Overcoming Darkness in College

Overcoming Darkness in College

by Elias Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

Elias Anderson

Elias Anderson

Guest Author

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

From the Beyond: Life Post-OCF

From the Beyond: Life Post-OCF

Hello from the beyond! The scary unknown that is post grad, the uncharted territory of working adulthood.

An update: Upon graduating from Pitt and passing on the OCF baton, I embarked on a new great adventure. I am spending the next two years as a teaching fellow with the Alliance for Catholic Education (which you should all check out: ace.nd.edu) and am spending the next two years teaching middle school language arts in Mobile, AL while pursuing my Masters of Education from Notre Dame.

Though I’m still a novice at this working thing, I’d like to reflect and share with you some humble thoughts.

1. You’re probably going to spiritually struggle more.

College is hard, no doubt. I don’t need to tell you that. Being on your own and navigating your relationship with God, establishing a personal faith life, etc. all the things OCF warns you about and supports you through are valid struggles. But that’s the thing — OCF is there for you. You have a support team, a lifeboat of other Orthodox college students captained by a spiritual or lay advisor who help you navigate the turbulent waters of college.

When you leave OCF, you leave the lifeboat. You’re now aboard your own little dinghy, all alone, still not really sure how to sail the waters. If you’re like me, you’ve moved WAY far from home or anyone you know. This is another huge change in your life, but without the structure, comfort, and help of OCF.

2. That being said, OCF will still help.

OCF has gifted you with an arsenal of friends, mentors, and resources. Use them! Reach out to your friends when you struggle, those who have gone before you and have this whole working thing under their belt, those who are also experiencing it for the first time, and those still in the safety of senior year. Reach out to your chapter spiritual advisor, a speaker you particularly enjoyed. Admit you are struggling and embrace it! The soil is fertile for growth, all you need to do is nurture it. You’re going to be changing and growing in so many ways — don’t neglect your spiritual struggles and changes but give them the tools they need to flourish.

3. Love God, and love your neighbor.

Maybe this is more Emma – specific advice, as I spend my days with a hormonal group of 60 middleschoolers. Sometimes, it’s really hard to love them. Like, really hard, especially when they ask you to go to the bathroom for the fifteenth time that day after you already said no the first fourteen times.. No matter what field you go into, you’re probably going to have to work with people you’ll struggle to love. In college, you often have more choice about the groups with which you surround yourself — your roommates, study buddies, club members. In work, not so much. You might not like your boss or your co-workers. But, you have to love them. And don’t just love them because you have to, because it’s a a commandment. Really try. Get to know them. Find Christ within them. In doing so, you will find Christ within yourself. And your work life will be a whole lot easier.

And of course, never forget God. Pray. Love. Give glory and thanks. In a way, we always talk about the things that change in our life — college, working, where we live, who are friends are — but it’s so much simpler than that. The one thing in our life that never changes is Christ and His love for us. So, while you’re in the midst of these crazy changes, remember the constants. And you will be just fine.


Emma is the former chairman of the OCF SLB. After graduating from Pitt, Emma joined the Alliance for Catholic Education as a Teaching Fellow. She currently lives in Mobile, AL where she teaches middle school language arts and is pursing her Masters of Education from Notre Dame.

My OCF Story | Vanessa Constantinidis

My OCF Story | Vanessa Constantinidis

In this series, “My OCF Story,” alumni share their experiences from their time in OCF and its impact on their transition and life in the post-grad real world.

Hello OCF community! My name is Vanessa Constantinidis and I am a former OCF Student Leadership Board member. I received both my undergraduate degree, in English & Italian, and my graduate degree, in Writing Studies, from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA. I currently work as the Associate Director of Admissions at Hellenic College Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, MA.

Perhaps my most memorable OCF experience was Real Break. My Real Break trip was not only a remarkable memory from OCF, but in life in general! In March 2014, I embarked on my Real Break journey to Romania where I had the opportunity to form relationships with other Real Break students, as well as, orphans, disabled children, elderly, and abused mothers of the Pro-Vita community. I recognized that this trip would impact me, however, I did not realize how my life would forever be changed due to the experiences I was given and the people I had the opportunity to meet.

Throughout our time with the Pro-Vita community, our group grew very close to one of the mothers. She had told us that she had not received communion in years because she was very scared of going to confession. The next day, after many of the Real Break students partook in the sacrament of confession—I saw her walk up to do the same. She later told us that we gave her the strength to go to confession and receive communion, and it was such a remarkable moment that I’ll never forget.

There are two places in the world where I’ve seen my Orthodox faith come to life in the purest form: my metropolis summer camp and in a remote little town in Romania called Valea Screzii. What do they have in common? In both environments, life is simple and Christ is in the center. Valea Screzii is a little piece of Heaven on Earth and all the love and faith in the community can truly move mountains.

I knew participating in OCF would enhance my spiritual life in college and give me the opportunity to connect with other Orthodox Christians—but I didn’t expect it to have as much of an impact as it has on my post-grad life. My involvement in Real Break and the Student Leadership Board, in particular, opened my eyes, not only to the spiritual and social benefits of OCF—but also the professional gains.

Fundraising for my Real Break trip just seemed like a means to an end at the time, but it equipped me with invaluable skills for my career in the non-profit world and in graduate school. Raising funds for my trip involved many speaking engagements, writing personalized letters to communities and donors, and building long-lasting relationships with people who believed in the mission of what I was doing. These skills allowed me to excel in grant writing courses in graduate school, and continue to assist within my role in admissions where I am regularly public speaking and building relationships with students. Additionally, serving as a member of the Student Leadership Board instilled team-building and leadership skills in me, and showed me that a group of young college students can come together and change the world.

It’s so important to join OCF in college because you never know where it may lead you! It’s crazy looking back at my first OCF meeting, where I joined simply because I wanted to have in-depth conversations with other Orthodox Christian students. Jumping forward to now—where my involvement with OCF has led me to working for the Church. I know that wherever my career leads me, I will always have OCF to thank for showing me how to live a balanced life with Christ in the center.

Get involved with OCF in any way you can and whatever way you feel comfortable (I would obviously suggest a Real Break trip or applying to be on the SLB). OCF has the power to shape your spiritual, personal, and professional growth—if you let it. Also, never stop praying.


Vanessa Constantinidis, a Philadelphia native, holds an undergraduate degree in English and Italian and a graduate degree in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA. After several years of working in international education, and in admissions for her alma mater—her love for counseling students and her Greek Orthodox faith led her to Hellenic College Holy Cross in Brookline, MA, where she currently serves as the Associate Director of Admissions. When she has free time, she loves reading, writing, exploring different cities in the U.S., or planning her next international trip.

Life Rants & Girls’ Night | Spiritual Companionship

Life Rants & Girls’ Night | Spiritual Companionship

Among my group of girlfriends, the subject of spiritual fathers has come up a lot lately–how to build a relationship with a priest enough to be able to confide in them, confession with priests, reaching out, etc. It’s been a topic of conversation and anxiety for a while, especially as we get increasingly busier with our lives and search for spiritual guidance.

Flashback about three weeks ago. I was talking to a close friend of mine among the said group. I called her to catch up but I admittedly had an ulterior motive. I was having a life-transition crisis and I needed to vent it out. I knew she would offer the perfect guidance as a friend, fellow Christian, and a critic to tell me I needed to chill out–which I very much needed. My rant to her was a flurry of stress and worry over every little decision I had made in the past month. Whether I made the right school choice, career aspirations, why the heck I left Texas (best country out there), etc. etc. (there were a lot of et ceteras). It was a life update turned into a storm of stress and worry and anxiety over every little thing. As I was venting through all this, I did begrudgingly acknowledge that I was worrying about it way more than I was praying about it. I had been so caught up in analyzing of all of it that I just could not get out of my head enough to take a step back and turn to God. Come to think of it, as worried as I was, I did have to admit that I had gotten some cool opportunities since starting school and even got a job opportunity that I would have never gotten if I hadn’t moved. In fact, there were a lot of moments over the past month that were little blessings to keep me going, even though I hadn’t thought to focus on them.

As I was talking this out (I’m very much a talk-it-out person, down to calling my sister at the grocery store about whether to get Ben & Jerry’s or Talenti), my friend laughed.

“You know I had a wise friend once tell me that when things get overwhelming, you just need to step back and P.R.A.Y. And you literally just did that, but backwards.”

The P.R.A.Y. acronym stands for Praise, Repent, Ask for others, and then for Yourself. What’s ironic is that I was the one who had told her about that method (can’t take all the credit; shout out to Gigi Shadid, 2012 CSR Winter Camp speaker). And she was right–I basically used the P.R.A.Y. method but backwards, choosing to count my blessings last instead of first. It was a funny full-circle moment as I sheepishly consented to my backwardness of thought.

Fast forward to a week or two later during our girls’ night discussion. Our topic was spiritual fathers since it had been on all of our minds (this is what we read if you want to know). Throughout the course of our conversation, we came to the realization that, in a way, we were all each other’s spiritual advisors. Don’t get me wrong–friends do not by any means replace a clergy advisor. But we realized that there are a lot more people surrounding us who are leading us on the Path than we really saw because we were so focused on the idea of a “spiritual father” alone, not realizing the countless ways we were advising and guiding each other spiritually.

So here’s my take-away for you. Lean on each other for spiritual guidance and companionship, friends. The people you surround yourself with, whether through OCF or other means, will have more of an impact on you than you realize, and taking this life journey with them makes it so much more comforting and doable. After all, it is said that you come to emulate the five people you spend the most time with. Think of who those five people are and whether you would be proud to reflect them. For me the answer is thankfully a resounding yes.


Hibbah Kaileh is a graduate student at George Washington University studying global security policy. She served as the South Student Leader on the 2015-2016 Student Leadership Board. Among her many talents is the ability to voraciously devour a novel (usually Harry Potter) or a Netflix series (usually The Office) in the span of a few days.

District Retreat Reflection | It Refreshed My Soul

District Retreat Reflection | It Refreshed My Soul

As I was driving up to Oklahoma City last Saturday night for the Oklahoma/Arkansas OCF retreat, I remember thinking only of all of the work that I had to do. Physics labs, Physiology Exams, and the constant panic attack that is Anatomy at OU were swirling around in my brain as I tried to justify attending this event to myself. I certainly felt an obligation as the secretary of my chapter, and I also felt a certain pull, a pull similar to the one that gets me into church even on my most overwhelmed Sundays.

At the same time, I couldn’t help thinking that such an event was bound to be rather a waste of time, with little to nothing accomplished (it should be noted here that I am a VERY goal-oriented person. It’s scary, really). At the same time, I could acknowledge to myself that I had never felt this way back in high school when GOYA events rolled around. I had always looked forward to those evenings with anticipation, knowing that I would spend a pleasant evening, laughing and talking with friends that had become very important to me.

And again, driving along the empty, pitch-black Oklahoma highway, I felt the familiar sinking in my stomach when I thought of home and my wonderful church friends there. We spend our childhoods growing close to a small group of people that attend the same church. We develop our “Orthodox legs” with them, we go to Sunday school, corn mazes, and movies with them, hang out at each others’ houses, and maybe even date some of them throughout our high school years. They become a network that makes itself an additional emotional tie to our home parish.

When we go to college, though, if we go away like I did, that network ceases for nine long months every year. I, at least, have not developed the same emotional ties to the people in my OU OCF that I have to people back home. On a certain level, I don’t want to. I live for the summer Greek festival, Vacation Church School, times when everything goes back to the way it was before college.

Driving home from this retreat, however, I gradually became aware that I was happy to have made the long drive. I felt much the same as I used to driving home from GOYA on Saturday nights in high school: serene, peaceful, warm with the love of good friends. Even though we spent most of the evening playing Uno, the best part of which was definitely torturing the poor guy on my right with repeated skip cards and draw-twos, the entire night was infused with a sense of spirituality and closeness that is hard to capture during our busy, hectic weeks on campus.

The entire night was infused with a sense of spirituality and closeness

 – Tweet this!

More than that, though, this retreat had the camaraderie that is achieved when Orthodox people get together anywhere. Our Orthodoxy is a bond that we can feel even when we don’t know each other very well. I felt as though I was better acquainted with some of the people there after three hours than I am with some of my friends at school whom I have sat next to all semester. There is an ease that is hard to achieve with any other group of people. I was pleased that we were able to do a service project as well, making hygiene kits for IOCC.

Basically, I guess that what I am trying to get at here is that many of us miss our home parishes and our friends there terribly. While I don’t think that can be replicated in the same way, I do think that retreats like this allow us to recreate, at least ephemerally, those emotional, people-oriented ties that help to link us to the church.

I remember a friend of mine (from church, of course) back in St. Louis telling me how much easier it was for him to come to church on Sundays when all of the out-of-city college students came back than during the school year. Of course, we should be going to church for its own sake, and you will certainly never hear me say otherwise. However, we are made to be social and to love each other, and this love certainly does help to bring us to church. After all, we are weak and human.

And so, I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended this retreat. For me, it temporarily brought back my sense of those emotional ties, and refreshed my soul and sense of belonging to the church. Which, of course, is the entire point.


Clare Vogt is a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma, majoring in Nursing/Pre-med. She is from St. Louis, which she will tell absolutely anyone with great enthusiasm. She is the secretary of the OU OCF chapter, and can usually be found enjoying long walks or reading 19th century British literature in her spare time.

The Church Is Not a Wish Granting Factory

The Church Is Not a Wish Granting Factory

As an Orthodox Christian I have learned many difficult lessons in my life, the first and foremost being that, in the words of John Green, “The Universe” or God “is not a wish granting factory”. I have struggled my entire life with severe mental illnesses namely: depression, anxiety, and anorexia nervosa. I have spent my fair share of nights praying with honest tears streaming down my cheeks to be healed but have never woken up to be so. I have had uncomfortable occasions where various Christians have insisted upon laying hands on me and trying to heal me with the power of Christ. As you may have guessed, this is not a story about how I prayed and God took away my mental illness. This is a story of how I am living, as a person of faith, with mental illness.

Last spring, I was in a rough spot. I became antisocial and depressed, I never wanted to get out of my bed, and the eating disorder I had developed in high school reared its ugly head. During this period I decided to start saying the Paraklesis every night before bed. I was inspired by the miracle-working icon I had seen at College Conference that year and I wanted more than anything to have this burden of depression taken away. I planned on doing the prayer service for forty days straight, and I expected to watch my life slowly improve until everything became “normal”. Instead, I watched everything fall apart. Plans fell through, fellow classmates in college died, and I was drowning in an ocean of sadness that I no longer wanted to swim in. It was dark, and by God’s grace I am still here.

If you had asked me then why I was bothering to pray the Paraklesis when clearly the Theotokos wasn’t helping me out, I couldn’t have given you an answer. Now, after months of looking back at this period with anger in my heart towards God and the Theotokos I realized how much the Paraklesis saved me. Every night I prayed. Despite what had happened during the day and despite how much I wanted to disappear, I still prayed. I wanted the Theotokos to save me from the things going wrong in my life, ignoring that she was already saving me from myself. I didn’t see that the church was helping me, and in the following months I distanced myself from God and stopped praying all together. Unsurprisingly, these past few months of my life have been marked by some of the worst depressive episodes I have ever had. Things were dark, but what made this period far worse than last spring was my separation from the church and community.

I can’t tell you I’m a perfect person now, nor can I tell you that my struggles with mental illness have turned me into a pious individual. But I can tell you that my darkest days were spent away from the church. The easiest way to hurt yourself is to separate yourself from God. If you are not running towards God, then you are running towards death. Please, run with me into the light. Do not let the Devil convince you that solitude will bring you anything but misery. Let us learn to praise God in the darkness as we wait for the sunrise.

From the morning watch until night, from the morning watch, let Israel hope in the Lord


An anonymous guest post for the OCF blog.

My OCF Story: Jackie Homyk

My OCF Story: Jackie Homyk

Stop. Reflect how OCF has impacted you. This was what I was asked to do. So many joys have come to the forefront of my mind while contemplating this. Here are some notes regarding my experiences with OCF:

It’s safe to invite my friends.

One of my favorite moments from a retreat was when a girl I had just met, who wasn’t Orthodox, told me how loved and accepted she felt by everyone. “No one makes me feel weird for not being Orthodox. Everyone is so loving and accepting here.” Where else can you go where you can experience such a saturation of Christ’s love? Church, definitely, but OCF is always an incredible encouragement and consistent reminder that Christ is among His people. He is so living, relevant, and more than able to heal our deepest wounds.

All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. –1 Cor 16:20

It has reminded me of how I can serve.

14718593_1190670811011319_4955862016579920276_nHaving grown up attending small OCA churches, sometimes I felt like I had no voice as a youth. This often frustrated me because it made me feel underestimated. I knew I had abilities, and I wanted to serve God and have my ideas heard. Maybe that was just the inward teenager saying, “I MATTER TOO! Don’t I?” Yet, to this day I have never attended a church meeting. (I’m working on it.) I’m sure I’m not alone.

OCF really does provide youth with an opportunity to turn ideas into action, by providing leadership opportunities and putting together some incredible service projects at College Conference East and on the more local level, like the Southeast Regional Retreat WorkDaze. Through these opportunities, I have been re-enlightened with the vision of what the Church should be and, in return, can bring it back to my parish. (The youth from my parish are now making prayer ropes and cookies to help with an upcoming outreach in my hometown! Even some OCFers offered to help!)

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. –1 Tim 4:12

It has sustained my confidence in the spiritual health of the Church.

Being exposed to so few Orthodox youth my age, I was convinced that the Church was going to die out, and I was pretty depressed about it, rightfully so. Seeing so many youth my age for the first time at the Southeast WorkDaze Retreat made my heart swell up with so much joy! I can’t even put it into words. I remember some of the first encounters I had and, looking back, I realize they are now some of my absolute closest friends. God will never let His Church be shaken!

Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. –Psalm 62:2

It has made me bolder about sharing my faith.

I know I was one of two Orthodox on my college campus. Dang. Talk about rough. However, OCF gave me a huge platform to talk about my faith, invite friends, and share what I had been learning with those I knew at school. So, even though my campus never had an official OCF, the ministry was still impacting my campus! I am so thankful for all of the encouragement my OCF friends have given me. It helps not feeling like an island when you are surrounded by thousands of people. I could always point to OCF and say, “Look! I’m not crazy! Other people believe this too! They even know how to Greek and Arabic dance!”

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. –2 Cor 3:12

It makes the Church accessible and assists in the great commission.14859693_1190670451011355_9131035931749601605_o

OCF enables us as college students to make an incredible impact for the Gospel of Christ on our campuses and in the world! (Yes, the world. Think about it. Most campuses have international students. Don’t they?) Think… College students are often solidifying their beliefs during this time of their life. We may be the only Bible they ever read! Thus, I urge you, live a life worthy of the calling of Christ and invite others to partake in the beauty of the Kingdom! It doesn’t matter if your classmate looks at you funny for inviting them to a small get-together, a meeting, or a retreat. Many are walking around waiting for someone to invite them in and accept them. Be of good courage! Christ is faithful.

God is faithful, by whom you were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. –1 Cor. 1:9

It has shown me how to live in one accord.

I LOVE praying with everyone. Besides praying in community, we live life together. We celebrate weddings and namesdays, weep with those who weep, and overall lift one another up with prayer and encouragement. I love getting to do phone call Bible studies or hearing a simple, “Hey, can you help me stay awake while driving?” phone call. We sometimes even do mini road trips to volunteer at festivals or attend in-state or out-of-state retreats and families open their homes graciously.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. –Phil 2:1-2

Final question: Is it worth taking time to cram in the projects to go on the next OCF retreat?

Yes.

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. –Jude 1:20-21

Glory to God!


14753380_1190671901011210_1108023965140041909_oNicole Homyk (Jackie), 22, is a recent Winthrop University graduate as of May 2016 with degrees in Special Education and Elementary Education. She is currently living in a retirement community by the South Carolina coast and will gladly host visitors! In her spare time, you may find her paddle boarding, speaking with international strangers, applying to graduate schools/missions opportunities, or babysitting for families that might have too many children.

Orthodox Music: The Carpatho-Russian Prostopinije

Orthodox Music: The Carpatho-Russian Prostopinije

We in the Orthodox Church are blessed to be surrounded by music during our worship. It is a real shame, in my opinion, that a number of our Western brethren ignore music as an essential part of worship. My violin professor once told me, “We as musicians have a direct line of communication to God, and so many churches ignore it!” We as Orthodox utilize this line to God so often that sometimes we take it for granted. We take it for granted that each of our different jurisdictions has its own unique music that they use to sing praises to the Holy Trinity. Each different style of Liturgical chant expresses the culture of the people who sing it, but the words, the prayer, across each jurisdiction is the same. The style of chant used in my diocese, the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese (ACROD), is called prostopinije. Prostopinije is a Slavonic word which simply means “plain chant.”

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Source: WikiMedia Commons

The plain chant is sung today not only in the ACROD, but also in many of the Byzantine Catholic Churches in the United States. This is because Byzantine Catholic Christians and Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Christians come from the same area of Europe, the southern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains in Central Europe. For all intents and purposes, both the Byzantine Catholics, who are also known as Greek Catholics, and the Orthodox serve exactly the same way. The only difference is that instead of commemorating an Orthodox Patriarch during services, Byzantine Catholics commemorate the Pope of Rome. The history of the people is extremely fascinating, but you could spend pages and pages discussing it. The important thing to know for our purposes is that both the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches from the Carpathian area sing prostopinije.

The oldest layers of the prostopinije have their roots in the Byzantine Chant which was brought to them by evangelizers from the Byzantine Empire. The people fell in love with this new religion and the chant that came with it. In the hands, or rather mouths, of the Slavic people, Byzantine Chant eventually evolved into the Znamenny Chant around the 11th Century. The Znamenny Chant then split into two main branches–the Northern branch of Moscow and the Southern branch of Kiev. It was the Southern branch of the Znamenny Chant that the Carpatho-Russian people used in their worship. After centuries of a number of influences, most notably folk music, the present day prostopinije took shape.

Kryuki

Source: WikiMedia Commons

The Znamenny Chant and the early chant of the Carpatho-Russians prior to the 17th Century used a type of notation known as neumatic notation. It is similar in style to the Byzantine notation in that it does not use the five-lined staff that is used in modern Western music. The Carpatho-Russians abandoned neumatic notation completely by the 17th Century in favor of Kievan square notation. This notation looked very much like modern music notation; it was on a five-lined staff and it had distinct note shapes. The major differences were that the notes are square shaped and the rhythmic values of the notes are different. The prostopinije was not written in modern notation until 1906 when a Byzantine Catholic priest by the name of John Boksaj compiled an anthology of the plain chant. Fr. Boksaj transcribed the melodies as they were sung by Joseph Malinich, the cantor of the Cathedral Church in Uzhorod, Ukraine. The book that was published was called Tserkovnoje Prostopinije, the Plain Chant of the Church. It was a groundbreaking work which brought this chant, which has its roots in the ancient Byzantine Chant, into the modern era.

The Carpatho-Russian plain chant is sung by the entire congregation. While it is led by a cantor, or sometimes a small number of cantors, the entire congregation sings. Congregational singing allows the involvement of every person in the worship. It is really an incredible thing to experience hundreds of people singing and praying together; each voice being heard as an individual and yet those voices combining as one prayer to God. The prostopinije, like its Byzantine predecessor, has eight tones. It follows the Octoechos cycle like the majority of other Orthodox Chants. It is written as monophonic music, music with a single melodic line, but in liturgical practice, people sing natural and unwritten harmonies which only add to its beauty and magnificence.

Personally, I have been singing the prostopinije for as long as I can remember. I started cantoring, as most other cantors, simply by singing the music over and over and over again. Singing the plain chant, not just as a cantor, gave me something to do during the services. Singing allowed me to participate in the work of worship in a way that I would not have been able to otherwise. It was the congregational nature of the plain chant which helped me grow in my faith and in my knowledge of the Church and her theology, because the hymns are nothing more than expositions on the Faith. Each Orthodox jurisdiction in America has its own beautiful chant, its own unique line to God. The line that the Carpatho-Russians use is prostopinije, a chant with echoes of the rustic Carpathian villages and the haunting melodies of Constantinople.

If you would like to listen to the prostopinije, please visit: http://www.acrod.org/multimedia/audio/liturgicalmusic/


OCFBlogPicture2Fr. Nicholas grew up in Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Danbury, CT where he graduated with his BS in Music Education from Western Connecticut State University. He recently completed his studies at Christ the Saviour Seminary in Johnstown, PA where he lives with his wife, Pani Stacey, and son, Cyril. He is a priest of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese.

Orthodox Music: Byzantine Chant

Orthodox Music: Byzantine Chant

Learn to chant, so that you may experience the sweetness of the work,  for those who chant are filled with the Holy Spirit. – St. John Chrysostom

The history of the Greek Orthodox Church can be described as a history of prayer through song. Following the ancient Greek philosophers, the Fathers of the Church recognized the profound impact music has on souls and adopted it as a tool of instruction and edification. The music of the Church came to be known as the Psaltic Art and later as Byzantine music. The latter term is indicative of the paramount significance of Byzantium-Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, in the genesis, growth, and development of this tradition.

Technical Aspects of Byzantine Music

Byzantine music is a strictly vocal, monophonic, a cappella tradition. In its fullest expression, it is performed antiphonally by two choirs standing at opposite sides of the solea. Each choir is comprised of a director (called Protopsaltis and Lampadarios for the right and left choirs respectively), a number of melodists who chant in unison, a number of isokratae who hold the ison, i.e. the fundamental note in a given melodic context, one or more soloists, a canonarch who intones the verses of the hymns, and a reader who recites or intones biblical pericopes and certain liturgical texts.

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Holy Cross St. Romanos the Melodist Byzantine Choir chanting at St. Spyridon Cathedral, Worcester, MA

The musical settings are composed in the four authentic and four plagal Byzantine modes, each of which has its own scale, tonic, structural notes, melodic contour, range, melodic formulae, etc. These characteristics lend each mode a particular feeling or expression. For example, the first mode is associated with joy in Christ’s Resurrection, the second mode with mild sorrow as well as fervent prayer, etc.

History of the Psaltic Art

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St. Ioannis Koukouzelis (c. 1270 – c. 1340)

The history of the Psaltic Art can be traced through the elaborate and majestic ceremonies in Hagia Sophia and other cathedrals and monasteries of the Eastern Roman Empire to the simple, unadorned hymns of the early Church. Initially, hymns were composed along with their own music, but after the emergence of Byzantine musical notation in the 10th century, composers started setting pre-existent texts to new music. Out of the approximately 1,000 known composers, two figures stand out for their remarkable proliferation and overall contribution to the development of psaltic compositional technique: St. Ioannis Papadopoulos Koukouzelis (13th-14th c.) and Petros the Peloponnesian (18th c.).

Becoming a Cantor

To become a cantor, one needs to study Byzantine notation, which is made up of neumes and other signs that are primarily derived from the Greek letters and diacritics. Being a cantor also presupposes intimate familiarity with the contents and usage of liturgical books and service rubrics. Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology offers a comprehensive training program that culminates in the awarding of a Certificate in Byzantine Music to students who have developed a mastery of the art. Additionally, formal instruction is offered at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, in schools of Byzantine music at several Metropolises of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and in numerous parishes throughout the United States.

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Setting of Pasapnoarion in the plagal first mode by Nicholas Roumas

The Liturgical Function of Chanting

While it is certainly meant to provide aesthetic pleasure to the listeners, the primary function of chanting is to make manifest the grace that resides in the sacred hymnology. Rather than being an art for the sake of art, Byzantine music is the ‘liturgical garment’ with which the poetic text of a hymn is vested. This liturgical aspect of music has a threefold purpose: first, to penetrate the soul of the faithful in a way that mere speech can’t and, by extension, to make the doctrines of the Church easier to instill in the hearts of the people; second, to expand and transform the words from means of exchange of information between humans to vehicles of communication between God and man; and third, to facilitate the sanctification of the praying community. According to Elder Timotheos Tzanis of Crete (1928-1991),

The cantor who chants with the grace of God is captured by the Holy Spirit, he does not live in this world, he ascends to the heavens! And he imparts this grace to the entire congregation! If only we had eyes to see the rays of light that come out of the cantor’s mouth and fall on the heads of the faithful!


Untitled4Dr. Grammenos Karanos is Assistant Professor of Byzantine Liturgical Music at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA and Director of the St. John of Damascus School of Byzantine Music of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston.

Orthodox Music: On Music and Silence

Orthodox Music: On Music and Silence

How can music improve our worship?

One of the most wonderful movies about Orthodox prayer is The Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, a documentary made by Fr. John McGuckin and Dr. Norris J. Chumley. It depicts the journey of two men who, following an ancient example of a monk, go from the Egyptian desert and Mount Sinai, to Greece, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia in search of people who still practice this prayer. They look for people who pray the Jesus prayer and struggle to converse inwardly with God. In each case the people following this mystical tradition seek solitude and are later found in the wilderness – the wilderness of desert, the watery wilderness, the wilderness of the woods and the wilderness of the frosty lands. The beautiful thing is the Jesus Prayer shapes their mystical dialogue and bears the signs of the wilderness where it occurs.

The reason I think this movie is relevant when talking about music and worship is that it offers a good analogy for the great variety of music that may be encountered in Orthodox worship–Arabic, Greek, Romanian, Georgian, Russian chant, etc. The chanting tradition in divine worship is shaped by its geographical context just as much as the musical context where it occurs–just like the Jesus Prayer. The desert, the waters, the woods, and the frost put a charming seal on chanting. What sounds good to the Greek ear will sound exotic to the Russian as will the Arabic Byzantine Chant to the Romanian, for example. What binds all these traditions together is the unity of faith, the shared dogmas, history and belief in the Savior Jesus Christ.

These various chanting traditions originated in synagogal singing and developed simultaneously in connection with different centers like Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, etc. When “imitating” the mother church became too difficult new chanting styles emerged most of the time taking the shape of the local musical traditions.

Dn. Teo leads the children of St. Herman's Orthodox School in chanting at a hierarchical liturgy at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Allston, MA

Fr. Teodor leads the children of St. Herman’s Orthodox School in chanting at a hierarchical liturgy at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Allston, MA

Romanian chant is a good example in this regard. Historically close to the Byzantine Empire and having great relationship with Constantinople, the Romanian chant followed the tradition of Byzantium and even after it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks took pride in continuing its legacy. Well known church choirs in Romania still try to emulate it to this day. In the western part of the country however, in the territory that was under the Austro-Hungarian occupation, the Orthodox Church suffered acerbic persecution, and the people were cut off from their brothers in the principalities of Moldova and Walachia who continued to worship using Byzantine chant. In order to preserve their ancient faith and traditions the Romanians living in Transylvania used the local musical tradition in divine worship, resembling more and more folk music rather than Byzantine chanting.

The significance of music in worship is immense. St. Basil the Great considers music to be a vehicle of dogma, comparing it to the honey used by physicians to sweeten medicine that otherwise would be hard to swallow. Music draws people together in worship and can channel different feelings and emotions  delivering them prayerfully to Christ. It can also help you retain your spiritual identity as we saw it helped the Transylvanians.

Worship is the highest destination that music, as a vehicle, can reach. Silence and stillness are the opportunity to rejoice in God’s response. If a monk can silently pray in a cave on mount Sinai, you can loudly worship with psalms in a city church. This dialogue with God is vital, and it is just as important that we don’t allow our prayer ropes to stay idle in the urban “wilderness” as it is for Russian monk to work on his salvation while living on permafrost.


Dcn. Teo

Fr. Teodor Anastasoaie teaches at St. Herman of Alaska Christian School in Allston, MA serves at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church which is part of the Bulgarian Diocese of USA, Canada and Australia and is passionate about Byzantine chant. He leads the Byzantine choir of the parish and is convinced that the best way to learn Byzantine chant is through increased participation in Church services.
God is Prayer: Keeping a Rule of Prayer

God is Prayer: Keeping a Rule of Prayer

Getting Started

Starting a rule of prayer can be quite intimidating–and keeping one quite discouraging. It helps when we understand that a rule of prayer (in Greek, κανόνας προσευχής) does not mean ‘do this or else’ or ‘follow this rule so you don’t get punished’. Κανόνας here means a measurement, more like a ruler than a rule. So a rule of prayer is a goal that we strive for each day which we believe, with the guidance of our spiritual father, is actually do-able. We are creatures of habit. Whether we are conscious of it or not we are continually developing either good or bad habits. Developing a habit of daily personal prayer is the best way to counteract the three giants (forgetfulness, laziness, and ignorance) which continuously seek to overcome us. Conversely, we can think of our prayer rule as our ‘tithe’ each day which we offer to the Lord so that He will bless the remainder of it. If even Jesus needed to go off alone and pray to His Father at set intervals, how much more do we need to do this as well?

 When should we pray?

This is something particular to each person and their daily schedule, however, the beginning and end of each day seem to work best. The Jews would bring ‘the first fruits’ of the harvest as an offering to the temple so that the Lord would then bless the remainder of their harvest. Similarly, we have the example of those in monastic life who arise at the very early hours of the new day to be alone with God, even before gathering together for common prayer. By praying when we first wake up (and by making ourselves go to bed at a reasonable hour so that we will get enough rest!) we prioritize our relationship with God over any other relationship or activity. Before the cares of each day rush in we turn to the Lord and surrender it into His capable hands. At the close of each day we can thank Him for all that has come about by His Divine Providence that day; ask His forgiveness for the specific ways in which we strayed from His Holy Will for us, and raise up before Him our concerns and wishes for  the morrow.

A spiritual father on the Holy Mountain once told a pilgrim, “If you pray ( specifically the Jesus Prayer) for one hour a day, in six months your life will be completely transformed.” Can we each find an hour a day to give the Lord? “I don’t have another hour in my day,” you respond. Let’s look at it this way. The saintly bishop Gerasimos from Holy Cross in Brookline once stated simply, “We can’t give to others what we haven’t first received from God.” In other words, we really can’t afford not to pray either if we want the Lord to bless our interactions throughout each day with others. St. John of Kronstadt even wrote in My Life In Christ that a half an hour of sincere prayer at night is worth three hours of sleep! Still not convinced? Try this. Keep a detailed log of what you do each day for one week.  Isn’t quality face-time with God more essential than all those hours of social mediating?

 

Black_prayer_bracelet_-_Komboskini_-_Chotki_-_Prayer_Rope

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

 

Okay, how does  this work?

The Lord taught us, “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” The Fathers of the Church tell us that what is most essential is that our prayer is sincere and from the heart. This doesn’t mean that we do not use prayers that others have written. It simply means that we need to focus our efforts on being real with God. Prayer starts with the lips, moves to the mind, and then moves on to the heart. When our minds wander (which they do continuously) we gently but firmly bring our attention back to the actual words we are praying. St. John of Kronstadt said for beginners that we should listen for a corresponding “echo” of understanding with each line of a prayer. At some point, when God wills, the prayer of the mind descends into the heart and we are more consciously aware of God’s presence and that He is communicating to us through each word. Then prayers become prayer.

What prayers should we be using?

Most good prayer rules have a combination of five sources: the prayers of the Church, the Psalter, Holy Scripture, noetic (single thought) prayer, and intercessory prayer. We use the prayers of the Church (which are mostly taken from the Divine services) since we are never praying in isolation from the Church even when we are all alone. These prayers, written by saints of the Church whose experience of God is more intimate than our own, act as signposts to safely guide us to approach the fearful throne of God with the right attitude. The psalms are the prayer book of the early Church and express every disposition of man in relation to God. By reading Holy Scripture, we open up our minds and hearts so the Lord can speak directly to us through the sacred texts. We also read the writings of the Holy Fathers which are all simply insightful and pastoral commentary on Holy Scripture. Noetic or contemplative prayer is the most powerful moment in our rule fulfilling the command to, “Be still and know that I am God.” Having acquired a boldness before God we end our pray rule by raising others up in prayer as their intercessors while asking the intercessions of the saints on our behalf.

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons

What is our goal?

Our goal is to be vanquished by God’s love in prayer. Our goal is to remember to not just say our prayers to get them out of the way but to allow ourselves through prayer to be reacquainted with our Maker and Savior each day and His immeasurable love for each of us. It is to receive our spiritual hug for the day in the Holy Spirit. We know our prayer rule is working when we don’t want to stop praying; when we feel the peace that comes from having handed our list of things that need to be accomplished that day over to Him. Our goal is to come to the transformative realization that even the thought to pray each day is already the awakening of our soul to the mystical presence of the Lord for He is the one who initiates prayer with us by giving us each day the thought to say our prayers. In the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa, “God is prayer,” because through prayer He takes up His abode in our hearts and rules as our King and our Lord. Come Lord Jesus!


DSC_0003A parish priest for twenty-two years, Fr. Theodore Petrides has served Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Stroudsburg, PA. for the past nineteen. He and Pres. Cristen have six children and two grandchildren (so far). He regularly travels in America as well as Greece (especially the Holy Mountain), Cyprus, and the Holy Land as a pilgrim, guide, and speaker. He has also taken six work groups to Project Mexico since 1999. He is very enthused about the staff and leadership board of OCF!

Navigating Adult Relationships Before Marriage

Navigating Adult Relationships Before Marriage

Today we present the third and last of three installments by Dr. Albert Rossi answering student’s questions on dating, marriage, and relationships. Click here to read his first installment, Why Do We Date? and Click here to read his second installment, Why Do We Abstain?

Let’s begin where we began two blogs ago. Christ is everything. The Cross is a difficult privilege. That’s for starters. I will also begin by asking you to listen to my wife singing a haunting song, Today, that is about human lovers and that we can hear as the relationship between Christ and ourselves. He is our most intimate relationship.

So, for this blog let’s reflect a bit on adult relationships. You are adults.

Here’s the bottom line question. Is it wrong to date people who aren’t Orthodox? Perhaps it’s not a matter of right or wrong. Perhaps it is not a matter of good or bad. Perhaps it is a matter of smart or not-so-smart. Dating is a process of finding a mate to marry. Well, marriage has many beautiful intersections, negotiations, and complications. For example, in-laws and finances and where we will live and sexual activity and social life, etc. It probably isn’t smart to factor in a difference of religion if it can be avoided. The real issue is children and how they will be raised. If there is a difference of religion from the get-go, children won’t come along for awhile and then it will be too late to understand what kinds of obstacles must be overcome for each partner to be fully satisfied with how the children are taught religion. As you can infer, I strongly suggest that you do your very best to limit your dating to Orthodox partners, in OCF or your home parish or someone you may meet on Real Break or wherever.

By the way, one basic question in dating is to ask yourself the question, “What kind of parent will this person make for our children?” And, please be careful that at the dating level, we typically see other persons in the very best light. When a couple gets serious, there is a natural tendency to project into the future about how the mate will be. When a couple is serious or engaged, they are rather delusional about the other. That’s OK. But, the tendency is to expect the good qualities in the partner to become better and the bad qualities to become less. Such is not the case. The good qualities in a serious relationship do enlarge as time goes on. But, so do the bad qualities. The bad qualities enlarge just as the good qualities do.

Beyond dating, we all have many different kinds of adult relationships: parents, roommate, acquaintances, classmates, adult relatives, etc. Is there any kind of guideline for this kaleidoscope of life?

"View of a kaleidoscope" - photo taken by H. Pellikka taken from WikiMedia Commons

“View of a kaleidoscope” – photo taken by H. Pellikka taken from WikiMedia Commons

To the extent that we can, we need to seek out relationships that give us strength and hope. We need to take initiatives to try to cultivate relationships that are a healing presence for us, and for whom we are a healing presence. Obviously, this isn’t easy. And, to the extent that we can, and is appropriate, we don’t need to spend undue time, if any, with those persons who take us down.

As guidelines, we need to be as authentic and as honest as we possibly can with all our relationships. The mask we wear, the persona, can block meaningful exchange of energy between others and us.  We gain vitality from meaningful relationships.

We are all imperfect and we are all enough, in God’s eyes. Yes, we are sinners but we are much more than that. We are His Beloved. He loves us as His children. Perfectionism in relationships can tarnish the quality of the relationship. Sometimes it helps to talk about our tendency towards perfectionism. Not all who read this blog have perfectionist tendencies, but I venture to say that most, most of you do. It goes with the territory of being human.

I did a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio entitled, “A Message for Youth on Sex.” The podcast goes about 45 minutes and is an expanded version of these blog posts. You can access that podcast by clicking here.

I’ll end where I began. Christ is everything. We can’t say that often enough. And, yes, the Cross is a difficult privilege. You heard my wife sing Today. We navigate all our relationships as best we can by staying in the Present Moment, by centering ourselves in stillness.

 


Dr. Rossi teaches courses in pastoral theology at SaiPhoto from SVSnt Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. He has written numerous articles on psychology and religion and published a book through Ancient Faith Publications entitled, Becoming a Healing Presence. He is a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of New York. Dr. Rossi has a brief, bi–weekly podcast on Ancient Faith Radio titled Becoming a Healing Presence.

 

 

Why Do We Abstain?

Why Do We Abstain?

Today we present the second of three installments by Dr. Albert Rossi answering student’s questions on dating, marriage, and relationships. Click here to read his first installment, Why Do We Date?

For dating Orthodox college students, this is probably the central question, “Why do we abstain from sexual activity until marriage?”   Many non-Orthodox college students don’t seem to abstain. Why should I?

To begin at the beginning, God invented sex for His good reasons. So sex is sacred, good. God knows what He is doing. He made human beings as male and female with a gravitational sexual desire for each other. But it is also true that sex only fits into human life within the context of real human life. We wouldn’t consider sex without some consideration of affection and love. Sex includes warmth, respect and mutual satisfaction. Basically, sex only fits into a context of commitment.

My wife and I, married for 19 years with two children, did what married people do. We made love, that is, we had sex. When we finished making love my wife would often say, “Al, let’s have a cup of tea.” I would say, “OK.” We got up, put on bathrobes, went downstairs and sat at the dining room table. I made the tea. The overhead Tiffany lamp, which I had made, was dimmed low. The time was 11:15 PM, the outside street was quiet and the two children upstairs were asleep. Those 15 minutes of tea-drinking were among the most precious times in my marriage.

 

Image from Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

I knew two things for certain. I knew, existentially, that I was loved. How did I know? I knew because of what that woman did upstairs with me. She gave herself totally to me. I also knew that I could love. All I had to do was look at her face. She was a happy camper. That’s all there is to life, to love and be loved because God is love.

So, I had it all during that “cup of tea.” I didn’t say, “I love you so much that if you get metastasized bone cancer and need me to cook a macrobiotic diet for you, and go to the oncologist with and for you, and serve your every need, I will do that for you.” I didn’t say it, but that’s what happened. She would have done the same for me. That’s why I define sex as a “cup of tea.”

Sexual activity needs a context, the context of a committed Christian marriage, an eternal agreement that I will be with you forever. Then, sexual activity has purpose and meaning.   Without the lifetime-committed context, sexual activity is vapid, empty, and meaningless, although at the time it may be “fun.” Sex outside a lifelong committed marriage leads to jealousy, anger, and eventually hatred. Expectations are dashed.

Why do we abstain? The strongest answer is the truth expressed in music. I ask you to relax and listen to my wife singing The First Time.

The first time is the reason we abstain. We abstain so that the first time is with our lifetime partner, someone we can deeply cherish and who deeply cherishes us. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be sexually active before marriage and experience the mystery of the act of making love fully. And, we can’t be cherished if we have given away our purity before marriage. Of course, we Orthodox believe in “second virginity” called repentance. But, the repentance path is much more difficult. So, please listen with your heart to my wife’s beautiful singing of The First Time.

Retaining one’s purity is not about not. Retaining one’s purity is a matter of getting an interior landscape that is as pure as can be on this planet. The Beatitudes say, “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.” They shall see God here and now, not only in heaven. The pure in heart can see God in the mirror because they know they are doing they are doing their best to preserve their inner fragrance, their inner innocence, their inner sweetness, for Christ and for the life He wants us to have, and for the life of the future children may have.


Dr. Rossi teaches courses in pastoral theology at SaiPhoto from SVSnt Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. He has written numerous articles on psychology and religion and published a book through Ancient Faith Publications entitled, Becoming a Healing Presence. He is a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of New York. Dr. Rossi has a brief, bi–weekly podcast on Ancient Faith Radio titled Becoming a Healing Presence.

Why Do We Date?

Today we present the first of three installments by Dr. Albert Rossi answering student’s questions on dating, marriage, and relationships.

I need to start where I always start, by saying the fundamental Orthodox truth, Christ is everything.

Jesus_Christ_-_Hagia_SophiaWe put everything in the context of Christ. One time a married woman said that, when she was dating, she was looking for someone who loved Christ more than her. She said she found someone and now is very happily married. I would submit her approach to dating as an approach that works. I would also say that your job is to become a person whom someone else can find, someone who loves Christ more than the potential mate. Of course, that’s hard. But, aren’t good things usually hard to go after and find?

So, why do we date? We date because Christ made us that way, to grow-up into Him, to have the peace and the joy and the happiness that we all want. We date because we want to find someone to love, cherish and give our soul and body to. We date because we want to find someone who wants the same thing. We date because we are looking for love, exclusiveness, and commitment.

We date because it is a God-given adventure, an exhilarating and sometimes terrifying risk into the unknown.

We date because we are made that way, to be vulnerable and stretched.

The purpose of dating is to look ahead to marriage, to find a person who will love our children and us in a Christ-like manner. I would now ask you to pause and listen to my wife singing The Wedding Song.

That is what dating is all about. All the good that I have in my life came through my wife. She is dead for 23 years but more alive to me than ever. We are eternally married. I am a convert to Orthodoxy through her. Our children are a gift from her. My doctorate in psychology came as a result of her suggestion. My friendships, beginning with a long friendship with Father Hopko, came through Orthodoxy and my wife’s influence. She is the healing presence in my life. Marriage extends beyond our lifetime. Marriage is eternal.

We date to look for a mate, a lifetime person to walk through life with. Interestingly, when asked what college students want most in a potential mate, 85% of all those interviewed, males and females, say they are looking for a “soul-mate.” Yes, soul-mate describes what the search means for most red-blooded American college students today. Well, I hope I don’t burst any bubbles by suggesting that I don’t agree with the idea of “soul-mate.” Soul-mate is, for me, fundamentally a narcissistic term, making myself the arbiter of how I want you to be.

When we are dating we are scoping around for someone who fits our notion of soul-mate. When we reduce the field to three or four potential soul-mates in our mind, we date to find out which one truly fits our idea and definition of someone for us. A search for a soul-mate approach allows us to define our partner. We decide if you fit into our life, our way. UGH. The problem is that no matter how perfect a soul-mate the person might seem to be, if we marry we will find out that this person has serious flaws we didn’t anticipate before marriage. She or he didn’t show us these characteristics when we were scoping for a soul-mate. We are all fallen sinners, children of Adam and Eve. So, there is no near perfect soul-mate for us to choose. Our culture has a 51% divorce rate that I think is founded on this self-centered version of marriage.

Christ will provide the perfect person for us to marry. We need to pray and stay open to His guidance and grace. The word I use as a substitute for soul-mate is sandpaper. Our marital partner is our sandpaper who will smooth our rough edges by making us more loving, more in the likeness of Christ. We only need to pray and stay open to the Lord’s guidance.


Dr. Rossi teaches courses in pastoral theology at SaiPhoto from SVSnt Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. He has written numerous articles on psychology and religion and published a book through Ancient Faith Publications entitled, Becoming a Healing Presence. He is a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of New York. Dr. Rossi has a brief, bi–weekly podcast on Ancient Faith Radio titled Becoming a Healing Presence.

 

More Than Just a Profile Picture

More Than Just a Profile Picture

578710_10151063063219244_1407120850_nBlack-and-white OCF logos are flooding my Facebook newsfeed. It’s official – Orthodox Awareness Month 2015 is in full swing.

Surely we’ve all made the effort to share an enlightening quote from our favorite saint, to post a photo from our past Real Break trip, or to invite our Facebook friends to listen to an Ancient Faith Radio podcast they would rather listen to than study. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be one of the biggest, furthest-reaching Orthodox Awareness Months ever, and I congratulate you all for taking the time to plant these seeds for others to see.

But now that we have all changed our profile pictures I’m left questioning,

What is Orthodox Awareness Month?

It seems like a silly question, right? But what are we called to do in order to fully embrace OAM as college students? As student leaders? As witnesses of Christ in the modern world?

I also find myself asking, have I done anything this month to embrace OAM in my prayer life? In service to others?

Or, generally, have I done anything more than change my profile picture?

As we are reaching the half-way point of OAM, these are important questions to ask. But even more important is how we choose to answer them on our college campuses.

It is only appropriate that the theme for OCF this year is Modern Martyrs: Witnesses of the Word. The phrase Modern Martyr isn’t one we hear often, but when we break it down it offers us a unique viewpoint from which we can approach living our lives for Christ.

When we think of the first martyrs, we think of the Roman Empire before the legalization of Christianity, and call to mind those blessed saints who refused to deny Christ by worshiping pagan idols. These martyrs bore witness to Christ in a society that would not accept Him.

Following the legalization of Christianity, martyrdom transformed. Monasticism became a new type of martyrdom, and the great Desert Fathers became a model for ending a worldly life for a life of prayer and fasting. These martyrs bore witness to Christ by fleeing the world.

Thus martyrdom, or the way we bear witness to Christ, has changed and evolved to fit its landscape over the centuries. Societies, peoples, ideologies, and governments have all changed, and so too have Christ’s saints changed with it. Christians became martyrs during WWII, under communism, during the Crusades, and more.

In so many ways, these martyrs “changed their profile pictures” – or more accurately, through their actions they changed the image of how the world saw them. They weren’t seen in pride, in vanity, or as slaves to their passions, but rather the profile picture they showed to the world was the image of Christ.

Which brings us to ask, what does martyrdom look like today?

Are we comfortable crossing ourselves before we eat in the dining hall? Are we prepared to be labeled as haters and bigots when we stand behind the Orthodox Church’s teachings on marriage and abortion? Would we be ready, as were the students whose lives were taken in Oregon, to declare Christ’s name in the face of a gun?

All of these situations, and more, are actual scenarios in which we may find the opportunity to change our profile picture for Christ. Thus, embracing Orthodox Awareness Month becomes more than just changing our profile pictures on social media; it challenges us to prepare ourselves to become perfect images of Christ.

By keeping this in mind and following the model of the martyrs and the saints before us, we will surely humble ourselves to others and bear witness to Christ in our modern world.

About the Author


DSC_0206Andrew Abboud graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in Biological Sciences and Religious Studies. He is continuing his education as a medical student at the University of Pittsburgh. Andrew was the Chairman of the 2014-2015 OCF Student Leadership Board, and he loves taking any chance he gets to stay involved with the ministry which afforded him so much.

My OCF Story: Lindsey Birdsall

My OCF Story: Lindsey Birdsall

In this series, “My OCF Story,” alumni share their experiences from their time in OCF and its impact on their transition and life in the post-grad real world.

My name is Lindsey Maria Birdsall and I am a proud OCF alum. I studied English and Political Theory at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX and graduated in 2008. I currently teach music, drama, and literature to grades K through 6 at Park Street School in Boston.

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Lindsey (Maria) on Real Break

I was chrismated as an Orthodox Christian in college, largely due to the witness of OCF. We had a very small, yet very close knit, group that sometimes met for morning prayers and dinner after Saturday night Vespers. While the official programming at my college was not extensive, it’s through the friendships that I made in OCF that I came to know about the Orthodox faith. Going on a Real Break trip to Guatemala was also a pivotal moment for me. Before this trip, I questioned whether the Orthodox Church was indeed still living and fulfilling the “great commission,” to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:6-20). After seeing the nuns of the Hogar Rafael Ayau living out their faith, my question was answered.  The Orthodox Church is indeed Christ’s living body on earth. Hearing about the nuns’ conversion and all the hardships they have endured with such joy made me eager to receive “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

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Lindsey (Maria) with her husband and son at Holy Resurrection

After graduation, I leaned on my OCF connections more than ever. Sometimes I jokingly call my first year out of college my “freshman year of life.” I moved from my suburban hometown in Texas to New York City to teach at a high school in the South Bronx, and I had a lot to learn. It was tempting to get swept away in the stress of all these changes, but my friends from OCF were a grounding influence on me. That first year, while traveling to meet up with some OCF friends in Boston, I met my husband. With a few more visits I slowly became a part of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Boston, a parish that is now like an extended family to me. Since then, I have moved to Boston, gotten married, had our first child, and taught at a couple of excellent Christian schools.

I am truly grateful to God for all the blessings that OCF has brought to my life. Whether it was having company at church services and deep discussions over meals in the cafe, traveling to College Conferences, serving on the Student Advisory Board, participating in the national Day of Prayer, and traveling on two Real Break trips to Guatemala and Greece, the experiences all truly changed my life. In OCF, I was so inspired to see the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the Church on local, national, and global levels. In Guatemala, I saw that work of the Holy Spirit was greater than I could fathom, and yet from my OCF chapter, I learned that it was also as simple as befriending my neighbor in the dorm.  OCF has given me peace, perspective, and some friendships that have now lasted for a decade.

My OCF Story: Presbytera Stephanie Petrides

My OCF Story: Presbytera Stephanie Petrides

In this series, “My OCF Story,” alumni share their experiences from their time in OCF and its impact on their transition and life in the post-grad real world.

Petrides

Fr. Alexandros, Presbytera Stephanie, and their two sons, Niko and Chris

I graduated from Gordon College in 2008 with a degree in English and Secondary Education and I taught high school for a short time before attending Holy Cross Seminary for one year. I met my husband at an OCF retreat at Penn state in 2007, we were married in 2010, and we welcomed our first son in 2011. After getting married, I went back to work to help put my husband through seminary and was there until my husband graduated and was placed at a parish in Bethlehem, PA. Our second son was born about 6 months after we were placed and I am now a stay-at-home mom with my two sons, ages 4 1/2 and 1 1/2. In my spare time (which isn’t much), I help run our Moms & Tots group at church, I’m involved in the PTO at my son’s school (which is also our parish’s school), and I tutor to keep my foot in the door with education. My dream is to work at or help start an Orthodox School someday.

My most remarkable memory of OCF was at my first College Conference. I knew only two of the 200 or so students who were attending so I was a little nervous. But as I stood in church alongside all of these other college students, as I sat in discussion groups and listened to them asking questions, and as I got to know so many of them and their stories, I felt so encouraged in my faith. Up to that point I had a handful of Orthodox friends at church, some from camp, a few from my college, but it was hard not to feel a little alone in my faith. But being surrounded by so many other Orthodox young adults who were also striving to live a moral and faithful life in the midst of all of the temptations of college life, I felt an overwhelming sense of support and community. Those OCF friendships that I began forming that week carried me through the rest of my college experience.

Presbytera Stephanie on Real Break El Salvador

Presbytera Stephanie on Real Break El Salvador

That leads me to how OCF has influenced my life. I was blessed to have a wonderful OCF at my college where we did daily morning prayers, weekly meetings, and frequent dinners and get togethers. I attended four College Conferences, served on the Student Advisory Board [now the SLB], and did Real Break El Salvador. And by my senior year of college, I was also traveling every other weekend or so to attend other colleges’ OCF retreats all over the northeast and sometimes beyond. The relationships that I built from all of these OCF events and programs are the people that I have relied on over the past almost 10 years. They are the ones who encouraged me in my faith, who helped me through difficult situations at work, and who stood up with me at my wedding–not to mention that I met the man I married at one of these OCF retreats 🙂 And it is because of all this that I also encouraged my sister and sisters-in-law to get involved in OCF and now, as a presbytera, the local college students at our parish. OCF played such a crucial role in strengthening me in my faith during the challenging college years and in fortifying me to go out into a world that does nothing but attack and challenge everything that we believe. And in a world where everything is focused on making money, getting ahead, and earning degrees, awards and recognition, OCF helped shift my focus and reminded me that my vocation should be centered on who I am (an Orthodox Christian), not what I am. For all of the retreats, programs, but most importantly the people OCF brought into my life, I am forever grateful.

Time for Your Physical

Time for Your Physical

Well… it is cough and cold season again in America and the steady hacking of the afflicted provides a staccato soundtrack to daily life in schools, offices, and public places. I wouldn’t have imagined it possible to become so easily brought low by the so-called “common cold” in this place (Arizona) of palm trees and citrus groves but the cold virus is no respecter of persons or places.

I made the classic mistake this autumn of waiting too long to visit my doctor since I didn’t want to be a big baby about something as ordinary as a cold and thought it would surely abate in a few days. Weeks later and chronically ill, I belatedly exited the doctor’s office with a fistful of prescriptions to combat my ailments which if treated sooner would have required less stringent remedies!

King David's Repentance. Image from  Wikimedia

King David’s Repentance. Image from Wikimedia

Kinda like confession… Physical ailments cannot be ignored for long without escalating into more serious conditions, and spiritual ones seem to linger and linger if we don’t exercise the same care for our souls as for our bodies. “Routine” physicals are scheduled to assess the overall well-being of the patient as the vital signs (pulse, blood pressure, temperature, weight, etc.) are checked for potential issues and abnormal readings often prompt further rounds of testing.

And we accept this as necessary to promote and maintain health and vitality. But how eagerly do we embrace spiritual assessments of our souls through the ministrations of Holy Confession? How often should we go and how specific should we be in describing our spiritual maladies to the Physician of our souls? The answer to this depends on admitting to ourselves how healthy or unhealthy we want to be in our spiritual lives.

Health and Well-being expenditures in America run into the billions of dollars. A broken fingernail can be the ruination of an otherwise calm and peaceful day. Diets are tightly monitored to avoid sugar, HFCS, gluten, wheat, antibiotics, hormones, etc., and all for good reason. Yet we ingest numerous spiritual, emotional, and psychological substances which are as lethal to our souls as the above listed are to our body.

Holy Confession enables the penitent (that’s us!) to be cleansed from within of our sins and to be made well. The impurities to which we have been exposed, spiritual viruses like lust, envy, pride, anger, bitterness, etc. are flushed out through the grace of the Holy Spirit and our souls are detoxified of these lethal influences which, if left unchecked, can bring about spiritual death.

As a rule, I believe it is helpful to come to confession whenever the Church is fasting, e.g., Great Lent, the Apostles’ fast, the Dormition fast, and the Advent fast. However, inasmuch as Holy Confession is about wellness and not judgment, there may be periods in our lives when more frequent confession is needed. God’s grace flows into the hearts of the humble along with clarity and wisdom. There really is no downside here!

Likewise, the degree of specificity of what we confess correlates to how well we want to become. We ought to be at least as honest in confession as we are in the doctor’s office. Hence, one who has embezzled vast sums would be ill-advised to mutter a word or two about greed! And because God is a righteous and merciful Judge, He stands ready to forgive and to heal and (this is important) strengthen us to wage war against those temptations that threaten to wreck our spiritual health!

So as we approach the Lenten Spring together, may we all take advantage of the spiritual wellness “program” offered to us in our parishes through the Holy Mystery of Confession!

Love and blessings,

Fr. Apostolos Hill

About the Author


This is a guest post from Fr. Apostolos Hill at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix, AZ. Fr. Apostolos has been active in OCF in a variety of areas; hosting regional retreats, leading OCF Real Break trips to Greece, Guatemala, and Skid Row, and in the College Conference West.

Why We Fast: Living the Angelic Life

Why We Fast: Living the Angelic Life

For this, the last week of my responses (Part I and Part II) to the question of “why is fasting important?”, I would like to look at fasting as a way of participating in a higher and more noble mode of living, a means by which we consciously emulate (to the extent that it is possible for us to do) the circumstances of the life of the Paradise that was lost, and the life of the Kingdom that is to come, a life the monastics in the “angelic habit” seek more fully to emulate in their daily life.

Why is this important? Unfortunately, under the circumstances of our fallen existence as human beings, we must participate in thousands of complex and often impossible to unravel systems of violence and deception. Everything from the clothing we wear, the energy resources we use, the financial systems we participate in, and the political systems of the nations in which we live are all tainted with abuse, waste, oppression, and violence in ways that we are often largely unaware of and in ways that we often cannot, by ourselves, repair or avoid even when we come to fully understand them. This is tragic, and the complexities of these realities often blunt our sense of sorrow or responsibility to repent for the shared sins and misfortunes that we are participants in.

Image from  Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

The reality and significance of this kind of situation is reflected in the ancient Biblical story, in which the fundamental biological realities of death and decay enter the world as a result of human iniquity–a circumstance that only God, in His restoration of all creation, can finally repair. In response to the resulting human desperation, God subjects His creation to human necessities, providing clothes of skin from the bodies of slain creatures and permitting human beings to eat the flesh of animals who must suffer death for us to do so. This was then, and still is, a currently necessary state of affairs–for straightforward biological and agrinomical reasons. Even now, the world’s agricultural system could not function well or sustainably provide food for everyone were all, or even most, humans strict vegetarians or vegans–and we are certainly neither commanded nor expected to refrain from eating meat by the Orthodox faith. But our status as part-time carnivores comes at a price, and we should never shed the blood of other creatures lightly or without consideration for the well-being and care of the animals that we must raise for our own consumption. Fasting from meat (and this prohibition against meat during the fast is also related to the reasons for which both wine and oil, each of which were stored in animal skins in ancient times, were proscribed by the canons) is a way of limiting our dependence upon such a system of innocent suffering and an ecclesiasial and personal acknowledgment that such dependence, even though necessary and unavoidable as things now stand, is not a reflection of the ultimate and final will of God for his creation.

Here, too, is found the symbolic significance and importance of the canonical proscription of sexual relations between married individuals during the fast–as fallen creatures, humans participate in a biological world of procreation, birth, and death, a fact that the Patristic fathers also referred back to this business of God clothing human beings with “coats of skin.” Since procreation is necessary for the continuance of our race, the conjunction of this necessary biological function with the deep and lovely intimacy that grows up between maritally committed spouses is something which is God-pleasing and beneficial within the current organization of things. It is, however, something which will ultimately be transcended in the kingdom, where biological reproduction will serve no useful function, and where the related love and intimacy of the married state will be elevated to transcend the particulars of any individual relationship, becoming part of the greater love that unites the people of God to one another and to Christ. In either case, whether when fasting from food, or from sex, those who are fasting set aside, if only temporarily and by anticipation, the particular and the transitory, for that which is eternal and ultimate. In doing so, they find their aspirations clarified, their desires elevated, and their tragic participation in structures dependent upon death, decay, and the related to be warily re-examined with an eye to greater and more careful spiritual discrimination, moral self-examination, and sorrowful repentance.

As I hope to have convincingly argued, fasting is of incalculable benefit for Orthodox Christians. I hope, however, to have been equally clear that I am not encouraging anyone to start looking down their noses at those who have not yet embraced the fasting rules of the Church. Even less am I seeking to encourage the more obnoxious amongst us to engage in obsessive label reading of their roommates’ canned food products. Fasting, as I said at the outset of this series, is a second-order virtuous activity, one which is spiritually beneficial principally because of what it enables us to do, learn, or achieve. For rather obvious reasons, one can only benefit spiritually from one’s own fasting. Even then, one does not, as it were, acquire brownie points in heaven for fasting, nor does one seek to “earn” one’s salvation by starving oneself. Christ has told us what He shall ask us at the day of judgement, and whether or not we have fasted is not one of His questions. Indeed, given the character of those questions, extreme fasting without any effort to pray more, or to become more receptive to God’s grace, or to become more decent and kindly to others, is worse than useless, since it deprives the one who engages in such a pointless activity of the good and gracious things of God’s physical creation without increasing in him or her a portion of the better things of God’s uncreated grace. In the reasonable context of an authentically and piously lived Christian life, however, fasting is a genuine mode of participation in God’s grace–one that is, when combined with charitable acts, increased participation in the liturgical services of the Church, and regular participation and receptions of the Mysteries (especially Eucharist and Confession), strongly conducive to one’s own spiritual growth and eventual theosis.

Image from Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

About the Author


This is a guest post from Fr. Cassian Sibley at The Life-Giving Spring of the Mother of God Russian Orthodox Church in Bryan, TX. His wife is a college professor, and his daughter is a freshman in college.  He was raised in Africa, and is an adult convert to Orthodoxy.  Fr. Cassian also has an active prison ministry, and in his spare time is a permaculturalist and organic gardener.

Why We Fast: Thy Will Be Done

Image from  Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

As we discussed last week, one of the principal benefits of fasting is because of the physiological and psychological benefits that a substantial and committed approach to fasting generally has upon one’s actual efforts to pray seriously. I suggested then, however, that there are other benefits of fasting that are available even for those of us who do nothing more than keep the basic fasting rules regarding what types of food may or may not be eaten on given days (although I do suggest that one not simply replace meat and dairy products with equivalent quantities of simple carbohydrates and processed food – that way diabetes lies!) In this case, the principal benefit of fasting to those who keep these rules is that of character-building, in that the practice makes one more virtuous through a habitual obedience that develops in us the more general virtue of self-restraint. Fasting, to put it bluntly, gives us practice in setting our own desires to one side for the purpose of fulfilling God’s will.

It is hard to avoid self-centeredness.

Contrary to certain romantic opinions, we do not come into the world as gentle, kindly, and self-effacing noble savages, and for good reason. As psycho-physical creatures of sense, we cannot help but see and experience the world through our own bodies and our own experiences. Whether we like it or not, the narrative of our lives is, from the very beginning, written in the first person singular, and this “situation” precedes our full exercise of reason. We must, in fact, be taught to overcome our egotism, firstly by our parents, and then by our religious faith, and this business is part of the reason for the hard work of ascetical practice. For while our moral instructors, our religious faith and, eventually, even our own fully developed adult intellect–not to mention the still, small voice of God–all call us to generalize this first person experience, and to recognize that it is neither unique nor particularly advantaged, but rather the same sort of experience shared by all of the creatures that God has made, it can be difficult, as a practical matter, to do so. We are constantly being redirected by our strongly felt emotional needs and desires to think of ourselves as the center of creation and as the benchmark by which all things are measured.

Overcoming this self-obsession, however, is vital for the spiritual life, since the egotistical attitude is both objectively false and spiritually poisonous. The world does not revolve around me. It is not oriented upon me. It does not derive its goodness, its character, or its existence from me, but from God. It is, indeed, His will and not mine that is to be done, just as we pray every day, using the prayer Jesus gave us.

In following the “fasting rules” of the Church we are, in at least one simple, clear, and deliberate way, humbly accepting and acknowledging our own peripheral place in the greater scheme of things. We are doing that which we have been asked to do by God, through his Church: setting aside our own inconsequential but strongly felt desires for delicacies, intense flavors, and full stomachs, in order to accept the simpler fare recommended to us for our spiritual benefit and for the better provisioning of others (since charitable giving, too, is part of what is enjoined upon us during the fast). We are humbly acknowledging that God’s will has a prior claim on us than our own desires and that we are, by virtue of our more limited perspective, rather poorly equipped to determine what is good for ourselves and others anyway.

Image from  Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

By means of such ascesis–embraced and accepted over and over again during all the other prescribed fasts of the Church–we gradually develop within ourselves the habit of unflinchingly setting aside our own irrational desires in order to do what we are asked to do by God. This creation of a space between our desires and their fulfillment–a space that enables us to consider the relevance upon the morality of our actions of God’s laws and the needs and concerns of others–is of inestimable importance in the religious life. To make moral decisions, one must develop the habit of giving oneself the time and space to decide whether or not “doing what one feels like” is actually for the best. If one cannot set aside one’s desires long enough to consider this question, then one cannot live for God or for others, and one becomes locked up into one’s own small world of self-interest. Fasting, then, is one of several ascetic practices that enable a Christian to transcend his or her own personal self-obsessions in order to enter into a world of genuine and responsible freedom, attuned to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, by which one is made “fit for every good work.

Before I conclude, I’d like to briefly touch upon the wretched matter of “legalism” and “following rules.” There are some people, even in the Church, who act as though following rules is a Bad Thing or that living a life according to the wise precepts handed down to us by our religious tradition is somehow inferior to a more “authentic” and “spiritual” life in which we make things up as we go along, or in which we only do those things that we are commanded to do when we feel interiorly moved to do so. This way of thinking about things manifests a basic moral confusion in that it pits authenticity against obedience rather than pitting the authenticity of humility against arrogance and pride, the real sins of the Pharisees whom Christ warned us against in Scripture. Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees for following rules, but rather for feeling self-satisfied for doing so and for playing parlor games in which they used one set of rules to justify overlooking far more significant religious and ethical obligations.

As I say, I don’t have time to go into this issue at any great length, but as a thought experiment, I would like you, my reader, to try and imagine how you would feel if a parent of a two-year-old told you something like “well, yes, I feed my child every day, but only because I really want to–if I didn’t feel like feeding her it would be wrong for me to do so because it would be, like, you know, so inauthentic!” I trust the example itself makes it clear enough that there is something wrong with this way of talking and thinking. Some things–indeed, most things worth doing at all–are important enough that they should be done even when we don’t feel like doing them–and the doing so is neither blameworthy nor inauthentic. Christianity calls us to strive to bring our feelings into line with what we most seriously believe to be right and good, rather than the other way around. A spirituality that has no time for rules is, more often than not, merely an excuse for moral and spiritual laxity.

Next week, we’ll look at the last of the three advantages of fasting–that it provides us with a way of participating in a higher life, one that reflects the life of paradise, and the life that is to come.

About the Author


This is a guest post from Fr. Cassian Sibley at The Life-Giving Spring of the Mother of God Russian Orthodox Church in Bryan, TX. His wife is a college professor, and his daughter is a freshman in college.  He was raised in Africa, and is an adult convert to Orthodoxy.  Fr. Cassian also has an active prison ministry, and in his spare time is a permaculturalist and organic gardener.