to pray every morning and every evening, as we are able. It can be 30 seconds or 30 minutes (or beyond), but it needs to be something to be the foundation of our day. And we can also find moments for prayer or stillness throughout the day; one of my favorites is walking back to the dorm from the library at night. Everything is so still, the work for the day is done (or at least, more done than it used to be), and there is so much around me to be thankful for.

Second, we show love and kindness to all who we meet. We can try to do this without prayer and trust in God, but we will find ourselves constantly falling short until we are united with Him. We are called to be first of all kind and loving to our friends and the people close to us, and then to extend out from there. Christ makes clear from His account of the last judgment in Matthew 25 that our priority are the poor, the hungry, and the needy in any way. We may see people struggling with various things on our campuses, and many of them may not have people to help them, or even people to talk to them and share in their struggle for a few seconds. We are called to be the light in their darkness by simply being with them; no more, no less.

Take-Away Point:

Here’s the main message, my friends. Being the light in the darkness means we must be connected to God and strength from Him, which comes from prayer (especially thanksgiving), reading scripture, and spending time in stillness. Having this foundation, we extend that same love that He shows to us constantly to everyone around us, especially when it is hard. In this way, we battle the darkness, not by futile means that we contrive of ourselves, but by allowing the Light to enter into our situation, so that the darkness is simply no more. If we focus on the darkness that is still out there, we will become dejected and give up. But if we focus on who we are called to be—God’s presence in our communities, most especially to the person in front of us at any given moment—then we can call upon the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and work through us to spread light to our communities around us.

Paul Murray

Paul Murray

Guest Author

Hi! I’m a third-year seminarian at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA. I have a Bachelor of Arts in psychology with a minor in Spanish, and am working towards my Master of Divinity. When I am not writing blog articles for OCF, I canusually be found working on some project for school or something else, practicing chanting,refining my Super Smash Bros game with other HCHC students, or throwing a Frisbee at people to try to get someone to play catch with me.

 

How to Stay Afloat in the Sea of College

How to Stay Afloat in the Sea of College

I wanted to make the first blog post of the year introductory. So, hello! My name is Evyenia Pyle and I am the OCF Publications Student Leader this year! I became interested in this position after being a blog contributor last year. As I head into my sophomore year of college, I have been thinking about what OCF means to me, and how it affected me freshman year.

So, to start, I’m going to take us back to last August. It was the University of Illinois Quad Day, and my friend told me to stop by the OCF booth. I showed up to the campus quad and looked around at the sea of people. Literally thousands of people walking and thousands of people facilitating a booth. It was quite overwhelming. I texted my friend and said that I had no idea where I was and needed help finding the booth. He texted me that I had to go to the religion part. So, I trekked over to the religion club booths and started my search. Finally, I saw this huge icon of Christ and my friend standing with a huge smile ready to introduce me to everyone. 

Being a freshman on campus, being welcomed by such an amazing group of people was honestly life-changing in a first-year college experience. OCF became my home–a place where the stress and worries of college life started to fade away. 

In college, it can be hard to stay above the rough seas that seem to rock the boat of life. It is like the storm, where Jesus walks on water:  by having faith in Him, we can walk on the raging waters like Peter. In college, and life, there are going to be ups and downs, but having a support system like OCF, filled with people who share your love for God, will make your time in college so much easier. During college, it is easy to feel like we are sinking, like our head is barely above the water, and honestly the sea of people when I was trying to find our OCF booth felt like a huge storm.

In Matthew’s account of Peter walking on the water, Peter says, “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus commands him to come, and at first Peter walks with ease, then he looks around. He sees his surroundings and becomes afraid. He starts to sink. When I am in class sometimes, or when I do my school work, I can get overwhelmed. The sea of school work becomes too much, and I begin to have fear. Peter had fear, and because he was sinking he had to cry out, “Lord, save me!” 

In the New King James Version it reads that, “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him…” Jesus immediately caught Peter and admonished him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

That verse always has a hold on me. Am I of little faith? Do I doubt?

I sometimes wonder if Peter had never taken his eyes off of the Lord, would he have started to fear and consequently sink? In times that I feel overwhelmed and anxious–about my future, my work, or my present school work–am I looking away away from God? As we get into the joy, trials, and excitement of college, let us together keep in mind that no matter what, God will reach out immediately to help us. All we need to do is say, “Lord, save me!”

If you are interested in being a blog contributor or have thoughts on the blogs please feel to reach out with my email, publicationsstudent@ocf.net. I look forward to being your publications student this year, and I ask for your prayers as we begin the school year together. 

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

Find Yourself This Holy Week

Holy week is finally here amigos. This Holy Week, I want to urge you to take the time that you need to fully immerse yourself and partake even a little bit into the splendor of Christ’s Resurrection. There’s always time to start getting ready and to engage! The spiritual father of the Champaign OCF, Fr. Michael Condos, challenged us to “find ourselves in Holy Week,” and this challenge is a wonderful way to be in the mindset to grow in Christ. What do I mean by find yourself? Holy Week has so many Gospel readings and services that talk about so many people from whom we can learn. When I say find yourself, I mean that you need to find who you identify with this Holy Week–where you are spiritually, the story sticks that sticks out to you.
Maybe you’re Lazarus and you’re feeling spiritually dead or exhausted, and you need Christ to call for you and raise you up. Maybe you’re running out of steam from Lent, and you’re so excited that Christ is coming like the people of Palm Sunday. Maybe you feel like Christ has been absent in your heart. Now He’s here coming on a donkey to come receive you. Maybe you have been slacking spiritually, and you’re not ready for Holy Week. Maybe you’re scared that you don’t have oil in your lamp. Maybe you feel like you are being hypocritical like the Pharisees, maybe you’re holding others to standards you don’t even uphold yourself. Maybe something is plaguing you spiritually like Simon the Leper. Maybe you are thirsty for the mercy of God like Kassiani. Maybe you feel like Judas at the table of Christ. This is why we fast on Wednesdays. If you don’t think you could ever be like Judas, ask a priest and reevaluate. Maybe you feel like are trying to carry your cross, and you can empathize with St. Simeon. Maybe you feel like the Romans at Christ’s cross, skeptical about who Jesus is. Maybe you feel like either of the thieves who were crucified next to Christ. Maybe you feel like your faith is wavering like the disciples who hid after Christ’s crucifixion. Maybe you feel like St. Peter and have denied Christ. This Pascha, try and find yourself, and see yourself in true humility. In anything, know now that Christ underwent His passion for our sake. You may feel like any of the people described during Holy Week, but most importantly be like the apostles who saw Christ and proclaimed He is Risen. BE LIKE THE DEAD WHO HAVE RISEN WITH CHRIST. Get PUMPED!! Here is a part from St. John Crysostom’s paschal homily that reiterates the point I’m trying to make.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness. For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first.

I hope you all have a blessed Resurrection!

Forgiveness

We recently began lent with one of the most moving services of the year, Forgiveness Vespers. In the epistle we hear:
“As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for God is able to make him stand (Romans 14:1-4 NKJV).”

Fr. Arseny (I definitely recommend the book about him calledFr. Arseny 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spritual Father), grew up in Russia and went to University as an art critic and when he felt God calling him to an ascetic life, he became a hieromonk. In the year 1927, Fr. Arseny was arrested and taken to a prison camp in Siberia. People were not expected to live very long as they were worked to death in horrific conditions. Fr. Arseny was arrested due to anticommunist persecution, and was received by the Lord in 1973. One of my favorite Fr. Arseny stories is when he and another prisoner were sent to a steel shack in below zero weather for 48 hours. No one had ever survived that punishment before, but Fr. Arseny and the man prayed and made it out alive. So basically, Fr. Arseny is awesome. Going back to forgiveness though, Fr. Arseny forgave the men that put him in the prison camp. In fact, he prayed to God for them and for their forgiveness. If I were in those shoes, freezing to death and barely having enough to eat, I am not sure I would be as forgiving, but this was a man of God. With help from God, Fr. Arseny was not only forgiving, but he rejoiced in his tribulations. God had held him up.
Another great example of forgiveness is with Auschwitz twin experiment survivor Eva Mozes Kor. Many years after her release from the concentration camp, Eva Mozes Kor gave a public statement forgiving the doctors who performed some of the worst procedures possible, and the Nazi soldiers who treated her and her twin sister Miriam very poorly. I see things like Fr. Arseny and Eva Mozes Kor and it really makes me think. How is it that I have trouble forgiving someone when they cut me off on the high way, but these people forgave the people who created a life of misery for them. They rejoiced in their sufferings. I think a lot of times I group lent into a category of something I have to do. I make it a chore. Lent is not that at all. Lent is the spiritual gym. We are trying to train spiritual muscles, with the ultimate goal being reuniting ourselves with God. Lent is hard, being a Christian in today’s world is hard, yet we must live our faith. As Fr. Barnabas Powell always says, “Be Orthodox on purpose!” Fr. Arseny and Eva Mozes Kor are amazing resources of people to look up to when you struggle with forgiveness. So, let us not pass judgement, let us rejoice in our sufferings to produce hope, and character, and perseverance. Stay strong during lent, attend the services. I like to think of communion as Orthodox gasoline, and we are the car that needs it to run. Normally we only need to partake once a week, but with the spiritual warfare picking up we add a midweek service to refuel. So, attend the services, lean on each other for support. Forgive, even if it is the last thing you want to do. Because if we do these things, if we work on our relationship with Christ this lent, we should not fear falling. For God will make us stand!
I am Evyenia Pyle. I am freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I am majoring in Speech and Hearing Sciences with double concentrations in neuroscience of communication and speech-language pathology. This year I am the Central Illinois District Student Leader! I love to sing, especially byzantine chant. I play a lot of instruments including guitar, bass, piano, and more. I have two amazing dogs, they are my pride and joy. I am so excited to be contributing to the OCF blogs this year!
Time to Hit the Gym

Time to Hit the Gym

Fr. Jonathan Bannon–a priest, an OCF advocate (he was the spiritual father at the last College Conference Midwest!), and a talented graphic designer–drew up a Lenten infographic that’s perfect for college students.

Here are 7 tips for getting into the spiritual gym and getting yourself ready for Pascha!

  1. Confess

The best way to start Lent is on a clean slate. Confession is a good way to grow closer to the Lord and learn from your spiritual father. Your OCF chapter chaplain is very qualified to hear your confession. Confession helps you understand your flaws even deeper and is a good place to know where to start. With confession, you can take all your sorrows to the Lord and start anew. A good resource for guiding yourself in Holy Confession can be found here. Ask yourself the questions and humble yourself so you can be resurrected in Christ!

  1. Commune

Communion is the pathway to Life. John 6:53-54:

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

Lent is impossible without the help of our Lord. Learn to depend more and more on our Lord so you can become closer to Him. Many parishes also hold Presanctified Liturgies where you can get some extra strength from our Lord throughout the week. 

  1. Become Charitable

Be a little more generous and more lenient with people. Hold your tongue. Monetary donations are not necessary (but if you are moved to give, OCF is a wonderful place to donate that money). You could also donate your time to perform any of the charitable acts described in the beatitudes. 

  1. Pray the St. Ephraim Prayer Daily

O Lord and Master of my life!

Take from me the spirit of sloth,
faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity,
humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother,
for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

The prayer of St. Ephraim just puts you into the Lenten mood. Each of the sentences is usually followed by a prostration. HERE is some of the spiritual gymnastics that Lent can call for. Get your blood flowing in the morning and night in devotion. Many prayer books have the St. Ephraim prayer built into them, so you may just need to look for it. 

  1. Be in Church (and OCF) More

Being in the home of Christ will help you stay in the Lenten mood. Your spiritual battery might need some more juice during these stricter times. Another great reason to be in church more is that there is camaraderie with the people who are undergoing the same struggle. Share your triumphs, ask for advice, and swap recipes–you’re not alone in this struggle. Your OCF is another great resource for finding this camaraderie. 

  1. Hide Your Fasting

Fasting is an important part of Lent because it helps us focus on what really matters–relying on God in all things. However, it is important that you try to let your fasting be between you and God (and your spiritual father). Fasting is a tool for self-control, not an ends in and of itself. Fasting is a way for you to train your spiritual muscles, so get to the gym! Please also do not try to make others feel bad about their commitment to fasting, although do not be afraid to encourage others! Sometimes people just need a little push, but do not let prideful thoughts take over because that defeats the whole purpose of fasting. Here is a great guide for some Lenten recipes curated by your OCF board!

  1. When You Fall, Get Back Up!

This is the most important part of Lent. If you break the fast, it’s not the end of the world. We are human, we will fall. The important thing is not to let yourself keep falling, but instead stand up and keep trying. No one can run a marathon without training; use Lent as a training period to come closer to the Lord! 

Should I even apply for the SLB? The short answer is YES

Should I even apply for the SLB? The short answer is YES

SLB APPLICATIONS ARE OUT! If you’re an Orthodox Christian looking to give back and serve your peers to help them grow closer to Christ, you are in the right spot. The SLB is a team of servant leaders that works to grow OCF for the benefit of our peers. We care deeply about all of our members and we choose to volunteer our time and talents in the best ways that we can.

Maybe you’re good at writing – publications might be for you. Maybe you’re good at public speaking – public relations might be for you. Maybe you’re a social media king or queen – media might be for you. Maybe you like to talk – podcasts might be for you. Maybe you love your OCF friends – regional leadership might be for you? Maybe you’re passionate about college conference – HM MAYBE THERE’S A COLLEGE CONFERENCE STUDENT LEADER?

Point of the matter is: there are places for you to invest your talents no matter what they are. So, apply. But don’t take JUST my advice, take the advice of some of the SLB leaders that work hard to make OCF shine.

This was their answer to the question, “Why apply to the SLB?”

Zoe Kanakis – Southwest Student Leader

  1. You can serve Christ through leading others and providing resources to expand the faith.
  2. You make long-lasting relationships with students from all across America; some of my greatest friendships are people from the SLB!
  3. You can grow your own faith through serving others.
  4. You get to meet a lot of priests that will rock your socks off with their wisdom.
  5. As a regional leader, you are able to plan fun retreats and express your creativity in fellowship activities (ice breakers, bonfires, talent shows, etc).
  6. You are able to travel to places that you would never have thought of and learn about other cultures.

6.75. I cannot stress enough how strong my friendships are with members of the SLB. Bonds that cannot be broken. SO APPLY YO!

Elizabeth Buck – South Student Leader

I applied to the SLB because I wanted to give back to the organization that has given me so much during my college career. The SLB has given me the opportunity to cultivate my authentic leadership style, take on new and exciting challenges, and learn from so many inspiring Orthodox Christian college students around the country. Finally, being a part of the SLB has increased my network of Orthodox Christian friends and has given me the dearest friendships of my young adult life.

Alex Lountzis – Southeast Student Leader

Applying to the SLB is one of the BEST decisions you could ever make! Being on the SLB is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where you will meet some of the most inspiring, amazing, and dedicated Orthodox Christians. At the Summer Leadership Institute (SLI), you will be equipped with so many amazing tools that will allow you to lead others and fulfill your role for OCF to the best of your God-given ability.

The friendships and relationships built through this amazing ministry are a blessing truly beyond words, and I highly recommend not passing up this opportunity to dedicate your own time and talent to such an amazing organization that impacts and changes so many lives!

Kristina Anastasiades – Northeast Student Leader

The Student Leadership Board is a group of Orthodox Christians who bring out Christ in each other and those around them. They can see Him inside of you even when you can’t see Him yourself. We hold each other accountable and pick up our crosses together, as we head towards a life in Christ, not in the future, but today. We are a part of the body of Christ, so let’s bring that to our peers through our service on the SLB!

Caroline Retzios – Great Lakes Student Leader

College for me has been a time for spiritual growth, and thanks to my friends in my local OCF chapter, I am constantly surrounded by others who strive to grown in the faith together. As I became more involved in OCF programs outside of weekly chapter meetings (College Conference, Real Break, District Retreats), I decided I wanted to serve my fellow college students by helping connect them with opportunities to explore their faith.

Now that I am on the SLB, I love every moment about it. I loved everything about SLI, helping at College Conference, leading and attending my first Regional Retreat, and all the people I have met who inspire me to live a more Christ-centered life every day! As a member of the SLB, I have grown SO MUCH in my faith.

I think the biggest thing I have gotten out of this opportunity has been learning to be a servant leader. Hearing leadership expressed in this way at SLI was definitely the most impactful part of that week and has guided my service to this ministry.

OCF gives us so many opportunities to grow in our faith. If you desire to grow closer to Christ through service to your peers, build life-long friendships, and learn more about your faith, apply!

Don’t hesitate, apply now!

The Essence of Love

The Essence of Love

One of the hardest parts about true love is what lies at its core: freedom. Freedom is at the core of all healthy relationships because from it we can derive trust, understanding, and harmony. When freedom is taken out of love, it can actually become evil. Love needs to be free to be true. 

Let’s look at an example from pop culture: You, a Netflix series based on an obsessive man who lusts after a girl and tries to entrap here. [SPOILER ALERT PEOPLE] The boyfriend and main character in the story becomes so obsessed with his girlfriend, Guinevere Beck, that he seeks to “fix” every problem in her life. He kills her ex and her best friend and eventually traps her into his basement in a cage originally used to store old and rare books (he owns a bookstore). This story is a perversion on true love, masked by a false romantic theme and emotional sentimentality which covers an obsession to control this girl for the satisfaction of his sick desires. This is where love can lead when freedom is taken out of the equation.

Why is freedom necessary for true love? It is because in our choice to consistently choose another person, where we can grow a foundation of trust and build our self-emptying nature. When the self-emptying nature is reciprocated and shared between two people, we can be lead towards salvation and understand a sliver of Christ’s love for us. This comes back to the idiomatic saying, “If you love something, set it free.” If someone tries to control you “out of love,” they are actually satisfying themselves to your detriment.

As Orthodox Christians, we know that all things true and good must come from God. Therefore, pure, good, and true love is exemplified in our Lord’s love for us: His creation. This Valentine’s-Day-appropriate verse from St. Paul’s explanation of heavenly love is the basis on which we should try and base our love for our neighbor in our everyday lives:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

The love described in the epistle is incredibly pure and self-emptying. This is the agape written about in the scriptures, and this is the type of love we are called to have for each and every one of our brothers and sisters–enemies included. I firmly believe that Love is the most powerful force in the universe. Not atomic force, electromagnetic force, not gravity, but love is the strongest. Love is the Person that brought the Universe into existence and continues to uphold it every moment. 

The Lord gave us free will so that we can come to know Him of our own volition. If someone was forcing us to love them, we only push them away further because resentment and asphyxiation grow where freedom ends. Only in the freedom to love one another can we actively make the choice to love and sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the other.

This type of love can hurt in its acquisition but afterwards it can be the most freeing thing you ever experience. It hurts because there is the possibility that someone may not love us back, that the people we love may get hurt, that they don’t appreciate our love, but that shouldn’t deter you. God loves His people, and there are many people out there that actively hate Him. Yet He chooses to love us in freedom, always allowing us to turn back to Him and meet Him. For every step we take towards Him, He takes ten more to come closer to us. God came from heaven to earth out of love. He chooses to love us as we are and sees us for what we can become. Choose to love the people around you.

Many of you are probably wondering, yes that love sounds beautiful and all, but is it realistic? The truth is you have to learn and discern about the state of your relationships. This applies for all the relationships you have in your life from your friends to your enemies. Your love for others deepens as your love for God and your experience of His love for you deepens. This comes with time, maturity, and prayer, so have patience, faith in God, and may the Love that brought you into being illumine your path towards the kingdom.

To the Perfectionist

To the Perfectionist

The classic response for the interview question “What is a weakness of yours?” is to reply with “I’m a perfectionist.” Oh, clever you! That answer tries to mask a weakness with a quality that is seemingly good in the eyes of an employer. Ha. Perfectionism has an ugly side that can affect you spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.

Gen Z (which is our generation, for those of us born after 1995) has been cursed with the sickness of perfectionism and been plagued by feelings of anxiety and depression. The New York times reported: “In 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A. began asking incoming college freshmen if they ‘felt overwhelmed by all I had to do’ during the previous year. In 1985, 18 percent said they did. By 2010, that number had increased to 29 percent. Last year, it surged to 41 percent.” This feeling has been permeating our generation in a way that it has never before.

Behind perfectionism is the incessant, pestering voice saying that we haven’t done enough, we are in control, there is more to do, failure is the worst possible thing that could happen to us, everyone is watching us, people are out to get us, everyone is my competitor, and I have to make it to the top first or I won’t make it at all.

Trust me guys, I’m talking from experience. I am pre-med, and this pressure is a wonderful motivator, but when left unchecked it can be detrimental. The difference between Gen Z and previous generations is that this pressure has become internalized, so it never leaves, its always around telling us to keep pushing.

What’s causing this intense rise in perfectionism in our lives? A huge part of the blame is on cell phones. We acquire this false sense of control and expectation in the unknown. If you don’t think you have this, ask yourself the question if you’ve ever looked at someone’s Insta and thought, “How is their life so put together, so exciting, so…perfect?” This perfectionism is causing us to lie awake at night wondering whether we’ve done enough or if we’re enough. This constant battle is causing a lot of spiritual damage if left unchecked and unregulated.

Perfectionism can be dangerous because we put off important things until we think we are deemed good enough to do them. For example, “I am going to pursue a relationship with someone when I have all my stuff together.” or “Oh my gosh, I missed a question on that exam, I’m going to fail.” Let’s be honest, you’re never going to get your stuff together to the degree that you will feel satisfied, and you are chasing a finish line that’s moving faster than you are. 

If you think that the Scripture which were written almost 2,000 years ago is  irrelevant to today, you are wrong. The Bible is the perfect antidote to combating the negative aspects of perfectionism, and letting it guide us, we can transform it to become perfect like God. In the First Book of John, we read:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.    – 1 John 3:1-2

We are loved by God now, in our triumphs and our mistakes. He loves us, He created us, and whether you like it or not He has a plan for us. Take a deep breath, we are all human beings. Your mistakes do not make you inadequate, the saints describe their whole lives as being a continuous rising and falling in God. You don’t have to mask your flaws, God already knows them more than you do, be open with Him in your prayer. Open up and let out the anxiety that can be plaguing you. Mistakes are OK to make, because God gives us the opportunity to stand up and try again. If God who is perfect and sinless can forgive you, you can work to see your mistakes and grow in them rather than let them letting them weigh you down.

Perfectionism can be scary, but we can work to overcome it and lead healthier lives mentally, physically, and spiritually. Here are five tips to help overcome perfectionism and limit it from having a negative impact on your life:

  1. Put down your phone. Stop comparing yourself to other people, and don’t allow the social media that is making you feel inadequate to have that kind of power over you. Compete with yourself and strive for improvement and not perfection.
  2. Build real relationships with people. Help yourself see your flaws and imperfections, and share them with your close friends. Share your struggles, and have others share theirs with you. The impact a conversation can have on your mental health can be amazing.
  3. Talk to God. Open up to Him and let Him know what’s going on with you in your life and ask for His help. Let your talks be between you and Him alone, build that relationship so you can grow in Christ.
  4. Forgive others, and forgive yourself. Forgive others because that will help free you, and forgive yourself because when you ask for mercy, God will grant it.
  5. Work to acquire humility. True humility is not knowing that you are nothing, true humility is knowing who you truly are. Work to get comfortable with your true self as a child of God.

Remember perfectionism could at its best be our subconscious desire to restore our fallen selves. It can be a wonderful tool for keeping the commandments and growing in Christ, but unchecked it can cause anxiety and cause us to push ourselves to our limits without God. Let perfectionism be transformed in Christ so that we become perfect, not on our own terms, but as God intends us to be.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  – Matthew 5:48

On Paraklesis

On Paraklesis

One of the most beautiful prayers passed on through holy tradition is the service of Paraklesis. Any time you have a need, you can bring it in humility to the feet of the Theotokos or the saint you are asking for intercession. The nine canons are like roses of prayer that are offered to our intercessors. This service became really dear to my heart after praying it at OCF retreats and with my OCF chapter. It made me feel closer to them and closer to the Theotokos.

Just like we can ask our friends and family to pray for us, we can ask the saints and the Theotokos to pray for us in our daily struggle towards the kingdom. Throughout this post, I will include some lines from the poetry of the service that help illustrate the love of the Theotokos, and encourage you to respond in love to her.

Paraklesis translated from Greek literally mean “a pleading.” Bring all you worries and fears, and place them in the hands of God, and know that He will take care of them in the way that is best for you:

I entreat you, O Virgin, disperse the storm of my grief,
and the soul’s most inward confusion, scatter it far from me; you are the Bride of God, for you have brought forth the Christ, the Prince of Peace; O all-blameless one.

The Paraklesis is a service where you can bring down the walls you put around you, bring all your stresses, wishes, hopes, failures and anguishes for you and for whomever you want to pray and offer a supplication to God through an intercession. No person is closer to Him than His mother, the Virgin Theotokos. She looks after us as our spiritual mother.

Deliver us,
all of your servants, from danger, O Theotokos;
after God, we all flee to you, for shelter and covering, as an unshakable wall and our protection.

Throughout the service, descriptions of the holy life of the Theotokos and the help she has given to the people who have loved her throughout the ages. She will protect you, no matter where you are in life she is there, praying and talking to Christ on our behalf.

No one is turned away from you, ashamed and empty, who flee to you, O pure Virgin Theotokos;
but one asks for the favor,
and the gift is received from you,
to the advantage of their own request.

The Theotokos loves us and prays for us as if she were our own mother. She knows what its like to be a human being, and she endured one of the most painful experiences known to humanity–witnessing the death of her Son. She gets it. To me, the Paraklesis service is special because I feel like I am not alone in my worries and stresses and I can share them with the Mother of God. I also really love that when I know someone is going through hardship I can actually do something to help them. Not only can I offer my struggles, but I can offer the struggles of others through my prayer.

Oppressed I am, O Virgin;
in a place of sickness,
I have been humbled; I ask you: bring remedy,
transform my illness, my sickness, into a wholesomeness.

The walk towards the kingdom is not a lonely one. We walk together as Christ’s Church. We can come together to pray, to support, and to love one another and help make this life more like the kingdom through our conscious effort. We can come together to pray for each other and strengthen each other. We are a community of Orthodox Christians, and we stand together in fighting each of our good fights. Don’t be ashamed to be a “mama’s boy” or a “mama’s girl” because we can all use the help and shelter that she provides.

My numerous hopes are placed
before you, most-holy one;
Mother of our God,
guard me with care, within your sheltered arms.

Just like a child clings to its mother, crying for the even the smallest boo-boo, we have our Holy Mother that will comfort us in our times of need. Each time you pray a Paraklesis service, let God and the Theotokos speak to you through the service, and become closer to them.