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!