I Can Do All Things – and the SLB!

I Can Do All Things – and the SLB!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Spiritual Development:

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

Elias Anderson

Elias Anderson

Incoming SLB Chairman 2022-2023

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

What is Love?

For me, it is sheer delight to be with you, even in script. I have so many fond memories of my time with many of you, though some of you I have not met.

What is love, really? We Orthodox always begin at the same place, namely with Christ who is God, who is Love. He is love, He gives love, He gives us the capacity to love. Without Him we cannot love, we would have a loveless life. He is “all in all.” He gives us persons to love us and whom we can love. But, it is easy to forget or override this basic truth.

In our culture we use the word “love” casually and loosely. I know that I do, rather unwittingly. I can say, “I love Haagen Dazs French vanilla ice cream,” or “I love watching videos on the history channel,” or “I love walking in the rain with an umbrella.” So, what does love mean?

Love in its deepest sense means a sharing with another human being the very energy of Christ. Well, doesn’t that sound elusive? Yes, it seems elusive but after some thought, it is not elusive at all. It can be very simple yet very difficult to sustain.

It can be hard to embrace the truth that love is not primarily about feelings. We know that we can love someone and feel distant from them at the same time. We can love someone and be ‘at odds” with them for awhile. A father can be walking in his pajamas, carrying his crying newborn daughter at 2:30 AM. Walking while she is screaming. He is fatigued, grumpy and doing the “loving thing” that he chooses to do. He loves his daughter and he feels nothing of love at that moment. He feels distraught.

Love for College Students

For you, college students, romantic love is not primarily about feelings. Yes, feelings are part of being human but can very easily be deceptive. You know that from your own experience. We all have such experiences in our past. You know others who have been tragically hurt because they let their feelings get the best of them, only to pay a high price later. Of course, we all enjoy feeling “good.” But, we are also looking for something deeper. College students are of an age where they are aware of the desire for a life-partner. They may not put that desire as front-and-center but it is not far off. That is what we are talking about.

Dating is a fine part of life. And, as the old saying goes, “You win some and you lose some.” That is, some dates are nourishing and some dates can be depleting for a host of reasons. OK.

When a relationship seems to become serious what is the criterion for authenticity? What makes a relationship “real,” “of Christ?” The direct answer is “commitment.” Another way to say “commitment” is self-sacrifice. Is this person demonstrably willing to put aside their needs and wants for me? Am I willing to put my needs and my desires aside for this person? The deepest level of self sacrifice is, “Are they willing to die for me?” Sounds lofty but I know persons who can clearly say that, “I know my partner would die for me.”

The converse is clear. In a shaky relationship the couple makes choices for exclusively enjoyable activities, avoiding the “work” of a sustainable human relationship. Yes, real relationships require work and require living with dissonance simply because we are all children of Adam and Eve, like it or not.

Physical and emotional attractiveness are not the essence of a relationship, although such attractiveness is often the beginning of something deeper. Often we are attracted to someone who is attracted to us. We love to be loved. That can be a problem.

Love and Lust

When pondering a romantic relationship we acknowledge the difference between lust and love. Lust and love “feel” the same but have polar opposite consequences. Lust is about self gratification, self pleasure. Love is about self-sacrifice, putting the other above my pleasures. Lust leads to darkness and alienation. Love leads to light and to union. All this is countercultural, going against the many narcissistic messages we are getting. You and I do have narcissistic tendencies that we need to vigilantly surrender to Christ. Our narcissistic tendencies are vulgar. Our surrender means that we say, “Lord have mercy,” arrow prayers, through the day and night as we become aware of our narcissistic thoughts or behaviors.

A wonderful relationship with all its joys and sorrows is life-giving and beautiful, as given to us by Christ,. We move our ego out of the way and we let Christ in, and then He gives us the person He wants us to have. Some in Orthodoxy teach that the life-partner is not only our “soul mate” but also our “sandpaper,” all for our growth in love. Life is paradoxical. As Father Hopko often said, “Orthodoxy is paradoxy.”

Conclusion

In conclusion, love really is a mystery, a mysterion, a gift from Christ for us to give and to have, to embrace with all our being because love is the only way we can thrive on this planet. Love is a sacrament. Only love can make a memory.

Dr. Albert Rossi

Dr. Albert Rossi

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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

Making Room for Christ

Making Room for Christ

Do you know the story of Wally? He was a nine year old second grade. He should have been in fourth grade but everyone knew that Wally had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd in the Christmas pageant one year but the play’s director knew that there were too many lines for Wally to memorize. Instead, she assigned him the role of the Innkeeper who only had a few lines. For weeks he practiced his part and his lines. The biggest concern for the play that year was that Wally didn’t mess his part up and embarrass himself.

Church was packed the day of the pageant. No one was more caught up in the magic of the event than little Wally. Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop.
Wally the Innkeeper was there, waiting.

“What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open with a gruff gesture.

“We seek lodging.” Joseph responded.
“Seek it elsewhere.” Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously. “The inn is filled.”

“Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary.”

“There is no room in the inn for you.” Wally looked properly stern.

“Please, good innkeeper, my wife is pregnant and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”

Now, for the first time, Wally relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.

“No! Begone!” the prompter whispered from behind the curtain.

“No!” Wally repeated automatically. “Begone!”

Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper did not return inside his inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the desperate couple. His mouth was open, his brow
creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears. It was right then that Wally realized exactly what had happened that night. And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all the others.

“Wait! Joseph, don’t go!” Wally cried out. “Bring Mary back.” And Wally’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room.”

YOU CAN HAVE MY ROOM!

What an unexpected twist to a very familiar story. And yet, Wally’s actions leave us much to think about. What would WE have done 2000 years ago in Bethlehem? We can even ask, what do we do today when we are placed in a similar situation?

In today’s world, not too many people would fault with the innkeepers. They didn’t know that Mary would give birth to the Savior of the world. For all they knew, it was just another peasant woman giving birth to another child in this world. They were preoccupied with their own cares
and lives!

Does that sound a little familiar?

How many of us don’t have time for Christ to enter into our lives at school? During our
recreation? Among our friends? How many of us don’t make room for Christ to interfere with our busy schedules?

In the midst of our busy lives, will we have the eyes to see Christ when he comes unexpectedly.

I’m not only talking about making time for Jesus as a part of our schedule. We need to begin there and set aside time each day to pray and have a quiet time, as well as each Sunday to meet Christ in the Divine Liturgy.

Yet, what about during the unexpected times when Jesus surprises us? The Christmas story, from the perspective of the innkeepers, is more about having the eyes to see the Christ even when we are extremely busy and He comes at an inconvenient time. Will we see Jesus in each and every person whom we meet day by day. Our Lord said, “Whatever you have done to the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done to me.”

Wally may have mixed up his lines in the Christmas pageant, but he surely revealed the true spirit of Christmas to all those who were watching.

“Wait! Joseph, don’t go!” Wally cried out. “Bring Mary back.” Wally’s face grew into a bright smile as he proudly proclaimed, “You can have my room.”

This Christmas may each of us reflect upon how we can make room for Christ to be born anew, in our lives.

Here’s a prayer we can offer daily during this holy season:

Lord Jesus Christ, you have come so many times to us and found no resting place. Forgive us for
our overcrowded lives, our vain haste and our preoccupation with self. Come again, O Lord, and
though our hearts are a jumble of voices, and our minds overlaid with many fears, find a place
however humble, where You can begin to work Your wonder as you create peace and joy within
us. If in some hidden corner, in some out-of-the-way spot, we can clear away the clutter, and
shut out the noise and darkness, come be born again in us, and we shall kneel in perfect peace
with the wisest and humblest of people. Help us enter into this Christmas season with humility, with joy, and most of all with a desire to discover you anew! Yes Lord, give us a Christmas from
within, that we may share it from without, on all sides, all around us, wherever there is a need.
God help us, every one, to share the blessings of Jesus Christ with others, in whose name we
keep Christmas holy.

Fr. Luke A Veronis

Fr. Luke A Veronis

Fr. Luke Veronis is a priest of Saints Constantine and Helen Church in Webster, MA (www.schwebster.org) and the director of the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity at Hellenic College Holy Cross (www.missionsinstitute.org). He and his wife, Presbytera Faith, are the parents of four, including two college students, a college graduate, and a soon to be college student! His most recent book is “Sharing the Light: Meditations on the Good News of Jesus Christ” which can be found on Amazon.

The Transfiguration of the Secular World

The Transfiguration of the Secular World

Last month I was in Washington D.C., and I met up with a friend of mine from the Antiochian Village. We spent the day walking around the National Mall just enjoying the city and each other’s company. Afterwards, she said that it was, “a nice break from the secular world.”

BUT WAIT!

Did we not just spend the whole day at the center of the United States’ government; the very heart of the secular world? How could we have escaped the secular world by immersing ourselves in its very core?

Before I offer my answer to that question, let’s take a step back and define what we mean when we say the “secular world.” Secular refers to something that has no religious or spiritual basis; so the secular world, then, is the world where religion and spirituality do not exist. From this definition, our minds often draw a dichotomy between our church worlds and everything else. And it seems natural to do this, for in one world we very clearly see Christ in the center of the dome or in the chalice, but in the other world, all we see is endless work, frequent annoyances, and countless obligations. But is this dichotomy even real? Does there exist a world without religion and spirituality? A world where Christ doesn’t exist?

The world often appears dark, for there are many evils and troubles in it, but that does not mean Christ is not present. In fact, “It is only when in the darkness of this world we discern that Christ has already ‘filled all things with Himself’ that these things, whatever they may be, are revealed and given to us full of meaning and beauty” (Schmemann). As Father Alexander Schmemann reminds us in his book For the Life of the World, Christ is everywhere and in all things. ALL things! It may be difficult to see at times, but “A Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. And this joy transforms all his human plans and programs, decisions and actions, making all his mission the sacrament of the world’s return to Him who is the life of the world” (Schmemann).

There is only one world and Christ is The Life of it. There is no distinction, then, between the secular world and the religious world. We see the one world we are in and can choose to either secularize it by taking God out of it, or sanctify it by recognizing the world for what it truly is–God’s creation, and everyone in it for who they truly are–an image of Christ.

Now, this should be great news! If there is no distinction between worlds, and all is one in Christ, then that means we can escape the secular world everywhere and every time! If we train ourselves through the tools the Church gives us of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, then we can clean the lens of our souls and be with Christ no matter where we are. Even though we know it, we often forget that Christ is everywhere. This beautiful prayer of St. Patrick (yes, THE St. Patrick) reminds us of that simple reality:

“Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.”
– St Patrick, the Enlightener of Ireland

When we attend summer camps, retreats, and other Orthodox events there is no doubt that we feel closer to Christ and truly feel refreshed and away from the troubles of the secular world. My point today is that those feelings you have at those kinds of events can be felt anytime of year, even when you’re by yourself. How? By reminding yourself constantly that Christ is always with us, for “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20). Through this reminder, the Transfiguration of the secular world occurs and places like Washington D.C can become places of great warmth and love in Christ.

Elias Anderson

Elias Anderson

College Conference Midwest Student Leader

Elias is a Junior at Valparaiso University studying music and mechanical engineering. He loves leading his OCF chapter and coming up with ideas for College Conference Midwest. When he’s not working on schoolwork, he enjoys playing his trumpet or guitar, beating his friends in ping pong, and laughing unnecessarily hard at marginally funny things. You can contact him at ccmidweststudent@ocf.net.

Cultivating a Heart for Service vs. A Heart of Consumerism

Cultivating a Heart for Service vs. A Heart of Consumerism

In the months of November and December we are inundated with messages of ‘giving thanks’
and ‘spreading Christmas cheer.’ While nice sentiments on the surface, they all point towards
one thing: consuming. To prepare for Christmas, we are told we need to start shopping as early
as October 1st to get the perfect gift. We are encouraged to wait in line on black Friday for that
one-time-only sale. On Thanksgiving, we are shown images of tables overflowing with food and
the latest decorations to give the day ‘that holiday feel.’ These messages come through the
medium of commercials, targeted Instagram advertisements, Hallmark movies, and signs on the
side of the highway. It’s easy to get caught up in the consumerist mentality of the holiday
season and feel like these are the markers we need to meet in order to participate in and
prepare for the joy of Christmas. I have certainly been guilty of that at points in my life!

And yet, when I look to the Church for how to prepare for Christmas, the great Feast of the
Incarnation of Christ, I hear very different messages. Instead of consuming and indulging, we
are called to abstain through fasting, to empty ourselves so that we may increase our prayer life,
and to give as we have received. And what have we received? LIFE and life abundantly! As we
heard in the Epistle this past Sunday, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with
which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together
with Christ…” Ephesians 2:4-5). It was out of love, that God created us and gave us His only
begotten Son so that we may learn to love as He loved. As Orthodox Christians, the season of
advent leads us to the humble beginnings of the birth of our Lord and Savior, whose mother
gave up her own will to allow the will of God to be made manifest.

In contrast to the messages of consumerism, when we inundate our hearts with the messages
the Church provides us during this season, the natural response becomes: how can I “praise the
Lord, exalting him evermore” (1st Canon of the Nativity) and consider more deeply what I can
do to offer that love back to God and my neighbor.

So what can we do to offer that love?

To me, it begins with cultivating a heart for service. And how do we do that? First and foremost,
we immerse ourselves in the life of the Church, the word of the Lord, and become intimately
familiar with the ways in which Christ served. Christ’s service on earth was radical acts of love
where he broke societal norms and boundaries to heal the wounds of others and enter into the
sufferings of those most ostracized. His life was a life of service and that is what we are called
to cultivate–a life of service that is rooted in the love of Christ.

This is not something that happens overnight. It happens in the small ways in which we
intentionally choose to switch our attention from ways we can consume to ways we can give out
of our abundance for the sake of the other and out of love for God. This season, consider: what
is one thing you could do, however small, to cultivate a heart for service?

If you are someone who is yearning to cultivate a heart for service and feels a desire to serve in
a radical way, I invite you to consider looking into the newest ministry of the Assembly of
Canonical Orthodox Bishops—Orthodox Volunteer Corps (OVC). The mission of OVC is to
ignite and equip Orthodox young adults to catalyze transformative service for the Church and
world. Through an immersive 10-month experience, young adults will live in solidarity with the
most vulnerable, learn to embody justice and mercy, and give of their head, hearts, and hands
in service. Corps Members will work four days a week at a local nonprofit, live in community with
other Orthodox young adults, participate in faith and leadership formation seminars, and
immerse themselves in the life of the Church. If you are between the ages of 21-29 and you feel
called to a life of service, we encourage you to begin that process by applying to OVC!
Applications are due February 15, 2022 and you can apply online here:
https://orthodoxvolunteercorps.org/

Kyra Limberakis

Kyra Limberakis

Director of Strategic Growth for CrossRoad Institute and Chair of the Orthodox Volunteer Corps Advisory Council

Kyra Limberakis received her bachelor’s degree from Villanova University and her Master of Theological Studies from the Boston College School of Theology
and Ministry where she focused her studies on youth and young adult ministry and the ministry of women in the church. Kyra’s experience in youth work spans 10+ years and includes serving as staff for her metropolis camp, Ionian Village, Orthodox Christian Fellowship, and CrossRoad—all programs that were part of her own faith formation. As a college student, she participated in OCF’s College Conference and Real Break programs and later on served as the Real Break Thessaloniki lay leader in 2018 and 2019. She will be a workshop speaker at this year’s College Conference East.

Make a “Small” Decision: Discover Where Christ Leads You

Make a “Small” Decision: Discover Where Christ Leads You

Have you ever made a seemingly small decision that changed your life? Maybe you sat next to someone new in class who became your best friend or maybe you spontaneously bought a book that influenced your career choice. Looking back, you probably did not give much thought about whether to choose that chair or turn that first page, but it is difficult to imagine your life if you had not done so. An opportunity felt inviting, so you simply stepped forward into it and Christ led the rest of the way.

For me, one of these decisions happened back in December 2019. Before this, I had only heard brief mention of Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF). The main event I had heard about was College Conference (CC) from a few camp friends. However, being from Kansas and knowing only a handful of people on the East coast, I was hesitant to attend. Thankfully, a friend who’d attended assured me people were welcoming and open to meeting new friends, so I decided to register my junior year of college.

I stepped foot in the Antiochian Village Conference Center (Where CC East is held) and was overwhelmed in the best way. First, the conference started out with the participants being blessed with myrrh from a miraculous myrrh-streaming icon. Then, the conference continued with workshops on topics like analyzing the Parable of the Good Samaritan and how we “are called to love our neighbor now, not when we are ‘good enough,’” how “there is no greater poverty than the poverty of love,” and how we should be wary of efficiency as this idea comes from viewing the world as a machine. I left each workshop with practical points and new perspectives to incorporate into my life. Additionally, being around hundreds of other Orthodox college students was incredible. I kept meeting amazing people up until the moment I got in the car to leave, and I could’ve talked for hours with each person! The three and a half retreat days went much too quickly, but I was ecstatic to find out there were more ways to get involved with OCF.

Through CC, I was encouraged to attend OCF’s Real Break program (Spring break and summer service and pilgrimage opportunities) and went abroad for the first time to Pro Vita Orphanage in Romania. Pro Vita is a place that embodies Christ’s teachings through welcoming and caring for anyone who needs assistance: orphaned children, people fleeing domestic violence, people with mental illness, and elderly people with nowhere to go. I wanted to connect other students with opportunities such as this, so I applied for OCF’s Student Leadership Board (SLB) as Real Break Student Leader for my final year of college.

With my plans to study abroad getting cancelled, school going online, and traditional Real Break trips being cancelled, this last year of college did not look like I had imagined. I was grateful to be healthy and have a safe place to live, but also, as many people did, I felt isolated. However, through the uncertainty, I knew I could count on OCF. I thrive off of connecting with other people, and OCF still made this possible. This community brightened up some lonely months through bringing me new mentors and friends with virtual programming of small groups, hybrid retreats, and prayer calls.

For example, while navigating the new pandemic situation with Real Break, I gained an invaluable mentor through working closely with Christina Andresen, Director of Ministries for OCF. Even though we don’t have weekly meetings anymore, I continue to be inspired by her faith, guidance, and hospitality. Additionally, I see my friendships from the SLB and other OCF events lasting a lifetime. These relationships are an answer to prayer. We can speak vulnerably about how to address struggles in our lives, share thought-provoking books, such as Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives and Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father, serve together at places like Camp Catanese, and even teach each other different, fun cultural dances.

Even after graduating, OCF continues to add blessings to my life. For instance, I am leading a weekly OCF small group this fall and am grateful to get to know wonderful women from across North America, from Alabama to Canada. Additionally, I am now interviewing for Physician Assistant school and am not sure where I will be living next year. Even with the uncertainty of waiting to hear back, I am confident there will be OCF connections wherever I end up geographically.

Fast forward almost two years from that seemingly small decision I made back in 2019, and I truly cannot imagine my life without the community, mentorship, and growth OCF has given me. My only regret is that I wish I could have discovered it earlier in college! If you are looking to enrich your faith and fellowship life in any way, join OCF! Go to your nearest retreat or conference. If that is not feasible, you are still in luck! Join small groups or call in to one of our zoom discussions. OCF is here to meet you wherever you are as you step forward on your path towards Christ. Make that “small” decision today.

Anna Spencer

Anna Spencer

Former Real Break Student Leader

Anna Spencer graduated from Kansas State University in May 2021 with her degree in Nutrition & Health and is currently interviewing for Physician Assistant schools. She loves learning about the world and the people around her through exploring new places, reading good books (she would love to hear your recommendations!), having conversations with strangers, and surprises. She is a Youth Equipped to Serve Leader, former OCF Real Break student leader, and has been a counselor for several different camps throughout the country. She loves new friends and OCF so email her if you want any extra encouragement to get involved at annaspencer517@gmail.com

Holy Priorities: How Living as Children of God First Empowers Us in Everything Else

Holy Priorities: How Living as Children of God First Empowers Us in Everything Else

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Take a moment to mentally travel to outer space. You’re in a telescope powerful enough to see people down on the surface. You decide to zoom in on yourself and see what it looks like to observe your day from an outside perspective. What would the video feed from the telescope look like?

The day of an average student probably includes, at some point or another: Waking up in the morning, going to bed in the evening, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, attending class, hanging out with friends, going to club meetings, maybe playing sports, studying around exam times, and going on the occasional weekend trip. Options for activities abound, and the variety is endless. We live complex lives every day from sunup to sundown.

Since our lives are so complex, is there anything that we all have in common? Yes, and it’s quite simple: we act on our priorities. Each person starts their day with a new sixteen hours of attention and time; we direct these towards what we consider important enough to deserve them. Our daily cycles of behavior, both habitual and novel, reflect our inner beliefs about what matters, and we cannot help but act on these beliefs.

Priorities are a hot topic in business and always connect to questions of time management, productivity, and relationship development. These are important topics, but in this brief post, let’s go deeper into this question. Priorities aren’t our to-do lists at their core, they are philosophical and belief driven. They depend on our answer to the question “What does it mean to be a human being?” Since whatever we believe a human being should do all day, that’s what we do, consciously or unconsciously. Let’s explore the answer to that question and consider how our beliefs – and therefore our priorities – impact our lives as Orthodox Christians, especially Orthodox Christian college students.

We as Orthodox Christians have a wonderful answer to the question of what it means to be a human being. We are the children of God, made in His image and likeness, the crown of creation. God Himself became one of us. The outer space exercise was not designed to make you feel inconsequential or small. Rather, its purpose was to show you the unique opportunity we have of living on this Earth and the importance of living it as a true human being.

Knowing that a human being is a child of God begs the question: What does it mean to live as a child of God? What does a child of God do all day? We are all unique, so the answer won’t look exactly the same for anyone. However, certain things are for all of God’s people, and Holy Scripture points us towards what these are.

Jesus Himself teaches us how to live as a child of God. He teaches many things, but I want to call your attention to two specific aspects.

Firstly, The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5 begins with the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”), which we hear at every Sunday Liturgy at the Third Antiphon. The beatitudes make clear that much of being a child of God has to do with our daily spiritual attitude. Christians are called to know their dependence on God, to live meekly, cultivating the fruits of the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5:22-23) such as gentleness, patience, and self-control. We recognize that God is large and that we are small – but we take refuge in this and use this knowledge to trust even more that God is arranging all things for our good.

How do we acquire this knowledge of God and our dependence on Him, so that our spiritual attitudes become those that befit children of God? If we get to know Him, then we can’t help but begin to acquire the humility and meekness that God asks of us. As children of God, we should consider our relationship with God, our worship of Him, and living our lives according to His spiritual principles and commandments to be our most important endeavor as human beings. This is normal and natural for us—it’s what we were meant to do. It’s not easy, but the more we struggle to act in accordance with our true nature, the more grace God will give us to accomplish it.

Secondly, Jesus calls us to live our lives according to our context. Consider Zacchaeus, the tax collector. He, like many other tax collectors, partook in fraud and theft, taking advantage of people under the guise of a public servant. After Zacchaeus met Christ, however, he repented and became generous; Christ even said, “This day has salvation come into [Zacchaeus’] house” (Luke 19:9). But Zacchaeus remained a tax collector for many years – only this time, he lived as a righteous tax collector and carried out his work in the manner befitting a child of God. Herein lies the key for us to discovering our priorities and living out our calling.

As college students, we should take heart. If we have made it this far, it is clearly part of God’s will for us to participate in this special time of learning and discovery. Now we must welcome God into our lifestyle.

What do we do, then, practically speaking? With the guidance of a spiritual father, we make morning and evening prayer into our source of strength, beginning and ending our days with the Lord. We build the reading of the Scriptures into our prayer routines. We approach our studies with the mindset that God is the Source of all knowledge and that we are blessed to study His creation and increase our knowledge of it. We “sprinkle” our days with the sign of the Cross and the Jesus prayer to remain close to God. We tithe. We attend Church on Sundays and, if we are able, at times during the week. Most of all, we strive to radiate kindness and to love every soul that we encounter: our friends, our classmates, our professors, our families, and strangers. These practices shape our spiritual attitude and prepare our souls for whatever God may send us by means of our experience in college. Second, King Solomon instructs us “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with [all] your might” (Eccl. 9:10). Build excellence into your study habits, your organization involvements, and your relationships, one step at a time. God will help you to do it all; all that must happen is that you must begin!

Christ’s teaching to seek first the Kingdom of God comes with a promise: “that all these things (everything needed for life on Earth) shall be added to you.” Therefore, we can trust that if we put God first, we will finish that homework assignment, we will find great joy in that club, we will develop great relationships with friends and mentors. God empowers us to live lives that are pleasing to Him and that give Him glory, both in ways that we can see and in ways that only He knows.

With the power of God, our path on the Earth becomes imbued with life. We can go about our days in joy and peace, knowing that God is working all things for our good. If we put Him first, we can do all things – and we will receive the grace of eternal life. Let us run forth, then, to glorify our God in all that we do.

Evan Roussey

Evan Roussey

Real Break Student Leader

Evan is a senior at the University of North Texas studying Communication. He loves being a part of OCF, and also enjoys jazz trombone, chess, Jiu Jitsu, and planners. When he’s not at UNT, you’ll find him in the great outdoors or catching a good vibe with his best friends.

Ebb and Flow: On Mental Health and Coping With Ambiguity

Ebb and Flow: On Mental Health and Coping With Ambiguity

I’ll begin by spilling my heart.  I have the deepest respect for you all who are OCF students and I would do all I could for you.

So, what is mental health and what is ambiguity?  Basically, mental health is an ability to cope with stress, connect with others, and have a positive outlook on life. As Orthodox Christians we would say “having peace and joy in Christ.”

Mental health is, of course, variable and it ebbs & flows with different circumstances.  

Ambiguity is simply an awareness of “I know that I don’t know.”  For college students, ambiguity can be a regular state of mind.  For instance, “I don’t know where I will be in five years,” or “I don’t know how many of my friends will remain friends once we graduate,” or “What does life (Christ) want me to do as my vocation.”

Mmmmm.  With each class and each relationship our mind can take on new colors, not unlike the veritable kaleidoscope.  For lack of better language, I’ll call that “normal” for a college student.  The question is, “So what,” or “What can I do about it.”

I would say that, fundamentally, we try to absorb and accept an attitude of surrender to Jesus Christ.  Doesn’t that sound impossible?  Not really.  An attitude of surrender is a gift from Christ that grows slowly, up and down as we age.  The strategy is this:

  • A. I don’t know.
  • B. Christ knows.
  • C. I try to trust Him.

We certainly don’t know the future.  We never say to someone, “Things will get better.”  The person we are talking with might die later that day.  We are not God.  We can’t predict the future and we don’t have access to the details of exactly what is coming.  That is a great gift from God, to help us cope in the present moment with less concern.

But, there is a ‘control freak’ in each of us.  We are tempted to over-control our circumstances and the circumstances of others.  Our control-freak tendencies can lessen as we learn to trust in the guidance of Christ.  I would add that control-freak tendencies come from fear and our fears can lessen as we learn to live more with Christ.  It is much easier to detect control-freak tendencies in others than in ourselves.  Lord, have mercy.  And, He does.

Truthfully, we don’t even have full access to the details of the present moment.  We are limited in our ability to be aware of our pre-conscious and surely, our unconscious.  That’s what human existence is like for all of us.  All humans are children of Eve and Adam.  And, we don’t have much knowledge of the motivations and deliberations of others, even those close to us.  I know an old couple, married happily for 65 years, who walk hand in hand. The wife said, “I know my husband like the back of my hand but I will never fully understand him.” That is real life with mega ambiguity. We don’t know much about the full back-story of anyone so we try to cut them slack in our minds.  My own personal attitude is to try to say, “Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have… even Biden and Trump.”  Of course, I have no idea if they are for not, but I am more stabilized and joy-filled if I can maintain such an outlook.

I’ll conclude by saying that I have much ambiguity in my life and so do you.  We walk together and we do the best we can with what we have.  Father Hopko often said, “Stay close to Jesus.”  Together, let’s try to do just that.

Dr. Albert Rossi

Dr. Albert Rossi

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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

The Challenge of Staying Orthodox in an Anti-Christian Environment, and Some Additional Advice From a ‘Non-Wolf’ Professor

Today we share two companion articles of advice for college students. The first is a Facebook post written by the Very. Rev. Abbot Tryphon, Igumen of All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island, Washington. The second offers commentary in response to the post from Fr. Theodore Pulcini. Fr. Theodore recently retired after serving 30 years as as college professor, most recently Assistant Professor of Religion at Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA, and as the pastor of St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Chambersburg, PA. Both articles offer much wisdom and guidance to Orthodox Christian students.

Some Additional Advice to Orthodox College Students from a ‘Non-Wolf’ Professor

This afternoon, in opening my email, I read with great interest the piece written by Abbot Tryphon entitled “The Challenge of Staying Orthodox in an Anti-Christian Environment.” There is much sage advice in his admonishment, and Orthodox students on their way to college would do well to digest that advice. I must admit, however, that I was a bit taken aback by several characterizations presented by this much-respected monastic author and will now presume to comment on them (pace Father Abbot).

In the interest of full disclosure, let me state at the outset that I write this response as a Christian (I have served as an Orthodox priest for over thirty-seven years in the Antiochian Archdiocese) and as an academic (yes, as a college professor at several secular institutions of higher learning for some thirty years). So you will understand why I took some exception to the way college professors are characterized in the article. Without a doubt, there are some college professors that lump Christians together and depict them unfairly and simplistically, but then again there are some Christian commentators who tend to do likewise to college professors. The one mischaracterization does not justify the other—and I dare say that I have been the target of both.

Indeed I have to admit that some of my professorial colleagues over the years could be arrogant, insulting, and power-obsessed. But the vast majority were absolutely not! Yes, professors will sometimes go to considerable lengths to challenge their students to think, to question, and to analyze critically and systematically. For this they should not be faulted. That is, after all, their job. No one should go to college assuming (as many students unfortunately do) that nothing presented to you should make you feel challenged or uncomfortable or obliged to exert effort. In college, as in the larger society, you will not, without fail, have every one of your stances affirmed by everyone else. You must apply yourselves to learn how to argue your opinions with persuasiveness—and yes, with civility, too—in the dialogues you will undoubtedly have with others. This is essential to the development of intellectual and emotional maturity. To avoid such maturation, many around you will take false comfort in aggressive ideology of the sort that seems to be metastasizing at every turn in our society. Good college professors will guide you toward healthy maturation and will embody it in their own interactions with others, including their students. Bad ones will bludgeon others with their ideologies and not tolerate any dissent. Gravitate toward the former and not the latter. And believe me, at any reputable college or university, the good professors far outnumber—and far outshine–the bad. They are not your adversaries, even if they sometimes push you to consider perspectives you may not have had to face before. In short, to depict professors as universally adversarial is simply unfair—and untrue.

In fact, to do so duplicates an error of bad professors, who tend to depict groups they oppose as monoliths, all of whose constituent parts are uniform. For example, the aggressive anti-Christian professors of the sort to which Abbot Tryphon refers, tend to caricature Christianity as a monolith, implying all Christians are the same. Then they single out those Christians who (to use Abbot Tryphon’s words) are blatantly “closed-minded and backward-looking” (and let’s face it, many are!) and then attribute such undesirable traits to all Christians. They attack the “straw-man” Christian they create and then, through him, defame all Christians. This is simply dishonest and intellectually faulty argumentation.

As a college student, this is precisely the sort of counter-argument that you have to train yourself to be able to make. Every challenge you face in your courses, if used correctly, can make you stronger. I agree wholeheartedly with Abbot Tryphon when he says that “know from the moment you enter that classroom that the professor is a better debater than you, so don’t place yourself in his scope. If you do, expect to be blown out of the water.” He is right. As the old Shakespearean proverb goes, “Discretion is the better part of valor.” But do not let your discretion simply be an act of surrender and cowardice. If you feel your conviction as an Orthodox Christian is being unfairly depicted and attacked, learn how to disarm your opponents in a situation where you can speak freely and without intimidation (for example, privately, during office hours). Use the unpleasant challenge you have had to face in class as an impetus to accrue the knowledge and develop the rhetorical skills needed to defend your faith convincingly in the face of future attacks. Learn the skills of critical thinking to challenge the flaws in your opponents’ arguments. Build the knowledge that will enable you to show that what your opponent assumes is true of all Christians is not at all true of Orthodox Christians. Show them how Orthodoxy is not just part of some “Christian monolith” but stands apart as unique in so many ways. Use your college career to build your spirit and your mind to grow far beyond where you are on the day of matriculation. If you use your years in college well, at the end of your studies you will advance “to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Shake off complacency and inertia! Rise to that challenge.

Abbot Tryphon begins his reflection by referring to one of my favorite New Testament commands of Christ: ““Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In his advice, Father Abbot, to good effect, tends to emphasize the first part of this passage, urging you to be wary of the wolves who may be your professors. But as a “non-wolf” professor—alongside many other non-wolf (and, yes, even Christian!) professors—I want to join to his admonishments my own bit of advice: While in college maintain your faith in dove-like innocence, but use your college experiences (even those with wolf-like professors) to become as “wise as serpents.” Your wisdom will help your personal faith to mature, and it will benefit the Church at large by virtue of your ability to express and defend that faith in a world full of counter-arguments.

My thoughts converge very well with Father Tryphon’s words in his last paragraph. With him, I encourage you to “build a support system for yourself by gathering together with other college students to form a chapter of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship. Meet on a weekly basis for worship, study, and networking.” No better advice than this can be given to you as you head off to college. May God prosper all your efforts!

–Fr. Theodore Pulcini

Finding Gratitude in Perseverance

Finding Gratitude in Perseverance

Last summer looked abnormal for me, as it did for everyone I knew. In the span of a week, I had been sent home from my freshman year of college on an “extended spring break,” was told I would not be able to study abroad in Italy, summer church camp & the Parish Life Conference were cancelled, and I couldn’t physically be with my friends and family. Even though I was FaceTiming my friends multiple times a day and had more family time than ever before, I felt alone.

Why is this happening?

That was a thought that ran through my head every day I was home. I tried to remind myself that my situation was better than most: I was healthy with a roof over my head, family in the next room, and toilet paper to last me a lifetime. But it was hard. I struggled to find gratitude in the things I was able to experience that summer. As restrictions started to lighten up in Southern California, my friends and I had more freedom to be out and about. I was so happy to be able to leave the house that I didn’t really stop to give the last few months a second thought.

In December, we started planning what OCF at the University of Oklahoma was going to discuss for the spring semester. Katy Powers recommended Robin Phillipps’, Gratitude in Life’s Trenches: How to Experience the Good Life Even When Everything is Going Wrong, a very fitting book for our current situation. As we dove into the book, I started to realize how gratitude and perseverance go hand-in-hand. Robin focuses on the darker side of finding happiness.

People tell you that when you’re sad, you shouldn’t listen to sad music because it makes you more sad (spoiler alert: they’re right). You can follow this same principle when you’re going through life. If you dwell too much on anything going wrong in your life, you will never be able to find gratitude.

The only way to find that light of the end of the tunnel is to trek through the path before you and persevere. 

As we went deeper into the book, all of the good that came out of the last year became clear to me. My dad and I spent a lot of time building a patio in the backyard, we tried tons of new delicious recipes, and my family and I got to hang out and play games almost every night. The more we talked about the book, the more I realized how much stronger I am because of the hardships we faced during this time.

It wasn’t until I sat down to write this blog post that realized how this last year has prepared me for the rest of my life. I still don’t know why God presented us with this challenge. What I do know is that our perseverance as Orthodox Christians has not only helped us grow as individuals, but has shown other people the light of Christ during trying times.

Andrew Gluntz

Sammy Nassief

The University of Oklahoma OCF Chapter President

Hi everyone! I’m Sammy, a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma studying Health and Exercise Science and Sports Management. I was raised in Southern California at St. Nicholas until we started the St. Simeon mission in Santa Clarita. I’m the president of the OU OCF chapter and love going to Camp St. Nicholas in the summer as a camper/counselor. I love to watch sports with my friends, try out new recipes, and travel!

Real Break Now: How it came to be. How it’s going. How to be the church in the world.

Real Break Now: How it came to be. How it’s going. How to be the church in the world.

After serving in Romania on Real Break 2020, I applied to be Real Break Student Leader for Orthodox Christian Fellowship. I wanted to help create other service opportunities for students. What a whirlwind of a year! Back in early Fall 2020, we did not know how long the pandemic would last, and we kept running into barriers in planning. We did our best trying to navigate traveling precautions and eventually saw most schools cancelling their spring breaks. As the year progressed, it became obvious that a traditional Real Break would not happen. To be completely honest, this was frustrating and disappointing. I found myself nervous I would not be able to do the work of my position on the Student Leadership Board. This time was trying, but it was still fruitful!

With a desire to empower students to serve their communities, especially with increased need due to COVID-19, a new program was created! A dedicated team of OCF staff and friends listened to me as I brainstormed ideas, and thus, a flexible 16-week course with nine incredible instructors called Real Break Now: How To Be The Church in The World was formed. Students living in 22 different states and 5 different countries have come together to prepare for the opportunity to apply for two $1000 grants towards a project serving their community this summer.

I am incredibly grateful for each person who helped to make this happen. The students have put so much thought into the material. Here is just a glimpse of the topics we have discussed during the first three modules:

 

Module 1: How Orthodoxy is a Way of Life, Not Just a Religion, led by Fr. Nicholas Belcher

We discussed questions on how to avoid “Phariseeism,” stories of people who have impacted us spiritually, the interaction between church rituals and service, and actions we can take to make our faith more of a way of life. Here is what a few of our wonderful students have to say:

 

”I really like how Fr. Nick addressed the alleged dichotomy between church rituals and good deeds/service. Growing up Orthodox, I have always believed the Sacraments are important. In society, I feel like some say that the church is useless without service and living out the Gospel and act as if the two are mutually exclusive. I like how Fr. Nick simply points out that if you think about it, there is no reason for them to be mutually exclusive and that, in fact, they support one another and are both essential to follow The Way.” -Chase

”I’ve always admired the way that Orthodoxy encompasses all five senses – from the iconography (seeing), to incense (smelling), to Holy Communion (tasting), to the choir and chanters (hearing), to crossing and performing prostrations (feeling). Growing up in a protestant church, I always felt God was at arm’s length, that reverence was an old-fashioned notion. Once I stumbled across the Orthodox faith, (admittedly at first I was skeptical of my first Liturgy due to it being such a different service than I was used to), I could sense that Liturgy was/is so much more than a penciled-in Sunday appointment. Orthodoxy is a faith that brings together – even, as Fr. Belcher described – the seemingly opposing “works” and “spirituality” – We need both! And his talk was a needful, convicting reminder of this.” -Anna-Sophia

”I definitely struggle with living in the Way without making a checklist (lol), but I find I get closer to my spiritual best when I decelerate. Most of the best moments in my spiritual life happen when I slow down, reflect, and truly focus on God and the moment. My faith becomes a checklist when life speeds up, I let myself get too busy, and I start to rush through prayer, my interactions with others, etc. I try to avoid falling into “Phariseeism” by countering moments of pride with thoughts of thankfulness and humility. Galatians 2:20 has really helped me center myself in my spiritual journey; it is the only Bible verse I’ve ever memorized: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” -Peggy

“When he was talking about orthodoxy being a way of life, I got reminded of struggles that I used to have and that I may slightly struggle with to this day – putting God into every aspect of your life. Throughout high school and especially my first two years of college, I was very focused on my academics and career but I never put God into it. I never asked God to lead me, instead, I took things into my own hands. I felt like I was a part-time Christian because I was only asking Him for guidance concerning certain matters. But the thing is God should be put everywhere. He should be the light to your career, your friendships and bonds. Instead of telling God, “Please help me to get into this company I really want to intern with them,” maybe we ought to say, “Lord if it is Your will for me to work with this company then so be it, and if not, then may I be deterred from it.” When I started saying this prayer, I saw that was paving the way for me and it was very much clear.” -Kermena

  

Module 2: How to Have A Hospitable Heart, led by Georgia Mamalakis

We discussed how we have been affected by being given hospitality, the importance of being present, how to cultivate a welcoming spirit, and shared practical suggestions with each other.

 

“I think too often I don’t approach people or am not hospitable because of my own pride- I think do I want to add one more person who could potentially judge me to this moment, or would I rather stay in a safe shell? As soon as we are hospitable to someone and invite them in, we have the potential to get hurt by them, too. And I think that’s where the second point is so important- being hospitable to Christ and having Him dwell in you and giving you that God-esteem, which helps us to be hospitable to ourselves by knowing Christ is in us. Allowing ourselves to give and serve out of pure philanthropia and philoxenia means overflowing with love that we just give in abundance to everyone we meet, not thinking about how they might perceive/judge us in return. Unconditional love is giving without expecting any love back, but it’s also giving without worrying about/expecting certain reactions or approval for self-assurance.” -Nicole 

“One of the things Mrs. Mamalakis mentioned that stuck with me was that we should “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” I think that’s something I struggle with. I might do something nice for someone, but there are times when I’m thinking about how I don’t want to be doing it or what better things I have to do. This is something I need to work on, so that’s what I’m going to try in order to better cultivate hospitality.” -Jane

I had a realization the other day that absolutely blew my mind- maybe y’all have already mentioned or thought about this. The whole topic of hospitality has had such an impact on me in that I think it’s really the basis of the faith- you can’t trust, grow, or cultivate love without being hospitable to at least someone- Christ, your neighbor, or yourself. And I realized the absolute epitome of this is the Theotokos!!! She LITERALLY allowed the Holy Spirit inside of her and allowed Christ to dwell and be born in her, and then continued to give Him a place to lay his head, like Mrs. Mamalakis talked about. We are all called to be “God-bearers”, and since the Theotokos literally bore God, she is the perfect example of hospitality. -Nicole

 

Module 3: Cultivating A Spirit of Service, led by Katrina Bitar

We discussed barriers to serving, how service is about people instead of projects, and decompartmentalizing service. One of the questions covered was, “What are your thoughts on this quote from John Chrysostom: ‘Need alone is a poor man’s worthiness’?”

“This quote boils down all of the societal dynamics around service and giving to its key component: meet a need. No other factor should matter. We should not appoint ourselves judge over a poor man to try and determine whether or not his needs meet our standards. There is only one judge, God, and He is the only one who should judge. If a beggar is lying or deceitful about his need, then God will judge him, but if we don’t show him love and service, God will judge us. We must multiply the mercy God gives us constantly.” -Chase

“This quote perfectly anticipates the response of a hardened heart. Living in a big city, it is easy to become numb or even blind to the poverty and suffering around you. I could easily pass the same homeless man under the same bridge every day and think nothing of it. I love how, in the video and this quote, there is a focus on the softening of the heart and coming to realize our mutual humanity and share in the responsibility of clothing and feeding the poor. I also struggle with making excuses like “there are shelters for that” or “maybe it’s not safe.” But this is indicative of a hardened heart-this shrugs responsibility and places blame on others, caring only for oneself. This quote is humbling in just the right way.” – Cassidy

“Need alone is a poor man’s worthiness” A-MEN. It has taken me a while to truly understand this concept. The houseless in Louisville are often viewed with scorn and are often passed by. It is if not living up to the American Dream of Prosperity, with a house and happy family and a steady job, is a secular sin.” -Elijah

 

Thank you to everyone who has helped to create this beautiful community! Our course still has a few more weeks, and I look forward to learning more in our discussions and zoom calls.

Also, apply for the Student Leadership Board!! Engaging in fulfilling work and gaining friends who have become family has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. You could be a part of this community, too! Learn more about how to apply HERE.

Anna Spencer

is a senior at Kansas State University studying Nutrition & Health. She loves getting to know people, reading, traveling, eating good food, and anything outdoors (if it is not cold). She is Real Break Student Leader this year and is so grateful for the course she has been able to create and the people she has met through OCF programming!

Ask yourself: what brings me peace?

Ask yourself: what brings me peace?

“Peace begins with a smile.” I still remember hearing that quote by Mother Teresa from a friend one summer at church camp. Honestly, I didn’t think it was true. It sounded too simple. This may have been because growing up I heard phrases like “world peace” or the Bible verse “a peace that surpasses all understanding.” Peace seemed so big, like an immense undertaking or something to accomplish.

However, I was wrong. Peace is right in front of us. It’s inside of us and it’s a gift from God. One way to seek peace, then, is to turn inward. Ask yourself: what brings me peace?

For me, stillness is often the answer. Psalm 46:10 tells us “Be still and know that I am God.” There is so much external noise and there always will be. Stillness provides a refuge from the noise and the distraction. Because we are all created uniquely, stillness can look different for each one of us. A priest once told me, “Do what brings you closer to God.” He didn’t give me a recipe with all the ingredients and measurements. Instead, he encouraged me to listen to my heart and to trust myself. I mentioned to him that I love journaling at the beach to which he replied, “Great! Do THAT!” Naturally, I listed off a whole bunch of other activities in which I feel close to God: surfing, baking, reading books, talking with friends. He smiled at me and nodded his head. As I was listing these things it occurred to me that I was drawing near to God during these activities because I felt at peace doing them. They are stress relievers and they calm my heart and my mind, allowing me to be still (even if I am not physically “still”), be at peace, and be with God.

Something I have to remind myself of, something I think is important to remember, is that we have an external environment–what others say and do, what’s going on in the world–that we cannot control. However, we have an internal environment–our soul, our relationship with Christ–that we can control.

When the internal environment is at peace, things happening in the external environment are easier to handle. Internal peace provides stability, a foundation for us to act from. That foundation is Christ, who is goodness and life. St. Philaret of Moscow prays, “Teach me to treat all that come to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Thy will governs all.” This prayer reflects the difficulty we can undergo in dealing with our external environment and encourages us to take care of our internal environment through Christ.

Another aspect of peace I like to remember is that peace is powerful. St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire a spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” Peace is contagious! Just looking at someone in church who is deep in prayer, or gazing at the icons, or smiling as they cross themselves I feel at peace. They aren’t doing anything crazy like finding a cure to world hunger. They’re doing simple acts that stem from a spirit of peace. Seeing them helps me refocus inwardly, to block out the noise and return to myself and Christ in me. And it gives me peace.

The Prodigal Son struggled with noise and the temptations of his external environment. In Luke 15:17 it reads that he eventually turns inward, “But when he came to himself…” realizing his need for his father, to be in relationship with him and to be in his house. Always return to yourself, to Christ. Surround yourself with people who refocus you when the noise grows louder and becomes distracting.

This week we enter into the Lenten season. I don’t know about you, but being a vegan for forty days doesn’t bring me immediate peace. In fact, it stresses me out. Yet, in the Prayer Before The Icon of Christ (found in our little red prayer book) it says, “We cry aloud unto thee: thou hast filled all things with joy, O our Savior, for thou didst come to save the world.” There is profound peace knowing Christ has filled all things with joy, even suffering. We can think about the martyrs who had peace and joy in their suffering, in their death. I know that if the martyrs experienced peace and joy in death, I can experience Christ’s peace and joy in ‘little deaths’ to meat and cheese. We are being called to partake in Christ’s suffering for these next 40 days, but we are also being called to partake in His peace and His joy. In dying to ourselves we will experience life, just as the martyrs’ death brought them to be in paradise with their holy King, and be in a place where there is only “a peace that surpasses all understanding.” Doesn’t sound as daunting anymore, does it?

Peace be with you, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Andrew Gluntz

Tatiana Speier

Hello everyone! I’m Tati. I was raised in the Orthodox Church with both my grandfathers being parish priests here at St. Athanasius in Santa Barbara, CA. I have been a camp counselor at Camp St. Nicholas and have served as a leader for Youth Equipped to Serve.

Some things I love to do in my free time are trying a new recipe, going to the beach (I just learned how to surf! I’m terrible, but I enjoy it), and spending time with my nieces and nephew.

In December I graduated from nursing school and I just got hired by the local hospital to work in the oncology unit. I recently learned the term “oncology” comes from the Greek word Onkos which means burden; the illness was imagined to be a burden carried by the body.

Our faith teaches us to carry our cross, our burdens, something we know we can’t do without our Savior and without each other. I feel blessed to serve those struggling with the weight of cancer.

Of Incense and Thank You Cards

Of Incense and Thank You Cards

If my life came with a pack of thank you cards, I would have sent them all by now. One for my father and his steady reassurance in every circumstance. One for my aunt, with her welcoming kitchen and mugs of tea. Two for my best friend and the way she makes me laugh, and the list goes on. If I had thank you cards for my gratitude I would have stuffed so many envelopes by now that USPS would dread stopping at my mailbox. 

And yet, as easy as it is for me to show my thanks to the people I love, I often find myself caught on the idea of writing a thank you note to God. How do I pour nineteen years worth of gratitude for all the joys and sorrows of my life into a 4×6 card? And even if I could, how do I get past the fact that my prayer is too insignificant – that my miniscule act of praise is not enough, that even though my cup runneth over, it is too messy to put a stamp on and mail to God? 

When I am overwhelmed with thoughts like these, I think of the second verse of Psalm 140.

 “Let my prayer arise before thy sight as incense, and let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.” (Psalm 140:2 OSB)

While prayer and sacrifice may seem entirely unrelated to gratitude, they hold more in common than you might think. As Orthodox Christians, we know that thankfulness is ultimately demonstrated in sacrificial love. We see this in the Gospel reading from this past Sunday (Luke 12:16-21).

In Sunday’s reading, we hear Christ tell his disciples a parable of the man who, after seeing how plentiful the yield of his crops is, decides to tear down his barns and build even larger ones so that he can store up all his grain. In other words, the farmer chooses to celebrate the plentitude of the crops all by himself. He fails to recognize that his grain is a gift from God and that the purpose of a gift is to share it. Instead of showing gratitude for his gift by distributing it to others and sacrificing the wealth that he has accumulated, the farmer holds on to his goods tighter than ever. 

Like the farmer, I often find myself failing to show proper gratitude for the gifts I have been given. More often than not, I am unwilling to share my gifts with others. I would rather keep to myself, orbiting around what I’ve been given by God. 

Yet as St. Basil tells us in his homily on the parable of the farmer and his barns, “You have been made a minister of God’s goodness, a steward of your fellow servants. Do not suppose that all this was furnished for your own gullet! Resolve to treat the things in your possession as belonging to others.” Though it is easy to be selfish, to put on a pair of blinders and view achievements as solely our own or focus on the benefits that we alone can reap from what God has given us, we are called to give thanks for what we have been given by sacrificing it for others — by opening our barns and celebrating the good things God has given us. 

I may not know how to write a thank you card to God, but reading the earlier verse from Psalm 140 through the lens of this week’s Gospel lesson makes the answer crystal clear.  The way to thank God for the gifts he has given me is by lifting up my hands in sacrifice — lifting my hands and reaching out to give what I have been given back to God. Christ shines through each and every one of us. Every sacrifice we make to the world whether it be time, money, or the smallest kindness swirls before God’s eyes like rose-scented smoke on Sunday morning.

So when I begin to close in on how I compare to the people around me — when I want to close the doors and count my gifts, grain by grain, I am reminded that this is no evening sacrifice. When I forget the incense of my actions, when I hang my head instead of lifting up my hands, then I am reminded of the celebration that comes with giving thanks. It is then that I push open my heart and treat people with kindness, as living icons of Christ. Only then can I watch my actions turn into incense, and lift my life up as an evening sacrifice.

Andrew Gluntz

Catherine Thompson

Student at Seattle Pacific University

I am a second-year student at Seattle Pacific University with a major in sociology. When I’m not sending letters to my friends, you can find me serving as a student leader in my dorm, re-reading my favorite books, or wading through the Seattle rain. It’s an honor to be an OCF student!

The Simplest, Littlest Things

The Simplest, Littlest Things

If you looked at my 2020 planner in January, you would see back-to-back classes, club meetings, assignments, and exams, as well as vacations, road trips, summer camp, and OCF events lined up for the year. 

That planner was basically useless a few months later. By March, as we all know, plans were postponed, with some eventually leading to cancellation. As someone who loves being on-the-go with an endless to-do list, it was difficult to feel thankful when I realized I wasn’t going to be living the 2020 I envisioned and planned for at the beginning of the year. 

When the initial shutdown occurred, I moved back in with my parents. Emotions were heightened: I was frustrated with the transition to remote learning, stressed because I simultaneously became IT, secretary, barber, chef (not a brilliant one, might I add), and chauffeur as soon as I parked in the garage at my parents’ home. I was disappointed that I couldn’t physically attend church, saddened by having to postpone or cancel plans, and distraught at the sight of the world amid the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic. As I created a new routine and schedule, I gave myself two options: sulk around in my sorrows or search for joy. It took me some time, but I chose to search for joy, and that’s when my attitude suddenly snapped together. 

Being back at home with my family allowed me to do things I regretted not doing prior to moving out in 2018, or doing things I missed doing with them while at UCSB. 

My mom attempted to teach me how to cook her Arab recipes. 

My dad and I visited our family vineyards more frequently, allowing us to breathe fresh air that felt stripped away when wearing a mask. 

My older sister and I bonded and spent more quality time together than we probably ever have in our lives. 

My education was (and still is) quite literally at my fingertips in a virtual world through my laptop.

Most importantly, my God is always surrounding me.

As challenging as it felt in the beginning, I found that it was the simplest, littlest things that I should have been more grateful for all along: my family, friends and community, my home, food, education, and faith. 

In a chaotic world that has felt like it’s crumbling this year, we should remember to be grateful to God and what He blesses us with, to be grateful for the plan He writes out for us, rather than trying to write it for ourselves. In the words of St. Basil the Great, 

“When you sit down to eat, pray. When you eat bread, do so thanking Him for being so generous to you. If you drink wine, be mindful of Him who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness. When you dress, thank Him for His kindness in providing you with clothes. When you look at the sky and the beauty of the stars, throw yourself at God’s feet and adore Him who in His wisdom has arranged things in this way. Similarly, when the sun goes down and when it rises, when you are asleep or awake, give thanks to God, who created and arranged all things for your benefit, to have you know, love, and praise their Creator.”

Andrew Gluntz

Jeanine Kaileh

Southwest Regional Student Leader

I am a 3rd year biopsychology major at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I enjoy cooking, baking, reading, journaling, and tatreezing (traditional Palestinian embroidery). I’m serving on the Student Leadership Board as the Southwest Regional Student Leader for my second year and love OCF with all of my heart!

Finding Fellowship Across the Sea

Finding Fellowship Across the Sea

 Leaving Greece to come to America for college, I had no idea how I would maintain my faith without having the ‘church’ around me – I was scared of my exposure to different religions and denominations because I had never experienced that before. In Greece, I found it uncommon to have religion-related differences. While I grew up in a God-centered family, I never questioned why I was Orthodox. Upon living in America, I found myself beginning to challenge many concepts and ideas I perhaps took for granted. Becoming a part of OCF, I was able to find a community with the resources to help me with these new questions.

It wasn’t until an entire year of college had passed that I randomly found out about OCF from a friend at church who invited me to a regional retreat. Let me tell you, I was a bit skeptical in the beginning knowing nothing about the organization. At that same point in time, I had been talking with my Russian friend about starting a club to unite all the Orthodox students on our campus, since we did not have anything like that yet. After researching the work of OCF on their website, I was genuinely fascinated. My first thought was, “we don’t have that in Greece.” Fast forward a day later and both my Russian friend and I registered for the retreat, which was coming up the following week. Immediately after our experience at the retreat, we started our club on campus as an OCF Chapter!

Everything happened so fast. I was so happy and excited to be part of a community where I could be 100% myself and not feel judged about my beliefs. I would have never imagined the blessings that OCF has brought to my life. I have gotten to meet people I can have fun with and connect with on a spiritual level. There is so much meaning in friendship and an even deeper connection when you share the same values and beliefs with someone. I didn’t even have that in Greece!

OCF opened the door for me to be with people who can understand and help me when I need advice or guidance. Through OCF, I’ve been able to participate in a Real Break Trip to Texas, a YES day, and other retreats . Ever since I learned about OCF, I went to all events I could! Real Break in Texas this past March was a life-changing experience. I got to serve with like-minded people knowing that we all chose to be there and serve. We worked to provide a home for someone who lost it due to hurricane Harvey. It was a very humbling experience I will never forget, alongside the program’s amazing leaders that brought all the fun! It is safe to say that OCF has been the best part of college.

Eirini

Eirini Symeonidou
(Ειρήνη Συμεωνίδου)

Berea OCF Chapter Leader

Eirini Symeonidou is an international student from Thessaloniki, Greece and goes to Berea College in Kentucky. She is a junior majoring in Agriculture and minoring in Sustainability and Environmental Studies. She is also a farmer at the college’s organic farm and loves spending time outdoors and going to the beach (when in Greece)! Eirini is a founding member of her college’s OCF chapter and loves to organize events and activities.

Living and Loving Through Our Crosses

Living and Loving Through Our Crosses

No matter who you are, you have experienced some sort of struggle in your life. You may have asked yourself: why is God allowing this to happen to me? Fr. Calinic Berger gave a beautiful homily (1:39:15) on this topic focusing on the verse: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24]. He explained how a cross is an unavoidable challenge God allows for those He loves. We can allow ourselves to become resentful or choose for it to bring us closer to Him. 

While in Romania last spring for Real Break (where we almost got locked out of the US… but that’s a story for another time), I learned about Fr. George Calciu (1925-2006). Fr. George was a Romanian priest living under Communist rule who boldly dared to preach The Gospel and bring hope to the Romanian people. Because of this, he was imprisoned and suffered through horrendous torture, some of which was “1984-style mind control experiments,” for twenty-one years. Fr. George eventually escaped to the United States where one of our trip leaders, Fr. Robert Miclean, was blessed to know him. Fr. Robert told us how Fr. George not only forgave his tormentors and prayed for them, but also he thanked them for bringing him closer to Christ. Fr. George was given a cross that he bore with such grace and humility. (For those who would like to read more of his story: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/46636.html). 

Here in America, we thankfully do not have to fear torture for our faith, but we still all have crosses to bear. This is not to make us angry and frustrated, but for the reason Fr. George saw: to bring us closer to God. Hearing this story in Romania was deeply humbling and solidified my belief that God uses everything for good. 

One experience that comes to mind is when my baby sister was diagnosed with a tumor. I am the oldest of six kids and had prayed and prayed for a sister. After four amazing brothers, God blessed me with a sister a month before I turned 13. However, before she turned 6 months old, the doctors found a rare tumor near her eye. Only around 300 people ever had suffered this type of tumor, and we were scared we would lose her or that she would have brain damage or be blinded. Her tumor miraculously went away, but for 6 years, it was a fearful and uncertain time of traveling 9 hours to MD Anderson in Houston. Our church family completely enveloped us with love, offering their homes to my parents while they stayed in Texas and taking care of their other five kids back in Kansas. A fruit of this cross regarding my sister’s health is now considering people family who I otherwise might not have known. We have even been gifted the opportunity to open our arms and share love with others going through health crises. 

These two stories are crosses that are outwardly visible, but crosses can also be more internal. A friend of mine felt disconnected, lonely, and deeply insecure during middle school and parts of high school. This was a time guided by low self-worth, but she realized that this experience formed her into a more inclusive, empathetic individual. Because of it, she has grown into the person she needed during that time and is able to connect on a deeper level with other young people currently going through similar struggles. 

We must remember not to compare our struggles to others’ and to rely on God’s grace to bring us towards the ultimate goal: salvation. Whatever your personal cross may be, know that you are not alone in your journey. We are together in the Body of Christ. May we all learn from examples like Fr. George as we strive to stay on the path towards Christ. 

Anna Spencer

is a senior at Kansas State University studying Nutrition & Health. She loves getting to know people, reading, traveling, eating good food, and anything outdoors (if it is not cold). She is Real Break Student Leader this year and would love it if you came to Real Break office hours (Time TBD) later this semester!

Awake, O Sleeper

Awake, O Sleeper

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.”

St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (5:14-16)

Awake Sleeper

In Greek myths, the personification of sleep was the god Hypnos who lived in Hades near the river of Lethe (forgetfulness) with his brother Thanatos (death). In many stories he is kind, gentle, and calm, however he possesses those human lives whom he lulls to sleep. From this god’s name we get the word hypnosis, for myths involving him reveal that it is the hypnotist that gains possession and control over the one he puts to sleep. From the time of Christ until now, the world has been attempting to lull the souls of Christians to sleep with its hypnotic way of life. We experience it today with an onslaught of flatteries, ideologies, comfortabilities, etc. These attacks on the soul are made in order that the Christian would fall into a deep spiritual sleep, for to fall asleep under the world’s hypnosis is to be possessed by it and to dwell in forgetfulness and death. This is what sin does to our souls. In commenting on this verse in Ephesians, St John Chrysostom writes, “By the sleeper and the dead, he means the man that is in sin; for he both exhales noisome odors like the dead, and is inactive like one that is asleep, and like him he sees nothing, but is dreaming, and forming fancies and illusions.”

We all experience the intoxicating slumber of this world and have some area of our spiritual life that is not awake. However, we are not created to be sleepers, but to abandon sin and be a people who rouse the soul. St Paul calls us to an exalted life, commanding us to awake and receive the light of Christ. Therefore, we must ask the question: How do we awaken our souls to receive this light?

According to the Fathers and Mothers of the church, in order to raise the soul out of the slumber of sin there are three practical habits that we can form.

The first of these habits is the mystical practice. This means to participate in the divine services and sacraments of the Church. Our life needs to revolve around these things as absolute essentials for keeping our souls alive and awake. The divine services of the Church bring is into direct contact with the Living God and they impart transformation to the soul. The sacraments are great medicines that allow us to partake of divine grace and give us strength to battle our own sins.

The second of these habits that we can form is the ascetical practice. This means to start and end our day at our icon corners or home altars, to read Scripture and the lives of the Saints daily, to keep the fasts prescribed by the Church, and to do as much as we can to fill our lives with the grace of God. Many times this second habit is hard because it requires us to set time aside, to give up some things we like, and to force ourselves even when we don’t feel like it. That’s ok! Nobody becomes a professional athlete or gets an advanced degree without first forcing oneself to set aside time to push forward for achievement. In fact, the very definition of asceticism is to deny oneself, as our Lord commanded us to do (Matt 16:24).

The third habit to awaken the soul is the practice of alms-giving. This means to give ourselves for others. This can be in the form of treasures like money or possessions, but this can also be in our time and talents. If we find it hard to give up things for others, especially earthly things, then we know that our soul is asleep and we need to awaken to a deeper spiritual life. How we raise up our soul is to sacrifice for others.

Awakening the soul can require a lot of effort, but our reward is beyond compare and the comfort that comes after is worth more than any struggle. St Paul says that if we rise and awaken our sleeping or dead soul, Christ’s light will be given to us. We are given an opportunity in this life not to just experience Christ’s paschal light, but to be given it—to live it. This is why our saints are painted with halos, because this great light shines from their awakened and alive sanctified souls. Let us Christians strive to be like them and embark on a path toward forming habits today that will keep our souls risen for eternity.

Fr. John

Fr. John Valadez

is the pastor of St. Timothy Antiochian Orthodox Church in Lompoc, California and is the Spiritual Advisor of SOYO in DLAW. He is a convert to Orthodoxy and was ordained to the holy priesthood in 2017. Fr. John is married to Khouria Krystina and they have five children.
Good Grief

Good Grief

By His Grace Bishop JOHN, Diocese of Worcester and New England

Feeling a little anxious or blue these days with all the changes in our lives? Good grief! That is good grief.  What if I told you that is the healthiest response I can think of? The term “good grief” always makes me first think of Charlie Brown and brings a smile to my face. But that’s not how I’m using the term “good grief” today. Today I mean that any change in routine is experienced as a loss. If nothing more than a loss of the routine to even our old sense of normalcy. Social distancing, completing coursework over social media, working from home, not going to the gym, locked out of restaurants and stores are all new experiences for us. I’m amazed at how well we have adapted. It is a sign of our resiliency, nevertheless some of us despite well crafted coping behaviors are climbing the walls and want to break the law and play frisbee or something. Good grief or grieving for me is the healthy response that is a part of a process that leads us to problem solve, accept that which we can’t change, adapt to new situations and survive. More than survive, perhaps we can reframe what is happening as an opportunity to grow spiritually, psychologically, emotionally and perhaps even physiologically.  I’m not saying God has sent this to us, but we can choose to use the time well. Grieving is the normal response to loss, and every change in our lives necessarily involves a loss. Grief here is normal and healthy, but we don’t want to get stuck in it.

This is where I want to talk about the opportunities that we are presented. Locked in the house or isolated at work offers us a chance to quiet down. Once we allow ourselves some silence, we can embrace our situation and discover God who has been waiting for us inside all along. We can let Him in, talk to Him, pray, read scriptures and really take some time to listen. We can discover and understand the mystical worlds of me, of God, of God and me! Worlds that are as complex as the galaxies, and no farther away than where we are right now. 

Like Deacon Marek and OCF, many of our clergy and parish leadership are taking advantage of your time at home to reach out and connect. They are using the often-disparaged social media outlets to do holy work, live stream worship and make individual contacts. There are support groups, chat rooms, bible studies, community virtual worship, web sites, spiritual resources and many other efforts going on keeping the web very busy.  It may be a good use of time to pay attention to some of these messages, listen to God inside, and be a better Orthodox Christian for it. To recap, I’m suggesting that we unplug, visit God, and then plug in and visit God with all our Orthodox comrades who are fighting the good fight together. This is a real fight and we are all in it together.

His Grace Bishop JOHN (Abdalah)

His Grace Bishop JOHN (Abdalah)

Guest Contributor/Bishop

Bishop JOHN (Abdalah) holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in Pastoral Care from Pittsburgh Theological
School, a Master of Divinity from St. Vladimir’s Seminary, a Master’s equivalency certificate in Pastoral
Counseling from Pittsburgh Pastoral Institute, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from
Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. Bishop JOHN resides over the diocese of Worcester and New England for the Antiochian Archdiocese.

The Lesson of Sadness

The Lesson of Sadness

In season 2 of NBC’s The Good Place, the character Michael (who is an immortal being) learns about the human concept of death. His sudden grasp of the concept throws him into an existential crisis, until the protagonist of the show, Eleanor Shellstrop, intervenes. “I don’t know if what I’m going to say is going to hurt or help, but screw it,” she says to him. “Do you know what’s really happening right now? You’re learning what it’s like to be human. All humans are aware of death. So, we’re all a little bit sad, all the time. That’s just the deal.”

“Sounds like a crappy deal,” Michael responds.

“Well yeah, it is. But we don’t get offered any other ones,” Eleanor continues. “And if you try to ignore your sadness, it just ends up leaking out of you anyway. I’ve been there. Everybody’s been there. So, don’t fight it.”

I’m an avid binger of The Good Place, and this particular moment in the show is most definitely the one that’s had the most impact on me. Just the simple concept of “we’re all a little bit sad, all the time” is such an accurate description of human nature. It’s true that our lives are filled with that perpetual sense of sadness and anxiety that stems from the notion of death, whether that be the fear of death, the presence of death, or the death of something we hold dear to our hearts. Life is filled with death: the death of loved ones, the death of specific times and eras, the death of childhood, of innocence, of love, and of relationships. Death can be seen in many different forms, and all of the various manifestations of death are difficult in their own unique way.

Currently, I’m dealing with the death of a specific time and era. I recently moved from Illinois to Colorado for college, which meant I had to leave behind my family, my friends, and my boyfriend. My boyfriend and I are now in a long-distance relationship, and one thing I’ve noticed throughout the week we’ve been apart is that his absence has settled into me in the form of a perpetual ache. I’m enjoying my new classes and my new environment, but that constant little ache is something that most likely won’t leave. This means that I need to learn how to integrate that ache into my life.

That idea of accepting sadness as embedded into daily human life isn’t just something talked about on The Good Place. It’s also an idea that’s very well-articulated in Orthodox Christianity, specifically, when it comes to depression. When I was depressed during my junior year, I wasn’t very open to Orthodox Christianity. I was more or less agnostic: constantly wrestling with religion and unable to produce or find answers to satisfy myself. Because of this, I was trying my hardest to find comfort and solace in what the secular world was providing for me. I followed advice pages on Instagram, I looked through self-help books and blogs, and I watched a myriad of YouTube videos. They were often very helpful, and provided me with a few techniques for combating negative thoughts and feelings that I still use today. However, there was one common theme among them all. They all seemed to point me towards superficial solutions, such as talking to friends or practicing self-care. An idea that was fairly common in the secular ideology was that sadness was bad and that we shouldn’t feel sad because we have the right to be happy. I was bombarded with the impression that I should constantly be doing things that would take away the sadness; I should be filling my life with things that made me feel warm, fuzzy, and happy. This brought me into a very toxic mindset where I would indignantly ask myself why on earth I couldn’t be happy if I, in fact, deserved happiness and where my sadness seemed isolating and ostracizing because I thought that I was “supposed to be happy.” I felt like the world was against me; It seemed like everything was unfair because I didn’t feel the way I wanted to feel.

Secular western culture is very focused on individualism. We see this in our career paths: children are more likely to leave their parents and family in order to follow their own personal vocation than they would be in other cultures or in past eras. We see this in our concepts of entertainment: we are more likely to focus on what we prefer to do in our free time rather than what our families want to do. This idea of individualism is also very evident through the secular view on depression. Basically, we are told that if we do not feel happy and fulfilled in our individual lives, there is something wrong. We are bogged down with the concept of personal fulfillment, and we are constantly trying to obtain it in any way we can. We spend time in toxic habits, such as chronic partying, drinking, or drug use because it makes us feel good which we believe is how we’re supposed to feel.

You may wonder where I’m going with this. When I was in my state of depression, I went to a Greek Orthodox monastery with my sister to see if it would make me feel better. During this time, I was having difficulty sitting in church because church services were something that made me anxious and upset, particularly because of the never-ending pressure I received from my church community to combat my depression with prayer along with the ongoing criticism I faced because of my perpetual religious doubt. So, while my sister attended Vespers, I wandered around the empty monastery until I found an interesting book in the bookstore. I don’t remember what it was called, but I know that the book was about the Orthodox perspective on depression. Though the Orthodox Church was, at the time, something I was really struggling with, I was searching for answers in any place I could get them. So, I began to read.

The book mentioned something that I had never heard before: humans are supposed to be sad. We are supposed to be a little bit sad, all the time, just like Eleanor Shellstrop said. And just like the quote in The Good Place, masked sadness will always find a way to leak out. The book was a little more in depth than The Good Place, however. It talked about how humans are, because of the fall, separated from God. And with that separation comes death, and with the realization of death comes the reality that we are meant to be a little bit sad all of the time. During that night of reading, I learned that the first step to conquering depression is to realize that, as humans, we aren’t supposed to be happy all the time. But at the same time, we aren’t supposed to let the reality of death bog us down. Instead, we are called to find a way to mingle that very human sadness with the divine joy of eternal life. We are supposed to learn how to be hopeful and filled with joy while simultaneously recognizing the ever-present ache that settles inside us. The idea that sadness shouldn’t be constantly ignored or shut down is a concept that I still hold very near and dear to my heart.

So how does this relate to long-distance relationships? Well, I haven’t been in a long distance relationship for long, but it’s my experience that the pain of separation shows up as a constant ache. It’s sort of a dull roar, if you will, of sadness that is manageable but always present. But I know that that kind of ache isn’t something that’s bad or unnatural. It isn’t something I’m supposed to get rid of. Rather, it’s a good lesson on what being human is really like. It’s just a part of the ache we all feel in being separated from (or, if you’ll allow me the comparison, in a long-distance relationship with) God. We are all aware of death in its many different forms. Because of this awareness, we are all a little bit sad, all the time. And maybe that’s not wrong. Maybe that’s not something we should suppress or ignore. Our sadness, no matter the source, is just a manifestation of our humanity. Humanity is bittersweet and ambiguous, and pain and sadness are realities that are hard to accept. But we are called to unify our sadness and our joy, and ignoring the sadness is like ignoring an aspect of our humanity. As Eleanor Shellstrop says: “I’ve been there. Everybody’s been there. So, don’t fight it.”

Alison Standish

Alison Standish

Guest Blog Contributor

My name is Alison Standish. I grew up in Aurora Illinois, but I am currently in my freshman year at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado. I am pursuing a major in Mass Communications, and I hope to eventually have a career where I can tell stories for a living. Some of my favorite things include: writing, reading, listening to music, longboarding, and spending as much time as I possibly can exploring the outdoors. 

Why Apply?

Why Apply?

Why Apply by Andrew Gluntz

It seems weird that only a year ago, I was staring at my computer screen trying to write my SLB application. I was nervous, sure. I didn’t know if I could manage the work. I didn’t really know what I had to offer to the board, and I certainly couldn’t tell you three reasons why I was fit to be an RSL (hint: this will be important when you’re writing your app). I didn’t even have a solid professional reference. But what I did have was two years of amazing experiences in OCF. I had an incredibly supportive chapter that I had helped lead my sophomore year. I had been to two College Conferences and a retreat. I had friends I had made through OCF, random small group leaders who became my people (spoiler alert: OCF gives you friends). And lucky for me, I had two role models showing me exactly what serving the church on the SLB looked like.

 I’m sure anyone on the board could tell you all the great things about being a servant leader, the amazing community and support of other young, Orthodox leaders, and all the great times we have when we’re together. You’ve heard it. I’ve probably said it. You can most definitely hear it again if you ask (and you might not even have to). So today I’m going to tell you all the crummy things about being on the SLB.

  • Coordinating meetings across four time zones is a NIGHTMARE. Working with people who are just waking up when you’re having lunch is the most frustrating thing ever. Your free time never lines up. EST is stuck in my head forever.
  • Goodbyes suck. And when you’ve spent a week praying, working, and laughing alongside your best friends you met a week ago, they really suck.
  • Thanks to Google Drive and Slack, I have ANOTHER thing to procrastinate with when I really should be doing homework. I know, OCF work is better than homework, but unfortunately, I can’t put midterms on pause just because it’s for church (maybe I can get an exception?)
  • Let’s just say time zones exist for a reason. When you haven’t seen your friends in months and the closest you’ll ever be is a five-hour plane ride away, it’s heartbreaking when you realize SLI is eight months away.
If you’ve held on to this terrible monologue this long, I have a feeling you’ve got what it takes. Stamina is a given. Determination helps a lot too, especially when the odds of pulling off an event are seriously stacked against you. You must love OCF a lot if you were even mildly entertained by this, so that’s another step in the right direction. And if you’re reading this in the first place, you want to serve. You want to get involved, and you want to be a steward of your talents. You know that God is calling you to serve His Church, and you know OCF has impacted you in so many ways and you know you want to step up.

So, apply. Don’t apply because I told you to (but you should apply). Don’t apply because your friends are applying (but you should encourage your friends to apply). Don’t apply because you want to get cool t-shirts (but you should design some cool merch for us). Don’t even apply because it sounds like fun (but I can guarantee, it will be fun).

Don’t apply because you think you can afford to give yourself over to Christ’s calling in your life. Apply because you can’t afford not to. 

You get the drift.

Apply for the board.

Andrew Gluntz

Andrew Gluntz

Great Lakes Regional Student Leader

Andrew is the current student leader residing over the Great Lakes region, and is next year’s SLB Chairman. Andrew goes to THE Ohio State University and is a Chemical Engineering major. In his free time, Andrew enjoys cooking, swimming, and playing music. He is also ambidextrous! His favorite saint is  Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnika. If you have any questions for Andrew feel free to reach out to him at greatlakesstudent@ocf.net