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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

  

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Anna Spencer

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

Unexpected Blessings on the Student Leadership Board

Unexpected Blessings on the Student Leadership Board

By Jeanine Kaileh

It’s that time of the year again — Student Leadership Board (SLB) applications are OPEN! 

My name is Jeanine Kaileh and I have served as the Southwest Regional Student Leader (RSL) on the SLB for 2 years, and I’ll be serving as SLB Chairwoman for the upcoming academic year!

In April 2019, I was volun-told by two friends of mine to apply for the Southwest RSL position. I did not know much about what I was getting myself into, but I did know that it was for the Church, and that in itself is what drew me to apply. During that summer, I met with a few SLB members to discuss our upcoming year, gaining a better sense of what being on the SLB entailed. It was not until the Summer Leadership Institute (SLI) in August 2019, that I fully understood what my responsibilities and expectations were. After two years (and moving onwards with a third year), I can confidently say that applying without fully knowing what was going to happen was one of the greatest, most unexpected blessings of my life. 

If you apply for the SLB, here’s what you’ll be getting into: 

Whatever your position may be, it’ll be the work of the Lord. That work, along with the work of our project committees, more often than not, is done in companionship with fellow SLBers who will likely become your closest friends while you’re on the board, and lifelong friends thereafter. Along with that, the work that comes into fruition impacts fellow students of the OCF community and allows not only them, but yourself, to spiritually grow in such a transformative time of our lives. Like anything in life, there are moments of frustration, confusion, and even disappointment, but the joy, beauty, grace, and Christ-centeredness of it all is what drives the SLB to continue on with the work of the Church and the faith. 

Being on the SLB is the gift that keeps on giving. As written in 2 Corinthians 9: 6-8, Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

 

Why did you join the SLB?

“I joined because I wanted to do more for the Orthodox Christian Fellowship and for the college students in this ministry. The people who encouraged me to apply and those who I knew who were on the board currently had the greatest most loving hearts, souls, and minds. I had a feeling that it would probably change my life to work with them and get to know them. I was not wrong.” – Alethia Placencia

I joined the SLB because I wanted to contribute to an organization that I have grown to love over my college career. Hearing the stories from previous SLBers inspired me to apply to the board so that I could work to make OCF the best it could be. – Thomas Retzios

I joined the SLB because I wanted to find a way to build a connection with my faith and the people around me on a deeper level. I also wanted to learn professional skills that could help shape me as an individual  – Jenna Riadi

What do you like about being on the SLB? 

“The SLB is an answer to praying in bringing me a community who supports me in my work and who I can be my authentic self around. I know I could call up anyone on the board, and they would be there for me to listen or help in any way. I love everyone I have met so much, and I know these people care about me deeply! I love how supportive we are of each other. Every person puts their whole heart into their work and wants to create a beautiful experience for their fellow students.” – Anna Spencer

“I love all the community and love and all the new friends I have made.  Everyone is so amazing and willing to help with whatever I need.  The SLB has provided me with great people who push me in my faith and as a leader and help me do my best work for OCF.” – Alexandra Gluntz

How do you feel it has changed your college experience?

“I have made my closest friends through this program. It less “changed” my college experience and more *defined* it.” – George Powell 

“Being on the SLB has given me a deeper understanding of my faith.” – Teli Stathopoulos

“SLB has made me a better student, friend, Orthodox Christian, and individual! Wait, you want me to elaborate? SAY LESS. Serving on the student leadership board has strengthened my time management and communication skills! I find it much easier to stay on top of my responsibilities as a student and EMT as I’ve learned to maximize my time to ensure everything gets done immediately!” – Remy Salloum

“Serving on the SLB has changed my college experience by connecting me with other Orthodox Christians around the country, and through our work on the SLB, we have all developed close relationships.” – Thomas Retzios

Do you have any advice to anyone applying? 

“Even if you’re not sure you’re qualified, apply! This is a space for learning and growth, it’s a safe space! Don’t be afraid to apply and ask questions :)” – Jenna Riadi

“Bring your ideas to the table. OCF is dedicated to growing and improving while having fun :)” – Analisa Callendar

“I had no idea what this year would look like due to the pandemic, but I am so glad I took the leap and applied for my position. Joining the SLB helped me experience love and support in more ways than I knew existed. My experience with OCF has been amazing so far, and I hope others can benefit from this organization as much as I have. APPLY!!!” – Peggy Polydoros

“Make OCF a priority and you won’t regret it.” – Sofia Kroll

“Be ready to have a good time.” – Tino Kayafas

Jeanine Kaileh

Jeanine Kaileh

Southwest Regional Student Leader

I am a 3rd year biopsychology major at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I enjoy cooking, baking, reading, journaling, and tatreezing (traditional Palestinian embroidery). I’m serving currently on the Student Leadership Board as the Southwest Regional Student Leader for my second year and next year I will serve as the Chairman of SLB! I love OCF with all of my heart! Email me at southweststudent@ocf.net with any questions!

Forget Me Not: On Finding Hope in the Small Things

Forget Me Not: On Finding Hope in the Small Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Magdalena Hudson

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. How do we see or talk about ourselves?

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

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

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

3. When do we feel God with us?

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

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

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

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

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

6. When we succeed what are we focusing on?

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Gluntz

Alethia Placencia

Publications Student Leader

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

Serve With Your Light

Serve With Your Light

In the Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare there is a quote that says, “How far that candle shines his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” Today’s post isn’t going to be, dare I say, typical. I want to talk about the opportunities we have to serve in OCF. Our theme this month, as has been reiterated over and over again, is John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Shakespeare got one thing right here, and maybe he wasn’t trying to use an Orthodox perspective, but we too believe that the world today has darkness, but the best way to keep the light shining, is to shine our own light. Now you may be thinking, “Um, I am in college, I don’t have the money/resources to do good deeds. Guess what!? OCF can give you everything you need in an easy two step process. 

First Step: Find an OCF YES Day or Retreat near you by clicking this link https://www.ocf.net/events/

Second Step: Register! (Don’t forget to show up! I guess there are three steps…)

What does a YES Day or Retreat have to do with service and good deeds?

YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) Days are an amazing one-day program endorsed by OCF and the offered by FOCUS North America (https://focusnorthamerica.org/) where students gather at a church and complete a service project of some kind. For example, last year I attended the Chicago YES Day. We went to a fast food restaurant and bought a ton of food and handed it out to people on the street and talked with them. It was really cool to hear people’s stories, even if they were just wanting a snack waiting for the bus. To see people be affected by what we did, was an incredible experience. I know I tend to forget how fortunate I am. I have my own car, and a roof over my head, and some people didn’t even have a jacket on a cold October day. People asked us where we were from, and we were given the opportunity to share our faith. Some people had heard of Orthodoxy, and some said they would even try to go to the local church that was hosting us! This truly lifted our spirits, and warmed my heart in places I didn’t know were getting cold. 

 

YES Day Chicago 2018

Last November at the Midwest Fall Retreat we made blankets. What does that have to do with good deeds? Well, we made tie blankets, with cute patterns, and sent them to a pregnancy resource center for babies. Blankets are important because babies being swaddled and wrapped in something gives them a sense of security. Pregnancy resource centers are organizations that help mothers who have difficult decisions to make when they become pregnant. Some mothers lose support from people they relied on and need help. They can go to the pregnancy resource center and receive assistance, baby food, diapers, and blankets. The blankets are important because for a mother that feels like they are losing control, the blanket isn’t just a sense of security for the baby anymore, but for the mom as well, who sees that her baby is being taken care of, and is comfortable.

Midwest Fall Retreat 2018

Last March at the Central Illinois District Retreat, the service event involved going to a place called Salt ‘n Light Ministry. This organization allows people to work and gain store credit to buy groceries, clothing, furniture, basically anything someone might need. We had students stocking fruits and vegetables, printing price tags, sorting clothes, and lots of other chores to help out. This ministry provides people with the dignity in knowing that they aren’t receiving handouts, but are reaping the fruits of their labor.

Central Illinois District Retreat 2019

So, with all those examples of things I did last year, I now am urging you to get involved, and to allow our light to shine as a “good deed shines in a weary world.” You never know when you could be the person to help someone learn to shine their own light. Sign up for an OCF event today! I promise you won’t regret it!

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student

Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net 

How to Stay Afloat in the Sea of College

How to Stay Afloat in the Sea of College

I wanted to make the first blog post of the year introductory. So, hello! My name is Evyenia Pyle and I am the OCF Publications Student Leader this year! I became interested in this position after being a blog contributor last year. As I head into my sophomore year of college, I have been thinking about what OCF means to me, and how it affected me freshman year.

So, to start, I’m going to take us back to last August. It was the University of Illinois Quad Day, and my friend told me to stop by the OCF booth. I showed up to the campus quad and looked around at the sea of people. Literally thousands of people walking and thousands of people facilitating a booth. It was quite overwhelming. I texted my friend and said that I had no idea where I was and needed help finding the booth. He texted me that I had to go to the religion part. So, I trekked over to the religion club booths and started my search. Finally, I saw this huge icon of Christ and my friend standing with a huge smile ready to introduce me to everyone. 

Being a freshman on campus, being welcomed by such an amazing group of people was honestly life-changing in a first-year college experience. OCF became my home–a place where the stress and worries of college life started to fade away. 

In college, it can be hard to stay above the rough seas that seem to rock the boat of life. It is like the storm, where Jesus walks on water:  by having faith in Him, we can walk on the raging waters like Peter. In college, and life, there are going to be ups and downs, but having a support system like OCF, filled with people who share your love for God, will make your time in college so much easier. During college, it is easy to feel like we are sinking, like our head is barely above the water, and honestly the sea of people when I was trying to find our OCF booth felt like a huge storm.

In Matthew’s account of Peter walking on the water, Peter says, “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus commands him to come, and at first Peter walks with ease, then he looks around. He sees his surroundings and becomes afraid. He starts to sink. When I am in class sometimes, or when I do my school work, I can get overwhelmed. The sea of school work becomes too much, and I begin to have fear. Peter had fear, and because he was sinking he had to cry out, “Lord, save me!” 

In the New King James Version it reads that, “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him…” Jesus immediately caught Peter and admonished him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

That verse always has a hold on me. Am I of little faith? Do I doubt?

I sometimes wonder if Peter had never taken his eyes off of the Lord, would he have started to fear and consequently sink? In times that I feel overwhelmed and anxious–about my future, my work, or my present school work–am I looking away away from God? As we get into the joy, trials, and excitement of college, let us together keep in mind that no matter what, God will reach out immediately to help us. All we need to do is say, “Lord, save me!”

If you are interested in being a blog contributor or have thoughts on the blogs please feel to reach out with my email, publicationsstudent@ocf.net. I look forward to being your publications student this year, and I ask for your prayers as we begin the school year together. 

Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out publicationsstudent@ocf.net

Should I even apply for the SLB? The short answer is YES

Should I even apply for the SLB? The short answer is YES

SLB APPLICATIONS ARE OUT! If you’re an Orthodox Christian looking to give back and serve your peers to help them grow closer to Christ, you are in the right spot. The SLB is a team of servant leaders that works to grow OCF for the benefit of our peers. We care deeply about all of our members and we choose to volunteer our time and talents in the best ways that we can.

Maybe you’re good at writing – publications might be for you. Maybe you’re good at public speaking – public relations might be for you. Maybe you’re a social media king or queen – media might be for you. Maybe you like to talk – podcasts might be for you. Maybe you love your OCF friends – regional leadership might be for you? Maybe you’re passionate about college conference – HM MAYBE THERE’S A COLLEGE CONFERENCE STUDENT LEADER?

Point of the matter is: there are places for you to invest your talents no matter what they are. So, apply. But don’t take JUST my advice, take the advice of some of the SLB leaders that work hard to make OCF shine.

This was their answer to the question, “Why apply to the SLB?”

Zoe Kanakis – Southwest Student Leader

  1. You can serve Christ through leading others and providing resources to expand the faith.
  2. You make long-lasting relationships with students from all across America; some of my greatest friendships are people from the SLB!
  3. You can grow your own faith through serving others.
  4. You get to meet a lot of priests that will rock your socks off with their wisdom.
  5. As a regional leader, you are able to plan fun retreats and express your creativity in fellowship activities (ice breakers, bonfires, talent shows, etc).
  6. You are able to travel to places that you would never have thought of and learn about other cultures.

6.75. I cannot stress enough how strong my friendships are with members of the SLB. Bonds that cannot be broken. SO APPLY YO!

Elizabeth Buck – South Student Leader

I applied to the SLB because I wanted to give back to the organization that has given me so much during my college career. The SLB has given me the opportunity to cultivate my authentic leadership style, take on new and exciting challenges, and learn from so many inspiring Orthodox Christian college students around the country. Finally, being a part of the SLB has increased my network of Orthodox Christian friends and has given me the dearest friendships of my young adult life.

Alex Lountzis – Southeast Student Leader

Applying to the SLB is one of the BEST decisions you could ever make! Being on the SLB is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where you will meet some of the most inspiring, amazing, and dedicated Orthodox Christians. At the Summer Leadership Institute (SLI), you will be equipped with so many amazing tools that will allow you to lead others and fulfill your role for OCF to the best of your God-given ability.

The friendships and relationships built through this amazing ministry are a blessing truly beyond words, and I highly recommend not passing up this opportunity to dedicate your own time and talent to such an amazing organization that impacts and changes so many lives!

Kristina Anastasiades – Northeast Student Leader

The Student Leadership Board is a group of Orthodox Christians who bring out Christ in each other and those around them. They can see Him inside of you even when you can’t see Him yourself. We hold each other accountable and pick up our crosses together, as we head towards a life in Christ, not in the future, but today. We are a part of the body of Christ, so let’s bring that to our peers through our service on the SLB!

Caroline Retzios – Great Lakes Student Leader

College for me has been a time for spiritual growth, and thanks to my friends in my local OCF chapter, I am constantly surrounded by others who strive to grown in the faith together. As I became more involved in OCF programs outside of weekly chapter meetings (College Conference, Real Break, District Retreats), I decided I wanted to serve my fellow college students by helping connect them with opportunities to explore their faith.

Now that I am on the SLB, I love every moment about it. I loved everything about SLI, helping at College Conference, leading and attending my first Regional Retreat, and all the people I have met who inspire me to live a more Christ-centered life every day! As a member of the SLB, I have grown SO MUCH in my faith.

I think the biggest thing I have gotten out of this opportunity has been learning to be a servant leader. Hearing leadership expressed in this way at SLI was definitely the most impactful part of that week and has guided my service to this ministry.

OCF gives us so many opportunities to grow in our faith. If you desire to grow closer to Christ through service to your peers, build life-long friendships, and learn more about your faith, apply!

Don’t hesitate, apply now!

Why Should I Stop and Smell the Flowers?

Why Should I Stop and Smell the Flowers?

This year, I attended my first OCF retreat at St. Methodios Faith & Heritage Center in New Hampshire. I went along with 25 other college students from the Northeast region of the United States.

The retreat was held on a day that was brisk but not to the point where we were freezing. We lit fires every night, went hiking through the beautiful trails behind the camp, and participated in the intimacy of divine services, including Paraklesis, Vespers, and Liturgy.

The theme of the retreat was “Smell the Flowers: The Easy Path to the Kingdom”, and our service work was the perfectly unplanned task of landscaping; we planted flowers in front of the camp’s main dining hall.

The premise of the retreat was based off of a story from the book Wounded by Love, written by St. Porphyrios of Mount Athos. Briefly, St. Porphyrios was visiting the island of Patmos at the cave where St. John received the Revelation. He was overcome with grace and happiness from the Holy Spirit and wanted to escape in solitude to fully enjoy it, yet he couldn’t because of the amount of tourists surrounding him.

St. Porphyrios stepped away from the cave, in hopes to come back at a later time and experience the Holy Spirit once more. After returning to the cave, St. Porphyrios’ prayer felt dry and empty, and he did not feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. After stepping outside of the cave of Revelation, he decided to stop and smell the flowers.

He was overcome with awe and understanding when he contemplated the beauty and miracle of creation, which he experienced when he decided to take a moment to observe the flowers. St. Porphyrios came to an understanding at that time that God does not work on our time – He works in His time.

Initially, I was nervous to go on the OCF retreat, as I am currently a catechumen for the Orthodox Church and always felt as though I knew less than those around me – those already established in their faith and knowledge of the Church. To my surprise, there were other catechumens and many other converts.

The first night those who were raised within the Orthodox Church, those who have converted to the Orthodox Church, and those going through catechumenate stayed up until hours of the morning talking about our individual journeys in Orthodoxy.

This was the first time since deciding to be a part of the Church that I was surrounded by peers who were as passionate, enthusiastic, and so inspirational with their faith in Orthodoxy as I was. Conversations of faith were like wildfire that just kept burning. In the beginning, I thought to myself, “How could I be involved in these conversations of faith when there is SO much I still don’t know?”

I was comforted by the story of St. Porphyrios. Before coming a saint, before becoming a shepherd of God, he had a second-grade education. One thing I learned on this retreat is that it’s okay to not know everything and, in a sense, we will never know everything. We are all on a continuous journey, and we all have much to learn.


This post was written by Samantha Fricke, a student at the University of Binghamton. She is a senior studying psychology.

How Will We Get through This Season? Together.

How Will We Get through This Season? Together.

Is it just me or does everything smell like pumpkin right now? Well, it’s Fall and that means harvest season and pumpkin spice everything (I refuse to try pumpkin spice hummus). I live in the great state of Illinois, so harvest season is a pretty big deal for us. Every other year farmers switch out corn with soybeans (one of them needs nitrogen in the soil and the other one puts it there, but I don’t know which is which).

So, sometimes in the soybean fields a few corn plants will pop up. We call them volunteer corn plants. The volunteer corn plants don’t last long. Soybeans are very low to the ground and that singular corn plant has no protection from nature (wind, storms, rain, etc.).  I am always intrigued by the volunteer plants, especially the ones that stay alive and become strong.

OCF is very similar to a corn field, and we are like corn plants. As Orthodox Christians, we are the minority on campuses everywhere. We stand out. Our values and belief systems don’t match the other students around us because we recognize we are not of this world. Like the volunteer corn plants, we stand alone a lot of the time, being attacked by the unseen warfare (in the corn’s case it is the wind). Sometimes it’s easy to let the “wind” topple us over, to succumb to the world around us.

New studies have shown that farmers plant their corn fields with corn closer to each other. Why is that important? Well, the farmers plant the corn closer together so that when the wind comes, and the corn is attacked, the corn is able to stand upright because it is being surrounded by other corn, and they protect each other. When we as students are in the soybean field as volunteer corn crops, we are subject to lots of unseen warfare, and without people to support us it is easy to be overtaken.

That is why OCF is so important. It is important to establish ourselves in the cornfield with other volunteer plants. We must stay closer to each other and support each other. When I attend my OCF chapter’s meetings, I feel safe and at home. Everyone around me believes what I do, we are all volunteer corn plants.

As I said earlier, some volunteer corn plants survive all by themselves, but it is rare that they can withstand nature’s torments. Just because it is possible does not mean it’s easy. That’s why I encourage all of you to be a part of OCF, attend services at your nearest church, and find other Orthodox Christians around you, I promise you there is at least one other Orthodox student on campus, or one you can call to feel connected. If you are exploring the OCF page and happened to stumble upon this looking for a sign to join your local OCF chapter than this is it. Look at the chapter finder, reach out to surrounding OCFs and our Student Leadership Board. Having each other makes life on campus a little bit easier. So, join OCF. Be in a loving environment with people who are like you. You still may be a volunteer crop, but at least you have others holding you up. As it says in Isaiah, “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations,” (Isaiah 61:11 RSV).

I encourage you to find your corn field and Orthodox support system. Know that the Lord has called you to be His volunteer crop to “spring up before all the nations” to show “righteousness and praise”. OCF is such an amazing ministry to be a part of, so join it. Be a volunteer crop that has other corn to help it stand upright.

 


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

Humble Beginnings

Humble Beginnings

Hello! This is your friendly Publications Student leader. My name is Demetri Maroutsos, I am from Chicago, Illinois (Glenview more specifically), and it is a pleasure to be of service for this 2018-2019 school year. For my first blog post, I thought it would be appropriate to introduce myself and tell my OCF story so you can get a better understanding of who I am as you continue with me on this year’s compositional journey.

If we want to start from the very beginning, I was baptized with the name Demetrios in St. Haralambos Church in Niles, Illinois. Fast forward to my first year at college, I am a nervous freshman who barely knows left from right on my college campus. Luckily for me, my cousin was accompanying me on my freshman journey and invited me to the annual OCF barbecue that my chapter hosts every year.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a huge meeting house appropriately titled “the NIKA house” named after “IC XC NIKA” or in English, the “Conquers” in “Jesus Christ Conquers.” Fifty Orthodox students congregated for the welcome barbecue sharing summer stories and introductions over the smell of sweet barbecue sauce and savory bacon macaroni and cheese. I added my name and email to the listserv and my OCF story was officially underway. I would attempt to come to weekly meetings, my attendance picking up on the tail end of my second semester.

Sophomore year, I return with a higher sense of surety in myself and my position within my school. My biology classes were picking up and so was my identity as an Orthodox Christian. My best friendships were starting to grow out of OCF relationships and my regular attendance at OCF was established. At meetings, we would eat dinner together, followed by a discussion on relevant topics about Orthodoxy and our role on the college campus. My first interaction with OCF as a national organization was at the Midwest spring retreat held at St. Iakovos Retreat center.

It was a cold and snowy spring, as is usual in the Wisconsin climate. I was put in a cabin with 25 other Orthodox Christians, and I was able to be real and meet people who were fighting their good fight all around the Midwest. I made some friendships that thrive until this day at that retreat, and I left feeling refreshed yet spiritually full, ready to take on the terror that was my Organic Chemistry final. At the end of that year I was elected to lead the OCF at the University of Illinois as the President during my junior year.

My junior year as president was challenging and rewarding. I was pulled between my leadership board, our church, the OCF alumni, OCF nationals and my students. We even won the Orthodox Awareness Month competition! The year ended well with a lot of Orthodoxy and a lot of fellowship, and I was inspired to apply for the OCF Leadership Board by one of my friends. I loved reading other Orthodox blogs and decided it was my turn to give it a try.

Here we find ourselves to today. My OCF story here halts because my goal with the blog is to not make it about me, but about each and every OCFer across the country. Here, we can discuss the very things that make us college students, tick, fun trips we go on, and the day to day beauty we all experience on our college campuses. I am so excited to embark on this journey with you all.

 

If you are interested in being a blog contributor or would like more information about the blog, email me at publicationsstudent@ocf.net

Also, if you have questions, comments or ideas please email me! I’d love to hear all your voices. You can email me at the same address, publicationsstudent@ocf.net 

Good luck at school everyone!