In my opinion, one of the best movie franchises of all time, is the Harry Potter series (PS: Harry Potter has Orthodox themes, read about them here https://www.ocf.net/harry-potter-and-the-fight-between-good-and-evil/). Anyway, in the third Harry Potter Movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban, Dumbledore says something that stuck with me. “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” Our OCF theme this year is John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (NKJV). In the Psalms we see that the “Lord is [our] light and [our] salvation” (Psalm 27:1 NKJV). Let me infomercial this for you:
Do you ever wake up in the night when it’s dark and you just can’t see?!
Trip over your dog on the way to the bathroom?
Tired of those bulky flashlights that are just too hard to use?
Well, fear no more! Now introducing Christ!
With Christ you will never need a flashlight again!
This could be yours for only the price of faith as small as a mustard seed!
This has a lifetime warranty!
Order now, and we will throw in a free church recommendation!
Okay I’m done. But, think about it. Christ is our light in the darkness! The darkness doesn’t overcome Him! Okay but what does this have to do with Dumbledore? So, while my “infomercial” was a little on the overdramatic side, it’s true, sometimes we can’t see because it’s dark. In my life, sometimes the sorrow I have overwhelms me, and I retreat into “the darkness.” If wallowing in self-pity was an Olympic sport, I would have a gold medal. One could say, I “catastrophize” — go to the worst case scenario and stay there. So in this time of feeling sorry for myself, I sit in the darkness, waiting to be rescued, but why? Can’t I just save myself? The answer is yes. Though I am not sure I am spiritually or emotionally mature enough to practice this, I could just…turn on the light. If I were to sit in darkness, and think of everything bad, what a terrible life I would live. When I really think about it, it seems miserable. But then I realize that I do live like that! But why?!
I have the source of light that will never go out! I have a guardian angel who is really good at protecting me. I have saints who pray for me. If I truly let the light of Christ live inside of me, I would never need to turn on the light. But being human I fall short. I think Dumbledore knew that we retreat to the darkness and forget we have the power to “flip the switch,” which is why he said, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” In John 16:22 Jesus says, “Therefore, you now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” Jesus makes this promise to the Apostles, and to us! We are going to retreat sometimes into the darkness of sorrow, fear, pity, ETC, but if we remember to turn on the light, we will see the path Christ has set forth for us, and the thousands of angels standing guard around us. For as Christ promises, while we may sorrow now, when we lay our eyes on Him who is the source of light, our hearts will be filled with a joy that no one can take from us! What a beautiful promise and an amazing correlation to our theme. Remember that the darkness cannot overcome Christ’s light, and through Him, we can remember to “turn on the lights.” For when we allow Christ’s light to shine in us, we will be filled with joy.
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! firstname.lastname@example.org
Every year on Pascha, the church goes dark and the priest emerges from the altar holding a single candle, its flame burning brightly. He chants, “Come, receive the light from the light that is never overtaken by night.” It is simple in its beauty, and it contains Christ’s promise to us. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Drink from the well of eternal life and never thirst again. Come, receive the light.
This promise is beautifully comforting. Unfortunately, the world we live in is full of darkness, and we are flooded with heartbreaking news. Even in our own lives, our own cities, on our own college campuses, suffering is never too far out of reach. We live in a broken world. However, despite this brokenness, Christians are called to rejoice in the knowledge that Christ reigns triumphant, ever drawing us closer to His eternal Kingdom.
When we acknowledge that this earthly life is not permanent, orienting ourselves toward Christ and His eternal Kingdom, we begin to see the world differently. When we focus on Christ triumphing over death, shattering the gates of Hades by dying on the Cross, we begin to see His candle through the darkness much more clearly. At OCF’s Summer Leadership Institute, we talked about how Christ never forsakes us. Even when it feels like God isn’t answering our prayers, or like senseless evil surrounds us, God will never abandon us. As it is written in Psalms 139:7-12 (NKJV):
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.
The OCF story that I tell frequently, however, is how my OCF chapter and parish community at school were there for me during one of the most difficult weeks of my life. My dad passed away during finals week in December of 2018. At its most intense and acute, grief felt like a physical ache that would never go away. I felt blinded by it, stumbling through each day, trying to do the things that needed to be done.
However, through my OCF chapter, God made the night “shine as the day” like in the Psalm. I texted our group chat that I didn’t want to be alone and they surrounded me like my personal battalion of angels. My dad died Sunday night. They compared schedules and made sure that one of them was with me Monday through Friday until I could get home, studying with me, eating lunch with me, or taking me to church. Anything I needed, anything they could say or do, they were there. No questions asked.
They are the perfect example of Christ’s love: eager to serve, immediate to help. There’s a quote attributed to Fred Rogers about how even in the times of worst despair throughout history, there have always been helpers, and instead of despairing we should look for the helpers. Through this experience, I have realized that to be true. There are always so many helpers: those who stand up for their bullied peers in high school, those who give the food they’re holding to the homeless with no second thought, those who have ripped the shirt off their back to staunch someone else’s bleeding. My friends who rallied around me in my time of need. I can think of more examples than I can list here.
“Come, receive the light.” It is indeed a promise that no matter how dark our world gets, the light will never be overtaken. Beyond a promise, though, it is also a calling. We are called to be the helpers and to embody Christ’s light. Let us all approach Christ, our good and loving God, and rejoice in Him—for no matter how dark the world looks, He will never abandon us.
My name is Demetra Chiafos and I am a senior at The Ohio State University! I am originally from Iowa. My dual degree is in dance and the Japanese language. This is my third year as a member of the student leadership board for the OSU OCF chapter. I love reading, writing, and traveling. I also play piano and sing in the choir at my school parish!
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend [overcome] it,” (John 1:1-5).
This is the beginning of the Gospel account of St. John, in which he beautifully and poetically retells the story of creation. His readers knew the story so well, but here he shows that Jesus was there from the very beginning. So much can be said on these five verses, so we can only scratch the surface in this brief blog post. The whole thing can be summarized like this: Jesus is God, and He always existed and was involved with creation. He created everything, including all life, meaning the life that He gives shines throughout the world as light. OCF’s theme for this year centers around verse 5, “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” so we will dig in deeper to what this means.
What is the darkness?
Do we see darkness around us? Just yesterday as I was getting a haircut, my barber, knowing that I am in seminary, asked about what I thought about everything going on in the world. He said, “At my age, having seen what I’ve seen, I had hoped things would be better by this point.” We don’t have to look very far to see the darkness in the world. We see so much pain and destruction, so much needless suffering, so much hatred, such clear failure of empathy, so many people crying out in distress yet so few ears open to hear their cries. How do we battle such monstrous darkness?
Light in darkness
St. Porphyrios has a simple answer, as he does to most complex issues. “Don’t fight to expel darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for the light to enter, and the darkness will disappear.” Think of this along with John 1:5: “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” What darkness can overpower light? Light always wins out over darkness; there is simply no other way for things to be. If there is darkness, light is not present, and if there is light, there cannot be darkness.
So what do I do?
“You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). This is what Christ tells His disciples, in whose footsteps we now follow. If Christ is the true light (John 1:4) and we are the light of the world, that means that we, the Church, are called to be the presence of Christ in this world. We are battling darkness, and He is the light; what chance do we have in our battle without Him? How could we eliminate darkness without light?
Okay, but really, what do I do?
First, we pray. Prayer opens us up to dialogue with God. We need to pray every morning and every evening, as we are able. It can be 30 seconds or 30 minutes (or beyond), but it needs to be something to be the foundation of our day. And we can also find moments for prayer or stillness throughout the day; one of my favorites is walking back to the dorm from the library at night. Everything is so still, the work for the day is done (or at least, more done than it used to be), and there is so much around me to be thankful for.
Second, we show love and kindness to all who we meet. We can try to do this without prayer and trust in God, but we will find ourselves constantly falling short until we are united with Him. We are called to be first of all kind and loving to our friends and the people close to us, and then to extend out from there. Christ makes clear from His account of the last judgment in Matthew 25 that our priority are the poor, the hungry, and the needy in any way. We may see people struggling with various things on our campuses, and many of them may not have people to help them, or even people to talk to them and share in their struggle for a few seconds. We are called to be the light in their darkness by simply being with them; no more, no less.
Here’s the main message, my friends. Being the light in the darkness means we must be connected to God and strength from Him, which comes from prayer (especially thanksgiving), reading scripture, and spending time in stillness. Having this foundation, we extend that same love that He shows to us constantly to everyone around us, especially when it is hard. In this way, we battle the darkness, not by futile means that we contrive of ourselves, but by allowing the Light to enter into our situation, so that the darkness is simply no more. If we focus on the darkness that is still out there, we will become dejected and give up. But if we focus on who we are called to be—God’s presence in our communities, most especially to the person in front of us at any given moment—then we can call upon the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and work through us to spread light to our communities around us.
Hi! I’m a third-year seminarian at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA. I have a Bachelor of Arts in psychology with a minor in Spanish, and am working towards my Master of Divinity. When I am not writing blog articles for OCF, I canusually be found working on some project for school or something else, practicing chanting,refining my Super Smash Bros game with other HCHC students, or throwing a Frisbee at people to try to get someone to play catch with me.
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, email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Holy week is finally here amigos. This Holy Week, I want to urge you to take the time that you need to fully immerse yourself and partake even a little bit into the splendor of Christ’s Resurrection. There’s always time to start getting ready and to engage! The spiritual father of the Champaign OCF, Fr. Michael Condos, challenged us to “find ourselves in Holy Week,” and this challenge is a wonderful way to be in the mindset to grow in Christ.
What do I mean by find yourself? Holy Week has so many Gospel readings and services that talk about so many people from whom we can learn. When I say find yourself, I mean that you need to find who you identify with this Holy Week–where you are spiritually, the story sticks that sticks out to you.
Maybe you’re Lazarus and you’re feeling spiritually dead or exhausted, and you need Christ to call for you and raise you up.
Maybe you’re running out of steam from Lent, and you’re so excited that Christ is coming like the people of Palm Sunday.
Maybe you feel like Christ has been absent in your heart. Now He’s here coming on a donkey to come receive you.
Maybe you have been slacking spiritually, and you’re not ready for Holy Week. Maybe you’re scared that you don’t have oil in your lamp.
Maybe you feel like you are being hypocritical like the Pharisees, maybe you’re holding others to standards you don’t even uphold yourself.
Maybe something is plaguing you spiritually like Simon the Leper.
Maybe you are thirsty for the mercy of God like Kassiani.
Maybe you feel like Judas at the table of Christ. This is why we fast on Wednesdays. If you don’t think you could ever be like Judas, ask a priest and reevaluate.
Maybe you feel like are trying to carry your cross, and you can empathize with St. Simeon.
Maybe you feel like the Romans at Christ’s cross, skeptical about who Jesus is.
Maybe you feel like either of the thieves who were crucified next to Christ.
Maybe you feel like your faith is wavering like the disciples who hid after Christ’s crucifixion.
Maybe you feel like St. Peter and have denied Christ.
This Pascha, try and find yourself, and see yourself in true humility. In anything, know now that Christ underwent His passion for our sake. You may feel like any of the people described during Holy Week, but most importantly be like the apostles who saw Christ and proclaimed He is Risen. BE LIKE THE DEAD WHO HAVE RISEN WITH CHRIST.
Get PUMPED!! Here is a part from St. John Crysostom’s paschal homily that reiterates the point I’m trying to make.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward.
If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast.
If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss.
If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation.
If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness.
For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first.
We recently began lent with one of the most moving services of the year, Forgiveness Vespers. In the epistle we hear:
“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. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for God is able to make him stand (Romans 14:1-4 NKJV).”
Fr. Arseny (I definitely recommend the book about him calledFr. Arseny 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spritual Father), grew up in Russia and went to University as an art critic and when he felt God calling him to an ascetic life, he became a hieromonk. In the year 1927, Fr. Arseny was arrested and taken to a prison camp in Siberia. People were not expected to live very long as they were worked to death in horrific conditions. Fr. Arseny was arrested due to anticommunist persecution, and was received by the Lord in 1973.
One of my favorite Fr. Arseny stories is when he and another prisoner were sent to a steel shack in below zero weather for 48 hours. No one had ever survived that punishment before, but Fr. Arseny and the man prayed and made it out alive. So basically, Fr. Arseny is awesome.
Going back to forgiveness though, Fr. Arseny forgave the men that put him in the prison camp. In fact, he prayed to God for them and for their forgiveness. If I were in those shoes, freezing to death and barely having enough to eat, I am not sure I would be as forgiving, but this was a man of God.
With help from God, Fr. Arseny was not only forgiving, but he rejoiced in his tribulations. God had held him up.
Another great example of forgiveness is with Auschwitz twin experiment survivor Eva Mozes Kor. Many years after her release from the concentration camp, Eva Mozes Kor gave a public statement forgiving the doctors who performed some of the worst procedures possible, and the Nazi soldiers who treated her and her twin sister Miriam very poorly. I see things like Fr. Arseny and Eva Mozes Kor and it really makes me think. How is it that I have trouble forgiving someone when they cut me off on the high way, but these people forgave the people who created a life of misery for them. They rejoiced in their sufferings.
I think a lot of times I group lent into a category of something I have to do. I make it a chore. Lent is not that at all. Lent is the spiritual gym. We are trying to train spiritual muscles, with the ultimate goal being reuniting ourselves with God. Lent is hard, being a Christian in today’s world is hard, yet we must live our faith. As Fr. Barnabas Powell always says, “Be Orthodox on purpose!” Fr. Arseny and Eva Mozes Kor are amazing resources of people to look up to when you struggle with forgiveness.
So, let us not pass judgement, let us rejoice in our sufferings to produce hope, and character, and perseverance. Stay strong during lent, attend the services. I like to think of communion as Orthodox gasoline, and we are the car that needs it to run. Normally we only need to partake once a week, but with the spiritual warfare picking up we add a midweek service to refuel. So, attend the services, lean on each other for support. Forgive, even if it is the last thing you want to do. Because if we do these things, if we work on our relationship with Christ this lent, we should not fear falling. For God will make us stand!
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!
Fr. Jonathan Bannon–a priest, an OCF advocate (he was the spiritual father at the last College Conference Midwest!), and a talented graphic designer–drew up a Lenten infographic that’s perfect for college students.
Here are 7 tips for getting into the spiritual gym and getting yourself ready for Pascha!
The best way to start Lent is on a clean slate. Confession is a good way to grow closer to the Lord and learn from your spiritual father. Your OCF chapter chaplain is very qualified to hear your confession. Confession helps you understand your flaws even deeper and is a good place to know where to start. With confession, you can take all your sorrows to the Lord and start anew. A good resource for guiding yourself in Holy Confession can be found here. Ask yourself the questions and humble yourself so you can be resurrected in Christ!
Communion is the pathway to Life. John 6:53-54:
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
Lent is impossible without the help of our Lord. Learn to depend more and more on our Lord so you can become closer to Him. Many parishes also hold Presanctified Liturgies where you can get some extra strength from our Lord throughout the week.
Be a little more generous and more lenient with people. Hold your tongue. Monetary donations are not necessary (but if you are moved to give, OCF is a wonderful place to donate that money). You could also donate your time to perform any of the charitable acts described in the beatitudes.
Pray the St. Ephraim Prayer Daily
O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth,
faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity,
humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother,
for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
The prayer of St. Ephraim just puts you into the Lenten mood. Each of the sentences is usually followed by a prostration. HERE is some of the spiritual gymnastics that Lent can call for. Get your blood flowing in the morning and night in devotion. Many prayer books have the St. Ephraim prayer built into them, so you may just need to look for it.
Be in Church (and OCF) More
Being in the home of Christ will help you stay in the Lenten mood. Your spiritual battery might need some more juice during these stricter times. Another great reason to be in church more is that there is camaraderie with the people who are undergoing the same struggle. Share your triumphs, ask for advice, and swap recipes–you’re not alone in this struggle. Your OCF is another great resource for finding this camaraderie.
Hide Your Fasting
Fasting is an important part of Lent because it helps us focus on what really matters–relying on God in all things. However, it is important that you try to let your fasting be between you and God (and your spiritual father). Fasting is a tool for self-control, not an ends in and of itself. Fasting is a way for you to train your spiritual muscles, so get to the gym! Please also do not try to make others feel bad about their commitment to fasting, although do not be afraid to encourage others! Sometimes people just need a little push, but do not let prideful thoughts take over because that defeats the whole purpose of fasting. Here is a great guide for some Lenten recipes curated by your OCF board!
When You Fall, Get Back Up!
This is the most important part of Lent. If you break the fast, it’s not the end of the world. We are human, we will fall. The important thing is not to let yourself keep falling, but instead stand up and keep trying. No one can run a marathon without training; use Lent as a training period to come closer to the Lord!
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
You can serve Christ through leading others and providing resources to expand the faith.
You make long-lasting relationships with students from all across America; some of my greatest friendships are people from the SLB!
You can grow your own faith through serving others.
You get to meet a lot of priests that will rock your socks off with their wisdom.
As a regional leader, you are able to plan fun retreats and express your creativity in fellowship activities (ice breakers, bonfires, talent shows, etc).
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!
One of the hardest parts about true love is what lies at its core: freedom. Freedom is at the core of all healthy relationships because from it we can derive trust, understanding, and harmony. When freedom is taken out of love, it can actually become evil. Love needs to be free to be true.
Let’s look at an example from pop culture: You, a Netflix series based on an obsessive man who lusts after a girl and tries to entrap here. [SPOILER ALERT PEOPLE] The boyfriend and main character in the story becomes so obsessed with his girlfriend, Guinevere Beck, that he seeks to “fix” every problem in her life. He kills her ex and her best friend and eventually traps her into his basement in a cage originally used to store old and rare books (he owns a bookstore). This story is a perversion on true love, masked by a false romantic theme and emotional sentimentality which covers an obsession to control this girl for the satisfaction of his sick desires. This is where love can lead when freedom is taken out of the equation.
Why is freedom necessary for true love? It is because in our choice to consistently choose another person, where we can grow a foundation of trust and build our self-emptying nature. When the self-emptying nature is reciprocated and shared between two people, we can be lead towards salvation and understand a sliver of Christ’s love for us. This comes back to the idiomatic saying, “If you love something, set it free.” If someone tries to control you “out of love,” they are actually satisfying themselves to your detriment.
As Orthodox Christians, we know that all things true and good must come from God. Therefore, pure, good, and true love is exemplified in our Lord’s love for us: His creation. This Valentine’s-Day-appropriate verse from St. Paul’s explanation of heavenly love is the basis on which we should try and base our love for our neighbor in our everyday lives:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
The love described in the epistle is incredibly pure and self-emptying. This is the agape written about in the scriptures, and this is the type of love we are called to have for each and every one of our brothers and sisters–enemies included. I firmly believe that Love is the most powerful force in the universe. Not atomic force, electromagnetic force, not gravity, but love is the strongest. Love is the Person that brought the Universe into existence and continues to uphold it every moment.
The Lord gave us free will so that we can come to know Him of our own volition. If someone was forcing us to love them, we only push them away further because resentment and asphyxiation grow where freedom ends. Only in the freedom to love one another can we actively make the choice to love and sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the other.
This type of love can hurt in its acquisition but afterwards it can be the most freeing thing you ever experience. It hurts because there is the possibility that someone may not love us back, that the people we love may get hurt, that they don’t appreciate our love, but that shouldn’t deter you. God loves His people, and there are many people out there that actively hate Him. Yet He chooses to love us in freedom, always allowing us to turn back to Him and meet Him. For every step we take towards Him, He takes ten more to come closer to us. God came from heaven to earth out of love. He chooses to love us as we are and sees us for what we can become. Choose to love the people around you.
Many of you are probably wondering, yes that love sounds beautiful and all, but is it realistic? The truth is you have to learn and discern about the state of your relationships. This applies for all the relationships you have in your life from your friends to your enemies. Your love for others deepens as your love for God and your experience of His love for you deepens. This comes with time, maturity, and prayer, so have patience, faith in God, and may the Love that brought you into being illumine your path towards the kingdom.
The classic response for the interview question “What is a weakness of yours?” is to reply with “I’m a perfectionist.” Oh, clever you! That answer tries to mask a weakness with a quality that is seemingly good in the eyes of an employer. Ha. Perfectionism has an ugly side that can affect you spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.
Gen Z (which is our generation, for those of us born after 1995) has been cursed with the sickness of perfectionism and been plagued by feelings of anxiety and depression. The New York times reported: “In 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A. began asking incoming college freshmen if they ‘felt overwhelmed by all I had to do’ during the previous year. In 1985, 18 percent said they did. By 2010, that number had increased to 29 percent. Last year, it surged to 41 percent.” This feeling has been permeating our generation in a way that it has never before.
Behind perfectionism is the incessant, pestering voice saying that we haven’t done enough, we are in control, there is more to do, failure is the worst possible thing that could happen to us, everyone is watching us, people are out to get us, everyone is my competitor, and I have to make it to the top first or I won’t make it at all.
Trust me guys, I’m talking from experience. I am pre-med, and this pressure is a wonderful motivator, but when left unchecked it can be detrimental. The difference between Gen Z and previous generations is that this pressure has become internalized, so it never leaves, its always around telling us to keep pushing.
What’s causing this intense rise in perfectionism in our lives? A huge part of the blame is on cell phones. We acquire this false sense of control and expectation in the unknown. If you don’t think you have this, ask yourself the question if you’ve ever looked at someone’s Insta and thought, “How is their life so put together, so exciting, so…perfect?” This perfectionism is causing us to lie awake at night wondering whether we’ve done enough or if we’re enough. This constant battle is causing a lot of spiritual damage if left unchecked and unregulated.
Perfectionism can be dangerous because we put off important things until we think we are deemed good enough to do them. For example, “I am going to pursue a relationship with someone when I have all my stuff together.” or “Oh my gosh, I missed a question on that exam, I’m going to fail.” Let’s be honest, you’re never going to get your stuff together to the degree that you will feel satisfied, and you are chasing a finish line that’s moving faster than you are.
If you think that the Scripture which were written almost 2,000 years ago is irrelevant to today, you are wrong. The Bible is the perfect antidote to combating the negative aspects of perfectionism, and letting it guide us, we can transform it to become perfect like God. In the First Book of John, we read:
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. – 1 John 3:1-2
We are loved by God now, in our triumphs and our mistakes. He loves us, He created us, and whether you like it or not He has a plan for us. Take a deep breath, we are all human beings. Your mistakes do not make you inadequate, the saints describe their whole lives as being a continuous rising and falling in God. You don’t have to mask your flaws, God already knows them more than you do, be open with Him in your prayer. Open up and let out the anxiety that can be plaguing you. Mistakes are OK to make, because God gives us the opportunity to stand up and try again. If God who is perfect and sinless can forgive you, you can work to see your mistakes and grow in them rather than let them letting them weigh you down.
Perfectionism can be scary, but we can work to overcome it and lead healthier lives mentally, physically, and spiritually. Here are five tips to help overcome perfectionism and limit it from having a negative impact on your life:
Put down your phone. Stop comparing yourself to other people, and don’t allow the social media that is making you feel inadequate to have that kind of power over you. Compete with yourself and strive for improvement and not perfection.
Build real relationships with people. Help yourself see your flaws and imperfections, and share them with your close friends. Share your struggles, and have others share theirs with you. The impact a conversation can have on your mental health can be amazing.
Talk to God. Open up to Him and let Him know what’s going on with you in your life and ask for His help. Let your talks be between you and Him alone, build that relationship so you can grow in Christ.
Forgive others, and forgive yourself. Forgive others because that will help free you, and forgive yourself because when you ask for mercy, God will grant it.
Work to acquire humility. True humility is not knowing that you are nothing, true humility is knowing who you truly are. Work to get comfortable with your true self as a child of God.
Remember perfectionism could at its best be our subconscious desire to restore our fallen selves. It can be a wonderful tool for keeping the commandments and growing in Christ, but unchecked it can cause anxiety and cause us to push ourselves to our limits without God. Let perfectionism be transformed in Christ so that we become perfect, not on our own terms, but as God intends us to be.
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:48
One of the most beautiful prayers passed on through holy tradition is the service of Paraklesis. Any time you have a need, you can bring it in humility to the feet of the Theotokos or the saint you are asking for intercession. The nine canons are like roses of prayer that are offered to our intercessors. This service became really dear to my heart after praying it at OCF retreats and with my OCF chapter. It made me feel closer to them and closer to the Theotokos.
Just like we can ask our friends and family to pray for us, we can ask the saints and the Theotokos to pray for us in our daily struggle towards the kingdom. Throughout this post, I will include some lines from the poetry of the service that help illustrate the love of the Theotokos, and encourage you to respond in love to her.
Paraklesis translated from Greek literally mean “a pleading.” Bring all you worries and fears, and place them in the hands of God, and know that He will take care of them in the way that is best for you:
I entreat you, O Virgin, disperse the storm of my grief,
and the soul’s most inward confusion, scatter it far from me; you are the Bride of God, for you have brought forth the Christ, the Prince of Peace; O all-blameless one.
The Paraklesis is a service where you can bring down the walls you put around you, bring all your stresses, wishes, hopes, failures and anguishes for you and for whomever you want to pray and offer a supplication to God through an intercession. No person is closer to Him than His mother, the Virgin Theotokos. She looks after us as our spiritual mother.
all of your servants, from danger, O Theotokos;
after God, we all flee to you, for shelter and covering, as an unshakable wall and our protection.
Throughout the service, descriptions of the holy life of the Theotokos and the help she has given to the people who have loved her throughout the ages. She will protect you, no matter where you are in life she is there, praying and talking to Christ on our behalf.
No one is turned away from you, ashamed and empty, who flee to you, O pure Virgin Theotokos;
but one asks for the favor,
and the gift is received from you,
to the advantage of their own request.
The Theotokos loves us and prays for us as if she were our own mother. She knows what its like to be a human being, and she endured one of the most painful experiences known to humanity–witnessing the death of her Son. She gets it. To me, the Paraklesis service is special because I feel like I am not alone in my worries and stresses and I can share them with the Mother of God. I also really love that when I know someone is going through hardship I can actually do something to help them. Not only can I offer my struggles, but I can offer the struggles of others through my prayer.
Oppressed I am, O Virgin;
in a place of sickness,
I have been humbled; I ask you: bring remedy,
transform my illness, my sickness, into a wholesomeness.
The walk towards the kingdom is not a lonely one. We walk together as Christ’s Church. We can come together to pray, to support, and to love one another and help make this life more like the kingdom through our conscious effort. We can come together to pray for each other and strengthen each other. We are a community of Orthodox Christians, and we stand together in fighting each of our good fights. Don’t be ashamed to be a “mama’s boy” or a “mama’s girl” because we can all use the help and shelter that she provides.
My numerous hopes are placed
before you, most-holy one;
Mother of our God,
guard me with care, within your sheltered arms.
Just like a child clings to its mother, crying for the even the smallest boo-boo, we have our Holy Mother that will comfort us in our times of need. Each time you pray a Paraklesis service, let God and the Theotokos speak to you through the service, and become closer to them.
Let’s set the scene: we had just finished breakfast after fully enjoying the treat that are the breakfast potatoes of the St. Iakovos Retreat Center. We settle down in in our seats, and we are suddenly attending a gospel concert starring none other than the wonderful Fr. Barnabas Powell. Fr Powell began to sing loudly in front of the whole conference, and to play along I exclaimed a loud and faithful, “TESTIFY,” which was followed by uproarious laughter. Let this conference begin I thought to myself.
Fr. Barnabas concludes his song and after the students’ excited applause he turns to us and in a serious and focused tone, says:
“If you do not know the identity of Jesus Christ, you will never know who you truly are.”
What followed was the stunned silence of a room of people doubting the knowledge of their own identity and the identity of Jesus Christ. This statement set the tone and topic for the conference, “Who do you say that I am?” from the Gospel of Matthew.
As a group, we collectively gathered our scuba gear knowing fully well that at this conference we were diving DEEP into our identity and the identity of Christ. You may ask, what do we mean when we say God, and what is the identity of Jesus Christ? We as Orthodox understand God as the uncreated Being, the Creator of all, who reveals Himself as three persons in the Holy Trinity in full and complete communion, as inseparable as the fire of three candles sharing a flame.
Thankfully, Christ tells us who He is, He just flat out tells us so there is no ambiguity:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Therefore, we know that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Now what does this have to do with our own identity? In order for us to fully know ourselves and fully comprehend our identity, we have to begin to understand that Christ is the truth of life, its purpose, and its instiller of purpose concurrently. Christ is our nexus and the face, the icon by which we can know God, who lived and breathed on earth as we do, the infinity who became finite for us.
But why should we even care about knowing Christ and knowing ourselves? It’s because we’re diseased–sorry guys but it had to be said. We live in a fallen world and a fallen state, and the difference between knowing God and not knowing Him is the difference between wholeness and emptiness. Every time we are longing for home, we are hungry, we are thirsty, we cause pain, and feel pain we understand this emptiness and feel our tangible distance from God.
How do we begin to know God? Fr. Jannakos helped us answer that question. He taught us that we begin to know Him by imitating Him, by learning to tame the passions and working to attain the virtues of the Holy Spirit.
My spiritual father described the taming of the passions to me in the most beautiful way I have ever heard it, and I want to share it with you:
“Imagine the passions as an untamed fire, it grows, it spreads, and it causes destruction in everything it grows through. It is so big, it is unignorable and wild. Our job is to take those passions and tame them and (pointing to the light in the kandyli) turn them into the tame and beautiful flame of the candle that gives us warmth and light.”
This is the way of the Orthodox, becoming LIKE Christ in His perfect and sinless self. But how can we take this lofty theology and bring it down to the nitty gritty of the everyday life of a college student? To that, we turn to the expertise of Mother Gabriella, the abbess of Holy Dormition Monastery in Michigan.
Mother Gabriella, amidst her talk on the things she has learned as an abbess, and as an immigrant to the United States from Romania. She taught me how to incorporate small lessons in discipline and asceticism into my daily life. Some of her pro tips:
Wake up exactly when your alarm clock sounds.
Get to church earlier (1/2 way during matins). It shows respect and devotion to God.
Take a few moments every day to be quiet.
Clean up and put your things where they belong.
Control your diet.
Ultimately, these tips can help you with the discipline needed to resist temptation. The most important thing in struggle is to never struggle alone–struggle with God because alone you cannot do it. Lastly, the piece of advice that can be applied to be a better human being is to just let things go. Forgive people. You never know what they are going through on the inside. Anger is the punishment we give ourselves for someone else’s mistake. Let. It. Go.
College Conference Midwest 2019 was a blast. I got to meet a group of new people, and really get to know what they are thinking about and going through on college campuses. I got to catch up with old friends and have new adventures. College Conference is the place where you can learn and be strengthened in your faith and learn how to better yourself spiritually.
This last conference, Fr. Jonathan Bannon was able to bring an array of relics and I was able to physically meet a new slew of saints at this conference. So not only did I make more friends but spiritual ones as well.
I urge you all to continue participating if you have and encourage those who haven’t just come and try it. Let your guard down, open your mind, and learn at College Conference.
A personal favorite saint of mine, St. Xenia of St. Petersburg, is a beacon of light for those going through college. Her life is a wonderful example for how we should conduct ourselves and her intercessions are particularly relevant to the stresses an average college student faces…finding a job and finding love.
Let us learn about her story, taken from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese website,
Our righteous Mother Xenia of Petersburg was born about the year 1730. She was married to a Colonel named Andrew; when she was twenty-six years old, her husband died suddenly, having been drinking with his friends. Left a childless widow, Xenia gave away all that she had, and vanished from Saint Petersburg for eight years; it is believed that she spent this time in a hermitage, learning the spiritual life. When she returned to Saint Petersburg, she wore her husband’s military clothing, and would answer only to the name Andrew, that is, the name of her late husband. She took up the life of a homeless wanderer, and was abused by many as insane; she bore this with great patience, crucifying the carnal mind through the mockery she endured, and praying for her husband’s soul. She was given great gifts of prayer and prophecy, and often foretold things to come; in 1796 she foretold the death of Empress Catherine II. Having lived forty-five years after her husband’s death, she reposed in peace at the age of seventy-one, about the year 1800. Her grave became such a source of miracles, and so many came to take soil from it as a blessing, that it was often necessary to replace the soil; when a stone slab was placed over her grave, this too disappeared over time, piece by piece. Saint Xenia is especially invoked for help in finding employment, lodging, or a spouse.
St. Xenia has the clairvoyance that personally, I wish I had because the future can be frankly terrifying. “Will I find a job?” “Where am I going to live after college?” “Will I ever find a significant other?” “Will I ever get married?” These are the questions countless college students ask themselves because there is so much uncertainty and competition that we really do need divine intervention for guidance in our lives, and towards the Kingdom.
St. Xenia was married, lived a somewhat wealthy life, was young, and had things going well for her in her life–the “American dream” as we would now describe. But one day, she lost her husband, and she felt not only the pain of the loss, but the pain of a lost future. Her life was set up, and one day she felt that it was taken all away. Personally, I can’t even imagine the anguish she must have felt during that time.
What makes St. Xenia special to us, and special to God, was that in her times of suffering, she turned to Him to transform her. She gave away all she had, and because of that, people used to think she was actually crazy. People who highly regard earthly pleasures would think that giving away all you have would be crazy. However, St. Xenia saw her spiritual poverty and sought to be transformed and align her life towards the Kingdom.
She learned how to pray and how to follow the spiritual life. I’m sure people understand the importance of having a spiritual father and that many have given advice to seek one. LEARN! Priests are trained to be people’s spiritual fathers, and they have their own spiritual fathers themselves! The right spiritual instruction helped cultivate St. Xenia into the saint that she is today.
St. Xenia had incredible humility. She was so humble that she wanted to bear not only her own sins but that of her husband and assumed his name. Through the sacrament of marriage, she and her spouse became one, and in her persistence to make her life a Kingdomly one, she assumed his name and was willing to bear their cross, suffering much physical and emotional torment.
St. Xenia intercedes for those looking for a spouse and looking for a job. I urge you all to ask for her help! The job market and love markets are tough out there, and a little saintly push from the spiritual master that is St. Xenia can give you hope and guidance. Also, St. Xenia was known to only take copper pennies during her earthly life, so, make a little donation to the poor or to your church in her name, so you can be like the people who were able to receive her blessings whilst living on earth.
May she intercede for you all! Also learn more about her here, in OCF’s program, “There’s a Saint for That”
“Noise is one of the most common pollutants. It is often ignored because it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. And yet it can have negative effects on human well-being” (ASHA.org). Did you know that a hair blow dryer can cause hearing damage because of the amount of noise it produces? We live in a world today that is surrounded by noise. It is extremely difficult to find silence.
I was at a winter retreat a few years ago, and Fr. Silviu Bunta challenged us to sit in silence for five minutes every day. At the time, I thought he was crazy. There was no way I was going to sit in silence for five minutes every day. I love to talk, and anyone who knows me can attest to this. I asked Fr. Silviu if I could listen to music and reflect that way.
He looked at all of us and said, “No.” Just no.
Fr. Silviu continued to tell us that when people were tortured for information, the torturers would play loud and fast music. When this happens, our minds become overstimulated, and we can’t take much more, and our bodies start to shut down. Someone then asked if loud and fast music and noises are okay in moderation, and Fr. Silviu said, “If you fill yourself with noise, how can you expect to hear God”.
That made me think of the Bible, where God speaks to Elijah.
“Then He said, ‘Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it…”
1 Kings 19:11-13
Elijah did not hear the Lord during the noise but in a “still small voice”. Some translations write that it was a stillness, others a whisper. Throughout my life, I wished that God’s voice would come in a booming thunder, that it would shake the heavens and declare its victory through the world. God could totally do that, but instead he speaks to us through silence. We must quiet our hearts, thoughts, desires, and earthly cares in order to hear God.
Saint Isaac the Syrian once said, “Silence is the sacrament of the world to come.” St. Iassac has a point. As much as I hate to admit it, we can see in the story of Elijah, we will not be able to speak with God with so much background noise. Imagine you’re at a party or a large social gathering. Your friend is speaking in a normal voice but ends up shouting, so you can hear them. So, imagine trying to whisper in a crowded room and expecting your friend to hear you. It’s probably not going to happen.
If we fill our lives with noise how will we hear God? When I think of sacraments, I think of baptism, chrismation, and communion, three important things that help us towards our salvation. For St. Isaac to call silence a new sacrament, it must be essential to guiding us towards salvation.
If we want to look at the scientific side of things, there are proven things that can happen to our bodies with excess noise exposure. Excess noise exposure can cause: a change in blood pressure, change in heart rate, change the way the heart beats (possible abnormal palpitations), disturb digestion and harm your organs, contribute to premature birth, and disrupt sleep. But don’t forget that on top of all of that, we can start to lose our hearing. I am not saying we should live the rest of our lives in complete silence shutting ourselves out from the world. That would also be detrimental to our health because we need human interaction to survive. So, what are we supposed to do if we should live in silence, but not shut ourselves up in our rooms?
Fr. John Breck writes, “Silence is not just the absence of ambient noise. Nor does it mean the lack of laughter or music or shared reflection. Silence is a state of mind and heart, a condition of the soul. It is inner stillness. Silence in heaven reigns amidst joyous song and ceaseless celebration. It is awe in the presence of the Divine.”
One of my favorite parts of that quote is that silence “is awe in the presence of the Divine.” The presence of God is everywhere and fills all things. He is in me and you and your next-door neighbor. He is everywhere, so when we are in the presence of the Divine, we must be in awe. By quieting our souls through prayer, fasting, and vigilance we can hear God.
My mom used to always tell me, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Fr. John helps us see that listening to music isn’t evil and speaking with friends isn’t detrimental, but we have to remember that it canbe. If we listen to music that is harmful to our souls and bodies, our souls are no longer quieted, but aroused with the passions. If we speak wrongfully and with hatred, we add fuel to the fire of the burning passions.
I want to hear God. That is a goal, but I haven’t because of the noise in my life. It’s time to drown out the noise, to listen for the still small voice. I have been trying to practice silence. It’s hard, but the more I do it, the more possible it becomes. Not only has this been quieting my soul, but it has helped me to keep my thoughts and words in check.
I pray that you will find the silence needed to hear God and listen. I pray that like the other sacraments we can join together to find the silence we need. I pray that we can find our state of awe and together stand in the presence of our Holy Father. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 11:15)
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!
My alarm goes off at 6:30 AM this morning. I hop in the shower, get dressed, say my morning prayers, and head off to church for the Royal Hours for Nativity. Since I am a tonsured reader, I help read some of the psalms, Old Testament, and Epistle readings for the service and also intone some of the hymns and prayers here and there. The Royal Hours is, objectively speaking, an astonishingly beautiful service, speaking of the immense power and humility of God to become incarnate as a baby boy in order to redeem humanity. And I felt none of that beauty.
You see, I have a disease called major depressive disorder. The main symptom of this disease is the inability to feel pleasure and meaning in things that used to feel pleasurable and meaningful. And so even though I am active in the Church and OCF, try to say my prayers every day, and try to pay attention during the services, I hardly ever feel anything positive during them. On the contrary, I spend a lot of my time in prayer internally wondering whether God is listening or not, questioning why He would give me such a screwed-up brain if He supposedly loves me so much.
And yet, the Church proclaims that God is good. The Church tells me that Christ came to earth and suffered in the flesh, being crucified and resurrected in order to destroy death and raise the dead from the tombs. And I really do believe these things with all my heart, even when my brain is telling me otherwise.
I pray because I believe Christ rose from the dead. “I believed, therefore I have spoken” proclaimed King David in the psalms, and so I, too, speak in prayer because I believe (Psalm 115:10). This is why the services of the Church are so important to me: they call me to pray even when I don’t feel like it, even when my brain is giving me every reason not to. I need the constant call of the Church to “again and again in peace pray to the Lord.” I need the reminders that God loves me, even when my brain is incapable of seeing it.
God loves you, too. He loves each one of us more than we know how to love. And it is this love, given to me through the Church’s discipline of liturgical prayer, that encourages me to pray, even when I can’t feel that love around me.
This discipline, I believe, has saved my life on more than one occasion from the dark and self-destructive thoughts that often haunt those of us with depression. I hope that the same love of God also encourages you to pray, regardless of whether you feel that love or not.
I know this sounds like a daunting task to complete in one year, but this PDF gives you a guide to reading the entire Orthodox Study Bible in one year. The PDF starts on September 1st (for the Ecclesiastical New Year), but you can still start the guide and finish reading the whole bible in one year. By reading less than five chapters a day, you can feel extremely accomplished and become more knowledgeable at the end of one year.
In our very busy lives, we usually forget to just take a few minutes to reflect on our day. Learning how to sit in silence for a few minutes a day will help you to wind down and be peaceful. And when I say sitting in silence, I don’t mean sitting on your phone in silence. Remove all distractions and take a few minutes each day to reflect and give praise to God for the blessed day.
A good rule of thumb when deciding when to go to confession is to try and go during the major fasting periods of the church. The three main fasting periods are Advent (Christmas Fast), Great and Holy Lent (Pascha Fast), and the Fast for the Dormition of the Theotokos (First 15 days in August). By going to confession during these time periods, you would be going to confession every four months. This gives you time to reflect and take a lot of the burdens from your soul away throughout the year.
6. Listen to a Podcast that Interests and Inspires You
Ancient Faith Radio has so many cool podcasts you can choose from. You can download the Ancient Faith Radio app on your phone and have hundreds of podcasts at the tip of your finger! Some of them are even led by college students! Check out this blog post from November to learn about some of the great podcasts you can find on their app.
7. Learn More about a Saint that Interests You
There’s a Saint for That is a great way to learn about saints that can help you in your everyday life. There are saints who intercede for traveling, for education, for health, for finding things that have been lost, and for many other reasons. You can also check out stories of the saints of the day on the OCA Website. OCA’s website gives you the story of multiple saints daily so you can learn about a new one everyday!
8. Connect with an Orthodox Community
One of the best ways to grow in your faith is to surround yourself with others who are immersed in the same faith as you. You can meet some of your life-long friends at your campus OCF meetings, OCF regional retreats, and at College Conference. Check out the current listing of OCF events to register! Also look into your parish to see opportunities for you to meet and hang out with young adults in your area.
9. Talk to a Priest about Questions You Have
Make a list of a few questions to ask your spiritual father or parish priest. Talking through your questions with them will strengthen your knowledge about the faith and also your relationship with your spiritual father.
10. Go to a Service or an Orthodox Church that You Have Never Attended Before
Step out of your comfort zone and check out other parishes in your area. Visit Greek Churches, Russian Churches, Romanian Churches, etc. Go and experience Orthodoxy in every language you can. Also try and attend services you don’t attend regularly. There are services offered weekly like Saturday Vespers or services offered only a few times a year like the Salutations, Paraklesis, and Presanctified Divine Liturgy.
Hi everyone! My name is Joanna Psyhogios. I am from Wilmette, Illinois, and I am a member at St. John the Baptist Church in Des Plaines, Illinois. My first experience with OCF was during College Conference East, and I have been active in participating in College Conference and OCF retreats ever since. In my free time, I love to play and watch every sport, coach basketball to youth teams, watch movies and TV Shows, and play Jungle Speed (shoutout to CC Midwest!). I am really excited to share what I have learned about the Orthodox faith through the OCF blogs!
Christmas, for most Orthodox Christians, is a time of fasting, prayer, worship, sacraments, spiritual renewal, and philanthropy. It is a more religious celebration that is not as commercial as in some cultures. It is a time where we also have many traditions that help make it the beautiful holiday it is.
#1 Fasting before Christmas is harder than fasting for Lent
All those Christmas cookies really do you in on the days leading up to Christmas, also why does everything Christmas have to be made with MILK? Also fair warning—whilst eating Greek kourambiedes do not inhale because you WILL choke on the powdered sugar, nothing like a little danger in a cookie I suppose.
#2 If your name is Chris/Christina you feel a little petty for having your namesday be on Christmas day
Yes, you get to celebrate being named after Christ but unfortunately the presents are usually grouped together, nothing like a 2 for 1 deal, am I right?
#3 You get to watch your friends exchange gifts on December 25th but you have to wait until January 7th.
Some jurisdictions are still on the Old ‘Julian’ Calendar and have to wait an extra 13 days for Christmas to happen… patience is a virtue!
#4 Part of decorating the Christmas tree (Badnjak) includes burning it in on Christmas Eve and then baking it into bread.
Look up this cool Serbian Tradition! Just don’t stand too close to the fire because you might lose an eyebrow or two.
#5 You kind of know where the 12 days of Christmas really comes from.
It’s the amount of days between His birth and Epiphany! A lot of people even keep their decorations up until then. Why do you need 11 pipers piping for that?
#6 You’re really confused about who Santa really is.
Is he St. Nicholas of Myra? Is he St. Basil? And when are you going to exchange gifts?Greek Orthodox Christians in Greece traditionally exchange presents on New Year’s Day, the feast day of St. Basil the Great
#7 Christmas Eve ham? Try a 12-part vegetarian extravaganza including perogies, cabbage rolls, beets, borscht, and potatoes that symbolize the 12 Apostles.
This particular tradition is called Sochevnik in Russian. Good thing we’ve been fasting for so long because that dinner sounds delicious.
#8 Your family is a Christmas Eve church family or a Christmas Day one, either way you celebrate the Nativity in a prayerful way and with communion of course!
A picture from the church of the nativity. According to Holy Tradition, that spot is where the star indicated the place of Christ’s birth!
#9 Your Christmas music has been playing on repeat since November.
“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear” –Elf
The hymns of the church for the Nativity are filled with so much beauty and joy! My church has had the tradition where our youth group would go and sing carols to sick and elderly parishioners, and the joy they experienced when we would come sing makes your entire week .
#10 You’re genuinely excited for the coming of the Christ. You have been praying, and you keep the true meaning of Christmas, the Nativity of our Savior, close to your heart.
He came to save us! Let us rejoice!
“‘She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” -Matthew 1:21-23
Ultimately Christmas is a time for families and friends to get together. There is so much beauty that we all share in our ‘traditions’ that everyone celebrates Christmas in their own special way. Orthodoxy, being a part of history for centuries, has molded some beautiful festivities that bring us together because of our mutual love for Christ.
We are now in the wake of Thanksgiving, #GivingTuesday, and coursing through the Advent season. Gratitude is a theme that presents itself during this season and its an important quality to have to grow in humility. We Christians are not only ‘thankful’ in an ethereal sense but we are thankful to God. We owe Him everything from the beat in our hearts to the earth we live on.
Where do I start with being thankful to God? The first thing that popped into my head, and now is completely stuck in my head, is Psalm 135 (136), otherwise known as the Polyeleos. It is a beautiful hymn that describes how we can be thankful to God and glorify creation.
You can listen to it here:
If you listen to the lyrics, you can hear King David writing about the thankfulness and gratitude seen in the beauty of God’s creation. But the repeating reason for gratitude? “His mercy endures forever.” What does this mean? It means we can be happy and excited that God gives us an opportunity each and every day to get up, repent, and resist sin. It means that every day we get to wake up with the choice to grow closer to God. It means that we live in a reality where our God loves us with His entire being and the extent of His mercy cannot be known. It means that God has sent His ACTUAL SON to die for us on the cross and in His mercy, redeem us and return us to our fully human state in His presence. His mercy endures forever and ever and unto the ages of ages, so let that sink in, and in turn show your gratitude to God and His creation by giving thanks in the blessings and tribulations you receive each and every day.
This week, I asked the other members of the Student Leadership board to tell me what they are thankful to God for in their lives, these are the replies they sent me:
I’m thankful for the regional and district events that have made my university’s OCF so incredibly close this year in comparison to last year. Without them, members in my OCF would never have been able to see what OCF is, means, and stands for. It inspired our chapter to embody the things we experienced and has given me some of my closest friends at school.
Kristina Anastasiadis, Northeast Student Leader
I’m thankful for my family and friends who challenge me everyday to grow in my faith.
Caroline Retzios, Great Lakes Student Leader
I am thankful for my OCF Real Break trip to Thessaloniki, Greece. My experiences on the trip helped deepen my faith and my relationship with the Lord. Additionally, it provided me the opportunity to meet many extraordinary Christ like individuals who truly changed my life!
Elizabeth Buck, South Student Leader
I’m thankful for Orthodoxy in college. It’s kept me grounded and made me realize what’s most important at all times, and I’m thankful for cows.
Amelia Barron, Midwest Student Leader
I’m thankful for the continual challenges God blesses me with every day, as they have helped me grow in so many ways.
Alex Lountzis, Southeast Student Leader
I’m thankful for the peace felt after receiving confession and the reconciliation I always feel with Christ afterwards. 🙂
+ Alex(^) and the entire SLB
Eva Tempenis, Media Student Leader
I am thankful for everyone around me encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone and leading me to new experiences and adventures in life.
Quinn Marquardt, Mountain Student Leader
I am thankful to God for showing my the path to Orthodoxy in college!
Zoe Kanakis, Southwest Student Leader
The SLB has numerous things to be grateful to God. Reflect on what you are grateful for, and say THANK YOU. God and His people need to be thanked for all that they do.
As college students, we have a lot to be thankful for. We are thankful for our family, our friends, our home. A lot of times, we are thankful for simple things like the free food on campus or the email from our professor canceling our 8 a.m. class. I don’t know about everyone else, but every time one of those small things occur to me, I think to myself, “Thank God” and then continue on eating my free pizza or roll back into bed.
But let me tell you something I never do.
I don’t wake up for my 8 a.m. classes and say, “Thank God.” I also don’t utter those words when I use the money that I have to pay for my meal. I usually don’t remember to thank Him at all. Why is that?
Well, as a society, we have a small problem. We love to express our thankfulness to God when things are going well in our lives. But, when everything is just average or going poorly, we forget about God and even question his intentions. Instead of thanking God constantly for what He has given us, we question why He has given us struggles in our lives.
As the Thanksgiving season has come and gone, we have to ask ourselves, how can we work towards being thankful to God every day, no matter what is occurring in our lives? Even if we do not realize it, we do give thanks to God in many ways throughout our daily and spiritual lives.
Did you know that we can give thanks to God by receiving Holy Communion? The word “thanksgiving” translates to Eucharistia in Greek. In turn, the word Eucharist is used in the Orthodox Church to describe the act of the Orthodox faithful receiving the consecrated body and blood of Christ, otherwise known as the sacrament of Holy Communion.
St. John Chrysostom teaches us that one way to be thankful to God is to participate in the Eucharist consistently. He states that “the dread Mysteries, full of such great salvation, which are celebrated at every Liturgy, are also called a Thanksgiving [Eucharistia] because they are the remembrance of many benefits…and in every way cause us to be thankful to Him.” By receiving Holy Communion, we are not only bringing Christ into our lives, we are thanking Christ for giving us life and the hope for the resurrection by remembering what He sacrificed for us all.
St. John Chrysostom also states:
Whenever we are either in poverty, or in sickness, or are being insulted, then let us intensify our thanksgiving; thanksgiving, I mean, not in words, nor with the tongue, but in deeds and works, in mind and in heart; let us give thanks to Him with all our souls.
Here, he gives us new meaning to how we as Orthodox Christians can practice thanksgiving in our lives. He encourages all of us to give thanks to God with our entire soul. According to him, to achieve this we must focus on not only offering our thanksgiving to God with our prayers, but with our acts towards others.
One of my favorite verses from the Bible comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I never really thought about how I could incorporate the message of this verse in my everyday life until about a year ago.
In the summer of 2017, I was given an opportunity to travel to Rosarito, Mexico and spend a week working on building a home for the Ramirez family with Project Mexico. While building the home for the Ramirez family, we all saw how much they rejoiced with us every minute of the day with their radiant smiles and loving hospitality towards us.
We saw their love for Christ when they welcomed us into their home and made a group of thirty missionaries homemade meals every day, even though they barely had money to make ends meet. They were thankful for everything that they had, even though they had very little.
My greatest takeaway from this trip was not that I built a home for a family in need, but that I was able to learn from the Ramirez family what it means to rejoice always and give thanks for everything every single day.
This is why, I believe, St. John Chrysostom states that by helping others, we can and will be able to open our hearts and be able to learn how to be thankful to God with all our souls. Christ gives us many opportunities to give thanks to Him daily in different forms, either through Holy Communion or through good acts towards others. We just have to work on acting on those opportunities given to us by Christ so we can remember to give thanks to him daily and not just one month of the year.
Hi everyone! My name is Joanna Psyhogios. I am from Wilmette, Illinois and I am a member at St. John the Baptist Church in Des Plaines Illinois. My first experience with OCF was during College Conference East and I have been active in participating in College Conference and OCF Retreats ever since. In my free time, I love to play and watch every sport, coach basketball to youth teams, watch movies and TV Shows, and play Jungle Speed (Shoutout to CC Midwest!). I am really excited to share what I have learned about the Orthodox faith through the OCF blogs!
Most often, I am truly thankful when I am not trying to be. There’s a sensation of gratitude overflowing in the soul when an unexpected blessing comes my way or when I happen to avoid an accident by some providential circumstance.
But when set occasions for thankfulness come around, such as the Eucharist or this holiday we call Thanksgiving, I find it difficult to replicate sincere gratitude which comes unexpectedly. Sure, I can always afford a few moments to say the prayer before devouring an inordinate amount of food on Thanksgiving. But deep down, I am painfully aware that this is not the same thankfulness that brings tears to my eyes after moments of crisis. It feels artificial, wrong even. Aware as I am of the fact that I am privileged beyond belief, there is no pain in my heart for those who are not. Tragically, I simply accept it as the reality and carry on, offering my lip service as though it is the best I have.
But this is not enough.
This is merely Cain’s offering, and we should strive to be like Abel, offering the best of ourselves to God. We are human beings endowed with spiritual faculties, not just lips. We were made for thanksgiving, as we are instructed in the holy Scriptures to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18).
As Christians, we ought to approach this American holiday not as an occasion to be proud of the relative prosperity we enjoy in this country but as a call to aspire to the state of humility, love, and thanksgiving which Christ intends for us to exist in perpetually.
So what do we do when we find ourselves stuck in this thanklessness? How can we get ourselves out? Perhaps what makes this state of thanklessness so frustrating is exactly the point: we cannot get ourselves out. There is no thanksgiving without love, and love is a gift. We do not “think” love into existence whenever we happen to have a need for it. In order to be thankful, we must accept the gift of love from Christ who is Love. If our hearts are closed to this gift, we will have nothing to offer God when we attempt to give thanks.
This realization highlights two important details about thanksgiving. The first is that thanksgiving is not merely gratitude for the opportunity to consume large quantities of material possessions. St. Basil the Great reminds us that our material excess does not belong to us at all:
The bread you are holding back belongs to the hungry; the coat you guard in your locked storage-boxes belongs to the naked; the shoes wasting away in your closet belong to those who have no shoes. The silver you hide in safekeeping belongs to the needy one.
Should we find ourselves in a state of material abundance, it is important that we understand God’s gift of love is revealed in part through His provision for our needs, and with excess comes the responsibility and the opportunity to participate fully in His gift of love through giving. Mercy is itself an active part of thanksgiving.
The second detail is that in contemplating Christ’s gift of love for us, we understand that like love, thanksgiving has both a subject and an object. Almost every religion values gratitude in some way. Even secular self-help literature tells us of the psychological benefits of practicing gratitude in meditation. This is not a bad thing per se, but I wonder: just who are we to be thankful to? We cannot be thankful for without someone to be thankful to. As Christians, we do not offer up our thanksgiving to some impersonal abstraction of causality, but to a person, Christ.
So let’s remember when we come to the table this Thanksgiving and bow our heads to pray: thanksgiving is not a mere obligation but a perpetual state of being to which we have been called, made possible by love of our Christ our God, who has brought us out of non-being into existence and provides for our needs so that we may continue to exist, always commending ourselves and our whole life to Him.
Hello! I’m Daniel Bishop, and I’m an Orthodox Christian and a contributing blogger for OCF. I study English at the University of Dallas, and I’m involved with youth and young adult ministries in my parish, my OCF chapter, and my local pan-Orthodox community. I enjoy studying classical languages and literature, playing music, traveling, rock climbing, and chanting. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com if you have any questions or comments.