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.