OCF Announces Annual Student Information Collection Drive

OCF Announces Annual Student Information Collection Drive

Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF), the official campus ministry of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, is proud to announce the commencement of its annual Student Information Collection Drive and “First Forty Days” Campaign. This initiative, a collaborative effort between OCF and Assembly jurisdictions’ youth departments and parishes, aims to foster a deep connection between students and Christ as well as His Church throughout their college years.

Under the guidance and endorsement of His Eminence, Metropolitan Gregory of Nyssa, OCF’s Episcopal Liaison to the Assembly of Bishops, all parishes, parents, grandparents and students are warmly invited to partake in this initiative. Through the simple act of submitting student contact details directly to OCF, parents and parishes can rest assured that their students will receive outreach from local OCF leaders within the initial forty days and on-going regional and national program information for the 2024-2025 academic year. This outreach will provide invaluable opportunities for students to integrate Christ and His Church into their college lives.

OCF Executive Director, Deacon Marek Simon shares, “The first few weeks of college mark a crucial period during which students form lasting relationships and habits. By ensuring that the Church becomes an integral part of their college experience, First Forty Days and our communications seek to connect every student with an OCF chapter, a local parish and our programs within this pivotal timeframe.”

Parents, parishes, and youth program coordinators are encouraged to submit student contact information for their graduating high school seniors online at https://www.ocf.net/submit/. All information submitted by July 15, 2024 will be appropriately distributed in advance of the fall semester. Rest assured, each student’s contact details will remain confidential and will only be shared with officially recognized OCF leaders.

 

About OCF

OCF is dedicated to transforming the lives of college students by guiding them on the path to Jesus Christ through His Church. Through the cultivation of a vibrant campus community centered on worship, witness, service, fellowship, and education, OCF endeavors to make a lasting impact. To learn more about these essential ministries, visit us online or send an inquiry to info@ocf.net.

Your 4-Step Guide For Preparing For Lent

Your 4-Step Guide For Preparing For Lent

Happy Monday, and a blessed Cheesefare Week to you all!

Yes indeed, it is that wonderful time of year again–or at least, it almost is. Great Lent is just around the corner: a time to intensify our relationship with Christ and the saints; go an extra mile or two to see what awaits us down the road; prepare for the salvation of mankind in the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Great Lent is, inherently, a time of preparation. It is the period demarcated by the church to get us ready for such an earth-shattering event as the Crucifixion and Resurrection. But, despite the fact that Great Lent is supposed to be a time to prepare, we still must ensure we are ready for its own unique trials. We must prepare for our period of preparation, if you will.

Consider studying for a final exam. Do you just start picking up the textbook and reading? No, you often plan more deliberately than that. You make sure you know what’s on the final exam, so that you can study the correct source material. You aggregate multiple sources on the material in question, to get all of the perspectives. You don’t just start studying in the crowded dining hall, surrounded by your friends–you go off, into the library, find somewhere you can be undisturbed. You fill up your water bottle, bring a snack, put on some tunes, and then you are ready. You are ready to prepare.

As such, we must take this week–Cheesefare Week–to get ready for everything Great Lent will bring to us. Here are the steps that I’m going to try to take:

1) Eat a ton of dairy

While this one isn’t necessarily geared toward spiritual depth or anything, it’s the last week we can eat cheese and milk for 40 some days. If you intend on keeping the full fast–meat, dairy, wine, oil, fish, everything–then you should take these last days to savor those foods. If not solely because you’ll miss them, because fasting from mac and cheese will be way easier if you made yourself, very deliberately, a delicious farewell mac and cheese this week.

2) Reinvigorate your prayer life

The hope and prayer is that your prayer life is healthy, active, and strong–I know for me, this is not the case. As such, I think we will struggle to go through these added efforts of Lent–increased fasting, more services, et cetera–if we don’t re-establish a relationship and dialogue with God, and that relationship and dialogue comes through prayer. We will need His help to get through Lent in the best possible way–so begin praying for God’s strength and mercy now, so that you can be better prepared when temptation comes knocking later.

3) Schedule extra services–today

Lent adds a whole slew of services to the schedule, from the weekly Presanctified Liturgy to the Canon of St. Andrew next week. It can be nice and easy in our heads to say “Oh, when I’m free, I’ll go” but we are college students–we are never really “free.” There’s always something we could be doing. If we don’t very intentionally, firmly, pointedly carve out the space on Wednesday evening to head to Presanctified–or just make sure we attend every Saturday Vespers–we will likely not increase our church attendance. Make the decision now, so that you’re prepared when the time comes.

4) Consider the depth of your fast

The church prescribes a fast–but all fasts are individual, personal. The encouragement is to follow the dietary fast as strictly as possible, but if you can’t avoid oils in the dining hall, that’s okay. Fast as to your capacity. However, we should also consider fasts beyond the dietary restrictions: Great Lent calls for a decrease of auxiliary noise in our lives, an increase in self-reflection and personal growth. Consider what a fast–even if it isn’t a completely cold-turkey cut-off, but just a gearing down–from Netflix, music, movies, parties, and alcohol could do for your spiritual life.

I hope that your Lent is fruitful, and that you return to the OCF blog often for more readings/OCF opportunities to help you through your effort of Great Lent.

There’s a Saint for That: Saint Athanasios the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria

There’s a Saint for That: Saint Athanasios the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria

Saint Athanasios the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria, was a great Father of the Church and a pillar of Orthodoxy. He was born around the year 297 in the city of Alexandria into a family of pious Christians. He received a fine secular education, but he acquired more knowledge by diligent study of the Holy Scripture. In his childhood, the future hierarch Athanasios became known to Saint Alexander the Patriarch of Alexandria (Commemorated May 29). A group of children, which included Athanasios, were playing at the seashore. The Christian children decided to baptize their pagan playmates.

The young Athanasios, whom the children designated as “bishop”, performed the Baptism, precisely repeating the words he heard in church during this sacrament. Patriarch Alexander observed all this from a window. He then commanded that the children and their parents be brought to him. He conversed with them for a long while, and determined that the Baptism performed by the children was done according to the Church order. He acknowledged the Baptism as real and sealed it with the sacrament of Chrismation. From this moment, the Patriarch looked after the spiritual upbringing of Athanasios and in time brought him into the clergy, at first as a reader, and then he ordained him as a deacon.

It was as a deacon that Saint Athanasios accompanied Patriarch Alexander to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in the year 325. At the Council, Saint Athanasios refuted the heresy of Arius. His speech met with the approval of the Orthodox Fathers of the Council, but the Arians, those openly and those secretly so, came to hate Athanasios and persecuted him for the rest of his life.

After the death of holy Patriarch Alexander, Saint Athanasios was unanimously chosen as his successor in the See of Alexandria. He refused, accounting himself unworthy, but at the insistence of all the Orthodox populace that it was in agreement, he was consecrated bishop when he was twenty-eight, and installed as the archpastor of the Alexandrian Church. Saint Athanasios guided the Church for forty-seven years, and during this time he endured persecution and grief from his antagonists. Several times he was expelled from Alexandria and hid himself from the Arians in desolate places, since they repeatedly tried to kill him. Saint Athanasios spent more than twenty years in exile, returned to his flock, and then was banished again.

There was a time when he remained as the only Orthodox bishop in the area, a moment when all the other bishops had fallen into heresy. At the false councils of Arian bishops he was deposed as bishop. Despite being persecuted for many years, the saint continued to defend the purity of the Orthodox Faith, and he wrote countless letters and tracts against the Arian heresy.

When Julian the Apostate (361-363) began a persecution against Christians, his wrath first fell upon Saint Athanasios, whom he considered a great pillar of Orthodoxy. Julian intended to kill the saint in order to strike Christianity a grievous blow, but he soon perished himself. Mortally wounded by an arrow during a battle, he cried out with despair: “You have conquered, O Galilean.” After Julian’s death, Saint Athanasios guided the Alexandrian Church for seven years and died in 373, at the age of seventy-six.

Numerous works of Saint Athanasios have been preserved; four Orations against the Arian heresy; also an Epistle to Epictetus, bishop of the Church of Corinth, on the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ; four Epistles to Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, about the Holy Spirit and His equality with the Father and the Son, directed against the heresy of Macedonius.

Other apologetic works of the Saint in defense of Orthodoxy have been preserved, among which is the Letter to the Emperor Constantius. Saint Athanasios wrote commentaries on Holy Scripture, and books of a moral and didactic character, as well as a biography of Saint Anthony the Great (January 17), with whom Saint Athanasios was very close. Saint John Chrysostom advised every Orthodox Christian to read this Life.

The memory of Saint Athanasios is celebrated also on January 18 with Saint Cyril of Alexandria.

Adapted from St. Athanasios the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria

How can St. Athanasios intercede for us?

When reading the life and works of this holy Saint, it may seem somewhat difficult to find ways that through our prayers, he is able to intercede for us. Looking closer, however, reveals there is an application to us as college students. He received an education not just in the world, but outside of it as well. The resulting knowledge gained from the education and upbringing by the hands of St. Alexander led St. Athanasios to be an educated defender of the faith against Arianism and the persecutions of Julian the Apostate. When we are faced with adversity and persecution, we can pray to St. Athanasios to bring about understanding and correct those who speak falsely about the Faith.

Discussion Questions

  1. What surprised you about the life of St. Athanasios?
  2. How might you benefit from getting to know the intricacies of the lives of the saints?

Learn his Troparian

Thou wast Orthodoxy’s steadfast pillar, holding up the Church with godly dogmas, O great Hierarch, for thou didst preach unto all that God the Son is one essence in very truth with God the Father; thus thou didst shame Arius. Righteous Father Athanasios, do thou entreat Christ God that His great mercy be granted unto us.

Source: St. Athanasios the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria

Recording

Ikos 1

O Saint of God, you were raised by the Lord of Glory to confront the greatest heresy of all time, the diabolical lie that the Son of God is a created being. When the impious Arius spread his poison of falsehood throughout Egypt and beyond, you led the defense of the one true Faith and to you, who defeated the devil and annulled the Arians, we cry:

Rejoice, true theologian of the Incarnation!

Rejoice, pious guardian of the Nicene Creed!

Rejoice, godly son of the Son of God!

Rejoice, bright beacon of the Light of Light!

Rejoice, destroyer of the devil’s delusion!

Rejoice, defender of the one true Faith!

Rejoice, O Father Athanasius, Holy confessor and champion of Orthodoxy!

*icon courtesy of the Orthodox Church in America

There’s a Saint for That: St. John of Damascus

There’s a Saint for That: St. John of Damascus

St. John was born in Damascus around the year 680 into a Christian family. His father was well-respected in the city since he served the Muslim caliph as a high-ranking financial official. Thus, St. John received an exceptional education that included studying Christian, classical Greek, and Muslim texts. He was fluent in Arabic and Greek and easily absorbed anything he was exposed to from his various areas of study such as astronomy and music. In fact, in his later life, he would go on to produce a number of well-known pieces of hymnography including the Paschal Canon!

Despite growing up in a Muslim society, St. John remained steadfast in the faith. This was a direct result of his parents’ commitment to Christ and the guidance of the monk Cosmas, who was ransomed by St. John’s father from captivity to tutor his sons. Upon his father’s death, St. John assumed his position in the Damascene court as city prefect. However, only a few years into his service in 726, he stepped down to become a monk at the Mar Saba monastery in Palestine.

In his new role, St. John had the unique opportunity to prayerfully defend the Orthodox faith in a number of ways when it was most needed. Muslim society did not force Christians and Jews to convert to Islam, but conversion opened doors and allowed people to be exempt from the Jizya tax. Further, the Islamic faith presented an explanation of Jesus as a prophet for Jews and a compromise for Christians who were uncomfortable with the idea of God becoming man through Christ. In response to these worrying trends, St. John authored a 3-part defense of Christianity which included one of the first philosophical defenses of the faith. The unique thing about this defense was the insight St. John’s deep knowledge of the Christian faith, the Muslim faith, and many other relevant topics provided him. He was able to address the Quran directly and provide a Christian response to the increasingly popular religion of the day.

A few years before St. John became a monastic, Leo III was instated as Byzantine emperor. He took a deep interest in involving himself in church matters, and one of his adopted stances was the belief that icon veneration invited sinful idol worship into the Christian life and that the Byzantine empire’s recent misfortunes were due to this practice. He formalized this view in the form of a royal edict in 726. As part of the pushback against the heretical Iconoclast movement, St. John authored a series of 3 treatises in defense of the veneration of icons. Since he was not under Byzantine jurisdiction, Emperor Leo forged a letter supposedly written by the saint to the emperor, offering his help in overthrowing the Muslim Caliphate in Damascus. When the letter was intercepted, St. John was thrown into prison and had his right hand cut off. Our Tradition holds that the Theotokos miraculously restored the saint’s hand, which caused the caliph to repent and release St. John from prison.

Following these events, St. John entered the monastery of Saint Savva as a novice and led an ascetic lifestyle, completely humbling himself in spite of his renowned background. He spent much of his later life producing spiritual books and hymns, which still nourish us as Christians today. St. John remained humble and steadfast in his faith throughout his life despite his impressive education and harsh trials. He provides us with an example of how we can live in a world that goes against our beliefs and values, yet not conform to it. Christ can and will give us the strength if we truly desire to do so, just as he did for St. John.

Feast Day: December 4

Sourced: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2022/12/04/103473-venerable-john-of-damascus and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnCPQsjl1k4

How can St. John of Damascus intercede for us?

During our time as college students, we are surrounded with opportunity and flooded with ideas of what our future can be. St. John of Damascus was also faced with many opportunities possessing a background as a government official, scholar, musician, poet, and apologist among other things. He could have pursued many different paths, but the key is that he maintained his focus on Christ and proclaimed the Truth of our faith without fear of the consequences. He lived in a Muslim society but remained ardently Christian.

In every Christian’s life and especially college students, we have to process many different ideas thrown at us and make sense of them in the context of our faith. St. John can intercede on our behalf so that we might have the wisdom to discern what is right and wrong and the courage to stand up for the Truth. In this way, we can strive to follow St. John’s example and remain close to Christ, regardless of the choices we make in life.

Because of his great contributions to Christian hymnography, St. John is also regarded as the saint we can pray to for help in the study of church music. Pray to Christ for us, St. John, that we may always use our talents to glorify God and we may have the wisdom and courage to remain steadfast in the Truth.

Discussion Questions

  1. As one of the great Christian apologists of his time, St. John was unafraid to speak the Truth in a tolerant yet opposing society. What are some ways we can be keepers of the Truth like St. John on campus and everywhere? Are these things easy/comfortable to do and why or why not?
  1. In his piece An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, St. John says, “He who longs always after God, he seeth Him: for God is in all things.” The saint longed after God to the point of becoming a monastic, but he maintained this commitment even during the parts of his life when he was surrounded by opposing views or hardship. Why is it difficult to see God in every situation even when we know we want to serve Him? What action/commitment will you take today to remain as committed to the Faith as St. John?

Learn his troparion.

Tone 8

Champion of Orthodoxy, teacher of purity and of true worship,

The enlightener of the universe and the adornment of hierarchs:

All-wise father John, your teachings have gleamed with light upon all things.

Intercede before Christ God to save our souls.

Sourced: https://www.oca.org/saints/troparia/2022/12/04/103473-venerable-john-of-damascus#:~:text=Troparion%20%E2%80%94%20Tone%208,God%20to%20save%20our%20souls.

Pray with him.

From a passage in the Divine Office by St. John of Damascus

Lord, you led me from my father’s loins and formed me in my mother’s womb. You brought me, a naked babe, into the light of day, for nature’s laws always obey your commands.

By the blessing of the Holy Spirit, you prepared my creation and my existence, not because man willed it or flesh desired it, but by your ineffable grace. The birth you prepared for me was such that it surpassed the laws of our nature. You sent me forth into the light by adopting me as your son and you enrolled me among the children of your holy and spotless Church.

You nursed me with the spiritual milk of your divine utterances. You kept me alive with the solid food of the body of Jesus Christ, your only-begotten Son and our God; you let me drink from the chalice of his life-giving blood, poured out to save the whole world.

You loved us, O Lord, and gave up your only-begotten Son for our redemption. And he undertook the task willingly and did not shrink from it. Indeed, he applied himself to it as though destined for sacrifice, like an innocent lamb. Although he was God, he became man, and in his human will, became obedient to you, God his Father, unto death, even death on a cross.

In this way you have humbled yourself, Christ my God, so that you might carry me, your stray sheep, on your shoulders. You let me graze in green pastures, refreshing me with the waters of orthodox teaching at the hands of your shepherds. You pastured these shepherds, and now they in turn tend your chosen and special flock. Now you have called me, Lord, by the hand of your bishop to minister to your people. I do not know why you have done so, for you alone know that. Lord, lighten the heavy burden of the sins through which I have seriously transgressed. Purify my mind and heart. Like a shining lamp, lead me along the straight path. When I open my mouth, tell me what I should say. By the fiery tongue of your Spirit make my own tongue ready. Stay with me always and keep me in your sight.

Lead me to pastures, Lord, and graze there with me. Do not let my heart lean either to the right or to the left, but let your good Spirit guide me along the straight path. Whatever I do, let it be in accordance with your will, now until the end.

There’s a Saint for That: St. Ignatius of Antioch

There’s a Saint for That: St. Ignatius of Antioch

The Life of St. Ignatius of Antioch

“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 19:14

Holy tradition tells us that when Christ spoke these words, it was St. Ignatius of Antioch who was sitting on His lap. Otherwise known as Theophorus “God-Bearer”, St. Ignatius sought the kingdom of heaven as a disciple of the Apostles and later as a Bishop by ordination of St. Peter.
Most of what we know about St. Ignatius is in seven letters preserved by St. Polycarp. During his on-foot journey to Rome, he wrote to the churches and left for us a snapshot of early Christian life, practice, and faith. Of his written teachings, he emphasized the place of the Eucharist in our lives as the source of healing and true presence of Christ.
Dying a martyr’s death, St. Ignatius was killed in the Roman arena by beasts, depicted in icons as lions, under the rule of Emperor Trajan on December 20, 107. Before his repose, he boldly expressed: “I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” In the spirit of these words and of his martyrdom, many early Christians were encouraged to continue struggling in the pursuit of God.
The path of righteousness that St. Ignatius walked and on which he emboldened so many to join was one that required endurance through persecution. Knowing what obstacles they would have to face, he implored that they would pray “without ceasing in behalf of other men. For there is in them hope of repentance that they may attain to God. See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way. Be ye meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting: to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error, be ye stedfast in the faith; and for their cruelty, manifest your gentleness” (1 Epistle to the Ephesians). We can draw inspiration from St. Ignatius’ extreme humility towards God and towards others.

Feast Day: December 20th

Adapted from St. Ignatius of Antioch | Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese

 

How can St. Ignatius intercede for us?

As young adults and especially as college students, many of us can recall examples of times we’ve experienced unkindness for our faith. Perhaps it was someone who didn’t want to be friends after finding out we were Christian, or a mocking professor, or maybe some of us have felt the alienation that comes when we have to stand up for what we know to be true.
The first thing that we can take comfort in is knowing that we are not alone. Christ God was incarnate for our sake and was mocked, beaten, scourged, and rejected before His ultimate triumph over sin and death. For nearly two thousand years, the martyrs and Saints who have come before us have experienced all manner of persecution and oppression, but they knew that true freedom and peace can only come from the Creator of all. St. Ignatius knew this peace in the face of trial, and we can look to him in moments of adversity, that he’d lift our eyes towards heaven and plead with Christ that He would dwell in us as our Strength. Through his intercessions, may we boldly and humbly live out faith.

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Matthew 16: 24-26

Learn His Troparion:

Tone 4
As a sharer of the ways and a successor to the throne of the Apostles, O inspired of God, thou foundest discipline to be a means of ascent to divine vision. Wherefore, having rightly divided the word of truth, thou didst also contest for the Faith even unto blood, O Hieromartyr Ignatius. Intercede with Christ our God that our souls be saved.

St. Ignatius Troparion - Tone 4

by Orthodox Christian Fellowship

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to endure suffering for Christ’s sake? Consider how St. Ignatius approached his execution in Rome. How or with what posture of heart should we approach the persecutions we endure in our own lives?
  2. Look back at the quote from St. Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians. In modeling the love of Christ for those who crucified Him, St. Ignatius calls us to pray for those who commit evils against us. Is it easy or difficult to pray for those who’ve wronged us? Why? How might we begin to do so?

Pray to him.

Ikos 4
Hearing thy confession, the faithful people glorified God; but Trajan, gnashing his teeth, again demanded: “Why art thou called God-bearer?” And thou sayest: “For I bear my God in my heart.” Wherefore, we chant to thee:
Rejoice, faithful warrior of the King of heaven!
Rejoice, invincible champion of the faith!
Rejoice, good shepherd!
Rejoice, advocate for our souls!
Rejoice, for, enlightened by the divine Spirit, with pastoral boldness thou puteth the savagery of the tyrant to shame!
Rejoice, for, guiding the flock of Christ, thou illumineth many with the light of knowledge divine!
Rejoice, O God-bearing Ignatius, great and all-glorious athlete!

Kontakion 5
Considering all the beauties of the world to be as dung that thou might acquire Christ, O Ignatius, thou crieth: “Who shall separate me from the love of God? Tribulation is sweet to me; the bonds I bear for Him Whom I desire are pleasant; persecutions are dearer to me than my homeland, and pangs are more delightful to me than health of body!” And we, honoring thy glorious memory, cry out to God: Alleluia!

Ikos 5
Seeing thee to be an invincible confessor of the Faith of Christ, the ungodly Trajan condemned thee to death; but thou didst cry out, rejoicing: “For me it is more pleasant to die than to live! Christ, and to die for Him, is gain! Unto Him do I go; Him do I love; Him do I hope to receive!” Wherefore, O holy Ignatius, we bless thee:
Rejoice, thou whose desire it was to depart and be with Christ!
Rejoice, pure sacrifice to God!
Rejoice, imitator of the sufferings of Christ!
Rejoice, for thou wast crucified with Christ!
Rejoice, for thou didst shed thy blood for Christ!
Rejoice, for by thy blood thou adorneth thy hierarchal vesture!
Rejoice, O God-bearing Ignatius, great and all-glorious athlete!

Excerpt sourced from Akathist to Saint Ignatius the God-Bearer (holyascensionofchrist.org)

 

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There’s a Saint for That: St. John Chrysostom

There’s a Saint for That: St. John Chrysostom

The Life of St. John Chrysostom

Saint John was born at Antioch in the year 347. His father, Secundus, being a famous military commander, died soon after John’s birth. His mother, Anthusa, although being widowed at the age of 20, did not dare to remarry but rather devoted all of her time and efforts into raising her son with Christian love and piety. John was trained with the finest philosophers and rhetoricians, thus turning himself to the study of Holy Scripture and dedicating his life to Christ.

The church that he was quickly gaining popularity in was populated by bishops who enjoyed a life inconceivably lavish and extravagant, with pressure to host powerful figures. The sacred role of bishop consisted of pleasing royalty, and other transient concerns. It was his disapproval and powerful grace-filled words that eventually landed him in one of these very roles. After three years after his baptism, he was tonsured a Reader, and studied under many of her experienced instructors of ascetic life, specifically Flavian and Diodorus of Tarsus. It was there he learned true rhetoric through the study of Holy Scripture and prayerful contemplation. After some time, both John and his friend Basil were considered candidates for the priesthood, and after hearing this, they decided to withdraw to the wilderness as monastics to avoid this calling. John embraced monasticism, calling it the “true philosophy”, and after four years of struggling in the wilderness, he was obliged to return to Antioch to recover his health. Let us note that while being away from the world, he wrote many works, including his “Six Discourses on the Priesthood” and “Against the Opponents of Those Attracted to Monastic Life.” After becoming a deacon and priest in his hometown of Antioch, he was, somewhat against his will, ordained the Bishop of Constantinople.

John was different from the clerics of his day. With bravery and utter disregard for what would personally befall him, in place of hosting royal events, he implored his people to give alms. The Saints zeal in spreading the faith extended not only to those who lived in Constantinople, but also to those who lived in the Slavs, Asia Minor, and Syria. His “golden-mouth” touched the hearts of many, as he preached homilies that opened the ears to the word of God. Instead of placating the emperor and empress of his day, Arcadius and Eudoxia, he served as the needed voice of God in a time where His inconvenient truths were being suffocated by political and worldly concerns. As time progressed and aggression toward John became more and more evident by those in power, a sentiment only overpowered by the love of the people, he was banished by Arcadius and Eudoxia in a synod consisting of false charges. In response to the overwhelming demand of the people for their bishop back, John was restored.

This was not for long. John cut though the fear and pressure that might have scared another in his position into meekness when the Empress had a silver statue of herself built across from the temple of Hagia Sophia. He denounced and publicly preached against the idolatrous dedications ceremonies. The power of his voice, the love of his people, and the truth of his ministry this time were not enough to stop the Emperor and Empress. He was banished for the rest of his life. At first to a region closer in Georgia, but, in response to his place in the hearts of those still in contact with him through letters, later to a farther more remote region, which he never reached. He died on the way due to his deteriorating health and the harsh travel conditions.

There, on the brink of the world, having been banished from all he knew, he departed this life with the words, “Glory to God for all things.” It was Arcadius and Eudoxia’s son, Theodosius, who repented of his parents’ sin and restored his relics to the church. As he entered the temple of the twelve apostles, those present heard the words from his relics: “Peace be to you all” in 438 AD.

Feast Day: November 13

Adapted from St. John Chrysostom Archbishop of Constantinople

How can St. John Chrysostom intercede for us?

In the life and intercessions of Saint John Chrysostom we begin to discover answers to these questions. Perhaps Saint John himself would not have had the boldness and strength of God to answer them himself had he not lived out his yearning for God with his whole self earlier in his life. Before he became who we know as the “golden-mouthed” (the meaning of Chrysostom), before he had the resolute voice to restore the brokenness of the church in his day and call out the kings and queens that had authority to take his own life, the young John sought a life of quiet solitude. It was his strict asceticism and resulting poor health alone that forced him back into the world. Using the skills taught to him by his pagan rhetorician before his time as a monastic, along with the grace he experienced in his time away from the world, John spoke with powerful eloquence about the love of Christ at a time when it was needed most.

Pray to him when you are at a loss for words, when you are about to speak publicly, when you are afraid to say what is right, for the healing of the Church and for the moral voice of the political rulers.

Learn His Troparion:

Tone 8
Grace shining forth from your lips like a beacon has enlightened the universe.
It has shown to the world the riches of poverty;
it has revealed to us the heights of humility.
Teaching us by your words, O Father John Chrysostom,
intercede before the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls!

Discussion Questions:

  1. Many of us speak of and admire the bravery to speak out against wrong at all costs. But what does this really mean? How can we use examples from Saint John’s life and ministry and apply it into our own life?
  2. Saint John writes: “The mark of a soul that loves wisdom alway gives thanks to God. If you have suffered evil give thanks and it is changed to good… Give thanks even in disease, lack of possessions, or false accusations. It is not we who are injured but those who are the authors of them.” Reflect on this quote, keeping in mind that the last words of Saint John were “Glory to God for all things!” How are we to acquire true gratitude in our own lives?

Pray to him.

You have received many and various gifts from the Lord, and, as a good and faithful servant, have shown good increase of all the talents given to you: for this cause you were truly a teacher of the universe, for every age and calling learns from you. You are a model of obedience for children, a luminary of chastity for the young, a teacher of industry to grown men, an instructor of forgiveness to the aged, a rule of abstinence for monastics, a leader inspired by God for those at prayer, an enlightener of the mind for those who seek wisdom, an inexhaustible source of the living Word for well-spoken orators, a star of mercy for the charitable, a model of wise rule for those in authority, an inspiration to boldness for those zealous in the truth, a teacher of patience for those persecuted for truth’s sake: you have become all to all, so that in any way you might save some. But above all these, you have sought after love, which is the bond of perfection, and by that as by Divine power you have united all these gifts into one in yourself; and the same love, which reconciles the divided, you have preached unto all the faithful in expounding the words of the Apostles.

As for us sinners, each having our own gifts, we lack the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; we are vain, provoking one another, envying one another: therefore our divided gifts come not unto peace and salvation, but rather unto enmity and to our judgment. For this cause we fall down before you, O hierarch of God, in the grip of dissensions, and in contrition of heart we ask: By your prayers, drive away from our hearts all pride and envy that divide us, so that in many members there may be one churchly Body, and so that according to the word of your Prayer we may love one another and in one accord confess the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity One in Essence and Undivided: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

From an akathist to St. John Chrysostom

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Spring Semester Sign-Off

“This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.” John 15:8

Thanks be to God, the spring 2023 semester was a fruitful one for Orthodox Christian Fellowship! Take a moment to see the impact of OCF’s rich community in Christ has had in the lives of college students the past few months. 

Real Break Puerto Rico, March 2023

Real Break

Two teams of eight were sent to Puerto Rico this March, one for students from Hellenic College Holy Cross and one open OCF trip. The trip to Puerto Rico included volunteering at a ROCOR mission in San German and volunteering at Techos Pa Mi Gente, a non-profit that rebuilds roofs in San Juan.

At the end of May, a group of 26 college students and 5 trip leaders began their Real Break Egypt pilgrimage. The team visited the monasteries of St. Anthony, St. Paisios the Great, St. Moses the Ethiopian, St. Macarius the Great, and St. Menas as well as the place where the Holy Family took refuge after Jesus’ birth. They swam in the Red Sea, visited the pyramids of Giza and the old city of Cairo, and venerated the relics of St. Mark the Evangelist and St. Athanasius the Great.

Regional Retreats

In spring 2023, five Regional Retreats were held, hosting 191 college students.

  • Mid-Atlantic Regional Retreat: Camp Nazareth, “What Makes a Person Saintly is Love: The Life and Teachings of St. Porphyrios” with Fr. Theodosios Palis
  • Southeast Regional Retreat: Diakonia Retreat Center, “A Gentle Surrender: Finding Your Freedom in Christ” with Fr. Michael Tishel
  • South Regional Retreat: Hidden Acres Retreat Center, “Compelling Conversations” with Fr. Adam Roberts
  • Midwest Regional Retreat: St. Iakovos Retreat Center, “Love and Life, Not for the Weak Hearted” with Fr. Nick Lionas
  • Great Lakes Regional Retreat: Columbiere Conference Center, “The Beginning and the End” with Fr. Gabriel Bilas

Small Groups

OCF’s virtual Small Groups continued through 2023. Twenty-seven students participated this Spring. These groups met weekly and were led by OCF-trained SAB/SLB alumni.

“I really enjoyed our talk about being in the world but not a part of it. It has been a huge help in navigating my college experiences.” – Spring 2023 small group participant

Day of Prayer

Twenty-four chapters and numerous other individual students participated in OCF’s annual Day of Prayer, starting out Lent on Clean Monday with 24 hours of prayer.

Make Straight Your Path

This spring, OCF’s inaugural session of Make Straight Your Path provided opportunities for college juniors, seniors, and graduate students to explore topics related to life after graduation. Forty-three students participated, and sessions included the following topics:

 

  • Module 1: Career & Vocation
    • Session 1: “Sanctifying the Job You Choose” with Dr. Kathryn Bocanegra
    • Session 2: “Resume & Interview Prep for Orthodox Christians” with Shawn Cartwright
    • Session 3: “Challenges in the Workplace, A Panel” with Elizabeth Reese, Thomas Retzios, and Vasiliki Fotinis
  • Module 2: Family, Friends, & Romantic Relationships
    • Session 1: “Adjusting to a New Location” with Katya Soot
    • Session 2: “Romantic Relationships” with Fr. Vasili & Presbytera Maria Hillhouse
    • Session 3: “Adult Relationships with Parents” with Fr. Andreas Houpos
  • Module 3: Resource & Money Management
    • Session 1: “The Theology of Money” with Fr. Barnabas Powell
    • Session 2: “A Guide to Giving” with Dn. Gabe Otte
    • Session 3: “Financial Planning, Debt, Credit, & Investing” with Fr. Nicholas Hubbard

“The speakers on marriage and adult relationships were fantastic, I really felt like God was speaking through them. Both talks changed the disposition of my heart for the better.”-Make Straight Your Path student participant

Spiritual Wake-Up

The Spiritual Wake-Up program had 243 participants sign up to receive the daily text messages during the forty days of Lent. Text messages included journaling prompts, quotes, activities, lives of Saints, prayers, mini service projects, and goal setting methods.

Discord

The OCF Discord server continues to provide students with a space for engagement, conversation, and inquiry. The Q&A Forum on the Discord server launched with a team of three volunteer clergy and two OCF staff members answering student questions throughout the week. There are currently over 600 members on OCF Discord.

Monthly Chapter Content

Each month, chapter leaders continue to receive via email an assortment of curated and guided discussions, book recommendations, service ideas, virtual programs, videos, podcasts, and other content that can be used to structure their meetings. The full library of resources is also available on our website at a Chapter Content hub and various portions are also posted on social media, YouTube, or Ancient Faith Radio.

Each month, content is dedicated to a particular theme complimentary to OCF’s 2022-2023 theme, “Not of this World”. Spring semester’s themes were:

  • January: Back in the World
  • February: Redeeming the Time
  • March: Challenging Hurry
  • April: Living Like We Actually Believe in the Resurrection
  • May: Endure to the End

Spring 2023 Chapter Highlights:

Loyola University

Loyola OCF cracked eggs on Pascha.

Grove City College

Grove City College OCF attended service together.

Baylor University

Baylor OCF gathered for their year-end meeting.

Liberty University

Liberty University OCF hosted Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick for an event with more than 100 guests in attendance!

University of Oklahoma

University of Oklahoma OCF had a fellowship bonfire for their last meeting of the school year.

Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech OCF had fun hiking the Cascades before finals.

Orthodox Christian Fellowship needs your help!

We’re asking you and every parish across the country for help, in hopes of collecting info on each graduating high school senior and where they plan to attend college.

As a campus ministry, our goal is to obtain this information at the beginning of their fall semester in hopes to fulfill our First 40 Days initiative – an approach that ensures that each student connects to an OCF chapter during the first 40 days of the semester and become integrated into OCF’s rich community in Christ.

Would you please take a moment to submit your students’ information?

There’s A Saint For That : St. Lazarus

There’s A Saint For That : St. Lazarus

St. Lazarus

St. John of the Ladder

The Life of St. Lazarus

St. Lazarus of Bethany was brother to Mary and Martha and a known close friend of Jesus. He was very sick; some historians believe he had leprosy. He was a poor man and was often found lying at the gates of rich men begging for table scraps while street animals licked his wounds.
Shortly before His crucifixion, Christ left Bethany to preach in a nearby area. While away, He received word that Lazarus had fallen ill and died. Jesus delayed his return to Bethany until after Lazarus’ body was placed in a tomb. Christ returned to Bethany four days after Lazarus’ burial at which time he went to the tomb and commanded Lazarus come out. To the surrounding crowd’s surprise, Lazarus appeared. Still wrapped in his burial shroud, Lazarus had been resurrected.
St. Lazarus’ resurrection was a significant event prior to Christ’s resurrection as it was a miracle that provided reassurance to Christ’s followers and foreshadowed Christ’s own resurrection which followed 8 days later. With rising tensions in the Jerusalem preceding Christ’s crucifixion, Lazarus became a target and was compelled to seek refuge Cyprus away from the high priests and pharisees who wanted to kill him.
St. Lazarus lived a long life following his resurrection. In 52 AD he invited the Theotokos to visit him in Cyprus. The ship he had sent to the Holy Land for the Theotokos’ journey blew off course leading to her discovery of Mount Athos. Later Apostles Paul and Barnabas ordained St. Lazarus the first Bishop of Kition and he served for 30 years until he passed away.
St. Lazarus is commemorated on March 17 and on Lazarus Saturday, the final Saturday of Great Lent just prior to Palm Sunday. His relics were moved from Cyprus to Constantinople in 898 AD which is commemorated annually on October 17. People around the world pray to him as he is the patron saint of the poor and sick.

Discussion around St. Lazarus

 

  1. Christ resurrection of St. Lazarus’ reassured many of his followers of his divinity. Are  there times you’ve needed reassurance? Did you get it? What did that look like for you?
  2. In what ways did St. Lazarus live that revealed he truly believed in the resurrection? How  can we mirror that in our own lives?

Learn his Troparion

Troparion — Tone 1

By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion, / You did confirm the universal Resurrection, O Christ God! / Like the children with the palms of victory, / we cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death: / Hosanna in the Highest! / Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!

Prayer on the Saturday of the Righteous Lazarus

O Christ our God, Who by Thy voice didst release Lazarus from the bonds of death after four days in the tomb, restoring him again to life: Thyself. O Master, enliven us who are deadened by sins, granting life that none can take away; and make us who put our hope in Thee, heirs of life without end.

For Thou art our Life and Resurrection, and to Thee belongeth glory: together with Thine immortal Father, and Thine All-holy, and Good, and Life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

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There’s A Saint For That : St. Macarius the Great of Egypt

There’s A Saint For That : St. Macarius the Great of Egypt

St. Macarius the Great of Egypt

St. John of the Ladder

The Life of St. Macarius

St. Macarius is a fourth century saint from a small village in Egypt. In obedience to his parents, he married a young woman despite wishing to remain alone. However, he left to rest in the wilderness for a few days where he received a vision from the Cherubim showing him the entire desert and saying, “God has given this desert to you and your sons for an inheritance.” When he returned home his virgin wife had died. At that time, he knew it was time to leave the worldly life. He began attending church frequently and deeply studying the Holy Scriptures. After his parents death, he sought the guidance of a local elder who lived in the desert and guided him in watchfulness, fasting, prayer, and basket-weaving. Soon, he began to live in a cell near the elder who taught him with love.

The local people seeing his virtues told the bishop of St. Macarius, and he was ordained a priest, despite his protests. He was accused of seducing a woman from the nearby village and thus endured slander and torments. He was attacked and beaten by the villagers and he accepted this without a word. Instead, he sent the money from his baskets to the pregnant woman. When it was time for the child’s birth, the woman was unable to deliver the child until she confessed her lies against St. Macarius. When she did, the woman’s parents and many other locals sought his forgiveness, but he fled again to further into the desert inorder to avoid the praise of the town.

St. Macarius sought the wisdom of St. Anthony the Great and lived near him as a disciple for many years. Later, he was sent to the Skete monastery, and he became known as the “young elder.” He was a mature monk even though he was not even thirty years old. Eventually he became the abbot of the monks in the Skete desert. He remained close with St. Anthony the Great and was even present at his death.

Through his many years of ascetic practice, he was credited with many healings, and through his intercessions, the Lord raised the dead. His humility remained steadfast despite his recognition from many. One day, a thief came to his cell stealing his few worldly things. St. Macarius, without revealing himself as the owner, helped the thief tie the things to his donkey. The thief left, never knowing the saint’s generosity.

St. Macarius died at the age of 97. One of his disciples saw St. Macarius’ soul ascending to heaven. The demons yelled out to him, “You have conquered us, O Macarius!” He responded saying, “Blessed be the Lord Jesus Christ who has delivered me from your hands.”

Feast Day: January 19th

Adapted from: St. Macarius OCA and Macarius the Great

How can St. Macarius intercede for us?

Among the great wisdom of St. Macarius, he reminds those of us still in our earthly life, “If a soul still in the world does not possess in itself the sanctity of the Spirit for great faith and for prayer, and does not strive for the oneness of divine communion, then it is unfit for the heavenly kingdom.” We can each learn from his ascetic practice to draw away from the world and pursue Christ with extreme humility. Through St. Macarius’ intercessions, we can better prioritize God in our lives and develop a practice of prayer.

Discussion around St. Macarius

 

  1. When life is busy and there are overwhelming deadlines, some of us have thought about escaping everything (A hut in the desert sounds appealing during finals week, no?). What were St. Macarius’ intentions when he left the world, and how can we apply those same goals to our lives in the world? 
  2. St. Macarius is an excellent example of true humility. When we are overwhelmed by “busyness,” how can we use his example to draw closer to Christ? What is the role of humility when we feel like we are constantly rushing around? 
  3. Despite being frequently sought out for his heavenly wisdom, St. Macarius stayed focused on a life of prayer, meditation, and silence. When our schedules seem to be filled with distractions that pull us away from those practices, what can we do to stay focused?  

Learn his Troparion

Tone 1
Thou didst prove to be a citizen of the desert, an angel in the flesh, and a wonderworker, O Makarios, our God-bearing father. By fasting, vigil, and prayer thou didst obtain heavenly gifts, and thou healest the sick and the souls of them that have recourse to thee with faith. Glory to Him that hath given thee strength. Glory to Him that has crowned thee. Glory to Him that worketh healings for all through thee.

Pray to him

Blessed Macarius who taught us the way of prayer by your life of prayer, give strength to us who desire to be free from distraction. Intercede on our behalf that we might be granted wisdom, patience, humility, and stillness so that our eyes can be opened to behold the True Light which comes into the world to enlighten the hearts of those who seek Him. Amen.

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There’s a Saint for That: The Seven Holy Youths of Ephesus

There’s a Saint for That: The Seven Holy Youths of Ephesus

The Seven Holy Youths (“Seven Sleepers”) of Ephesus

The 7 Holy Youths “Seven Sleepers” of Ephesus—Maximilian, Iamblicus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Exacustodianus (Constantine) and Antoninus—lived in Ephesus in the third century. Friends from childhood, the Seven Youths all served in the military together. During the time of the youths’ service, Emperor Decius commanded all the people of Ephesus to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, and those who did not obey would be tortured and killed. Despite the threat of death, the Seven Youths refused to offer sacrifices to the gods. 

 

The Seven Youths were summoned by Decius, appeared before him, and proclaimed their faith in Christ. The Emperor, hoping the youths would change their mind while he was on his military campaign, released them. Meanwhile, the youths fled into a cave on Mount Ochlon and passed their time in prayer in preparation for martyrdom. 

 

When Saint Iamblicus, one of the seven, dressed up as a beggar to fetch bread in town, he heard the Emperor was back in town. Saint Maximilian implored them to present themselves to Emperor Decius. However, before they could turn themselves in, Decius learned where they were hidden. The Emperor, hoping the holy youths would die from hunger and thirst, commanded the entrance to the cave to be sealed. Two Christians, wanting the Youths to be remembered for their dedication to Christ, placed a plaque outside of the cave detailing their date of martyrdom and death. 

 

While everyone believed the saints to have perished, they lived on, for the Lord placed them in a miraculous sleep for almost two centuries. 

 

After 200 years, the Seven Youths woke up unaware that 200 years had passed since the cave they were hiding in was sealed. Their clothes and their bodies remained miraculously undecayed. It was only when Saint Iamblicus left the cave and paid for bread with coins bearing Emperor Decius’ image that they were found alive. Believing the saint to have a hoard of old money, the people detained him. 

 

On hearing his bewildering story, the Bishop of Ephesus opened the cave and discovered the rest of the youths in the cave. In sight of everyone, the Holy Youths all lay their heads down and fell asleep in the Lord until the General Resurrection. Their lives reveal the mystery of the Resurrection in Christ, which surpasses all wordly time. They are commemorated on August 4th. May the 7 Holy Youths of Ephesus intercede for us all!

 

Adapted from Orthodox Church in America, “Lives of the Saints.”

How can the Seven Holy Youths intercede for us?

The Seven Sleepers were brave in the face of certain persecution, and the Lord saved them because of their faith. Pray to them when you need courage facing hard situations. Ask the Seven Sleepers to intercede for you when you feel spiritually “dry” and to help you find your zeal for Christ. 

 

Apolytikion of Holy 7 Youths of Ephesus

Fourth Tone

Thy Martyrs, O Lord, in their courageous contest for Thee received as the prize the crowns of incorruption and life from Thee, our immortal God. For since they possessed Thy strength, they cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons’ strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by their prayers, save our souls, since Thou art merciful.

Kontakion of Holy 7 Youths of Ephesus

Fourth Tone

They that scorned all things in the world as corrupted and found the gifts that nothing ever corrupteth, behold, they died, and yet corruption touched them not. Wherefore after many years once again they all rose up, burying all unbelief of malicious revilers. Ye faithful, let us laud the seven youths with hymns of praise on this day, while extolling Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. The Seven Holy Sleepers existed outside of normal time for a bit and in this sense, were preserved from the dangers of their fallen world. When we participate in the Divine Liturgy, it is said that we are worshiping outside of time, in a timeless space that is both past, present, and future. How does stepping out of time and into the Mystical life of the Church help preserve us from the dangers of our fallen world?
  2. Despite the threat of persecution, the Seven Sleepers held fast to God and their faith, risking their lives to do so. Yet they also sought to escape the dangerous persecution of the emperor by hiding in a cave. In what ways can we learn from the Seven Sleepers’ zeal for God? How can we explain their willingness to risk their lives like other martyrs while also taking into account their God-blessed efforts to preserve them?
  3. The Seven Holy Youths refused to sacrifice to Emperor Decius. What are some things in the world today that demand our attention/sacrifice? How can we pull our attention away from these false idols and shift it back to God?

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There’s A Saint For That : St. Silouan the Athonite

There’s A Saint For That : St. Silouan the Athonite

St. Silouan the Athonite

Icon by the hand of Janet Jaime

How can St. Silouan intercede for us?

As we can see in his simple yet complicated life, there may be no saint better acquainted with the depths of despair and despondency than St. Silouan. Although our temptation to hopelessness may look differently than Silouan’s, he still understands that same feeling. He was a young man when he first began battling despondency in full force. He is right here with us, and he shows us how to keep getting back up and resolutely place our trust in Christ. When we are perplexed, frustrated, apathetic or catch ourselves thinking or feeling some pretty negative things, we can turn to him as our friend and ask for his help. He in turn can help guide us to Christ and see His light even in the blackest hell. He can lead us by his prayers to the peace and love we find in our Savior Jesus Christ. As his spiritual son, St. Sophrony of Essex, says, “Stand at the brink of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little, and have a cup of tea.”

The Life of St. Silouan (1866-1938)

St. Silouan was a Russian peasant who traveled to Mt Athos and became a monk in the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon. He lived so simply, humbly, and quietly that he might have been forgotten had St. Sophrony (Sakharov) not become his spiritual child and, after the saint’s repose, written a book describing his life and teaching, St. Silouan the Athonite, one of the great spiritual books of our time. It was through St. Sophrony’s efforts that St. Silouan was glorified as a saint.

St. Silouan grew up with pious parents but was himself fairly “wordly” for a long while. When he was still a young man, he almost accidentally killed a man with a single punch. He was immediately remorseful and devoted himself with zeal to repentance. However, this newfound fervor only lasted a few months! He returned to his old ways until he had a horrible dream that demonstrated just how displeasing his way of life was to the Mother of God. Grieved in his soul, he devoted himself again, and this time, through the prayers of St. John of Kronstadt, made his way to the Holy Mountain with a fire burning in his heart, so deep was his repentance.

In the beginning, he made many blunders in the spiritual life but his desire for Christ was stronger than his failures. A torrent of temptations that would have led him to give up this life of prayer assailed him but still he persisted. For six months the attacks never lessened. His spirit failed, he began to lose heart and the horror of hopelessness surrounded him. He thought to himself, “God will not hear me!” He felt utterly forsaken, his soul plunged into the darkness of despondency. Sick at heart, he remained in this black hell for about an hour. That very same day, the Lord appeared to the young novice whose whole being was filled with the fire of the grace of the Holy Spirit. The gentle gaze of the joyous, all-forgiving, boundlessly-loving Christ drew Silouan’s entire being to Himself.

The period of time after this, all was beautiful and lovely. He had within himself a sense of peace, reconciliation with God, and strength to continue on. However, this gradually faded, and he was perplexed and feared losing what he had. He sought counsel from an elder concerning his experiences and worries and received good advice on prayer, but amazed at the spiritual depth of the novice, the man mistakenly praised him as well. Silouan soon found himself struggling with thoughts of vainglory among other things. He fell into despair, despite his perpetual prayer. Having known the peace and grace of the Holy Spirit, his soul grieved, begged, prayed, and wept for the return of that Light. Weary years of alternating grace and withdrawal of grace now set it.

St. Silouan was called to serve as steward to the monastery. Though he now supervised some two hundred men, he only increased his prayers, withdrawing to his cell to pray with tears for each individual worker under his care. For more than fifteen years, he struggled with demonic attacks during prayer until he was almost in despair. At this point Christ spoke to him in a vision, saying “The proud always suffer from demons.” Silouan answered, “Lord, teach me what I must do so that my soul may become humble.” To this he received the reply, “Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.” St. Silouan made this his discipline in every moment of his life with joy and thanksgiving and was granted the grace of pure prayer. He said that if he ever let his mind wander from the fire of hell, disruptive thoughts would once again plague him. In his humiliation, he was filled with a pervasive love for all — he said many times that the final criterion of true Christian faith is unfeigned love for enemies, and that “to pray for others is to shed blood.”

Adapted from: http://www.abbamoses.com/months/september.html and St. Silouan the Athonite by St. Sophrony of Essex

 

Read more about his life here: https://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2012/09/st-silouan-athonite-1938.html

And even more in this book by St. Sophrony of Essex: https://svspress.com/saint-silouan-the-athonite-new-edition/

Learn his Troparion

By prayer thou didst receive Christ as thy teacher in the way of humility,
and the Spirit bore witness to salvation in thy heart.
Wherefore, all peoples called unto hope rejoice in this day of thy memorial,
O sacred Father Silouan. Pray unto Christ our God for the salvation of our souls.

Apolytikion of St. Silouan the Athonite

by Orthodox Christian Fellowship

Pray to him

O chosen ascetic and earthly angel of Christ, all-blessed father Silouan, most excellent emulator of the fathers of Athos in vigils, fasting and humility! Through thy thirst for God and burning love for Him thou didst acquire abundant grace for thy soul, O most blessed one. Imitating Christ, thou didst crucify thyself with tearful prayer for those languishing in hades, for the living and for those yet to come. Of this thy love deprive us not, who amid the vale of sin ask thine intercession before God and cry out with compunction: Rejoice, O father Silouan, inextinguishable burning of love in thy prayer for the world!

 

Akathist to St. Silouan, Kontakion I

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Podcast: Despondency with Nicole Roccas

Podcast: Despondency with Nicole Roccas

Despondency | Your Orthodox Voice on Campus: OCF Campus Ministry Podcast

In this episode Samuel Dutschmann, College Conference Midwest Student Leader, is joined by author, podcaster, and trauma coach, Nicole Roccas. They discuss despondency in the life of college students. Nicole shares insights from her work and how students might work through these restless moments of our lives.

St. John the Hut-Dweller | There’s a Saint for That

St. John the Hut-Dweller | There’s a Saint for That

St. John Calybytes “the Hut-Dweller”

Saint Nektarios of Aegina - Icon by the hand of Deacon Matthew Garrett

How can St. John intercede for us?

St. John is known for his love for his parents and his gratitude. Pray to him to grow closer to your family while you are away for college. Ask him to implore the Holy Spirit to give you a spirit of thanksgiving for all things.

Discussion Questions

  1. In the days of St. John, the Gospel was hard to come by, so St. John read it constantly as soon as he obtained it. Meanwhile, we are privileged to have the Gospel in our prayer corners and on our phones, but most of rarely make use of these resources. How can we set aside more time to read our Savior’s words?
  2. St. John lived a life of worldly luxury, but he chose to give it all up so that he could focus more on growing closer to God. What little “time-sucks” can we leave out each day to give more time to prayer?
  3. St. John couldn’t stand to be away from his parents. How can we honor our parents in this phase of our lives when we spend less time with them?

The Life of St. John

St. John was born in Constantinople to wealthy parents in the 5th century. By the age of twelve, St. John knew he wanted to enter the monastic life. Meeting a monk on his way to Jerusalem, St. John made him promise to take him to the monastery on his way back from the Holy Land.

St. John asked his parents to use their riches to commission a copy of the Gospel. When he received the copy –– bound in gold and covered in gems —- he could not put it down.

When the pilgrim monk returned, he kept his promise and took St. John to the Monastery of the “Unsleeping Ones” (Ακοίμητοι). He received the monastic tonsure, and the fathers were shocked by the young man’s zeal in prayer, obedience, abstinence, and perseverance.

After six years, he began to undergo temptations. He remembered his parents, how much they loved him, and what sorrow he caused them. He regretted leaving them, and he was desperate to see them again.
After explaining this to igumen St. Marcellus, he was released from the monastery. Asking his blessing, he prayed with the brethren that he would not succumb to temptation in the city.

When the young saint returned to Constantinople, he dressed as a beggar to avoid being recognized and given the luxuries of his worldly life. He settled by the gate of his parents’ home, like the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. His father, unlike the Rich Man, sent him food from his own table. For the three years he lived in the hut, he was insulted by the servants and braved freezing weather, conversing unceasingly with the Lord and His angels.

Before his death, the Lord spoke to him, telling him he would enter Paradise in three days. St. John then asked a servant to bring his mother to the hut, for he had a message.

At first, his mother didn’t want to come, but she wanted to know what a beggar could say to her. He explained that he would soon die and that he was thankful for her charity. Asking to be buried in rags under his lowly hut, he gave her his copy of the Gospel, saying, “May this console you in this life, and guide you to the next life.”

After showing the Gospel to her husband, they discerned that it was the Gospel they gave their son. They went back to the hut, intending to ask the pauper how he got the Gospel. St. John then told them that he is their son, and his parents wept tears of joy. He reposed in the Lord, not even twenty-five years old. His parents built a church atop his hut, and they cared for the strangers that passed through it until they reposed.

Adapted from Orthodox Church in America, “Lives of the Saints”

Learn his Troparion

(Tone 4)
From infancy fervently you loved and longed for the Lord;
you therefore renounced the world and every worldly delight,
and excelled in ascetic feats.
You set the hut you dwelt in before the gates of your parents.
Therein, all-blessed struggler, you crushed the snares of the demons.
And therefore, O John, Christ has glorified you worthily.

Troparion of St. John the Hut-Dweller

by Samuel Dutschmann

Pray to him

Kontakion

Having loved that poverty which no one can rob, you turned down your parents’ wealth, O John. Taking the Gospel of Christ in your hands, you followed Him; now pray for us unceasingly.

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St. Nektarios of Aegina | There’s a Saint for That

St. Nektarios of Aegina | There’s a Saint for That

St. Nektarios of Aegina

Saint Nektarios of Aegina - Icon by the hand of Deacon Matthew Garrett

The Life of St. Nektarios

Anastasios Kephalas was born on October 1st, 1846, in Eastern Selyvria of Thrace (now Turkey). He was one of six children and grew up very poor, but his parents taught him from a young age to be a pious Orthodox Christian. After elementary school, he went to Constantinople with not a penny in his pocket with the hopes of earning some money to help his poverty stricken family. He was determined to study theology, a desire which stemmed from his growing love for Christ. He did not even have the money to buy a ticket for the boat ride but the sailors took pity on him and let him go. After arriving in Constantinople, he eventually found work in a factory with a tobacco merchant and earned barely enough money to feed himself, he could not even afford shoes. However, he found comfort with the lord and never cared about materialistic things. He wanted to write about his circumstances and send the letter to someone, and that someone became Jesus Christ. The letter said: “My little Christ, I do not have an apron or shoes. Please send them to me. You know how much I love you. Anastasios”. The envelope said “to the Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven”. A merchant who took the letter to mail it out saw what it said and, overcome with emotion, anonymously sent the boy money and advice on how to use it wisely.

In his young adult years, he became a monk. This was a dream come true to him because it allowed him to study the scriptures more than ever before. He fasted and prayed daily, many nights he did not sleep and just prayed until sunrise and then prayed the eternity of the next day. He was eventually ordained a deacon due to his holiness and given the name “Nektarios”. The uncle of one of the sailors from the boat many years ago, John Horemis, who was touched by the young boy, paid for him to further his studies in Athens. He then went to Alexandria, Egypt where he became very close with the Patriarch Sophronios. After furthering his education he was ordained priest, then Metropolitan of Pentapolis and eventually secretary to the Patriarch.

The holiness which radiated from the Saint in every encounter he had resulted in him being adored by everyone. He touched the lives of everyone he came across and was known for his kindness and pureness, especially to those in poverty/homeless. It is said people were drawn to him like a magnet. This led to the bishops and higher clergy to slander his name and convince the Patriarch to write a letter of suspension from the Metropolis. Saint Nektarios never tried to defend himself, instead, he prayed to the Lord and trusted his will. People became very angry and upset at the treatment he was facing and he would instruct them to remain calm and keep their faith. He eventually left very secretly for Athens to avoid any uproar. Those who committed slander against him wrote many letters to influential people in Greece saying his good virtues and kindness was all an act and he was never genuine.

Once in Athens he was refused a position in the Church of Greece by the state and Church authorities. At some point, the best and practically only option was to go to Mount Athos where he would at least have food and shelter, but he refused because he wanted to stay and help others more so than himself. He was eventually appointed a preacher by the Minister of Religion, despite this being a huge step down from his former position, he was never embarrassed to have this position. Throughout all of this, the Saint prayed for those who persecuted him and never questioned God’s will or became angry. There were a few people who came to realize the Saint was truly a good man and had been falsely accused. Their good influence led him to be appointed as dean of the Rizarios Seminary in Athens. Despite his role in the administration, he still lived as a monk with constant prayer, meditation, fasting, and ascesis.

Saint Nektarios decided he wanted to eventually leave the loud and noisy world and retreat to a place where he could just pray and enjoy the silence. He had a few spiritual daughters who wished to become nuns and together they founded a small  monastery on the island of Aegina where he retired in 1908. He had also founded a small church which was once a monastery dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The Saint would say to the nuns: “I am building a lighthouse for you, and God will put a light in it that shall shine unto the breadth and length of the whole world. Many shall see the light and come here to Aegina.” But the nuns could not understand what he was trying to tell them. It was only after the recovery of his holy relics and miracles that he began working in such abundance that they understood. He meant that his way of life, his very holy body, were the lighthouse, and if God pleased He would send his light, and it would shine throughout. Thus the words which the Saint used to say to them have been fulfilled.

Saint Nektarios often preferred to be alone only with the company of the saints and the Virgin Mary, they often appeared to him during liturgy or in his cell. After the first World War he taught his nuns to always rely on God and never keep any food in storage for themselves and give everything to the poor. He was eventually overcome with illness (cystitis) and relied on Christ through it all and never complained. He even thanked God for putting him to the test just like he did when he was faced with slander. There was a paralyzed man in the bed next to him and when he finally gave up his spirit his sweater was removed and placed on the paralyzed man’s bed and almost immediately he rose and began walking, all while glorifying God. They took his body to Aegina where they gave him a simple burial at the Convent of the Holy Trinity.

His Glorification

Many people saw Saint Nektarios as a Saint during his lifetime because of his humility, miracles, great virtues and purity he constantly upheld. His relics were removed from the grave in September of 1953 and exuded a beautiful fragrance. However, it was not until April 20, 1961, that he was recognized a Saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Since then, thousands of miracles have been attributed to his intercession, especially in cases of cancer or serious illness being cured. In 1998, the Patriarchate of Alexandria released an official apology statement on behalf of their predecessors who mistreated the Saint.

Fun Facts

● His best friend and co-confessor was Saint Savva of Kalymnos (who painted the first icon of Saint Nektarios)
● He is the author of the renowned hymn, “Agni Parthene/O Pure Virgin” to the Holy Mother
● His body smelled of fragrance so strong when he died, nothing they did would get rid of it
● He was the most popular confessor in Greece at his time
● He is the author of many writings on ethics, Church history, and theology

Discussion around St. Nektarios

 

  1. Saint Nektarios always forgave and prayed for those who persecuted him. He also never tried to defend himself and relied on Christ through everything. What are some ways we can incorporate these virtues when we ourselves are struggling with similar circumstances?
  2. Like many other Saints, Saint Nektarios used fasting as part of his regular prayer rituals. In the midst of school and social obligations, how can we as busy students incorporate fasting into our own prayer rituals?
  3. The man who funded the Saints initial studies in Athens, John Horemis, was touched by the Saint from the time he was a young boy only fourteen years old before even meeting him in person. Discuss what this tells us about the impact he must have had on people throughout his life.

A prayer to the Virgin Mary by Saint Nektarios

Take away from me, O Virgin, the fetters of sin,
Of my lusts and other transgressions: the terrible carelessness and the overcaring, the evil curiosity and the talkativeness, the useless incontinence and the haughtiness, the negligence, the drunkenness and the lack of mercy, the bad desires, the terrible impurity, the extravagance, the darkness, the great insensitivity. Take away the tendency to say jokes, the enjoyment, the prodigality. The laughter of immorality and every evil. Give me, O maiden, fasting, carefulness, vigilance and perfect obedience. Give me carefulness in all and acute discernment, silence, order and holy patience. Grant to me O Lady, eagerness to work and to attain my perfection, and zeal for virtues and exercise. Keep, O most- Holy One, my soul, my heart and my mind and guard it in virginity.

Learn his Apolytikion

O faithful, let us honor Nectarios, divine servant of Christ, offspring of Silivria
and guardian of Aegina, who in these latter years was manifested as the true friend of
virtue. All manner of healing wells forth for those who in piety cry out, “Glory to
Christ who glorified you; glory to Him who, through you, wrought wonders; glory to
Him who, through you, works healing for all.”

Learn His Kontakion

“In joy of heart let us hymn with songs the newly revealed star of Orthodoxy,
the newly erected bulwark of the Church; for, glorified by the activity of the Spirit, he
poureth forth the abundant grace of healing upon those who cry: Rejoice, O Father
Nektarios, model of patience and lover of virtue.”

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St. Seraphim of Sarov | There’s a Saint for That

St. Seraphim of Sarov | There’s a Saint for That

St. Seraphim of Sarov

Saint Seraphim of Sarov

Pray to him

Hear our prayer, Saint Seraphim, from the innermost being of each one of us, from our greatest yearnings for truth and love, and from our deepest needs for intervention into our struggles in this temporal life. Proclaim to us, “Christ is Risen,” and guide all our steps to eternal life. We choose to walk on the path of prayer, in whatever station of life God has placed us, and we ask for your blessings and intercession. We thank you for your heavenly aid, Saint Seraphim, and we go forward in the peace of your holiness. Amen.

From the Akathist to Saint Seraphim of Sarov

How can St. Seraphim intercede for us?

Saint Seraphim struggled with illness during many times in his life and can intercede for us to be healed as he was. He also was known for his pursuing Christ in the Holy Spirit, even in the face of temptation, and he can help us to build Christ-centered habits.

The Life of St. Seraphim

Saint Seraphim was born in the town of Kursk in 1759. From childhood, he was under the protection of the most holy Mother of God, who, when he was nine years old, appeared to him in a vision, and through her icon of Kursk, healed him from a grave sickness from which he had not been expected to recover. At the age of nineteen, he entered the monastery of Sarov, where he amazed all with his obedience, his lofty asceticism, and his great humility. In 1780, the saint was stricken with a sickness which he endured for three years, until our Lady the Theotokos healed him, appearing to him with the Apostles Peter and John.

He was tonsured a monk in 1786, being named for the holy Hieromartyr Seraphim, Bishop of Phanarion (Dec. 4), and was ordained deacon a year later. In his unquenchable love for God, he continually added labors to labors, increasing in virtue and prayer with titan strides. Once, during the Divine Liturgy of Holy and Great Thursday, he was counted worthy of a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who appeared encompassed by the heavenly hosts. After this dread vision, he gave himself over to greater labors.

In 1794, Saint Seraphim took up the solitary life in a cell in the forest. This period of extreme asceticism lasted some fifteen years, until 1810. It was at this time that he took upon himself one of the greatest feats of his life. Assailed with despondency and a storm of contrary thoughts raised by the enemy of our salvation, the saint passed a thousand nights on a rock, continuing in prayer until God gave him complete victory over the enemy. On another occasion, he was assaulted by robbers, who broke his chest and his head with their blows, leaving him almost dead. Here again, he began to recover after an appearance of the most holy Theotokos, who came to him with the Apostles Peter and John, and pointing to Saint Seraphim, uttered those awesome words, “This is one of my kind.”

In 1810, at the age of fifty; weakened with his more than human struggles, Saint Seraphim returned to the monastery for the third part of his ascetical labors, in which he lived as a recluse until 1825. For the first five years of his reclusion, he spoke to no one at all, and little is known of this period. After five years, he began receiving visitors little by little, giving counsel and consolation to ailing souls. In 1825, the most holy Theotokos appeared to the saint and revealed to him that it was pleasing to God that he fully end his seclusion; from this time the number of people who came to see him grew daily. It was also at the command of the holy Virgin that he undertook the spiritual direction of the Diveyevo Convent. He healed bodily ailments, foretold things to come, brought hardened sinners to repentance, and saw clearly the secrets of the heart of those who came to him. Through his utter humility and childlike simplicity, his unrivaled ascetic travails, and his angel-like love for God, he ascended to the holiness and greatness of the ancient God-bearing Fathers and became like Anthony for Egypt.

In all, the most holy Theotokos appeared to him twelve times in his life. The last was on Annunciation, 1831, to announce to him that he would soon enter into his rest. She appeared to him accompanied by twelve virgins-martyrs and monastic saints-with Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Theologian. With a body ailing and broken from innumerable hardships, and an unspotted soul shining with the light of Heaven, St. Seraphim lived less than two years after this, falling asleep in peace on January 2, 1833, chanting Paschal hymns. On the night of his repose, the righteous Philaret of the Glinsk Hermitage beheld his soul ascending to heaven in light. Because of the universal testimony to the singular holiness of his life, and the seas of miracles that he performed both in life and after death, his veneration quickly spread beyond the boundaries of the Russian Empire to every corner of the earth.

Learn more about the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov here.

Learn his Troparion

Tone 4 You loved Christ from your youth, O blessed one, / and longing to work for Him alone you struggled in the wilderness in constant prayer and labor. / With penitent heart and great love for Christ you were favored by the Mother of God. / Therefore we cry to you: / “Save us by your prayers, venerable Seraphim, our father.”

Troparion of St. Seraphim of Sarov - Tone 4

by Orthodox Christian Fellowship

Discussion around St. Seraphim of Sarov

 

  1. St. Seraphim greeted everyone he met by saying “Christ is Risen!”, no matter the time of year. How does constantly living with Christ’s resurrection in mind change the way we live?
  2. Saint Seraphim would also call everyone he interacted with, “my joy”. What can we do to see everyone the way that Christ sees them and learn to delight in their presence? What ways might we help others see their inherent value as beloved by Christ?
  3. One of St. Seraphim’s most famous quotes is, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands around you will also be saved.” What can we do to obtain God’s Spirit of Peace?

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Don’t send your kid to college before watching this.

When Cindy Karos recently asked her daughter, Anna, how OCF impacted her during college, she responded, “How about changed my life?!!” 

Paul and Cindy Karos, beloved OCF supporters, have three children – Peter, Anna, and Joseph – who have all been impacted by OCF’s life-giving ministry. 

We recently asked Paul and Cindy to offer their advice on preparing kids for college life and managing the tension that comes along with that big change. While this video was created for parents of college students, it has a wonderful message for ALL. They share their own experiences with the college transition and how OCF played a key role in keeping their children close to Christ during their time in school. 

As you watch, please consider making a donation to OCF today during our Back to School appeal. All gifts will be doubled until we hit our $30,000 goal…and we are over halfway there!

Will you offer a donation today for college students as they start a new school year?

Paul Karos had an extensive 30-year career in the financial industry, culminating with senior leadership roles at Piper Jaffray where he was the President of Equity Capital Markets and is now active in ministry and coaching. Cindy Karos has been active in ministry for over four decades and has also chaired several important new initiatives for her church. Cindy is also the Executive Board Chair for Faithtree Resources.

St. John of the Ladder | There’s a Saint for That

St. John of the Ladder | There’s a Saint for That

St. John of the Ladder

St. John of the Ladder

The Life of St. John

St. John of the Ladder is honored by the church as a great ascetic and the author of the renowned spiritual book called The Ladder of Divine Ascent, for which he is named. (St. John Climacus in Greek)

There is almost no information about St. John’s origins. One tradition suggests he was born in Constantinople around the year 570, and was the son of Ss. Xenophon and Maria.

John went to Sinai when he was sixteen, submitting to Abba Martyrios as his instructor and guide. After four years, St. John was tonsured as a monk. Abba Strategios, who was present at St. John’s tonsure, predicted that he would become a great luminary in the Church of Christ.

For nineteen years, St. John progressed in monasticism in obedience to his spiritual Father. After the death of Abba Martyrios, St. John embarked on a solitary life, settling in a wild place called Thola, where he spent forty years laboring in silence, fasting, prayer, and tears of penitence.

St. John had a disciple named Moses. Once, the saint ordered his disciple to bring dung to fertilize the vegetable garden. When he had fulfilled the obedience, Moses lay down to rest under the shade of a large rock because of the scorching heat of summer. St. John was in his cell in a light sleep. Suddenly, a man of remarkable appearance appeared to him and awakened the holy ascetic, reproaching him, “John, why do you sleep so heedlessly, when Moses is in danger?”

St. John immediately woke up and began to pray for his disciple. When Moses returned in the evening, St. John asked whether any sort of misfortune had befallen him.

The monk replied, “A large rock would have fallen on me as I slept beneath it at noon, but I left that place because I thought I heard you calling me.” St. John did not tell his disciple of his vision but gave thanks to God.

St. John ate the food which is permitted by the monastic rule but only in moderation. He did not sleep very much, only enough to keep up his strength so that he would not ruin his mind by unceasing vigil. “I do not fast excessively,” he said of himself, “nor do I give myself over to intense all-night vigil, nor lay upon the ground, but I restrain myself.”

The following example of St John’s humility is noteworthy. Gifted with discernment and attaining wisdom through spiritual experience, he lovingly received all who came to him and guided them to salvation. One day, some envious monks reproached him for being too talkative, and so St John kept silent for a whole year. The monks realized their error, and they went to the ascetic and begged him not to deprive them of the spiritual profit of his conversation.

Concealing his ascetic deeds from others, St. John sometimes withdrew into a cave, but reports of his holiness spread far beyond the vicinity. Visitors from all walks of life came to him, desiring to hear his words of edification and salvation. After forty years of solitary asceticism, he was chosen as abbot of Sinai’s St. Catherine’s Monastery when he was seventy-five. St. John governed the holy monastery for four years.

At the request of the abbot of the Raithu monastery, St. John wrote the incomparable Ladder, a book of instruction for monks who wished to attain spiritual perfection.

Knowing his wisdom and spiritual gifts, the abbot requested St. John to write down whatever was necessary for the salvation of those in the monastic life. St. John felt that such a task was beyond his ability, yet out of obedience he fulfilled the request. The saint called his work The Ladder, for the book is “a fixed ladder leading from earthly things to the Holy of Holies” (Gen. 28:12).

The Ladder begins with renunciation of worldliness and ends with God, who is Love (1 Jn 4:8). Although the book was written for monks, any Christian living in the world will find it an unerring guide for ascending to God and a support in the spiritual life.

In The Ladder is a written account of his thoughts, based on the collected wisdom of many wise ascetics and on his own spiritual experience. The book is a great help on the path to truth and virtue. With the exception of the Scriptures themselves and St. Athanasius’ Life of Anthony, it is the most copied and influential book in Christian history.

Learn more about the life of St. John of the ladder here.

Feast Day: March 30th and 4th Sunday in Great Lent

How can St. John intercede for us?

St. John is known for being a great ascetic and monastic. Pray to him for help with spiritual matters: putting down demonic thoughts, strength keeping the fasts, and guidance for prayer.

Discussion around St. John of the Ladder

 

  1. St. John talks a lot about tears of repentance. How can we practice repentance in our own lives?
  2. Early in The Ladder, St. John suggests that we begin our path towards Christ with the foundation of innocence, abstinence (fasting), and temperance. What can we do to cultivate those virtues while in college?
  3. In Step 4 of The Ladder, St. John gives this advice to people in the world, “‘Do all the good you can; do not speak evil of anyone; do not steal from anyone; do not lie to anyone; do not be arrogant towards anyone; do not hate any one; be sure you go to church; be compassionate to the needy; do not offend anyone; do not wreck another man’s domestic happiness;3 and be content with what your own wives can give you. If you behave in this way you will not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven.”
    What are your thoughts on this passage? Is there one area you’d like to focus on in the coming weeks?
  4. His most famous book, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, is still read in monasteries every year during Great Lent to this day. Read a couple of the steps and discuss them with your chapter!
    http://www.prudencetrue.com/images/TheLadderofDivineAscent.pdf

Learn his Troparion

Tone 8

With the rivers of your tears, you have made the barren desert fertile. Through sighs of sorrow from deep within you, your labors have borne fruit a hundred-fold. By your miracles you have become a light, shining upon the world. O John, our Holy Father, pray to Christ our God, to save our souls.

Listen to a recording of St. John of the Ladder’s Troparion

Pray to him

With the streams of your tears, you made the barren desert fertile. Instill in us also, tears of repentance that our hearts too may be made fertile to bear the gifts of the Spirit. Help us to improve our prayer and fasting so that we can grow closer to God. Give us the strength to climb the ladder of divine ascent that we may be counted among the saints. Amen.

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Supporting OCF Chapter Spiritual Advisors

Orthodox Christian Fellowship is dedicated to being the loving presence of Christ and the Orthodox Christian Church on college campuses. While we offer many national programs, virtual programs, and a wide array of chapter resources, one of the most important figures who plays a key role in bringing about this vision is the local chapter spiritual advisor.

Seeking to support our chapter spiritual advisors in the invaluable work they do, we created a survey to give us a clearer sense of the current health of chapters, as well as places for growth and improvement. Over thirty of our chapter spiritual advisors completed the survey, representing a total of 8 of our 9 OCF regions across North America. The results of the survey gave OCF staff a look at what was growing and thriving while also pointing out where improvement can be brought to elevate the level of ministry being done at all OCF chapters.

As we address those issues in our coming ministry year, we wanted to also share some initial findings and key takeaways as a support to the great work being done by our spiritual advisors.

Don’t do it alone

As campus spiritual advisors, we know you have a ton on your plate. Most of you being parish priests who also have families; it’s no wonder that the majority of you shared that you only wish you had more time. We hear you! Interestingly enough, only four of the over thirty chapters which participated in the survey reported that they also have lay advisor supporting their OCF chapter. For this reason, we recommend our dear spiritual advisors to not do it alone! We encourage you all to find a lay person at your parish or in your area who can serve as a lay advisor and parish liaison for your OCF chapter.

This person can help with communications, outreach, coordination, and many more things in order to free up your time to focus on the pastoral work of being the chapter’s spiritual advisor. Bringing on a teammate will make your time on campus more focused and also expand the potential for the ministry that can be done at your campus. Visit our OCF Advisors training hub to access several videos to help get your new lay advisor started!

Diversify your programming

At OCF, we aim to achieve our mission through our four pillars: Fellowship, Education, Worship, and Service. While many of you shared that the programming at your chapter was consistent, many of you also shared the desire to do more, adding new and diverse kinds of ministry to your regular programming. Because of this, we encourage chapters to implement a plan for the year that would include all four of OCF’s pillars.

Incorporating time for fellowship allows students to grow in their relationships with one another and promotes a stronger community. Incorporating education gives substance to the ministry of your OCF chapter. College is a time when students are learning a ton in the classroom and their experience at OCF should also enlighten them on their faith in God and the Church.

Incorporating worship allows for your chapter to be a holy presence on campus and gives students a harbor of calm in the craziness that is student life. Incorporating service allows for each chapter to be the Church in action on their campus, working to meet the needs of those around them. Service is a great way to work with other student groups on campus in order to not duplicate efforts.

Need ideas of how to better incorporate all four pillars into your programming? Refer to our Chapter Toolkit for help!

Stay Up-to-date

Lastly, you all shared your desire to know more about the programs offered by OCF National in order to best take advantage of any resources that are available. The best ways of staying up to date would be to follow our social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook, and to check in on our website regularly for upcoming events. You can also refer to our monthly email newsletter for updates. You can also always get in touch with any of the OCF staff to get an update on what’s happening at OCF.

We hope that spiritual advisors and chapter leaders who are more informed on the offerings and resources produced by OCF National will find the programming support needed to continue to offer the best ministry possible on college campuses.

A Reflection on Personal Prayer

A Reflection on Personal Prayer

 

Once again I have the extreme joy of being with you.  I treasure these moments.  The issue of personal prayer is dear to my heart for a multitude of reasons.  I am convinced that the most  intimate thing that two humans can do is pray together at divine services or privately.  You may ask, “More intimate than the exchange of deep personal vulnerability?”  Yes, and more yes.  Personal prayer is about being directly aware of Almighty God, beyond our every thought or imagination.

My Own Personal Prayer Journey

At age 85 I have a rather regular and developed personal prayer life.  I am closer to end game and I continue to be “crazy as a lunatic.”  The center of my prayer life is the prayer of Metropolitan Philaret and daily meditation.  As a college student my prayer life was, well, to use a sanitized word, “inconsistent at best.”  I was a radically confused camper; I can’t remember having a prayer rule, but I would regularly go to the Roman Catholic Mass after work at the local cathedral.  The Mass at 5:40 PM was an oasis of calm and serenity in my otherwise turbulent life as student council president, fiancee to a lovely coed who loved me dearly, battalion executive officer in ROTC, vice president of the fraternity, and (by the way) a college student who changed his major three times.  Prayer didn’t seem to fit into my whirlwind turbulence.   Life is a process of growing up.  Little did I know that after college I would break up with my precious fiancee, resign as an officer in the army and become a Roman Catholic monk for 11 years; of course I had no idea at all that I would eventually convert to Orthodoxy… the church that brought me to the fullness of truth for which I am eternally grateful. 

Prayer Life of College Students

What I can say to you college students is be gentle with yourself.  Try to love yourselves as God loves you.  Or, said another way and borrowing from St. Irenaeus, “Relax in God’s hands.”  He loves you dearly and accepts your inconstancies.

Where to start?  Please try to have a simple prayer rule that you may not have the discipline to do regularly.  The prayer rule can be an analytic that you use to measure your relationship with Christ.  Some students start by making the sign of the cross upon awakening and making the sign of the cross upon getting into bed.  Not much, but it’s something.  The Trisagion is sometimes used after standing up.  Some students say the prayer by Metropolitan Philaret; but whatever you do please don’t ever despair, say “It really doesn’t matter,” and give up praying.  Despair, also sometimes called nihilism, is the greatest of all temptations.

Conclusion

Personal prayer is about becoming who we really are, becoming our best self who is Christ living within us.  Union without confusion.  “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  Personal prayer is the opening of our hearts to the living, loving God Almighty within us.  What could be better?

Prayer at the Beginning of the Day By Metropolitan Philaret

O Lord, grant me to meet the coming day in peace.  Help me in

all things to rely upon Your holy will.  In every hour of the day

reveal your will to me.  Bless my dealings with all who surround

me.  Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day 

with peace of soul,  and with firm conviction that Your will

governs all.  In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and

feelings.  In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are

sent by you.  Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without

embittering and embarrassing others.  Give me strength to bear

the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring.   Direct

my will, teach me to pray, pray You Yourself in me.  Amen.

Dr. Albert Rossi

Dr. Albert Rossi

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Albert Rossi is a licensed clinical psychologist and Christian educator who has written numerous articles on psychology and religion. He has published two books through Ancient Faith Publications entitled, Becoming a Healing Presence and All is Well. Dr. Rossi was a member of the SCOBA Commission on Contemporary Social and Moral Issues for six years. He hosts the podcast Becoming a Healing Presence on Ancient Faith Radio.

I Can Do All Things – and the SLB!

I Can Do All Things – and the SLB!

Flashback to one year ago this spring: I was sitting in my dorm room when I got a call from my Regional Student Leader (RSL) telling me to apply for the OCF Student Leadership Board (SLB) and that I would make a great College Conference Student Leader. I wasn’t fully aware of what the SLB is, but I did know what College Conference was having attended myself in 2019. I had even thought about leading it before, but I was hesitant to apply since I was heading into the infamous junior year as both a music and mechanical engineering double major while also balancing many other extracurricular commitments. Despite my crazy schedule, and to the dismay of my mom who thought I was already overcommitted, I decided to apply anyway, trusting that it would all work out.

Fast forward to this past summer: I’m a counselor at the Antiochian Village (AV), I’m the new College Conference Midwest Student Leader, and I still have no idea how I’m going to balance my schoolwork, extracurriculars, and SLB work come the start of the semester. But, God has a way of helping us figure things out, and it just so happened that our theme as AV staff was Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Coincidence? I think not.

Now, we’ve all heard that verse before, but I’m here to remind you of it and let you know that it is 100% true. All of the things you are doing now, you can continue doing along with the SLB because Christ will give you the strength to do it. That is what I have found to be true this past year, and I know it would be true for you too.

So that’s how you can do the SLB, but now the current SLB and I want to tell you why you should. The Student Leadership Board is a group of devout and talented Orthodox Christian college students devoted to serving their peers and responsible for carrying out the work of OCF. From planning events, connecting people, to implementing programming, most everything that OCF does gets touched by the students on the board. Below are quotes from the current SLB which have been sorted into 3 different categories: Life-Giving Relationships, True Service, Spiritual Development – 3 reasons why you should apply!

True Service: Being on the SLB means you will be actively carrying out the ministry of OCF.

“As the regional leader, I advise and support chapter presidents at each university. They’re the ones who run the engine of the day-to-day OCF life – the ones who can foster a nurturing environment for Orthodox Christian college students to grow in their faith. I also really liked being in a position to run the retreats for my region. I saw the potential for regional retreats to be a truly transformational time to encourage Orthodox students to live a life in Christ.” – Nathan Liu, Mid-Atlantic Regional Student Leader

 

“I love the close connection and mentorship that the OCF staff gives the SLB. I feel much more acquainted with the beginning-to-end process of creating ministry efforts than I did before I began. OCF provides so much support and resources that I feel confident that I am maximizing my contribution to the ministry.” – Evan Roussey, Real Break Student Leader

 

“I think I’ve been a strong reference point for my community as they reach out to young adults, and I think that my involvement has been able to help me reach out to my Orthodox friends who feel less connected in their college communities.”- Catherine Thompson, Northwest Regional Student Leader

Life Giving Relationships: You’ll build some of the deepest and most life giving relationships with the other SLBers, OCF Staff, and the peers you serve.

“One of my favorite parts about being on the SLB includes the amazing community. After connecting in Dallas I now have a nation-wide support system of fellow Orthodox Christians. I feel comfortable talking with anyone on the SLB about anything, because they are all amazing people.” – Elyssa Koutrodimos, Great Lakes Regional Student Leader

 

“I like the connection and closeness of the leadership board and being able to meet new people via my district student leaders and others.”– Kiki Gormanos, Southeast Regional Student Leader

 

“ Since joining the SLB, I have felt of one spirit with everyone, and has been one of the most life-giving things I have ever experienced. I know that everyone on the SLB and on staff are committed to the same mission, the same God, and that I am one member in a greater effort. Yes, we work together, but we also have become close friends.” – Evan Roussey, Real Break Student Leader

 

“I love the strong community of friends that I have all over the country. Even though we are hundreds or even thousands of miles away from each other, everyone feels like family. I am extremely grateful this past year to have developed relationships that are fulfilling, both mentally and spiritually. We are all devoted to helping each other become better Orthodox Christians, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to surround myself with.” – Danielle Rallis, Podcast Student Leader

 

“It has changed my college experience because I have met so many people around the country both from the board and working to create events, and from those I now have a network of Orthodox Christians that I connect with on a very deep level. “-Thomas Retzios, Video Student Leader

Spiritual Development:

“I have always been a very reflective person. I always wanted to have a place to have conversations and open discussions about young adults in the Orthodox Church. I hoped to get, as well as give, more insight about the reality of how Orthodox Christians use their faith, and how we can all grow in our spiritual journey. As podcast student leader, I have been put in a position to think about the faith on a more consistent basis. I hoped this would happen, as now it has become more habitual to not only think about my own spiritual life, but how we are young adults in the church are all trying to learn how to develop a stronger faith.” – Danielle Rallis, Podcast Student Leader

 

 

“Being part of the SLB has shown me how to take the gifts I have received from God and begin to put them to use. I integrate what I learn in school into the responsibilities that I have on the SLB; contributing to the SLB and OCF ministries has taught me how to participate more intentionally in the other parts of my life such as music and social life. I feel a sense of contribution and momentum; my efforts in academic, personal, and spiritual spheres all feel related. I thank God for that and know that the SLB was the key to integrating my experiences, equally for the tasks that it asked of me and the people that it gave me to share my life with.”
– Evan Roussey, Real Break Student Leader

 

“It can be easy to feel inadequate, but remember you (especially in a leadership role on the SLB) have the potential to change someone’s life in an instant. If you ever feel deficient in any way, never forget that God has given everyone countless, daily opportunities to share His love with each other and to draw closer to Him together. Every moment has the potential to be transformed into something beautiful – whether it be holding a two hour conversation on the phone with someone you hardly know or a 15 minute, positive interaction you had on a zoom call. I have had many opportunities where someone changed my life in a matter of minutes. When you open your heart to this possibility, approach every relationship and pray, “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace…” – Magdalena Hudson, Publications Student Leader

After reading all of this, I’ll assume you’re thoroughly convinced that being on the SLB is a life-changing experience to do Christ’s work, so I cordially invite you to apply. Please do not hesitate to reach out to myself or any of the current SLBers with any and all questions you might have. Descriptions of each position are listed within the applications found below. So apply, just do it.

Application Link: https://www.ocf.net/student-leadership-board-applications/
Current SLB contact info: https://www.ocf.net/about-ocf/#slb

Elias Anderson

Elias Anderson

Incoming SLB Chairman 2022-2023

Elias is a Junior at Valparaiso University studying music and mechanical engineering. He loves to lead his OCF chapter and will be serving as next year’s SLB chairman. When he’s not working on schoolwork, he enjoys playing his trumpet or guitar, beating his friends in ping pong, and laughing unnecessarily hard at marginally funny things. You can contact him at ccmidweststudent@ocf.net.