Why We Fast: Living the Angelic Life

Why We Fast: Living the Angelic Life

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

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

Image from  Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

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

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

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

Image from Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

About the Author


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

Why We Fast: Thy Will Be Done

Image from  Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

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

It is hard to avoid self-centeredness.

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

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

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

Image from  Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

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

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

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

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

About the Author


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

Why We Fast: Purifying our Prayer

Like many other “second-order” virtues, fasting is spiritually beneficial principally because of what it enables us to do, or learn, or achieve, rather than intrinsically, in its own right. Fasting assists us in prayer by a) clearing the mind, b) by removing certain common physiological and psychological shackles to concentrated and sustained prayer, and c) by putting us back in touch with the reality of our genuine dependence upon God’ providence, instilling in us a sense of humility and realism about our factual situation as created beings. In addition to these more practical benefits, fasting is also important as an obedience, one which builds character by instilling in us the more general virtue of self-restraint, giving us practice in setting our own desires to one side for the purpose of fulfilling God’s will. Finally, fasting is a momentary and deliberate mode of participation in a higher life, a paradisical life, in which the death, pain, and suffering of other creatures is not a condition for human survival – a moment which both forshadows the final eschaton, and looks backwards to the life of Adam and Eve before the fall, enabling those of us who have not taken upon ourselve the more demanding obligations of the monastic life, a temporary mode of participation in that ascetical ideal. For all of these reasons, fasting is important, and indeed, obligatory for Orthodox Christians.*

Photo from  Wikimedia

Photo from Wikimedia

This week, I’d like to specifically address the question of precisely how fasting helps us in the art of prayer. To a great extent, this assistance is physiological in character. One of the general results of reduced food intake is that the body begins, instead of burning ingested calories, to use resources already stored in the body as fat for food. This biological process, called ketosis, was absolutely essential for human survival during periods of want, and was found by most ancient cultures, including the ancient Jews, to be highly effective for clearing the mind from some of its customary frenetic activity, and for encouraging a certain degree of dispassion (in that one finds it easier not to obsess about what one “wants”). Both of these effects are, for obvious reasons, helpful in one’s religious life.

Fasting also helps one stay alert, since while one is fasting one is not subject to the usual glut of high calories after one’s meals, and so not as strongly affected by a desire to sleep after eating. This too, is useful, both for staying awake during private prayer, and during the public services of the Church, which tend to be more frequent during the fasting periods.

Amazingly enough, fasting even helps one be less concerned about eating and, once one is accustomed to it, less distracted by food. Biologically speaking, in addition to helping one burn body fat, ketosis also has the advantage of helping one feel less hungry and helping one to maintain muscle tone. So fasting, when taken seriously, actually helps one overcome one’s obsession with food itself. This is, I think, helpful for people to know, since I find that converts, for instance, are often afraid to keep the fast for fear of dealing with the discomfort of actual hunger. This is not generally a problem, for simple biological reasons related to ketosis.

The part of us that fasting usually causes to suffer is the part of us that wants to be constantly entertained and catered to – and, of course, this is one of the very aspects of our character that we are seeking to overcome through fasting and prayer in the first place.

Photo from Real Break Constantinople 2009

Photo from Real Break Constantinople 2009

To be fair, ketosis, as a sustained biological process, is usually not fully entered into save after a somewhat longer period of extended or complete fasting, which is why the so called “Ninevite Fast” (a complete three-day fast) at the beginning of Lent was customary for Orthodox Christians of the past and also why a regimen of no more than two small meals a day was proscribed for weekdays during Lent. When fasting is practiced in such a way, in its fullness, as it were, so that one begins to realize the degree of one’s fundamental dependence upon God and the kindly benefits of His sheltering and nurturing creation, then we are also given a visceral sense of our own habitual ingratitude and the goodness of God’s creation. Without such additional efforts, however, the practical impact of fasting on our prayer life may be relatively small, and difficult to perceive, and this appears to have led many in the modern Church to question its usefulness on empirical grounds. Those of the faithful who have made use of the traditional fasting practices of the Church in their fullness, however, are well aware of the prayerful and dispassionate benefits of the practice. If you don’t believe me – go ask any monastic!

In any case, fortunately there are other benefits of fasting available even to those of us who do nothing more than keep the basic fasting rules regarding what types of food may or may not be eaten on given days. I’ll discuss that more next week.

* There are, of course, some relatively rare health reasons for which fasting may be physically harmful and contra-indicated for particular individuals. But this is far less common than generally believed, and such complicated situations are properly handled by economia, with the competent assistance of both medical and spiritual guides. The fasting obligation of the Orthodox faith is not something that one can or should set aside on one’s own, as an Orthodox Christian. Obligatory, in this case, means obligatory.

About the Author


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

Gonna Coach You Up Good!

Gonna Coach You Up Good!

Here is a simple question (so don’t overthink it!): Who was your toughest teacher, professor, or coach? Got it? For me it was my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Lewis; a tough as nails, no-nonsense educator who knew that beneath my class clown exterior lurked a serious student in need of discipline. I actually thanked her years later for her tireless efforts in straightening me out.

Students and athletes understand the need for dedicated teachers and coaches willing to invest the time in our academic, athletic, and personal development and this principle is no less true in the spiritual life though it is frequently overlooked. Recent studies indicate that a key determinant in retaining our faith into adulthood is the influence of a non-family member who is serious about eternity.

In the Holy Orthodox Church, we are encouraged to place ourselves under the tutelage of a Spiritual Father or Mother; someone willing to establish a vested interest in our spiritual growth and to walk the path of salvation beside us. In the same way that we cannot effectively teach ourselves astrophysics or the nuances of a quality golf swing we cannot effectively be our own guide in the spiritual life.

Photo from  Ellie Davies

Photo from Ellie Davies

So how do we go about finding a Spiritual Father or Mother? Can almighty Google help us out here? Not so much; and there are a handful of basic points to consider as we begin our search. The first is that having a spiritual director is of limited value if we aren’t regularly engaging the divine worship of the Church. Just as students won’t learn very well if they skip class and athletes won’t improve if they bail out on practice, Orthodox Christians are hard-pressed to make spiritual progress estranged from Church.

Next, we must disabuse ourselves of our consumer mentality in searching out a guide. We are conditioned from our earliest memories to view everything through the prism of our likes and opinions, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. But as with teachers and coaches, the spiritual guide best for us is likely not one we would “select” for ourselves.

Nine times out of ten, (or more) the perfect spiritual father for each of us is simply our parish priest and particularly so if he has known you since your early childhood. Think about it, he will have baptized you, blessed you, communed you frequently, and anointed you when you were ill, heard your first confession, and encouraged you when you were low.

There is, in my observation, a very unhealthy “guru cultism” in our approach to this topic today that reminds me very much of the herd mentality of the 1960’s when young folk ran after one exotic guru after the next (and bonus points were awarded if the Beatles liked him!) And this is sad because in succumbing to this temptation we risk supplanting a healthy teacher/student relationship with a potentially idolatrous one; guided as much by conceit and a need to feel special than by the Holy Spirit.

Finally, proximity and access are really important considerations in finding a spiritual director. It makes very little sense to place oneself under the care of someone so distant from us that we cannot go frequently to him or her for advice and guidance. The most saintly father in Kiev or Kalavrita does me very little good if I live in Milwaukee.

But I am convinced enough in the immutable fact of God’s love for His children that He will bring into our lives the perfect Spiritual Father or Mother in that creative and often unexpected way that only God can do! Whenever I am able to visit with my geronda I run to him for confession and blurt out all my “stuff” because I trust him, I know that he loves me, he never judges me though he does push me, he is given insight into my soul by the Holy Spirit, and I absolutely know that he prays for me every day!

So please reconnect with your parish priest or spiritual father! They (that is to say “we”) reaaaally like hearing from you and knowing how better to pray for you in your journey to the Kingdom!

Love and blessings,
Fr. Apostolos Hill

About the Author


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

Why Go?

Why Go?

Image from  MMCHS

Image from MMCHS

So, I went to the doctor recently since I wasn’t feeling at all well after dragging a cold around for a few weeks. As usually happens, it had locked my chest up tight and I wasn’t getting any better. The friendly receptionist checked me in quickly and, after taking my vitals, directed me to the examination room.

Soon enough the doctor entered the room and asked “What seems to be the problem?” I really wanted to tell him about my cold and chest congestion and how miserable I felt but was embarrassed and afraid that he might think poorly of me for not washing my hands frequently, not eating properly, and not exercising, so I mumbled; “Nothing.”

There I sat with relief from my suffering at hand but I couldn’t bring myself to admit the reality of my illness. So I left the office no better, with no prescription in hand, and no reason to hope I would improve anytime soon!

Rather silly, huh? We can easily understand how vitally important it is for us to level with our family doctor about our physical ailments but we struggle with applying the same logic to our spiritually lives. Simply substitute the word “priest” for “doctor” and “sins” for “a cold” in the anecdote above and you get the point.

In precisely the same way that we wouldn’t anticipate being judged for being ill (after all, even doctors get sick, right?) we should not anticipate being judged when we go to confession in our parish (after all, even priests sin, right?) As with the physician, so with the priest; confession is not about judgment, it is about divine healing!

Like a cold virus, sin attacks the host. St. Paul wrote the believers in Rome (6:23) “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” God is not offended or diminished in any way by my sins. It is I myself who am harmed by the sins I commit. Sin pays a “wage” and that wage is death.

But since Jesus Christ is the “Great Physician,” He desires to make us well, to bind up our broken parts, to cleanse our wounds, to nurture us back to good health, and to set us on the path to recovery. And the means He has ordained for this healing ministry is the Holy Mystery of Confession.

Some people today make the claim that confession is unnecessary but St. James disagrees when he writes (James 5:16) “Confess your faults one to another that you may be healed.” And for centuries Christians did precisely that; confessed their sins publicly in the Church before receiving Holy Communion. But as our Church communities grew, it became necessary for confession to take place privately between the penitent and the priest.

Image from  Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

God is merciful and He desires our salvation as St. John famously wrote (1 John 1:9) “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And much hinges on that little word “if.” In order to confess our sins we must first admit that we have them. And everyone sins!

But beyond merely wiping the slate clean of our sins through confession, these regular check-ups with our spiritual physicians establishes a regimen of spiritual wellness. We receive wisdom from the Holy Spirit, light for our path, and the strength to keep walking. The weight of our sins is removed as we reconcile with God as He pulls us into His embrace to say “I love you, my child! Don’t give up! I walk beside you!”

We may have many who judge us in this life but God isn’t one of them! Jesus Himself says; (John 3:17) “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but so that the world might be saved through Him.” And as I kneel in front of my spiritual father when I confess I know that I am not receiving judgment but divine healing!

For the sake of our souls, we must run to Holy Confession frequently to be refreshed and made well and to be reminded of Christ’s love for us “who Himself bore our sins” (1 Peter 2:24) as we lay our sins, doubts, and worries at His feet!

About the Author


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

Fasting, Prayer, and Silence

As Orthodox we always ask ourselves how much publicity and noise we should make on campus. We have left the home, the comfortable context where we feel our identity to be less challenged. Morality was also easier with someone else in charge: parents, priest, home parish community, etc. So here we are at college, learning to stand on our own feet (hopefully). Who are we? Do we shout “ORTHODOX HERE!?” Do we forsake Church with the first mistakes and signs of imperfection or impurity? We are learning to be ourselves but are told to be free of pride… How do we manage it all?

Fasting, Prayer, and Silence | Orthodox Christian Fellowship

CC Image courtesy of St. Petersburg Orthodox Theological Academy on Flickr

Sin and temptation that comes in a time of freedom and uncertainty is also a providential place of challenge that helps us grow and improve spiritually. There are some shocking sayings of St. Anthony in the Alphabetic Collection of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

Anthony said to Abba Poemen,

4. This is the great work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.’ 5. He also said, “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.’ He even added, ‘Without temptations, no-one can be saved.’ 6. Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?’ and the old man said to him, ‘do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.’ 7. Abba Anthony said, ‘I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.”

The readings before Lent challenge us to not argue about things with people who have different opinions: “As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables.” (Romans 14:1-2) We control the “tongue and… stomach.” Notice: we are eating vegetables now! We do this to repent, or “re-think” and change, gain confidence in God’s ability to change us. This is humility—to know that God gives victory, not our righteousness, successes, intellect, or purity. Everything else is defeat; only Christ’s humility is perfect faith. We feel it by the Paschal vigil, when we are tired, weak and hungry…

We ask “Who are we and how do we define ourselves?” Be defined by going to Church, believing, self-restraint and the confidence that does not proclaim our righteousness, but rather the confidence of Christ’s silence, God’s silence at the Cross, the silence of the life-giving Tomb and the silence of Christ who is in the “hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison…”(Mathew 25:44). This silence is what teaches us to listen to and love others. This silence (of mouth, mind, internet) is what gets us through the “snares,” the mistakes we have to ‘make for ourselves.’ The prodigal son knows this. We will have temptations and fall; we can only learn humility this way—the confidence that God saves and raises us. This is the truly successful OCF chapter:

where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:11, OSB)

My practical tip, the one which is best borne out by working with OCF chapters, is this: Learn restraint and silence together!

All the ideas and programs in the world don’t help without learning humility and restraint that guide us toward confidence in Christ.

About the Author


This is a guest post from Fr. Elijah Mueller. Fr. Elijah is the pastor of St. Makarios Mission, OCA, at the University of Chicago and the Director of the Diocese of the Midwest OCA Catechist and Diaconal Vocations Program. He is the Chapter Spiritual Advisor at the University of Chicago, and the Great Lakes Regional Spiritual Advisor for OCF. He is currently completing his Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Marquette University, which he will complete this Spring. You can email him at elijahnmueller@sbcglobal.net.

Planning an OCF Retreat for Transformation and Renewal

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2

Planning and executing a retreat for Orthodox college students is a blessed endeavor for everyone involved, but it takes prayer, time, and practical strategies to do it. The above admonition of Saint Paul to the Romans could be the goal of your OCF retreat and will keep the planning process focused and smooth.

University of Virginia OCF Retreat Fall 2012

University of Virginia OCF Retreat Fall 2012

In our current times, the university culture makes it easy for students to conform more often to the negative currents of the world  than the positive ones. A consistent annual retreat is a great way to help students re-charge their lives and be with their friends in Christ. The retreat should assist college students in taking on the mind of Christ and living the “good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

First, discuss with your OCF group, your priest, and lay leaders and pray to determine a necessary theme that is of great relevance and need for students during their college years. Examples include:

  • Relationships,
  • Vocations,
  • Balancing prayer life with daily tasks,
  • Witnessing Christ to others on campus,
  • Almsgiving,
  • Examining the Scriptures,
  • Understanding the Orthodox Faith,
  • and doing a study of the life of an exemplary Saint.

Next, pick a date and secure a location. Ideally the retreat should be on campus, but it can be away from campus if rides are available.

Once these are in place, spread the word via email and a Facebook event that includes date, time, place, and registration information. Try to keep the expense under $30 if possible. Seek out the local parish for help in funding and/or limiting expenses through monetary, housing, and food donations.

Make sure you find a main speaker who is an inspiring Orthodox role model with experience in the Faith. A local speaker helps minimize travel expenses and maximize the time spent with the group. For a major speaker requiring travel, seek financial assistance from the local Orthodox parish.

Get help from the Church!

Consult OCF alumni, parents, clergy, the OCF North American Office, and OCF friends from other schools. Recruit people from your local parish to help you with the food, location, and accommodations.

Create a schedule of events and allow extra time for fellowship breaks and discussion or counseling with clergy.

Include time for interactive small group discussions, preferably led by lay leaders and older students. Remember to ask the speaker in advance for suggested questions to guide discussions.

It is vital to schedule as much time for group prayer as possible. Common prayer is another way in which we grow closer to God together. Christ says in Matthew 18:20,

For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.

Include prayers in the morning, at meals, compline, vespers, a Special Akathist, and Matins & Divine Liturgy. Have copies of service books available, to encourage group participation!

College of William and Mary OCF Retreat Spring 2013

College of William and Mary OCF Retreat Spring 2013

Schedule time for confession opportunities. This sacrament is vital for spiritual renewal and transformation. Depending on the number of attendees, it is wise to have at least two or more priests throughout the retreat to hear confessions and offer guidance & counsel at any time that it is needed.

Many students often come to a retreat during drastic times of spiritual and psychological need. Make sure to include a fun activity or service project, ideally something hands-on. For example, you could prepare meals or other goods to distribute to the homeless or to relief efforts such as IOCC. Fellowship activities could include a hike, a visit to an orchard or park, or just a walk around campus or church grounds (be sure to provide directions to whatever site you choose).

Do not allow worldly influences such as alcohol, drugs, promiscuous behavior, and extreme late-night activities to enter into your retreat. Always strive to keep in mind that the purpose of the retreat is to bring students together in Christ, to rise above the influences of the world, and to build healthy, lasting relationships with one another.

Make your retreat an annual tradition that students will look forward to. A post-retreat online survey and debrief with your OCF group will help for future events.

Remember to take a group picture and send it and a small event summary to chapters@ocf.net! This will help spark excitement for future events. May God bless your endeavors for planning your OCF retreat!

About The Authors


This is a guest post from Christina Thames and Demetra Perlegas.

Christina has been active in the College of William & Mary OCF chapter for the past ten years. Although her involvement began when she was an undergraduate student, she served as the Chapter Coordinator during her work as the Director of Youth Ministries at Sts. Constantine & Helen in Newport News, VA. She is now involved as a graduate student at William & Mary. Through OCF she was blessed to gain many wonderful friends—including Demetra!

Demetra has been active in the University of Virginia OCF for the past 12 years. She was first involved as a PhD student for several years, and currently serves as the Chapter Coordinator at the University of Virginia. She also serves as the Virginia District Coordinator while being the Youth and Christian Education Coordinator at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Charlottesville, VA. She has been very blessed to become Godmother to little Irene, whose parents met at the very first College of William & Mary OCF retreat. OCF has also blessed her with many beautiful and inspirational friends—like Christina!

Through Our Diversity, Strength

I think many people are attracted to Orthodoxy because of its outward, monolithic appearance. When you compare it to modern Protestantism, with its kaleidoscope of different denominations and theologies, our Church does indeed look impressively uniform. I can walk into any Orthodox Church and within a minute or two, know what’s going on—regardless of the language. I can rest assured that those I am in communion with share my beliefs about the trinity, Christ, and what He came to do for us. We have a shared history of saints, stories, and customs. Tapping into Orthodoxy is like having an instantaneous social network of strangers that have the same formative experiences of God and religion.

OCF College Conference East 2013

OCF College Conference East 2013

What OCF taught me, however, was the beauty of the diversity of our Church. So often we tell the story of the Orthodox from the point of view of “sameness” (i.e. we all share one belief, one faith, one inherited Tradition), which is certainly true, but there is amazing diversity within our Church that is often overlooked. Local traditions, cultural practices, smaller histories do not get swallowed by a monolithic Church, but find new meaning in the light of Christ.

Coming from the Slavic tradition, OCF showed me the beauty of diverse practices. I had never experienced the moving communal prayer to the Mother of God, called the Paraklesis, before my first college conference. I learned the lives of the martyrs of Byblos and of St. Nektarios of Aegina, unfamiliar to me growing up. Most importantly, I was able to share the incredible stories from my tradition, like the native Alaskan melodies preserved in our Church’s worship in Alaska. One night at a Student Advisory Board meeting, several of us snuck out to St. Raphael of Brooklyn’s grave on the edge of Antiochian Village. We all took turns singing hymns to him in our traditional melodies, and ended by singing “The Angel Cried” together.

Diversity and unity expressed at the same time.

Image from holy-icons.com

Image from holy-icons.com

St. Raphael is an icon of what OCF is calling us to be. He was born in the Middle East, educated in Greece, served in Russia, and eventually came to America to serve Arabs under the Russian Mission. He was canonized jointly by the Orthodox Church in America and the Patriarchate of Antioch. His life is a testament to both the unity we all share, and the beauty of our diversity. He went where he was needed, never sticking his nose up at the traditions and history of others. He didn’t call someone’s chanting ugly, or make fun of a region’s saints, neither did he make broad generalizations about any of the groups he was called to serve (you know those Arabs, they’re always late, and those Russians, they’re so uptight, etc.). He served the people in front of him with love and an open mind.

May Saint Raphael guide all of us as we work towards unity in our Church in North America, not to make a boring Church of sameness, but that sharing in communion with our God, we can see more clearly the value in each other’s diversity and with one mind confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

On Unity: Moving Beyond Spiritual Tribalism

On Unity: Moving Beyond Spiritual Tribalism

OCF Theme PhotoThis year’s OCF theme is Unity, centered around Psalm 132:1 (OSB),
Behold, what is so good or so pleasant as for brothers to dwell together in unity.
This week is part four of a six -part series centered around Orthodox perspectives on unity. The series will consist of reflections from student leaders and College Conference workshop speakers, leading up to College Conference at the end of December.

It’s hard to believe that the reality game show Survivor has been around since 1997 and appeared in 60 countries! Regardless of country, the goal is the same—be the sole survivor. In the early stages the tribe is all important in helping people survive to the next round, but in reality, even the tribe is just a means to an end—something to be used. Everything in the show serves the ultimate goal of one person “surviving.”

How totally different is our Orthodox Christian faith? St. Seraphim of Sarov (d. 1833) taught, “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.” In Christianity, unlike the TV show Survivor, the goal is not just our own survival, using others so that we win. In working out “our own salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) we participate in bringing our fellow brothers and sisters back to God.

In 1985 I attended a Lenten retreat with Bishop Mar Makarios of the Malankara Indian Orthodox Church in Houston. The Bishop looked at the 35 or so Orthodox clergy and parish lay-workers gathered and said:

If you are in the New York City area these days you will see something quite odd—Indian nationals standing on street corners with clip-boards in hand looking for other Indians. They are trying to enlist them to go home to India for summer vacation by signing them up for a charter flight. They are working very diligently knowing that if they don’t fill the plane – don’t enlist enough others for their flight – the plane won’t fly and they won’t get home!

Seeing the blank looks on our faces His Grace realized that his message was not getting through. Somewhat frustrated he burst out:

My dear brothers, don’t you get it, Christianity is a charter flight! If we don’t bring others with us, we won’t fill the ‘plane’ and we won’t get home to Jesus Christ!!

Over 30 years later, that story remains indelibly etched on my mind. Certainly it was one of the catalysts for my nearly three years as an Orthodox missionary in East Africa, but more importantly it solidified the fact that our Orthodox Christian faith is for all people regardless of race, status, gender, etc. As St. Paul writes, “In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female” (Galatians 3:28). However, the Bishop’s story could be misunderstood. Some might argue that the charter flight is only for those of Indian ancestry. In other words, to be an Orthodox Christian one has to be Greek or Russian or Serbian or Arab. In other words, some would argue that the tribe is what is most important.

Orthodox SurvivorIn theological parlance, this is called phyletism from the Greek “phyle”—meaning tribe. Phyletism is spiritual tribalism and diminishes the universal/catholic nature of the Church. It limits the fullness of the Church, rendering meaningless the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians (4:4-6): “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

While our Orthodox faith invites different cultures and ethnicities to embrace the faith and make it their own, it doesn’t require that one become part of that culture or ethnicity to be Orthodox. As an Orthodox Christian we can walk into any Orthodox Church—anywhere in the world—and know that we are one. We might not understand the language or some of the local cultural and liturgical expressions (like crossing our arms while taking Holy Communion), but it is our church.

As an Orthodox college student I encourage you to:

  • Embrace the diversity found in the unity of Orthodoxy;
  • Attend different Orthodox jurisdictions knowing that it is “your” church;
  • Embrace and enjoy the different customs;
  • Be humble and avoid comparing customs, or acting like one is better than another;
  • If it is a parish using a different language, learn a few liturgical words in that language;
  • Be an example of the words in Psalm 132, dwelling in unity as brothers and sisters;
  • Even if someone might not be welcoming, don’t be discouraged. Show that you are part of the Body;
  • Above all, let your Christian love shine through.

In the end it is not about “me” or my tribe, but about our common adoption as sons and daughters of God—being part of His body.

About the Author


Dan Christopulos is the U.S. Country Representative for International Orthodox Christian Charities where he has worked for over 12 years. He has a M.Div. from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary and a MSW. Dan has taught at the high school and college level, managed federal grants in the health field, as well as participating in parish work. He also spent almost three years in Nairobi, Kenya teaching at Archbishop Makarios III Seminary and doing mission work throughout East Africa as the first long-term U.S. Orthodox missionary to Africa.

On Unity: Finding Unity in Christ

This year’s OCF theme is unity, centered around Psalm 132:1 (OSB),

“Behold, what is so good or so pleasant as for brothers to dwell together in unity.”

This week is part two of a six part series centered around Orthodox perspectives on unity. The series will consist of reflections from student leaders and College Conference workshop speakers, leading up to College Conference at the end of December.

This is a guest post from Fr. Brendan Pelphrey, parish priest at Assumption of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church in Price, Utah and a workshop speaker at this year’s College Conference West. Fr. Brendan is an expert on Orthodox Christian apologetics and missionary work. He has published four books and about a hundred articles, book chapters, reviews, and monographs on Christian theology, prayer, mission, world religions, and medieval studies.

There are different kinds of unity. People can tolerate one another, and so appear unified. Better, they can become friends. But far beyond these is the unity which is ours in Christ. It is the communion (koinonia) of the Holy Spirit, in the Body of Christ. It makes us truly one and transcends friendship, human love, even time and space and leads into eternity.

The Apostle Paul teaches that Christ fills all things, and in Him all things hold together (Ephesians 1:22, Colossians 1:17). Thus, communion with Christ leads to communion with all that exists. We discover this communion when, in the words of the ascetics, the mind “descends into the heart.” Here, in stillness, we draw close to God. Only then, we begin to understand our real purpose in life as God’s children, and we discover the awesome beauty and worth of everything that God has made.

When this happens, we realize that all people are icons of Christ. They become the presence of Christ for us. Paradoxically, people who do not know Christ at all discover Him in us, but we do not necessarily see Christ in ourselves because we are aware of our own sins. Strangely, it is only because of this awareness, in repentance and humility, that we are empowered to bring others to Christ.

Orthodox Christians know that we do not tell other people what to believe or how to live. Instead, we pray for them and demonstrate the love of Christ for them. This makes it possible for us to enter into dialogue about the nature of God and His Church; about our communion with the Earth and all that God has made.

Going to college or university is an awesome opportunity to experience the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in creating unity. Here we encounter—sometimes for the first time—people of other ethnic backgrounds and ways of life, of all religions and no religion. Without going anywhere, we inevitably find ourselves in the position of world missionaries, presenting the Orthodox Way simply by being who we are.

As a college professor and OCF spiritual advisor, I have enjoyed watching the Holy Spirit draw students into communion from all backgrounds. On one campus, for several years the entire Orthodox Christian Fellowship was made up of non-Orthodox students who had simply stumbled upon a celebration of Great Vespers by accident. Becoming Orthodox, one of them later graduated from Holy Cross School of Theology and is now awaiting ordination as an Orthodox priest.

At another university, some Orthodox students made friends with members of the Pagan Society. Soon, Pagans began attending our weekly Bible studies and did so until they graduated. They were surprised to learn, for example, that St. Ephrem the Syrian spoke of the Earth as our Mother; that there were Christians saints who befriended bears and lions; and that the Bible teaches that all things are alive to God. Similarly, on still another campus, a group of Native Americans were deeply moved to learn about Orthodox spirituality, and asked for special prayers at Pascha just with themselves (we sat on deerskins, and out of respect, the warriors left their medicine bags outside).

It is exciting to realize that our Orthodox Way resonates strongly with followers of many world religions and spiritual paths. Hindus readily understand our view that Christ is the Center of all that exists. Buddhists appreciate the practice of compassion and of apatheia (“passionless-ness”). Jews and Muslims alike see in us that God is not merely justice, but forgiving Love. Wiccans and Native Americans are amazed that in our view, even rocks and seas are alive to God and that our task is to live in harmony with them, as caretakers of God’s creation. Atheists respond readily to the realization that, as St. John says in his first letter, anyone who has ever loved has known God, because God is Love.

All this has led me, in the few years of my own priesthood, to the privilege of baptizing followers of many religious backgrounds. When we speak of unity, then, let us practice it in truth. We can invite anyone to share in fellowship with us, whether they are Orthodox Christians or not.

Who knows which of them will meet Christ in us, and ask for baptism? Or, perhaps, decide to become teachers of our faith or to enter into the holy priesthood of the Church?

Fasting And Philanthropy

This is a guest post from Steven Christoforou, the Youth Protection / Parish Ministries Coordinator for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese’s Department of Youth & Young Adult Ministries. You can connect with the Department at youth.goarch.org.

Last Friday marked the beginning of the Nativity Fast, in preparation for Christmas.

Why do we fast? Why should we bother, especially during college, when our semesters are usually fueled by late night pizza and burgers?

Before we think too deeply about fasting, maybe we should take a look at how we relate to food in general. Maybe that will help us realize that fasting isn’t so much about removing food from our tables, but about adding acts of love to our lives.

Each year, we in the United States of America waste about 40% of our food. In other words, we essentially throw away as much food as we eat.

CC Image courtesy of Devin Young on Flickr

There are 870 million chronically undernourished people around the world. Some estimate that the food wasted in the US alone could feed all of them.

Surrounded as we are by twenty-four hour markets and people who struggle, not with too little food, but with too much, it can be hard to realize that hunger is a serious problem worldwide and even in our own neighborhoods.

Fasting can help us internalize what are otherwise abstract numbers. It’s one thing to talk about the suffering of the poor and hungry. It’s another to give up the comforts of a full plate and full belly; to eat simple foods and feel hunger’s quiet yet insistent whisper; to feel one’s strength wane as the days and weeks of the fast drift by.

Christ loved us, so He made our weaknesses His own. Though completely untouched by mortality, He voluntarily accepted death and entered the tomb. We can, in our own humble and inadequate way, make the suffering and weakness of our brothers and sisters our own. We can, if only for a short while, put aside the privilege of wealth and voluntarily accept a small taste of hunger and poverty.

We can also ensure that we’re not adding to mountains of food rotting in landfills, rather than filling the stomachs of the hungry.

Fasting isn’t about the food alone. It’s about our relationship with God, our neighbors, and all the blessings the Lord has offered us. Fasting can help us to better appreciate those blessings, and inspire us to share them with others through genuine acts of love, of philanthropy.

College students around the country are taking steps to help their school cafeterias cut down on waste and contribute more to local food banks and soup kitchens. Maybe your OCF can take the lead at your school.

Ask questions. Look into what your college cafeteria does with extra food, and see if there’s room for improvement.

Today’s challenge: See if you can make fasting not so much about taking food off your full plate, but about adding food to another’s empty plate.

Why OCF Real Break Matters to Orthodox Christian College Students

“But ask the animals and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you.  Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?  In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”

                                                                                               – Job 12:7-10

As we read this scripture, it is not only revealed to us that God’s glory is truly everywhere present and fills all things, but also that God’s Glory and Love is something to be experienced. It is not something merely pondered, it is not something merely reflected upon. This is a fundamental truth for the Orthodox Christian, which is one of the primary reasons we are so careful about what we choose to experience. For all experiences, good or bad, leave almost indelible imprints on our souls and upon our personhood.

This could not be more true for the entirety of the life journey of the Orthodox Christian. For the Orthodox Christian understands that we will often times have to go without, or to discipline our actions, or temper our consumption, and one of the ways we know this is through our experience of fasting. For the Orthodox Christian understands that we commune of the Body and Blood of our Lord and taste the Lord’s sweetness, thus in actuality, we actually touch and experience the Lord our God physically. For the Orthodox Christian understands that forgiveness only comes with action and movement, which is why confess our sins out loud, in the church, with our Father Confessor. For all of these things are not philosophy or theory, they are action and experience. Therefore, if we proclaim to be Christians of the True Faith, then we will have to be Christians of experience. We will have to regularly experience God’s presence, we will have to regularly experience God through prayer and dialogue, we will have to experience the Lord’s presence through interaction with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

OCF North American Office knows this as well as anyone and faithfully seeks to serve the Lord and witness the fullness of the True Faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, through service. This is why the OCF Real Break Programs are making such a difference for the people we serve, because ultimately the programs are very much in sync with Orthodox practice. For one cannot understand the plight of others merely by sitting on ones hands and thinking about it, rather we only truly touch others when we experience their struggles with them.

This upcoming Spring Semester dozens of students representing Colleges and Universities all across North America will visit those in need of their Trinity-centered service. Students will travel to places like Honduras, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Guatamala, Detroit, and Constantinople. They will not theoretically mourn with those who suffer or ponder the plight of their brothers and sisters, they will actually go to their brothers and sisters and they will be with them, and they will experience with them their struggles. They will help repair and rebuild their homes, they will help feed those who are hungry, and they will walk and talk and share with those in need of gentleness and friendship.

For the Orthodox Christian College student who takes on the challenge of Real Break 2014, they will no longer theorize and imagine what its like to feel the crush of the fallen world, they will be right alongside those who suffer, and will offer their time and love in support of those crushed by the weight of the world and mourn with those who mourn and they will make a difference in the Lord’s Kingdom. These college students know in their hearts that there is no cross-training or alternate method in suffering with those who suffer without actually being present. For often thoughts and words are not enough, but so often being there is!

This year, through the blessings of our Lord Jesus Christ who calls all men and women to salvation in and through Him, several of our Real Breaks 2014 have already closed due to filling up so quickly. There are only a few spots left in many of the Real Break 2014 Trips, and we hope that you will take this time to pray and answer the Lord’s call and to serve those who are in need of Christ, and to be the presence of Christ, through Christ, to those whom you will soon serve. The Lord is calling you and I, and He is calling us through one another, so please pray, and come and see and serve those whom the Lord has put into your care through the Real Break experience, and witness God’s love for them, and be God’s love for them in a time in their lives when they could not need His presence through your presence more.

Christ is Amongst Us!

Jesus Christ – The Tree of Life and Source of our Unity

“Behold now, what is so good or so pleasant as for brothers to dwell together in unity?” Psalm 132:1

This year’s theme for OCF and the 2013-14 Academic School Year comes to us from the Psalms and reflects the importance of brotherly and sisterly unity, within the context of God’s faithful people. While it is certainly good for those outside of the church to act unified and to work towards the common good, the unity of the Orthodox Christian Faithful is altogether something different and far more profound. For our unity is not based merely on a desire to be unified, but rather reflects an actualized unity, one grounded on worship, practice, and a coherent vision of Jesus Christ our Lord as sanctifier, author, and Light of the world as revealed by the One, Holy Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox Christian Church.

It is for this reason that our symbol and image for this glorious and Christ revealed theme mirrors the icon commonly referred to as the “Christ the Tree of Life Icon” or the “Christ the True Vine Icon.” Traditionally, this icon includes the images of the Holy Apostles, whom Christ commissioned, trained, and charged to preach the Good News to the whole world. In the image from our theme, you will see that just like in the icon itself, Jesus Christ is the center of the image, the Life and Source of everything around Himself. In His left hand He holds the Gospel of the Good News and New Testament and with His right He blesses us as He is the true Archpriest and Archbishop, with His hand in the traditional position of IC XC (Jesus Christ). Within His halo are revealed the characters which tell us that this is the Lord, indicating the expression “I AM,” alluding to the fact that He is the One and Only True God and no other, just as was revealed to Moses at the burning bush.

Here in North America, the issue of Orthodox Christian Unity is an important one and it is important to every one of our beloved Orthodox Christian Hierarchs here in North America as reflected by their participation and unity as expressed by their inclusion in the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America. How each individual expresses his or her understanding of Orthodox Christian unity must be left to each person, but to deny that it is essential and required is to deny the Holy Apostle Paul Himself, who said in his letter the Corinthians, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

Where we go astray as individual Orthodox Christians is when we fail to express or make efforts toward that unity or even ignore it altogether. Just as tragic, there are those on the other hand who too often force the issue to the detriment and exclusion of Christ and His Grace, ignoring that all must be done in His time. This is where our Orthodox Christian College Students in North America can help to make all the difference. As a unified group of Orthodox Christian College students, they have the potential to witness True Christian Charity, to emphasize True Christian Love and to demonstrate the practice of Real Christian Unity. For real Orthodox Christian Unity does not ignore language, it does not ignore customs, it does not disband love, loyalty, or local traditions. Rather real Unity is reflected by a common goal in Jesus Christ and the sharing of His Good News to all of the world. He is both the Source and the Goal of the message and there is no other.  He is, must be, and will be the Source of our Unity, the center of our Tree, and the heart of our Vine!

On the Holy Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles as tongues of fire, and we read the words of Luke in the book of Acts who told us “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The reason this passage is so important is because it reveals so much about our mission as well as the Holy Spirit’s very open approach to using all languages and dialects in order to teach, preach, and lead us to unity in Him. For it appears that the Holy Spirit despises no languages in particular, as we are sometimes led to believe. He does not despise Greek, Arabic, Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, French, Spanish, German or even English. As the Source of man’s life our God does not despise the tongues of His people, though He would certainly despise their use to perpetuate sin or to harm one another, which is more often the case. The broader point here is that even among the apostles, who became miraculously able to speak different languages and learned to embrace different customs, traditions, and languages in order share Christ’s Gospel message more effectively, they were still intensely unified and understood that even while they ministered to those placed in their care, their unity was not destroyed or harmed in the least, but rather, affirmed.

The Apostles witnessed their unity as they lived and acted like branches from the Tree from whom Christ is the Source. Like branches they reached out, but never sought to sever themselves in any way from Jesus Christ or His teachings! So like the apostles, we too must reach out to the world, sharing the message while living it, demonstrating our Unity of Faith, demonstrating our mutual love and respect for one another as descendants of the different apostles through whose tongues, which were taught them by God alone, they shared the Gospel message of the New Testament and revealed the saving Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ! Christ is Amongst Us!

The Transformation of Discord into Harmony and Love

Within the body of the Church, conflicts, misunderstandings, and scandals are inevitable. As long as the Holy Orthodox Church continues to exist, so as to save sinners through the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, human beings will disagree. Though God’s presence in the lives of all persons within a conflict may be apparent, this will not necessarily cease misunderstandings and misconceptions within any community, be it monastic or cathedral. If this were the case, no councils would have needed to take place, or at the very least, even if they did, no discussions of the issues would have arisen, even between the saints. But they did. For human beings will disagree, and that is not always a bad thing, within this fallen world.

For even though God is present in our own lives and guides our actions by the power of the Holy Spirit, if we so submit, we never cease to be, at least in this life, human and imperfect. Even the person with the best of intentions and good will towards all can easily misunderstand another person’s words or intentions during any conversation, anywhere, anytime. This will inevitably lead to misunderstandings, potential conflicts, and, even sometimes, scandal. Our Lord Jesus Christ knew these things would come and forewarned us when said in Matthew 18:7, “Woe to the world because of scandals. For scandals must come”.

This is very important to note because so often in our OCF Chapters, within our parishes, and even within our own families, when conflicts arise, we are somehow led to believe that they have come specifically because something is entirely wrong with the other person with whom we disagree. Now I would wholeheartedly agree that there is something wrong with the both of us – the one thing we share, our struggle against sin. However, conflicts are not (likely) arising in our chapters and parishes because you, or the person with whom you disagree, is an entirely evil person whom can’t be trusted (though you both sin), it is because you each have a different genetic makeup and have different brains that draw different conclusions about nearly everything you think about, almost all of the time. So to assume that simple day-to-day disagreements come because of major flaws in another’s integrity or character, from either side, is not often helpful or even an accurate assessment of most situations. Now let’s be clear, I’m not speaking about major issues and concerns which might involve illegality or corruption, what I am speaking of are those situations that divide our chapters, our parishes, and our families based on simple misunderstandings about personal intentions and daily work. They are deadly, yet need not be. They destroy, when in truth, through Christ, they are supposed to build.

In chapters, parishes, and within Orthodox Christian families, we are engaging relationships with one another in the process of salvation and theosis. Relationships which have never suffered through any kind of disagreement or discord, are relationships which remain untested. It is only when struggles come and are tested that our fortitude and character can truly be tested, and only then will our true wills and intent be revealed.
So next time you are in a chapter meeting, a parish assembly, or a family pow-wow, when you find that you disagree about certain things, don’t believe for one moment that you disagree with the “other” person because they are obviously a worse sinner than you. But rather acknowledge that you are both human beings with different experiences, different brains, and have different eyes with which to see things. The only problem you both have is that the evil one sees your quite simple and innocent disagreement, and will now try to use that disagreement to create a wedge between you both, using sin as his weapon (and, of course, removing God’s Divine Truth and Love from seasoning the outcome). This is where the true struggle begins, this is where our true character will be revealed and must prevail, this is where prayer must become our sword and truth our shield. Only then, in true humility and Christian love, will discord, conflict, and disagreement be turned into harmony, peace, and true friendship in and through our Lord Jesus Christ!

As you embark on a new semester, some your first, be patient and loving with others, as our Lord Jesus Christ is with you and I. And let us remember as we make and build new relationships, that we have been forewarned by our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 7:2, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” If when we disagree with others, we continually judge them, possibly incorrectly with not a full understanding of their circumstances, then we place the same judgement on our own heads, and our own injustice will be revealed and the negative consequences of such harsh judgements within our own lives and throughout eternity will be justified. So we must learn to be patient with one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to love the other unceasingly, and realize that even though conflicts will most definitely come, it is how we handle them that will determine who we are, not the conflicts themselves!

The Tradition of our Most Holy Spirit and Difficult Issues

To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.  

-II Thessalonians 2:14-15

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 

-Colossians 2:8

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 

-I Corinthians 11:1-2

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 

-II Thessalonians 3:6

Within the full expression of the Holy Orthodox Christian Faith throughout all of history and time and the outward expression of Virtue, the Holy Orthodox Church has often found Herself at odds with popular culture, whether on the college campus or in the modern workplace, concerning a myriad of issues including but not limited to worship and morality. As cultures continue to change around us, many of them will not only find themselves perpetually in opposition to one another, but also to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Holy Orthodox Christian Church.

In regards to the Holy Orthodox Church, She has always sought to follow faithfully Jesus Christ, whom is Her loyal Husband and Bridegroom, having been and continuing to be guided by the very Power and Authority of the Holy Spirit since the glorious day of Pentecost. And it is on this point that we must place some healthy emphasis.

So often, in the Orthodox Church, we refer to the importance of Tradition within the expression of Ancient and Timeless Christianity. However, we receive much criticism from those outside of Orthodox Christianity that proclaim quite self-righteously that all tradition is evil and not to be trusted, a position clearly in opposition to Holy Scripture, which, as indicated above, is clearly Biblical and Scripturally sound. However, how do we determine what the Traditions of the Church are and how do we insure that they have are not the “traditions of men,” which Jesus Christ clearly warned us about (and which are obviously different than the ones St. Paul are actually encouraging)?

Well, first, they have to be consistent with the Holy Scriptures, consistent with the Revelation of the Holy Church, and consistent with the teachings of the Holy Fathers which are consistent with the other two. For the Holy Orthodox Church makes no argument that favors either Scripture or Revealed Tradition, nor does it simply embrace something like Scripture and Tradition, but it is rather more nuanced and brilliant (as would be the Body of Christ), in that it proclaims the importance and balance of Scripture in Tradition, relying on the concept that both of these necessary components constitute Divine Revelation, both work together, simultaneously, and seamlessly in revealing the will of the Father, following faithfully Jesus Christ the Son Whom is worthy of worship, guided perpetually by the Holy Spirit!

So what does this have to do with the Holy Spirit, the Traditions of the Holy Church and controversial issues? Everything!

Today, everywhere, at our jobs, on the college campus, within our homes and on television, we are constantly bombarded by modernistic ideas, thoughts, and whims of popular culture, which are always shrouded in terms like sensible, level headed, consenting, and prudent. If we include expressions like, “polls show” or “the prevailing consensus is,” we can then easily work our way into discussions and arguments advocating for the “change of outdated and antiquated traditions of the Holy Church.” Many of these new ideas and thoughts, however, in light of the Ancient Church, are usually anything but.

And it is here that we find a fundamental problem as Orthodox Christians in a modern world, the problem of determining whether or not we as individuals really wish to be Orthodox Christian. For Orthodox Christians actually believe that the Church has truly been guided, since the day of Pentecost by the Power, Action, and Descent of the Holy Spirit, and willingly choose to go on this journey with Christ, wherever it takes us. That means that at times our teachings may appear popular (regarding the poor and those in need) and but often appear unpopular (morality and sin). Make no mistake about it, Orthodox Christianity by today’s standards is the counter-culture and has always been fighting “the man” who is the prince of this world, and we will be hated for it.

So why has the Holy Spirit allowed the church to perpetuate and offer certain teachings, objectionable by todays standards, for nearly two Millenia? Well, first, we only find some of these ancient teachings objectionable because the ways of the world are always alluring and the world is constantly seeking to change both how we worship and what is permissible to believe, based on worldly concepts, not based on any Revelation (keep in mind that if the Church were to “change” in order to adjust to popular cultural norms, the church would not increase its membership nor gain popularity as has been proven time and time again by modern Christians bending to every cultural whim, losing numerous, irreplaceable followers in the process).

The reason the Orthodox Faith does not conform merely to modern adjustment and popular inclusion is not because the church is not reasonable, thoughtful, or guided by prayer, but because there has been no Holy Revelation given by God to alter those teachings, which is the only proper means by which new illumination through God may come.

If there were real, incontrovertible evidence of God’s Revelation regarding controversial issues that we wrestle with today, then they would not be controversial for Christians (at least for Orthodox Christians), for we would follow His Holy Will regarding them, even if they were unpopular. If Jesus Christ Himself proclaims or shares by way of the Holy Spirit His Will, we will follow it. Where Jesus does not expressly teach on a certain subject, we always have and always will trust the revelation of the Holy Spirit, revealed by the will of His Holy Bride (the Holy Orthodox Church), to whom He is bound with through one flesh, to guide across space and time regarding what His concrete and revealed teachings are.

Christ nor His followers were ever concerned with upsetting the apple cart or violating cultural norms or advocating against the status quo. Anyone who implies that Christ did not address certain issues because of societal pressure or cultural norms, with all due respect, is either ignorant of scripture, willfully ignores scripture for the benefit of their own argument, or simply deconstructs the witness of the Holy Spirit to the church through the Holy Councils and the fullness of the works of the Holy Fathers (something one is free to do in the world, but not as a faithful member of God’s Holy Church).

It is absolutely true that Christ did not address every sin as some kind of “list of do’s and don’ts” (it seems the Lord never addressed directly the pesky issues of money laundering, pyramid schemes or even pedophilia, yet we all know that they are wrong and stand strongly and vehemently against them). However, the church, by the power and influence of Holy Spirit, has always called certain human behaviors sin and will always continue to do so, no matter how full or empty our churches become. If we, as Orthodox Christians, are permitted by God to understand and comprehend certain behaviors or lifestyles differently than the church has always witnessed up until now, that Divine Truth can only come by Divine Revelation, and no other way.

We do not preach the Gospel to fill churches, but do so out of love and obedience to Christ our God, in accordance with His will and Scripture in order to share the Gospel message, unadulterated. The Holy Spirit, through the Church, through Her (the Church) Bishops, through Her Priests, and through Her Laity, always has, always will, and always must live by Divine Revelation of God’s Word, God’s Will and God’s Intent, offered by His Merciful and Loving Divine Revelation alone! Without new Revelation, then there really is nothing new to teach (possibly a different way of seeing of it, but not a new teaching)! Anything else would be a man made tradition, not a Holy Spirit inspired one, something that Jesus Christ did warn us about.

If the Church sees fit to alter or understand in a new way an Ancient Teaching of the Holy Church, that teaching must come by way of the Holy Spirit through Divine Revelation, affirmed and instructed by the Collegiality of Her Bishops, bolstered by the Holy Scriptures, through whom the Divine Truth has been Divinely revealed. Modern popular and cultural consensus regarding God’s revelation might make for interesting chit chat at a coffee house and can even be helpful in understanding the dominant culture. However, they are not necessarily the tools of the Holy Orthodox Church nor constitute in and of themselves Revelation of the Holy Spirit, they never have been, nor will they ever be (unless the Lord reveals it as something new). If there is a change in the air, it must come by the breath of the Holy Spirit alone, it will be revealed to His Bishops, to His Clergy and to His Faithful, and the church will obey the will of the Lord in love and adoration, unbridled in Her devotion to obey God’s perfect will.

Prayer for those who suffer in Oklahoma

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit! Amen!

Let us pray to the Lord! Lord have mercy!

Almighty God, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, we beg of You to hear and respond with Your all-encompassing and loving kindness to the prayers of us sinners. We beg You come swiftly to the help of Your servants. While we know and believe that all trials of life are under Your care and that all things work for the good of those who love You, still now, help us sinners who are both poor in spirit and weary in heart.

O Lord, who are compassionate and merciful, who aids us in our world of sin if when we call upon your Holy Name in sincerity and humility, we come to you as the Prophet David did, saying: Save me, O God, for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God. For today we suffer with those who have suffered so greatly and continue to suffer as a result of the tornado in the land of Oklahoma. Take away from them and us all fear, anxiety and distress as they face and endure their injuries and loss. Replace their pain and distress as well as their suffering and confusion with faith, courage and wisdom, and the fullness of Your Love, of which You are the only True Source .

We beg also, O Lord, for the forgiveness of sins of those who have departed this life as a result of this worldly disaster and calamity, through no fault of their own. Forgive them their sins as we ask you to forgive our own. For only You are judge and only You know the hearts of us sinners, for Your Righteousness is an everlasting Righteousness and Your Word is Truth. We beg in all humility, make for their memory to be Eternal!

Finally Lord, grant that these trials and tribulations bring us all closer to You, the source of all Life which you call good, for You are the True Rock and Refuge of all humanity made in Your Image. You are truly our Comfort, our Hope, our Delight and our Eternal Joy. We trust alone in Your love and compassion. For blessed is Your name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen!

A Prayer for all on the Tragedy in Boston

A Prayer on this day, on account of the tragedies in Boston…

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit! Amen!

Let us pray to the Lord!

Almighty God, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, we beg of You to hear and respond with Your all-encompassing and loving kindness to the prayers of us sinners. We beg You come swiftly to the help of your servants. While we know and believe that all trials of life are under Your care and that all things work for the good of those who love You, still now, help us sinners who are both poor in spirit and weary in heart, as we pray for our brothers and sisters who have been harmed in the tragic and unfortunate actions today in the city of Boston. Take away from them and us all fear, anxiety and distress as they face and endure their injuries and loss. Replace their pain and distress as well as our hurting and confusion with faith, courage and wisdom, and the fullness of Your Love, of which You are the only True Source .

And as you delivered Your people from the bondage of the adversary and as you have cast down Satan like lightning by the Power of Your Word, deliver us all from every unclean spirit, both those of us who would hate as a result of these horrific actions, as well as those who would hate enough to commit them. Command both the evil one and those who worship him knowingly or unknowingly to depart from all of us by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Replace the darkness of this age with the light of Your Son, that we may be guarded against all snares of crafty demons.

We beg also, O Lord, for the forgiveness of sins of those who have departed this life today as a result of the violence done to their bodies this day in Boston, through no fault of their own. Forgive them their sins as we ask you to forgive our own. For only You are judge and only You know the hearts of us sinners, for Your Righteousness is an everlasting Righteousness and Your Word is Truth. We beg in all humility, make for their memory to be Eternal!

Finally Lord, grant that these trials bring us all closer to You, the source of all Life which you call good, for You are the True Rock and Refuge of all humanity made in Your Image. You are truly our Comfort, our Hope, our Delight and our Eternal Joy. We trust alone in Your love and compassion. For blessed is Your name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen!

Thoughts on the events at Lone Star Community College

Tuesday morning, April 9th, at approximately 11:20am, on the Cypress Campus of Lone Star Community College in Houston, Texas, a lone student, 20-year-old Dylan Quick, attacked 12 students on the campus with a knife, slashing at his victim’s heads and throats. The student was finally subdued by authorities, which brought the senseless violence to an end. Two students, at the writing of this release, are still in critical condition.

Orthodox Christian Fellowship, and the students whom we collectively represent, remember in prayer all of those innocent victims who have been affected by this tragedy through no fault of their own, and ask especially for the Lord’s healing power and grace on behalf of the two critically injured students. At a time like this, we are reminded of the horrific realities of a fallen world and how many human beings, even against their better judgment, often choose by their own free will to embrace that which is contrary to Jesus Christ. We are reminded that the influence of the evil one is real and affects us all and, most obviously, those souls of those who may be tempted to perpetrate these awful crimes. For though there is nothing that can justify this kind of irrational and senseless violence, we must, at the same time, realize that the evil one is pursuing our souls unceasingly, persuading us to participate in the ill treatment of those around us at all levels. While it is proper and right for us to feel justifiable anger towards these terrible actions as well as to openly denounce both the actions and the persons who might find such actions acceptable, hatred towards the perpetrators is unacceptable (as is all hatred) and only fulfills the evil ones objective, while encouraging us to mistakenly feel a sense of misguided self-righteousness and additional “soul-judging.”

The attacker, Dylan Quick, who “told police he had fantasized for years about stabbing people to death,” finally responded to his fantasy, and here, is the point. We live in a world that now says, “if you feel it, respond to it. No matter the thought, urge, or impulse, you’re having these feelings and thoughts for a reason, and you should explore them and even respond to and fulfill them.” Our Lord Jesus Christ, through the Epistle of I John 4:1 tells us otherwise, saying, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” When one holds a worldview that negates God’s Presence and Love, it will only become natural for us to begin to believe that we are god, and can choose by our own accord what is acceptable behavior by the standards of our own, current culture.

All people, kind and gentle as they may appear, struggle with thoughts that are not from Christ. We all experience various kinds of thoughts, violent ones, ones that might be sexually inappropriate, unkind, cruel, selfish and mean-spirited thoughts that do not come from our Lord. Yet in today’s world, one might be lead to believe that all thoughts have merit, all impulses must be submitted to, all urges explored. The Orthodox Christian is different because he or she chooses to submit to Christ and His will alone. We know that all thoughts must be carefully examined; we also recognize ones that do not come from Christ, and by prayer, fasting and participation in the worship of our Lord, seek to overcome their influence. For these thoughts cannot simply be overcome simply by therapy or just talking about them or even just ignoring them. They will require a lifelong commitment to striving against them, with the Lord Jesus Christ as our guide!

We have an obligation to keep all of those harmed in this tragedy in our prayers. We also have an obligation within our own lives, to fight against the impact of those whom would seek our destruction, the evil one himself and those who serve him. For the evil one hates man and he hates life, and when we witness this kind of violence against the body, we know the evil one is hard at work. For the evil one seeks the destruction of the human race, for any means necessary to achieve this objective will work well enough. Whether this spirit encourages us to despise or distrust one another, to experience envy or jealousy regarding another person, or to inflict harm on another for any reason at all, we must fight these tendencies and sins at all times, with the Lord as our sure trust and guide.

Lent 2013 – On this Journey Together!

Yesterday we entered the Great and Holy Fast of the Holy Orthodox Church. While it is almost unheard of for an Orthodox Christian to not be aware of the concept and season of the Great Fast, it is far more likely to find Orthodox Christians who are certainly unfamiliar with the common and customary practices of the fast, or to find persons who have never really engaged the fast. So in honor of the Great and Holy Fast, it might be good if we look briefly at the history of the fast, why we fast and why we as Orthodox Christian individuals may want to consider engaging the fast more fervently now, or even begin it for the first time ever.

Historically, there has almost always been some kind of engaged fast in preparation for the historical celebration within the Holy Orthodox Church of the Resurrection(Pascha) of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ either by catechumen or full-fledged member! While church historians love a good debate regarding the particulars of when it began and what it included, the fact that there was some kind of fast associated with the feast is generally settled, there was one. For some it included a rigorous one day, all day fast before the feast, for others a more lengthy and slightly less-intense extended fast. It included fasts that involved the complete abstinence of all food all the way to lesser fasts or small abstinences that restricted only some or certain foods. Over the first few centuries, different churches in different parts of the world experienced at least as many variances of fasting. However, as the church matured she continually sought out the guidance of the Holy Spirit, whom saw fit to unify the pre-Resurrection fasting of the faithful throughout the whole world.

It was then revealed in time to the Bride of Christ, through the life of the Holy Church across the globe that it would be good and holy for all Orthodox Christians to fast in loving unison, in preparation for this most Holy and Honored Feast of Feasts. The church, very “organically” if you will, settled on a fast (errr abstinence) of a forty-day period leading up to the Great and Holy Week before the celebration of the Resurrection. That is, by the action and revelation of the Holy Spirit, the Forty Day Fasting period came out of a Holy accord within the church, whereby Orthodox Christians all over the world began to embrace this extended fast, which was already well known to the Holy Fathers even in the third and fourth centuries. The forty-day period may be likened also the Lords forty-day fast in the wilderness!

Now in regards to the why, let’s be clear, there is no single answer, if someone tries to give you only one as the foundation and whole, I would reject it for being the “only reason,” for since all human beings are different, struggling with different and varied passions, the Lord may choose to allow the fast to work differently for each of us and that must be allowed. The fast allows us so many opportunities to grow in our faith and also in our appreciation of the abundance of God’s Grace and earthly bounty! For he or she who truly engages the Holy Fast, they will be:

  • Tempering their earthly wants and engaging real freedom (taking only what they need, leaving what they don’t, rather than simply taking by animal impulse alone),
  • Reflecting on Eden where our diet was simple and good, 
  • Reflecting on God Whom is the giver of all good things, 
  • Creating opportunity to necessarily try and experience new and varied foods and experiences guided by temperance rather than consuming through the monotony of impulse eating, 
  • Replacing some of the time spent eating with prayer and reflection
  • Engaging ascetical practice with millions of their Orthodox brothers and sisters at the same times and moments, 
  • Purifying their bodies of some luxury in order that the luxury and Joy of the Great and Holy Feast may be experienced in all its glory, 
  • Opening themselves up to, by removal of some things unnecessary, to the filling of a void that can and will be filled with God’s Grace and the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself

So now is the time to determine the plan, so as to achieve the goal. If the goal is important for you to experience the fullness of the Great Feast of the Resurrection, if the goal is to enter Lent as you are and with the hope that you will come out New and Stronger, if the goal is to make an attempt to return to the faith of your forebearers and to open up yourself to the saving Grace of Jesus Christ, I implore you, get it done! For your life is happening now, the choices you make right now are determining your future, for those choices aren’t future ones, self-defining opportunities are happening and are in front of you right now. If you have never fasted before, go to your priest or spiritual father and tell them truthfully, “I’m not good at this” or “I have never done this before, where do I start?” If that opportunity is not readily available to you, pray and start the fast yourself. Start with the abstinence of meat as the food core or your fast, maybe include a fast from alcohol (you know you can do it, so do it) and start wiping out the sins of greed, avarice and gossip from your palate. Fast from images that disgust, and words that hurt. Forgive others so that the Lord may forgive you, for the two actions are coterminous, one upon the other. We here at OCF believe that if any part of your person truly desires Theosis and unity with God, that the Lord will not leave you alone, but fill you and build you up into the fulfillment of that which you were originally designed to be, the fullness of the image of God.