5 Ways to Practice Peace

5 Ways to Practice Peace

Our theme on the OCF blog this March is Peace.

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

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

This is a wonderful ideal. Is it realistic?

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

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

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

What are some practical ways of doing this?  

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

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

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

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

Let us begin with peace. 

 

Andrew Gluntz

Alethia Placencia

Publications Student Leader

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

Forget Me Not: On Finding Hope in the Small Things

Forget Me Not: On Finding Hope in the Small Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Magdalena Hudson

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

 

5 Pieces of Advice Worth Holding on to

5 Pieces of Advice Worth Holding on to

Of these five pieces of advice I have here, four were from a teacher I had my senior year in high school and one is from my father. I’m going to give the pieces of advice then a couple sentences on what they have meant to me the last four years.

 

Commit beautiful things to memory.

 

This could be Scripture verses, poetry, snippets of books, quotes from people you love, or just good sayings to have at the tip of your tongue. I’ve personally done this with poetry more than anything else. (Email me if you want suggestions.) Our words are very powerful things. They shape us as much as we shape them. I think this piece of advice also means that you should always keep an eye out for beautiful things. Speaking from experience, it really is amazing how much beauty can be captured and dwelt in in the words we use. It’s probably a good idea to look to the greatest users of words so that we can get better at using them ourselves.

 

Notice what the people around you find funny.

 

Anyone who knows me in person will know that this is something I do all the time and love doing. The ability to make others laugh and laugh with them is the fastest bonding experience I have ever felt. This doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everyone, admittedly, but I believe it’s a form of love that can and should be practiced more. Similar to the piece of advice stated above, if you keep your eyes and ears (and heart) oriented towards loving the world and others, things that cause and engender laughter will develop out of them naturally, given time and patience.

 

Recognize that it takes a long, long time to make good friends.

 

One of the things that makes my best friend my best friend is that we have been going to school together for 10 years: 6 years in middle school and high school, and now 4 years of college. This piece of advice has helped me get through arguments with him, because I know that arguments and problems come with time. As it turned out, those arguments and problems that have arisen between us have actually brought us closer together. I hope he would say the same. No matter if we go separate ways after graduation, I know that I will always be greeted with a firm handshake and a pleasant hug with a laugh at times past and times to come.

 

Come back.

 

On the sheet my teacher gave us one of the last days my senior year, this was one of the last pieces of advice. My teacher grew up in Kansas, went to college in Michigan, taught for a few years in Minnesota, and has been living in Indiana for a few years now. He’s no stranger to home and all the various ways it manifests itself over the course of a young person’s life; home changes for all of us. For some of us, it’s tied to a specific location, for others, family, for others still, the smell of a city or farm brings us back to some mysterious childhood we forgot we had. In this piece of advice, I hear my teacher telling me to not only think about coming back home, but I also hear him telling me to think about how I carry home with me inside my heart and how I should try and return to that as much as I should return to all the homes I’ll make over the course of my life.

 

Say okay.

 

This piece of advice from my dad I heard over and over again from the ages of 6 to 16. I needed to hear these two words as a toddler and young boy, especially regarding dinner, baths, and bedtime as well as apologies to my siblings and my mom. I mean, who among us didn’t hear this over and over when we were young? The older I got, the less I heard my dad say it explicitly, but the more I heard him say it implicitly in his actions and in his love for me. It was first used to correct and discipline me, and then it was used to teach and instruct me. I have learned that to “say okay” once is to be obedient, but to always “say okay” is to learn how to accept things as they come with grace and fortitude, much like my dad has sought to do, even if he isn’t always certain things are okay.

Andrew Gluntz

Marcus Lotti

Podcast Student Leader

I am a senior English major at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. When not leading my small but mighty OCF, hosting dinner parties, studying in the library, making playlists, running, or spending time in church, I am busy creating the worst dad jokes you can possibly imagine. As a senior, I spend plenty of time reminiscing and thinking about the many ways OCF has shaped my college experience. The only piece of advice I feel fully qualified to give is to cherish the OCF friends you have made or will make. You’ll definitely hear me say that a lot on my podcast The Fourth Antiphon, to be found on Ancient Faith Radio as well as Spotify, Apple Music, and wherever you find your podcasts!

The Best Advice I’ve Ever Heard: You are Created to be Love

The Best Advice I’ve Ever Heard: You are Created to be Love

This month the blog is going to feature the best advice contributors have ever received! Share the best advice you have ever gotten in an email to publicationsstudent@ocf.net or message us on social media!

I wanted to start with a short reflection on a piece of advice I heard from a friend this summer. This is something her mom always told her as she was growing up.

Her Mother used 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to give her a priceless tool. This verse is one that many of us know well and hold dear.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

The advice is simple: every time “Love” or “it” is mentioned replace these words with your own name. Prior to talking of Love’s indispensability, St. Paul speaks of our place in the Body of Christ. We are each a member of this body and cannot survive if we do not use our gifts for each other, just as our bodies cannot survive if each part is not working in its own way to support the whole. However, whatever our gifts may be, we can do nothing without love. Christ is love. To be a part of the body we must also do everything in love. My friend’s mom used this small practice as a reminder of what we are made to be. What God created us to be: love. 

Try it out. In every blank space use your name instead.

____ is patient, _____ is kind. She/He does not envy, She/He does not boast, She/He is not proud. She/He does not dishonor others, she/he is not self-seeking, she/he is not easily angered, she/he keeps no record of wrongs. _____ does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. ______ always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

This may have felt weird to say. I know it does for me. This is because at any point in time I am struggling in many of these areas!

However, the advice is not so that we can believe that we are those things currently, but so that we can be reminded that this is our true form: this is what we are made to be and what has been made possible for us to attain once more through Christ’s life for us, completely led with love. 

 

Andrew Gluntz

Alethia Placencia

Publications Student Leader

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

When Do We Hear Our Inner Heart & How Do We Respond?

When Do We Hear Our Inner Heart & How Do We Respond?

Christ is born, everyone! Glorify Him!

There is an inherent relationship between growing closer to Christ in our personal lives and growing closer to Christ in relationships. I’d like to explore this topic with the help of a Psalm and some writers I encountered this last semester in class. These last few months have undoubtedly been hectic and difficult for everyone, but in this Nativity season, calling to mind our inner heart and learning how to offer it to those around us in love and thanksgiving is one of the greatest ways to participate in Christ.

We hear these words in Psalm 50: “My inner and secret heart that Thou hast made manifest unto me.” We cannot find this place on our own power because God alone can unveil this inner, hidden place to us through prayer, fasting, and a life in the Church. God is always calling us to this place. It is a place we can only strive to be in moment by moment; we will never be able to permanently inhabit it. I think this is the case because in my own prayer life, I often feel like I cannot express what I want to express. In a way, my loss for words in prayer teaches me that I pray in order to learn how to pray. As a matter of fact, praying when we know how bad we are at praying helps remind us why we are praying in the first place: humility, mercy, and peace. Knowing that we are not the origin of these things and approaching God in that spirit of seeming helpless can in fact be the most honest kind of prayer.

In the words of French philosopher Jean-Louis Chrétien, prayer helps us see “reality of our fallenness, and it points us…to the possibility of our restoration, by the grace of God.” Chrétien’s reasoning behind saying this is that we must first see the reality of our fallenness for our restoration to begin. Our restoration begins to unfold when we accept that we cannot, on our own power or agency, take ourselves out of that fallenness into community with others. In this Nativity season, this restoration is on its fullest display, for Christ has come into the world and provided the way for man to be restored to his original communion with God. Interestingly, on the Nativity, St. Gregory of Nazianzus says that “we are coming to celebrate today the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God.” 

Take the prayer to the Holy Spirit for example. Said at the beginning of practically all services in the home or in the church, begins with an invocation of who we are addressing: “O Heavenly King.” The next line is the appositive phrase “the Comforter.” Recognizing the Holy Spirit, and by extension, God, as a comforter does not remove our sufferings, but a comforting hug, a comforting smile, or even a comforting cup of coffee can change our attitude towards our struggles. The things before us are cast into a different light when we look outside of ourselves for help. When we begin our prayers with “O Heavenly King, the Comforter,” we are calling to mind our struggles and asking to be granted the proper disposition we need to deal with them. It begins to restore us, but this restoration has already happened because Christ is born, now and always. 

Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras (who is still alive today) says that “knowledge of God begins when we live our faith.” At this juncture between us and God in the act of prayer, our restoration has already begun. Not only that, but because we need mercy and grace of God in order to say anything, this restoration has always been happening because we are made in the image and likeness of Christ. This moves us outside of ourselves and into communion with others, and with God. As we continue to maneuver through this pandemic and these physically distant times, let us remember the spiritual communion that we continue to participate in as we live and breathe every moment of every day. This moment, this very moment, is all we are given, so let us love one another to the extent that we can, and let us also take comfort in the knowledge that approaching God in silent humility is better than not approaching Him at all. 

Andrew Gluntz

Marcus Lotti

Podcast Student Leader

I am a senior English major at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. When not leading my small but mighty OCF, hosting dinner parties, studying in the library, making playlists, running, or spending time in church, I am busy creating the worst dad jokes you can possibly imagine. As a senior, I spend plenty of time reminiscing and thinking about the many ways OCF has shaped my college experience. The only piece of advice I feel fully qualified to give is to cherish the OCF friends you have made or will make. You’ll definitely hear me say that a lot on my podcast The Fourth Antiphon, to be found on Ancient Faith Radio as well as Spotify, Apple Music, and wherever you find your podcasts!

7 Questions to Reflect on before the Feast of Our Lord’s Nativity

7 Questions to Reflect on before the Feast of Our Lord’s Nativity

Chances are the feeling, meaning, and practices of Christmas have changed for you over time. From childhood to adulthood the way we prepare and understand the Blessed feast of the Nativity has grown. Whatever way we ourselves interpret the season does not change what is at the heart of it! I want to share a portion of St. John Chrysostom’s sermon on the Nativity of Christ:

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness. 

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit that He may save me. 

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels. 

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. 

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.

St. John Chrysostom shows us what the birth of Christ means for the world. It is the redemption of the flesh through God becoming man. By becoming man he “wroughts a clear path out of confusion.” Christ came to be ‘with us’ in a way which was incomprehensible — Our God who surpasses the heavens was humbled to lie in a manger, and became the very flesh He created. 

Emmanuel means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). In the incarnation, God is now “commingled” with us. Our relationship with him as humans forever changes after this moment, and even after the Ascension, when his physical body no longer remains on earth, this relationship remains.

This is overwhelmingly amazing but where do we go from here? How do we continue to realize this in our lives? Through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, receiving communion, and confession first and foremost of course! The Church has given us ways to participate simply and receive the overwhelmingly amazing meaning of this Feast in these constant practices. 

This year I have also put together a list of 7 questions which I am reflecting on this week (I want to stress that this is just a list of questions that I have heard or asked myself and have been helpful for me personally). These questions have been a great help in recalling this truth that St. John Chrysostom expresses in his sermon. There are many opportunities for lengthy reflections in each of these, so it may be helpful to choose just a few to tackle in one sitting! I heard a few of these come up in an Advent Series program with YES North America as well as a spiritual discussion with Fr. Panagiotis Boznos. 

1. How do we see or talk about ourselves?

Christ’s image has been redeemed in us. Does this understanding guide our perception of ourselves? Are we quick to talk ourselves up or be too harsh on ourselves?

2. How do we see or talk about the people around us?

Every single person who has ever lived or will ever live is made in the image of God. How do we treat the people around us currently? How do we talk about those we are close to and those we don’t know as well, too? 

3. When do we feel God with us?

What is a time when you have been aware that God is with you? Where were you? What was happening? Were you with other people…maybe you were in prayer? What other factors were playing a role in your life at that point in time?

4. When is it hard to feel God with us?

What is a time where it was difficult to feel God was with you? What is one word which you would use to describe how that moment felt? What factors were playing a role in your life at this point? Where was your focus? Christ promised that He would always be with us. Even though it felt as if God was absent, looking back, are you now able to see any ways in which He was with you?

5. When we struggle, what do we focus on?

The place we give our energy and thoughts determines a lot of our experience and takeaways from difficult times. When going through a struggle what do you see yourself focusing on the most?

6. When we succeed what are we focusing on?

Are we using a success to raise ourselves up or to benefit those around us and raise up Christ? 

7. In this very moment where do you see Christ?

Take 2 minutes to sit in silence. Screens out of sight, music paused. Maybe go outside! Ask yourself where you see Christ here at the beginning of the two minutes? What did you find? Did you focus on your surroundings, thinking of the people in your life currently, a personal struggle, turn to prayer? 

Our understanding of this upcoming Holiday grows with us, the meaning is always constant. From the first Christmas (the Nativity of Christ) until that one year when you were 7 (and thought the world would end if you didn’t get Heelys for Christmas), until Christmas 2020 (undergoing the stresses of navigating togetherness in an isolated world), God has become man and will be with us always. 

As we come to the end of 2020, I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and congratulate all my fellow struggle bus college students for making it through. I love you all! I pray that St. John Chrysostom’s sermon on the Nativity was useful in better understanding the Feast of the Nativity, and that these questions for reflection were helpful!

Andrew Gluntz

Alethia Placencia

Publications Student Leader

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

4 Saints Who Demonstrated the Image of God and How to Get to Know Them

4 Saints Who Demonstrated the Image of God and How to Get to Know Them

In the very first book of the Old Testament, we are told that, “God created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27, NKJV.) Any detailed examination of the Orthodox faith will show that the largest calling we have received from God is to become like Christ. St. John explains this in the Gospel:

“He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (John 2:4-6)

In other words, if we say we’re Christians, we must walk the walk and strive to live our lives like Jesus lived His.

However, it’s easy to say that we must walk the walk. The more difficult question is, how do we walk the walk? Especially in today’s world, we hear so many different things about what’s right and what’s wrong, and what we’re “supposed” to do to love our neighbor. Especially on college campuses, we are constantly assailed with conflicting messages from different sources. It is so easy to become confused about which paths we should follow.

The good news is, we have as sources of wisdom and intercession those who have walked the walk before us! Truly, out of all people, the saints of our Church have most fully realized the image of God within themselves. When we read their lives, we can see how they have been set on fire with love for Christ, and we can see how that love looks different in each of their lives. Some saints, like St. Mary of Egypt, flees into the desert to wage war against their temptations. Others, like St. Luke, are surgeons—or midwives, like St. Olga. Some are artists, like St. Romanos the Melodist. Some are royalty, like St. Constantine and his sons. Some are martyrs, some are single, some are married, some are monastics. Regardless of your strengths, struggles, and callings, you can find a saint who shares them with you.

Notice that I am writing about the saints in present tense. The saints are not people who lived a very long time ago, then died, and that’s the end of that. They are people who lived earthly lives, and now in eternity intercede for us, constantly participating in our lives. And, importantly, there are people living their earthly lives today who will become saints, if they are not already! Every one of us is called to become a saint.

St. Nektarios of Pentapolis, after his death, said, “It’s as if we saints are in retirement…the people don’t pray to us, don’t entreat us, don’t ask us for anything, don’t give us any handiwork to do. They don’t give us the opportunity to pray to God for them.” The saints are looking for opportunities to help us! It’s up to us to become more aware of their presence.

It took me a long time to learn that the saints are still living and interacting with us, and my prime realizations of this fact occurred on OCF: Real Break trips. On my first real break trip, Thessaloniki 2018, I venerated the body of my patron saint, St. Demetrios, and saw the exact place where he was run through with lances. St. Demetrios is overwhelming for anyone to visit, because myrrh still streams from his body to this day—to the point that on his feast day, they open his reliquary and mop it up with towels! The Akathist to St. Demetrios reads, “Rejoice, you who ride throughout the world as one alive.” One can feel the power of his presence by how strong the smell of his myrrh is, even upon reaching the threshold of his cathedral.

Another example from my Thessaloniki trip is the relics of St. Gregory of Palamas. I visited him after St. Demetrios, but there is a little glass window in St. Gregory’s reliquary, through which you can see one of his bones. I watched a drop of myrrh materialize, seemingly out of thin air, and run down the length of the bone. It completely overwhelmed me. I had to step out of the room—but even though I had left that room and entered the nave of the church, I couldn’t get away from the smell of the myrrh! It was so strong, it almost hurt my nose. Even though, overcome with their holiness and their active presence, I had to turn away from them, the saints were still with me!

Finally, on my second Real Break trip—Romania 2020—we all became very stressed on the second-to-last day of our pilgrimage. It was at the height of COVID-related anxieties, since it had just been elevated to pandemic status. With travel bans instated and Europe suddenly spiking to high risk, we had to get home as soon as we could. We had just been informed we were leaving that night. We were fatigued, uncertain, and—speaking at least for myself—afraid. But our trip leader, Fr. Robert, took us to venerate the hand of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of travelers. The woman watching over his relics removed the glass in the reliquary so we could directly kiss his hand. I was brought such a sense of peace. I knew that St. Nicholas was watching over us and magnifying our prayers for safe travels, and that he would be present with us on our journey home.

Since the saints are powerhouses of intercession and full of wisdom, how can we get to know them better? There are practical steps you can take! I recommend learning more about your patron saint. Who are you named after? Is there an Akathist to them? Read their story and learn their Kontakion and Troparion.

Another step you could take is Googling Akathists to Orthodox Christian saints. You will be shocked at the number of saints you’ve never heard of, and you will truly feel their presence as you beseech them for their intercessions and learn their life story through prayer. You will start to see yourself in different saints and their walks of life, which will encourage you.

Finally, OCF has a resource as well, called There’s a Saint for That. It would also be a great idea for your chapter to have a meeting about saints, where people can share the lives of their patron saints or other beloved saints. In this time leading up to Christ’s birth, let’s all look to the saints together and, through their prayers and examples, learn how to emulate Christ.

Andrew Gluntz

Demetra Chiafos

OCF Alumna

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

Dressing up for Christmas as Christians

Dressing up for Christmas as Christians

Around this time of year, I find myself buying fun decorations and lights. Perhaps I’ll put together a gingerbread house or find some other cute Christmas treats to bake. Let’s not forget the ugly Christmas sweaters, fuzzy socks, and Santa hats. In fact, while writing this blog entry, I’m sitting here in my Christmas themed pajama-pants complete with dogs in scarves skiing down a hill. 

It is tradition to adorn our homes and even ourselves festively this season. In doing so, we are communicating a piece of the joy of the Nativity. But these adornments, even some silly pajamas, might point to something more profound. We feel the warmth, cheer, and joy of the holiday season when hearing Christmas music or seeing beautiful lights and we want to spread this cheer into the world. 

This joy flows from the knowledge that Christ is Born! Glorify Him! Our Nativity feast reminds us that through the birth of Christ the image of God in us was restored. As the Canon of the Nativity of Our Lord says:

Man was made in the image of God, but he sinned and lost immortality. He fell from the divine and better life, enslaved completely by corruption. Now the wise Creator fashions him again, for He has been glorified!

Our adornments spread the feeling of joy of this wonderful season. These traditions are beautiful, fun, and are part of the awe-some experience of our lives on earth. Although they are associated with Christmas and connect us back to this holiday they may actually cause us to forget the harder work we must do to truly adorn ourselves to celebrate Nativity–to truly adorn ourselves and the world around us in response to the redemption of the image of God within us.

 Christ is the true image of God. Christ is true humanity. In him, we find the kind of human life we were meant to live. As Christians we put on this life as a garment, “For all of you that have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27).

So instead of only dressing-up and decorating our world with physical reminders of Christmas, in following Christ, God prepares us for the true festivities: “See, I have taken your guilt away from you and will clothe you with festive robes” (Zach 3:4).

To adorn ourselves with these festive clothes is to become Christ-like –to serve the world with sacrificial love –to care for the poor, feed those who are hungry, seek those who are lost, care for the sick, and love our enemy.

There is much suffering at this time. It will be one of the hardest and loneliest Christmases for so many. Let us remember that we who are made in the image of God are called to put on Christ. We are called to clothe ourselves in the true garments of Christmas (this can be in addition to our ugly Christmas sweaters of course) and go into the world to serve with Christ’s sacrificial love. This is how we can truly adorn this holiday and spread the joy of the Christmas season. 

Andrew Gluntz

Alethia Placencia (in collaboration with Nathan Placencia)

Publications Student Leader

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

Caterpillars with Free Will

Caterpillars with Free Will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find Yourself This Holy Week

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

I hope you all have a blessed Resurrection!

Forgiveness

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

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

Time to Hit the Gym

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

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

  1. Confess

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

  1. Commune

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

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

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

  1. Become Charitable

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

  1. Pray the St. Ephraim Prayer Daily

O Lord and Master of my life!

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

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

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

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

  1. Be in Church (and OCF) More

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

  1. Hide Your Fasting

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

  1. When You Fall, Get Back Up!

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

5 Orthodox Podcasts to Start Listening To

5 Orthodox Podcasts to Start Listening To

We are living in a technological age. Luckily, ministry continues on the internet, and we can be connected to some of the greatest minds in our Church at the click of a button. Sometimes the amount of content out there can seem overwhelming. How do you know where to start? Don’t worry, your Publications Student Leader is here for you to create a curated and highly selective list for your consumption and understanding of Orthodox media. Take your learning outside of your meetings (or use one of these podcasts to get the conversation going at your next meeting), and grow spiritually on the go!

Here is my pick for 5 podcasts that can be found wherever you get your podcasts! for your learning and enjoyment!

We Are Orthodoxy

Christian Gonzales and Steven Christoforou have POWERFUL conversations with young adults and their relationship with the Orthodox Church. If you want to feel joy, sorrow, relief, caring, understanding, and empathy all within the span of an hour-long conversation this is the podcast for you. Hear people talk about real problems that they’re facing and how that has affected them spiritually.

“If you could describe your relationship with the church as a Facebook status, what would it be?

Pop Culture Coffee Hour

What do Star Wars, the Hunger Games, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before have to do with Orthodoxy? Hear critical analysis mixed with humor and spiritual advice within the context of pop culture. This podcast even features OCF’s own Christina Andresen and a previous SLB Chairman Emma Solak! This podcast is the perfect Orthodox pick-me-up and perfectly fits any commute or long trip that you are on.

“Here is our list of top 5”

 

Hank Unplugged: Essential Christian Conversations

Hank Hanegraaff, better known as the BIBLE ANSWER MAN. Grab your scuba gear, because Hank dives DEEP in these podcasts. Hear conversations between him and the other Orthodox Titans of our day. There are a lot of podcasts that discuss huge problems. You should definitely plug in to “Hank Unplugged.”

“Dedicated to bringing the most inspirational, influential and inspiring people on the planet directly to you”

Becoming a Healing Presence

Dr. Albert Rossi talks directly to your soul in this podcast. This podcast is more than Chicken Soup for the Soul, its chicken soup, an electric blanket, and a carton of Vick’s vapor-rub, a full spiritual workup. Learn a lot of practical advice too about living your Orthodox life on campus.

 

The defining quote is the musical interlude which is a recording of Dr. Rossi’s late wife.

The Second Liturgy

The second liturgy is a brand new podcast. It pairs exceptionally well if you have participated or heard about a YES College Day.

“St. John Chrysostom speaks about two tables: the table of the Lord and the table of the poor. There are two tables, one where the Lord is present in the Divine Liturgy, and the Lord has many servers at that table, but He finds very few at His table with the poor.” – Fr. Roberto Ubertino, St. John the Compassionate Mission

 

Grab some headphones, a cup of coffee, and get listening OCFers!

Sending Thoughts and Prayers

Sending Thoughts and Prayers

Why does it seem like there’s so much hate and pain in the world? Shootings and many acts of violence plague our nation. Division in politics and the politicization of these traumatic events turn tragedy into arguments with seemingly no end in sight. The media paints a picture of our nation of intense pain and suffering of the people that desensitizes us to violence.

“Thoughts and prayers” are given freely on social media. Many people disregard their power either in their unfaithfulness or their desire to see political action. But are prayers that useless? No. We live in fallen world, so there is going to be pain, disease and suffering.

Prayers are a source of strength. They’re not supposed to be magic wishes to just make the problems go away. Tragedies happen, and that’s it, we can’t control it, but we can control our reaction to it. If we ask our Lord for strength, we can bear the tragedies ever more gracefully and with humility. We can really extend our hearts to those who need them through prayer. Sending prayers calls our Lord and His saints to grant forgiveness and bestow strength. Send prayers, partake in the healing that Christ grants.

In the Epistle reading from today, 1 Thessalonians 5:9-13 & 5:24-28, St. Paul gives us advice for how to conduct our lives within this fallen world:

Brethren, God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him. Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. Brethren, pray for us. Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. I adjure you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

The antidote for the suffering in the world is the peace of heaven which is experienced in our relationship with Christ Jesus. When we partake in the sacraments, pray to Him and do good things in His name, we can join in on the healing of the world and perform His will “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

Our generation is feeling a lot of loneliness and isolation that can tragically manifest itself in violence. Social media can connect us but also make us feel disconnected. We have to learn and force ourselves to go out into our lives and our college campuses to love as He loves. The pain and suffering can feel like there’s darkness all around us. Luckily, we have light, we have The Light and The Way! Be the beacon of God’s love that our world so desperately needs. Love so that you may bring light into the darkness, emboldened by God’s presence in your life and the humanity we all share.

Reminiscent is the morning prayer of St. Philaret,

“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 Yourself in me. Amen.”

Next time you see a tragedy on the news, write down the names of the victims, pray for their souls, and pray for the strength of their families. Forgive others, and come to know Christ. Pray He strengthens you to participate in the healing and love that our fallen world thirsts for.

 

God Lives on the First Floor

God Lives on the First Floor

When my friends in our chapter of OCF told me about the Great Lakes retreat, I was initially very hesitant go with fall semester crunch-time descending upon us. In the end, however, I decided to go with them because the retreat was not only the weekend of my name day (the feast of St. Demetrios), but also the weekend of the 40-day memorial of my godfather, named Demetrios, who shares my patron saint. It seemed like a good time to say, “Homework can wait. I need to focus on God right now.” I am so glad I did.

The first evening of the retreat, we had a Paraklesis service at St. George Orthodox Church in Fishers, Indiana, opening our time together in prayer. Then we played icebreaker games before heading over to the house on the parish’s property, which they graciously provided for us to spend the night in. We stayed up late sharing our stories with each other, making up songs together, and confiding in one another about our struggles, questions, and concerns that are currently heavy on our hearts.

The second day, which we mostly spent at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Carmel, Indiana, largely focused on the discussion of our assigned topic, “Thou Art With Me: A Present God in a Broken World.” Mr. Niko Tzetzis gave us a fantastic presentation about Fr. Stephen Freeman’s book, Everywhere Present. In this book, Fr. Freeman explains the “two-story universe” theory. He states that the American culture in the 21stcentury conditions us to operate under the assumption that we live on the “first floor” of the universe, and that God lives on the “second floor” above us. Exiled to this distant second floor, God seems far from us and we rarely interact with Him except to ask Him for things. Our discussion led by Mr. Tzetzis was more impactful than just buying the book and reading it alone (though I highly recommend the book, I’m reading it now!) because we were able to speak to our specific, personal, and unique challenges in finding and acknowledging the constant presence of God. We worked together as individuals and as a group to find ways that we can increase our awareness of the fact that God does live on the “first floor” of the universe with us, and that He is present with us everywhere, always.

Along with the discussion of our topic, we had a service event! We cut up old plastic bags from grocery stores—which we had all saved for this event instead of throwing them away—and learned how to tie them together to make waterproof mats for people experiencing homelessness to sleep on. This event was a wonderful idea because it’s a practice that we can take back to our colleges, parishes, and OCF chapters. It is good for both the people receiving the mats and for the environment by reducing plastic waste!

There are many moments I will never forget, and I could write about this retreat for a very long time, but one moment stands out. On the second day, we put our phones away and had 10 minutes of quiet time in the nave at Holy Trinity. After this quiet time, Mr. Tzetzis gathered us all together and said, “I don’t know if you’ve heard…” My stomach immediately sank. He told us about the senseless violence that had occurred earlier that day at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Immediately, led by the priest at Holy Trinity, we prayed the Trisagion Service together for the victims. Mr. Tzetzis reminded us afterward that when we pray, we are praying simultaneously with the angels, the saints, the departed, and our Lord. They are all present with us everywhere and always in the reality of our one-story universe.

While I originally debated about attending the retreat, I’m overjoyed that I went. The power of the lifelong friendships you form and the spiritual refocusing you experience at OCF events is not to be underestimated. Yes, we have homework, jobs, hobbies, other student organizations, and every other worldly distraction you can think of. Despite these distractions, please always take the opportunity to attend OCF events, including but not limited to your regional and district retreats, College Conference, and Real Break. I promise you, whatever you give to OCF and to the Church, even if it is only your time, attention, and presence, you will receive back multiplied.


My name is Demetra Chiafos. I am currently a third year at The Ohio State University, where I am the secretary of our OCF chapter and am pursuing a dual degree in dance and the Japanese language. Two fun facts about me are that I play the piano and I love writing short stories and novels!

 

You Have to Ask Yourself the Hard Questions

You Have to Ask Yourself the Hard Questions

Last night I registered for my region’s regional retreat. It got me thinking about this year’s OCF theme: “Who do you say that I am?”

In context, the theme comes from Matthew 16:13-16. Take a moment to think about it.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

St. Peter takes the ultimate leap of faith, declaring Jesus as the Messiah. Thousands of years of Jewish tradition were fulfilled by the Person he was looking in the face. Peter did not know about the Resurrection or how his life would go, but in that moment he knew Jesus Christ was and is God. “Who do you say that I am” is an expression and confession of faith; it’s an opportunity, it’s an invitation, it’s a way of life, and it’s an inspiration. 

Let’s turn the attention personally. Who do YOU say that Jesus is? Yes you can ‘say’ He is God, but do you really live in that way? Do you know who He is? Can you even say who you are?

Ask yourself this hard question. Who do you believe Jesus is? If you don’t know, great; that’s an opportunity to grow in your faith. If you do know, do you act like you know who He is?

Jaroslav Pelikan talks about the duality in the reality of Christ. He says, “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen-nothing else matters.” 

There are two possibilities that his argument creates. If Christ is risen, then we have nothing to fear. Then we can know our Creator. We know His life, His sacrifice, and His love. Are you leading and living your life in the reality that Christ is truly Risen? Orthodoxy in its beginning was not a religion; it was and is “the Way” that people follow to get to know God.

Let’s look at the alternative, very nihilistic in essence. If Christ is not risen, that means we are still bound by death. That sin and brokenness don’t matter. It means that people are fallen, and there is nothing we can do it about it. It means that we can’t be refashioned into the image and likeness of God.

Who do you say that He is? Think about this question, and develop an answer because you will be called to answer that question either in this life or the next. Confess and live your faith.

And honestly, if you feel like you are losing faith, transform that feeling into an opportunity to learn more and ask why. St. Peter here confesses that Jesus as the Messiah,  during Christ’s crucifixion he denies Christ three times. Yet St. Peter repented and became one of the greatest evangelists in history, the rock on which Christ built His church.  Doubt and fear are a part of our fallen nature, but they can be a chance to grow spiritually.

“Who do you say that I am?” Who do you say that you are?”

Ask. Grow. Repeat.

Harry Potter and the Fight Between Good and Evil

Harry Potter and the Fight Between Good and Evil

A photographer can make an ordinary scene extraordinary, because they have an eye trained to see beauty. The beauty of Orthodoxy can be seen in the seemingly disconnected pieces of arts and culture. Some people consider the Harry Potter series to be inconsistent with Christianity because of their themes of witchcraft and violence, but in my opinion, the books happen to be very Orthodox in nature.

The main premise of the book is the classic archetype of good versus evil. However, J.K. Rowling is genius in her analysis and understanding of where ultimate good and ultimate evil come from. Harry is the symbol of ultimate good whereas his counterpart, Voldemort (or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named for the more squeamish) symbolizes and commits acts of ultimate evil.

The two are inextricably linked but fundamentally opposed. This imagery parallels the imagery of passions. Human passions and virtues are two sides of the same coin. For example, the passion of pride and the virtue of humility both involve the perception of the self, one being a twisted over-inflation rooted in self-love and the other being a deep, truthful self-knowledge based in love of others respectively. Harry and Voldemort are both inextricably linked and even spiritually linked, but they fundamentally differ in one aspect: LOVE.

Harry Potter was able to love, and that was the source of his goodness. Voldemort was physically incapable of love and that inspired his evil. There’s the Orthodoxy, the basis of all good is Love, and in turn, God! 

Harry Potter is born into a life of sacrificial love and is magically protected for years by the sheer power that his mother’s sacrifice provided for him. She commits the ultimate sacrifice and in that, surrounds Harry in her love and protects him from harm. Think of the power in Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. His sacrifical love destroys even death itself. There is a God-given power in self-sacrifice that literarily manifests itself into a powerful force in a magical dimension.

Voldermort on the other hand, turns to dark magic in a desperate and contorted attempt at self-preservation. He splits his soul seven times and in the process, loses his humanity in his hubris. Voldemort loses his personhood because he engulfs himself in sin and is unable to love.

Harry had guidance and care from a more experienced and wise wizard, Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore guided Harry in his pursuit of conquest against Voldemort and his associates. Dumbledore is like Harry’s spiritual father, guiding him and helping him minimize foreseeable obstacles. However, Dumbledore is not perfect, because he too, is human.

Harry finds familial love with his best friends, Ron and Hermoine. They never leave his side, are not afraid to tell him the truth, and fully support him in his endeavor. Harry loves them and fights hard for them against all odds.

Harry is victorious in his battle against evil because of one thing: his self sacrifice. In love, Harry voluntarily gives up his life for the lives of others, and in that, actually receives new life. In the story, he literally comes back from the dead from his self-sacrifice and that allows him to defeat Voldemort. Love is what the story boils down to, and we can use the story to better understand the power of love in an anecdotal way. But let’s turn back to The Book, the Bible, and its knowledge about love:

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. – John 4:16

Understanding that God has infinite love for us, and living it are two different things. How can we really live in God? It all starts with habits. The church fathers prescribe three things to help us develop a spiritual life and allow the Holy spirit come into our souls. Those three things are: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. When we pray we talk to God, and we build our relationship. When we fast we work on our commitment to God and our spiritual strength. And when we give out alms, we participate in God’s love by sharing it with other people. These are the starting suggestion for living in love and living in God. Living in love begins when we begin to see God in our relationships with other people. Harry Potter was good at understanding the sacrificial love that his friends and family exemplified. Harry, despite all odds, growing up in an awful household still finds the strength to live in love, and that becomes his source of strength.

Harry Potter wasn’t perfect. He was able to love and be loved and despite his weaknesses he was strong. For us, God is our source of strength and when we love, we are strengthened by His mercy. I challenge you to see how in our world, goodness comes from love and evil comes from the lack of it. If someone committing an act of violence truly loved the other person, would they dare touch a finger to the other person?

The next time you find yourself in a fight against evil, there is no need to fear, because if you are focused on Christ’s love, He will grant you the strength to defeat it! Live in love, and God will live in you.

Sometimes the Best Words You Can Say Are Tears

Sometimes the Best Words You Can Say Are Tears

A few years ago, I had the life changing experience of seeing a weeping icon. When I got home I couldn’t stop talking about it. I told all my friends, even those who were not Orthodox. Predictably, a few of my friends didn’t understand. Some told me I was being deceived, others thought I was going crazy. One friend went to the lengths of sending me an article about a Catholic Church that had a statue of Jesus with water coming out, and it was later discovered it was a plumbing problem. I said, “But this is myrrh! If myrrh was running through pipes to an icon not connected to any pipes or the wall we have a problem.”

My friend said, “Okay prove it, did you take a video?” I told her I had not but then followed up with a personal story:

The experience was that one of the girls with me had also doubted. I remember her saying, “There is no way this is real.” I did everything in my power to convince her otherwise, but to no avail. We agreed to disagree, and went to bed, as we were at camp. The next morning, we woke up and our cabin smelled very strongly of myrrh. We were all so confused, the smell couldn’t have been from the night before, there was no way.

The icon was titled the Kardiotissa, or the tender heart, and we had all received paper copies. One of the girls reached into her cubby and felt a drip, “Uh, I thing the ceiling is leaking.” I told her that was impossible because it hadn’t rained in three days.

For some reason my doubtful friend who was unusually quiet, whispered, “It’s not leaking. But this is.” She held up her paper icon, and myrrh started running off the paper. All of us gathered around. Her paper icon was weeping. Needless to say, she believed after that, but my school friend was still skeptical.

She asked, “Okay, then tell me why the mother of God was weeping, she’s in heaven right? Shouldn’t she be happy?”

At the time I hadn’t necessarily thought about it that much. The answer I gave went something along the lines of, “to show God’s presence in our lives.” But that question had always bothered me.

Fast forward to a few months ago, when I got a call that one of my good friends from camp had passed away. I was heartbroken. In every church service I cried. When we got to the cherubic hymn I would become infuriated because we sang “let us lay aside all earthly cares”. Well, I didn’t want to lay aside my earthly care. I wanted to be with my friend, in fact in church I knew he was there in the kingdom of heaven with me, but it frustrated me that I couldn’t reach out and hug him. He could see me, but I couldn’t see him. My mom was a real champ during that period of time, she just let me cry and gave me many hugs during church. I was even frustrated with St. Raphael, of whom I pray to every single day to watch over my friends. I didn’t know how this could have happened (St. Raphael and I have since made amends). The only thing I found comfort in was holding my paper icon of the Kardiotissa, because my friend was with me when we got them, and he too had one. That was when I felt closest to him.

One day, I looked at the beautiful icon, and I remembered the name–the Tender Heart, in this the virgin Mary is holding Jesus giving him a kiss. The Theotokos was a mother, a mother who watched her Son die. She lived an amazing life. But she was a mother. She is our mother. The Theotokos sees us weeping, and when a mother sees that her child is in pain she seeks to help them. The Theotokos, the mother of God, the Tender Heart, she was with my friend in the kingdom of heaven. I remembered in the Bible when Jesus went to see Lazarus when he had died, and He was moved by all of the friends of Lazarus crying, and He wept.

I remember texting that friend after I had come to this realization. I said, “I know why!” She of course assumed I was psychotic, and said, “You know why?” I said, “Do you remember a few years ago when you asked me why the mother of God was weeping, well I know. She is moved by our sadness, she is a mother in pain watching her children hurt. She weeps because we weep. The presence of this weeping reminds us that she hasn’t left our side, she is weeping with us.” There finally became a day where I didn’t break down crying because I saw his favorite color, or because I heard the cherubic hymn. Now I smile, knowing he is in the Lord’s hands.

Through our weeping, and through our mourning we connect to the mother of God, and she helps us because we are her children. When we feel most alone, the Theotokos is weeping with us. Through weeping and mourning we can begin to heal, what we feel has been broken.

Everything must be broken, to be put together and beautifully reinvented by God. When we are broken, bruised, shattered, hurting, and weeping, the Theotokos is watching. Through her intercessions to the Lord, we start to heal. She prays for us because we are her children. She laughs with us, sings with us, hurts with us, and weeps with us. The miracle of weeping is that we are never doing it alone. When we get lost, we are taught to find the motherly figure to go to. She is our mother, and when we are lost and in a state of mourning, she will help redirect us, and guide us.

We must find her and weep with her. For our heavenly mother and Father will never leave us to mourn alone. They are always by our sides. I pray that her tender heart will continue to help me in time of need, and weep with me. She is our mother, and she loves us as her own. “As ordered, therefore, this do I shout to you: Rejoice, O Maiden who are full of grace” (“Theotokion,”  Akathist to the Mother of God)!”


I am Evyenia Pyle. I am freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I am majoring in Speech and Hearing Sciences with double concentrations in neuroscience of communication and speech-language pathology. This year I am the Central Illinois District Student Leader! I love to sing, especially byzantine chant. I play a lot of instruments including guitar, bass, piano, and more. I have two amazing dogs, they are my pride and joy. I am so excited to be contributing to the OCF blogs this year!

5 Spiritual Books for Chapter Study

5 Spiritual Books for Chapter Study

In addition to topical discussions and Bible study, we think reading a book (or excerpts from a book) as part of your OCF meetings is a great way to grow spiritually and start a great discussion! Here are a few of our favorite books that we think you could read as a chapter. They’re great for reading as part of your own prayer rule or during a lenten period, too. Click on the images to purchase the books on Amazon!

The Way of the Pilgrim

The Way of the Pilgrim

Author: Anonymous

Length: 264 pages

What you can expect: An unnamed Russian pilgrim hears in church one day that he should, “pray without ceasing,” so he travels around on foot seeking wisdom on how to pray, specifically the Jesus Prayer

Why you should read it: The Way of the Pilgrim is a great introduction to the Jesus Prayer. It teaches you how to begin to pray not only in a monastic setting, but in many manners of living. Plus, it’s all told in an easy-to-read narrative style that feels like you’re reading a novel.

The Spiritual Life and How to Be Attuned to It

Spiritual LifeAuthor: St. Theophan the Recluse

Length: 320 pages

What you can expect: Short letters from St. Theophan to a young woman about how to cultivate her inner life and live virtuously amidst the worldliness and debauchery of the society around her

Why you should read it: St. Theophan is basically writing to a college student, and his advice is practical while challenging you to really take stock of who you are and why you do the things you do. It’s also great because the letters are super short–you could read one or two during a meeting, and even if you didn’t make it through the whole book, it would be worth it!

Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives

ThoughtsAuthor: Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

Length: 212 pages

What you can expect: The biography and teachings of Elder Thaddeus, a 20th century elder from Serbia who emphasizes how important our thoughts are to our entire spiritual life and outlook on others

Why you should read it: Elder Thaddeus has a great way of focusing our attention on how the demons misdirect us by influencing our thoughts and how we can reorient ourselves toward Christ through prayer. It’s great for a chapter book study because his teachings are organized by topic, so you could choose a particular one to focus on for a few weeks like “On Thoughts” or “On Love.”

Wounded by Love

WoundedAuthor: St. Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia

Length: 253 pages

What you can expect: The biography and teachings of one of the most recently canonized saints with tons of practical advice on prayer and dealing with difficult situations as well as lots of amazing miracle stories

Why you should read it: St. Porphyrios died in 1991, so the people he counsels throughout the book are not too different from you and me! His message of gentleness encompasses both our treatment of others and also our own spiritual lives. Like Elder Thaddeus, he covers a variety of topics in short sections so you can pick and choose what to read if you can’t cover the whole book in a semester.

Fr. Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father

Fr ArsenyAuthor: Alexander (last name not given)

Length: 277 pages

What you can expect: An incredible biography of a priest living in a Soviet prison camp

Why you should read it: Few other books can describe the life of a saint perfected through suffering like this one. This book is packed with the miraculous and transformative work of an incredible spiritual father. His love and devotion to God and to others, no matter their station, personality, or sins all in the midst of his own great suffering will inspire you to follow in his footsteps.