22 Orthodox Ministries to Support this Giving Tuesday

22 Orthodox Ministries to Support this Giving Tuesday

Every year, on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, our social media feeds and inboxes are flooded with opportunities to support nonprofits, charities, and ministries that impact the world around us. While it might seem overwhelming, Giving Tuesday is a perfect opportunity to learn more about the organizations which address the things that matter most to us and to be reminded that almsgiving and philanthropy are an integral part of our spiritual lives. Here’s a list of Orthodox ministries and organizations we want you to know about this Giving Tuesday. We encourage you, no matter your age or income, to consider giving to at least one of these incredible ministries! Be part of the good work of the Church in the world!

Ancient Faith Ministries

Ancient Faith is the media hub of Orthodoxy in America. From books to podcasts to blogs, you can find something on almost any topic on Ancient Faith to strengthen your own faith or share Orthodoxy with someone else. You can even find our OCF podcasts here and here! And if you give between November 24 and December 2, your gift will be matched up to $50,000! 

Give Now to Ancient Faith Ministries >>

Antiochian Village

Antiochian Village is a summer camp program located in Bolivar, PA. Home to generations of Orthodox kids and families, AV, like other camps, has felt the brunt of 2020 significantly. All end-of-year gifts up to $100,000 will be matched, so there’s never been a better time to support this beloved camp.

Give Now to Antiochian Village >>

Camp Catanese

Camp Catanese is a comprehensive college-preparation program for inner-city Phoenix high school students founded and staffed by Orthodox Christians. 98% of their graduates are enrolled in college, many of them first-generation college-goers. Camp Catanese also provides scholarships for graduates who have gone through their program.

Give Now to Camp Catanese >>

CrossRoad Summer Institute

CrossRoad is a ten-day academic summer institute that prepares high school juniors and seniors to make big life decisions and invites them to connect with the Orthodox Christian theological and spiritual tradition. If you’re an alum of this program, you know what a big impact it can have on who you are and how you live.

Give Now to CrossRoad Summer Institute >> 

Faithtree Resources

Faithtree Resources is dedicated to helping Orthodox Christian churches, leaders, and all Christian people thrive. They create high-quality resources for parishes–their current library includes programs addressing marriage, manhood, relationships and mental health for teens, and disabilities.

Give Now to Faithtree Resources >>

Fellowship of St. Moses the Black

FSMB serves to equip Orthodox Christians for the ministry of racial reconciliation and to share the Orthodox Christian faith with African Americans and people of color. They host an annual conference, participate in educational opportunities and dialogues, and publish books on topics related to Orthodoxy and race, African saints, and healing.

Give Now to the Fellowship of St. Moses the Black >>

FOCUS North America

The Fellowship of Orthodox Christian United to Serve engages people in Christ’s call to serve by providing opportunities and resources designed to support communities in need. Through their national initiatives as well as their FOCUS centers in seven cities, FOCUS addresses needs related to food, occupation, clothing, understanding, and shelter.

Give Now to FOCUS North America >>

International Orthodox Christian Charities

IOCC offers emergency relief and development programs to those in need worldwide, without discrimination. They currently have programs in twelve countries/regions in the world–from rebuilding homes in the US after hurricanes to building schools in Uganda to developing co-ops in rural Greece, IOCC is committed to serving others in ways that are life-giving and dignified.

Give Now to IOCC >>

Ionian Village

Ionian Village is a unique summer camping program located in Greece where teens and young adults can venerate the relics of saints, walk in the footsteps of the Apostles, and visit significant sites of Greek history and culture. Earlier this year, they experienced significant damage on their grounds from a tornado are are looking for donors to support repairs.

Give Now to Ionian Village >>

Martha and Mary Maternity House

Located in the suburbs of Chicago, IL, the Martha and Mary Maternity House is a home for pregnant women in need of support which provides for the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of both mothers and children. 

Give Now to Martha and Mary Maternity House >>

Neighborhood Resilience Project

Engaging in Trauma-Informed Community Development in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Neighborhood Resilience Project supports the transformation of neighborhoods from trauma-affected communities to resilient, healing, and healthy communities. Their programs include an emergency food pantry, transportation assistance, a free health clinic, a trauma response team, and leadership development.

Give Now to Neighborhood Resilience Project >>

Orthodox Christian Mission Center

OCMC serves as the missions agency of the Assembly of Bishops in the US, striving to make disciples of all nations by bringing people to Christ and His Church.

Give Now to Orthodox Christian Mission Center >>

Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry

OCPM provides resources and training for local prison ministry programs as well as letters, Bibles, and other Orthodox resources directly to prisoners.

Give Now to Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry >>

Philoptochos

For more than 85 years, Philoptochos has served as the philanthropic arm of the Greek Orthodox Church in the US. With more than 400 chapters nationwide, they serve both local, national, and international needs of various kinds and also support other ministries of the Church, including OCF!

Give Now to Philoptochos >>

Philoxenia, Inc.

Serving the community in New York City, Philoxenia, Inc. provides food and clothing for those experiencing homelessness.

Give Now to Philoxenia, Inc. >> 

Project Mexico

Serving the community of Tijuana, Mexico, Project Mexico builds homes for impoverished families and runs a boys orphanage and school.

Give Now to Project Mexico >>

Reconciliation Services

Reconciliation Services works to bring the community of Kansas City together across dividing lines, especially focusing on the area of the city with the highest rates of crime, poverty, and trauma. Part of their work includes Thelma’s Kitchen, a pay as you can cafe, as well as mental health services, a foster grandparents program, and a leadership initiative.

Give Now to Reconciliation Services >>

St. Basil’s Academy

Located in Garrison, NY, St. Basil’s Academy provides a home for children and sometimes families in need. Their services include schooling, a residential program, and mental health services.

Give Now to St. Basil’s Academy >>

St. John the Compassionate Mission

St. John’s has been serving the Toronto community for over 30 years by creating an inclusive community of love, healing, and nourishment by offering meals, family programs, job opportunities at their bakery and thrift shop, and hospitality to the whole community.

Give Now to St. John the Compassionate Mission>>

The Treehouse

In Wichita, KS, the Treehouse provides educational programs and supplies for mothers in need. They also support a thrift shop with children’s clothing and further supplies at a discounted rate.

Give Now to the Treehouse >>

Youth Equipped to Serve

A part of FOCUS North America, YES deserves its own shout-out! YES works with teens and college students to engage with the poverty of their city, equipping them to become servant leaders in their own communities. We’re very grateful at OCF to often partner with YES and their leadership team!

Give Now to Youth Equipped to Serve >>

ZOE for Life

This organization supports a women’s health center in Ohio as well as various programs that support mothers and children, including mental health programs, children’s supplies, and housing and medical referrals.

Give Now to ZOE for Life >>

Of Incense and Thank You Cards

Of Incense and Thank You Cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Gluntz

Catherine Thompson

Student at Seattle Pacific University

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

The Simplest, Littlest Things

The Simplest, Littlest Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most importantly, my God is always surrounding me.

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

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

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

Andrew Gluntz

Jeanine Kaileh

Southwest Regional Student Leader

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

Eucharist Each Moment

Eucharist Each Moment

November! It’s here! Just a few more weeks of fall semester, powering our way through the intensity of school, while the holidays await us. On Thanksgiving, my family has a practice of going around and having each person say what they are thankful for that year. We often say something which has turned out for the best that year or thank God for the family, friends, successes, and moments of beauty in our lives. 

These things are BEAUTIFUL. They are full of life and love and show us pieces of God’s kingdom. Although it may be a challenge to always notice these moments, in some sense it is easy to give thanks for these things.

What about the other moments? What about the pain, the hurt, and the tears we shed? When we look back on our year and recall what we are thankful for, should we ignore these moments?

Christ’s sacrificial love is abundant and always present. Even in our moments of pain and struggle, He is with us just as much as He is in the “good” times. 

This past week, I had the joy of hearing the Akathist of St. Marina. St. Marina was a saint who was martyred when she was only fifteen years old. The Akathist praises her steadfastness, wisdom, and beauty of soul throughout her life and martyrdom. In a prayer before being beheaded,  she said,

 “O Beginningless, Immortal, Timeless, Incomprehensible and Unimaginable Lord, the God of all and Creator of all creation, the Foreseer and Savior of all, as I have hoped in You, I thank You, that You have brought me to this hour, as I approach the crown of Your righteousness.” 

While undergoing horrendous torture and ultimately dying for her faith, St. Marina was still in a state of thanksgiving. Even the Akathist of Thanksgiving, (which we will be praying together on 11/19 at 8 EST, find the details and zoom link here…I hope to see you there!) was written by Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov while he was in a prison camp! At the darkest points of life, we see the wisest people responding in the same way. With thanks. 

I have heard from many of my friends and can relate personally as well, to the struggle of this semester. Pre-existent stresses and underlying problems we faced are magnified through our current situation with this global pandemic. New challenges, a barrage of disheartening news, and the pain and struggles of people we know can bring forth these moments of hurt and tears. It is not our natural instinct to remain steadfast in our thanksgiving in these moments. However, when we look at the examples of St. Marina and Fr. Petrov we see that this is exactly what they did. 

Eucharist literally means thanksgiving in Greek (ευχαριστία). Liturgy is the celebration of the sacrifice Christ made for us. What we often forget is that the entire liturgy happens again each moment. Every single second of our lives Christ goes to the cross for us. Eucharist is in each moment, and that is how we can give thanks at all times for each moment, whether that moment is filled with laughter or with tears, it is always filled with the love of Christ. Glory to God for all things!

Andrew Gluntz

Alethia Placencia

Publications Student Leader

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

With Great Love

With Great Love

Growing up in the church, I thought I had an understanding of the basics of my religion. I understood that Sunday activities included attending church and receiving Holy Communion. To me, these seemed to be straightforward and doable tasks that made me an Orthodox Christian. My religious routine consisted of going to Confession once every few weeks and attending church every Sunday to be prepared to take Holy Communion. Naively, throughout the week I wouldn’t think too much about church until the following Saturday night as I picked out my clothes for that Sunday morning. As I began talking to more priests, reading about the lives of the saints, and participating in different church services, I started to sense that there was a large piece missing from my spiritual life. It almost felt as if I were in class, listening to lectures and understanding the material, but when I went home I couldn’t complete the homework. I never understood why I felt this disconnect until I attended my first YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) trip. YES taught me the importance of taking home the liturgical lessons and practicing them in my daily life. It helped me to understand what it meant to “serve” Christ throughout our daily lives. It brought Christ’s written words to life. I understood quickly what serving Christ through “word and deed” truly meant.  

I thought service was something that must be planned for and organized — something that always included a transfer between one group who had something to another group who did not. Over the years, I have learned that servant leaders don’t just give tangible things but are those who are capable of creating Kingdom moments. When I say Kingdom moments, I am referring to moments where we see the Kingdom of God breaking into this world. How do we even do that? It occurs in the seemingly simple act of thinking outside of oneself and being aware of what is most needed from you in any given situation. It is important to remember that this is not always done by sharing money, clothes, or food, but can be done in the form of spending time, sharing a smile, conversation, or even simply holding the door open for someone. In essence, it is to recognize the human soul in front of us.

We should all strive to be servant leaders with the intention of delivering Christ’s love through our working hands and hearts, not out of a desire to be recognized by others. At the very core of any service is love; love for the church and love for your neighbor. We serve not from our pride or ego, but from our hearts. Christ, who loves us, gives us the ability to love others — which naturally looks different in each situation and is unique to each person.

Attending church teaches us how we should interact with the world around us — through our service. Sometimes we don’t see the fruit from the seeds of love we sow, but we must make sure to leave those seeds every chance we get. In college, it can be hard to always get to church, especially right now. However, it’s simple to bring love in small ways to those around us. It is these small ways that allow for moments where the world shines as God created it. As Mother Teresa tells us, may we take every small action and do it with great love. This is how we can truly live out our faith.

Andrew Gluntz

Wadeed Fakhoury

My name is Wadeed Fakhoury. I am in my third year studying Mechanical Engineering at George Mason University. I love seeing people and talking with them, and watching and playing sports! I have been involved with YES for many years and have learned and grown so much from my experience. I am also a member of the OCF at George Mason University and was a District Leader for Virginia!

Permission to Struggle

Permission to Struggle

It’s been some years since I went off to college, but those intense memories of the first time away from home and newly found independence are burned into my mind. I was in a suite with 5 other guys – young men who came from all walks of life with all kinds of different perspectives. I remember we found each other on Facebook with our new accounts —- back when you couldn’t get on Facebook until you had an official college email. We worked together before we had even met to pitch in for a TV and other goodies for our suite. I could go on and on about my experiences and memories from going off to college for the first time at Binghamton University, but what I really remember was my fear of struggle.

I was confident I could make friends. I was confident I could handle the courses. I was confident I could manage my time. I believed in myself, and I put a lot of stock in that belief.

The problem was, once I got to college, I struggled.

Of course I did, right? I mean how else could it have been? Who has ever gone off to college and just checked all the boxes on the way to their degree?

But, to be totally honest, I wasn’t OK with struggling. I had the Yoda “do or do not, there is no try” mentality, and I had convinced myself that my struggles were a failure. Can’t figure out what to do on your first Friday night at college, even though you thought you had just made great friends in your suite and that you’d all hang out together? Failure. Promised yourself you’d keep up with all of your homework and readings, but you didn’t even keep up through the first week? Failure. Missed callbacks on that acappella group you were so excited to join because you didn’t read the flyer all the way through? Failure.

What do you do when you’re told to be successful, but you’ve already failed?

You drop that entire binary mindset, and you struggle, of course.

In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, we hear about his struggles. Paul writes “…as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger…” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5 RSV) in an effort to convey not his virtues, as we would have seen in Greek texts of the time, but his struggles. It is an incredibly Christian thing to boast in our struggles.

Though, to this college freshman, that feeling of struggle felt so insignificant compared to the others in the world. What do I have to complain about when others have it so much more difficult?

This is where if I could go back and talk to myself, I would offer one piece of advice. The smaller struggles train you for the bigger struggles. Asking for help connecting with new friends and enduring the struggle to navigate those relationships would have helped me ask my TA to assist me in understanding the Chemistry course I was already struggling to keep up with. Asking my TA to help me with Chemistry would have encouraged me to talk to my advisor about balancing my course load by taking Calc II over the summer. Asking my advisor to help me with my course load would have led me to ask my priest why I was struggling to connect with my faith while living on campus with no Orthodox Christian peers.

Learning to struggle teaches us to ask for help. Asking for help teaches us humility. Through struggle, even with the small things, we build the skills necessary to grow. When we accept struggle as a central component of our lives as Orthodox Christians, we will find ourselves in a pattern of growth that will train us for a life full of struggle, and ultimately, toward eternity.

If you learn to embrace struggle and to ask for help while you’re in college, you won’t be surprised when your first job points out your flaws. You won’t be surprised when you’ve found “the one,” but marriage turns out to be a lot more work than Disney had promised. You won’t be surprised when your newborn son loves to sleep when he wants to but loves to party when you’re trying to sleep. So embrace your struggle. Ask for help. Always remember that our job is not to live a perfect life, but a life of constant effort – constant struggle – in repentance toward Christ.

Andrew Gluntz

Fr. Niko Tzetzis

Great Lakes Regional Spiritual Advisor

Fr. Niko is the associate priest at Holy Trinity – St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Cincinnati, Ohio and the Regional Spiritual Advisor for the Great Lakes region of OCF. Fr. Niko was ordained to the priesthood recently, in September of 2020, and he and Presvytera Ivey welcomed their son Tommy into the world this past summer.

Making “One Story” Decisions

Making “One Story” Decisions

This October, we have been able to learn through Orthodox Awareness Month that OCF has four pillars it builds its ministry around. One of these pillars is “education.” Throughout my four years in OCF I had steadfast support in learning more about our faith, myself, and the world. I’d like to focus on a specific experience I find relevant this month with the impending election (don’t worry, I won’t tell you who to vote for).

This past March I went on Real Break Romania — an alternative spring break trip where we served the people living at Pro Vita — a large village that functions as an orphanage and a refuge for the “othered” from society. While we were there, we learned about the rule of a certain communist regime in Romania and the lasting impact it has had — on the lives of the people we were interacting with, the country as a whole, and Orthodoxy in Romania. Children were abandoned in cribs in institutional orphanages with limited human interaction. People who were physically disabled were thrown aside and left to die. Christians were tortured and killed, including clergy, for teaching to “seek first the kingdom of God,” because it was subversive to the state. Despite this, people were lowered into courtyards on bedsheets to hear priests speak, unshakably holding on to their faith.

How can we use the knowledge gained from encounters such as this, to seek first the kingdom of God with vigor? Recently, I have been re-reading a book I originally heard about at an OCF retreat, titled Everywhere Present by Fr. Stephen Freeman. In this book, Fr. Stephen explains that many Christians who live in the West (including Orthodox Christians) perceive the world as a “two-story” universe. In other words, western Christians think that we live “down here” on the first floor, and God lives “up there” on the second floor, only coming down to interact with us sometimes. However, Fr. Stephen calls us to reform our worldview so that we understand the truth taught by the Orthodox Church — that the universe is all “one story,” and that God, the saints, and the departed are fully alive in Christ right here on this same floor with us. The message of God and His kingdom is everywhere and filling all things!

This understanding outlined in Everywhere Present adds an extra weight to certain verses of Scripture, including: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:3 NKJV) As Orthodox Christians, we should understand that everyone we interact with — an orphaned child, disabled man, someone who has wronged us, even politicians we may disagree with — is an image of Christ, handmade by God. No matter how muddied that image may become, it is still there. 

To this end, we should try to make sure that our souls are not sleeping, especially in times of strife and division. Christ calls us all to one communion — and to love one another, regardless of affiliations or wrongdoings. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NKJV) I challenge you this political cycle to find common ground with people you disagree with and to remember that we all live in a one-story universe.

Awaken your soul. Pray for the whole world, pray particularly for your enemies (and if you’re struggling with genuinely desiring good for them, ask the Lord to help you humble yourself). Seek first the kingdom of Heaven, and place your trust only in Christ our Savior. One way to start doing this is to get involved with your local OCF chapter and national events. You will receive abundantly, in education, fellowship, service, and worship.

Andrew Gluntz

Demetra Chiafos

OCF Alumna

My name is Demetra Chiafos! I was involved in OCF during my four years at The Ohio State University, serving on the student officer board for three years at OSU and participating in national events. I graduated in 2020 with a BFA in Dance and a BA in Japanese. I am currently teaching dance while completing my MA in Translation (Japanese) through SOAS University of London. I play piano and cello, and sing in church choir whenever I can!

Blog banner photo taken by Ben Gluntz

Finding Fellowship Across the Sea

Finding Fellowship Across the Sea

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

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

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

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

Eirini

Eirini Symeonidou
(Ειρήνη Συμεωνίδου)

Berea OCF Chapter Leader

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

Woven and Knit

Woven and Knit

Picture this: Family outing, you are walking through the halls of a museum, feeling a little more boujee and artsy than your usual self. You trot through the high-ceilinged, awkwardly chilly, and oh so silent galleries, glancing at different installments and occasionally reading how a piece of art was made. You step into a hall of large tapestries. You first think, why are these rugs so big? You begin to spend a bit more time there, only to be completely entranced by the magnitude, complexity, and time it must have taken to put something like this together!

This is a very specific situation you may or may not have ever experienced, but I think we got to a place where we can all picture it. If you didn’t know how tapestries are made, they are compiled of many strings, woven together on a loom. The pieces are placed in just the right way so that the front of the tapestry seamlessly presents an awe-inspiring picture. On the backside however, the picture is often inverted, disjointed, with more strings sticking out than frizzy hairs after an intense workout. 

Consider these majestic tapestries. Is there a significance in the finished product which is displayed and the back which marks the struggles, inconsistencies, and mistakes that went into making it? How do we see ourselves? At each moment in time do we recognize the beauty which is formed through our lives or are we often caught in the tangling disjointedness? 

The comparison of the Christian life to a tapestry is one that resonates and allows us to clarify a way to see the unique identity and journey we have in Christ. There is a certain inner harmony and freedom available in this understanding as well. We are able to recognize our wholeness as fulfilled through layers of our brokenness as our, “Wonderful Counselor” guides us to unity within ourselves. 

We are now able to see that the pieces of our life are woven together, but what about each other? Our communities? Are these not woven too? 

So much of our worldly experience is accompanied with unrest, disagreement, misunderstanding, pride, and so many other opportunities for division. 

In a quote from Mother Teresa she says, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” In Colossians 2:2, Paul, while away, wishes he was with his flock and hopes “that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love.” The devil is always inciting division. He gives us ways to spend our time and things to care about which may seem harmless. Yet ultimately, it is these things that bring us farther from our brothers and sisters and most importantly, from Christ! 

When I was first introduced to OCF, I didn’t know much about Orthodox Awareness Month each October. My interpretation now is that it is a time to reflect on how we can knit our lives together — to be aware of the way we use our time and fill it with things that bring us closer to Christ and each other. We can see Christ in every person — our Orthodox brothers and sisters and our Non-Orthodox friends alike. Let us be aware of the ways we, through sin divide, and through love connect. Let us thank God for the wonderful tapestries of our lives and let us do our best to knit them to one another. 

Andrew Gluntz

Alethia Placencia

Publications Student Leader

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

Living and Loving Through Our Crosses

Living and Loving Through Our Crosses

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Spencer

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

Awake, O Sleeper

Awake, O Sleeper

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

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

Awake Sleeper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr. John

Fr. John Valadez

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

Being Happy Here

Happiness is simultaneously the most simple, pure, and childlike emotion we experience and is also the most misunderstood and difficult to achieve. This isn’t our fault. We are constantly fed many lies about happiness and well-being that distort our notion of what happiness is and how we are to go about achieving it in our own lives. Often we are told that happiness is tied with success, including, but not limited to, wealth and status (it’s hard to cry when you’re sitting in a Bugatti), popularity (TikTok was made for a reason), appearance (just the fact that thinspo exists), or even just the experiences we cultivate (what I wouldn’t do to be sipping an oat milk latte in a trendy cafe right now).

Given that the simultaneous possession of each of these things is impossible, we cope with this “loss” by telling ourselves that we must work harder, longer, take more photos to nourish our aesthetic, and run ourselves into the ground (literally) in order to “live our best lives.” Then one day, if we’re lucky, we’ll be happy.

Unfortunately, I can tell you from my years of experience, it doesn’t work. Society has taught us to treat happiness as a commodity — something that can somehow be possessed, bartered for, and accrued. And thus, we can save it, forgoing happiness in our present situation in order to have more at a future time (imagine that RUSH you’ll get when you finally cash in all your happiness tokens — euphoric).

A while ago, during a routine Facebook scroll, I came across an article titled 25 Uncomfortable Things You Need To Do If You Don’t Want to Regret Your 20s.” Brianna, as she promised, gave us 25 darn good things. But #26 was the kicker.

BONUS: 26. Learn to be happy here, now, today. If you do not learn how to be happy in the present, no job, no partner, no success, no trip, no money, nothing that you are working for will be as enjoyable as you think. You cannot save up your happiness to be released when you think you deserve it. You either have it now, or you have it never.

This quote presents us with a new proposition. How are we to “be happy here, now?” This sets us on a course towards joy, a lasting, divine happiness.

My 3rd grade teacher used to say “it’s called the present because each moment is a gift.” As Orthodox Christians, we can continue that analogy to realize that each moment in our lives is an opportunity to encounter Christ. In his book Everywhere Present, Fr. Stephen Freeman explains that our concept of the universe is problematically two-storied. God lives upstairs, we live downstairs. But this is antithetical to a God who is, as we say at the beginning of every Divine Liturgy, everywhere present and fills all things. As we begin to understand our one-storey universe, we realize that “we are never separated from God who is freely with us, but also giving Himself to us in everything around us.” As we learn to realize God’s presence on Earth, we live our lives transformed, allowing Christ to make Divine what was mundane, and speaking to us in every interaction with His creation. 

Since Christ is continually calling us into communion with Him, the burden falls on us to hear His call, and in doing so, choosing to respond in a way that brings us joy. In the Akathist of Thanksgiving, we read:

We give Thee thanks for all Thy mercies, seen and unseen; for eternal life, for the heavenly joys of the Kingdom which is to be.

It has long been said that gratitude is the foundation for joy, so this should come as no surprise to us. The Psalmist, in describing how the Lord shepherds His people, writes, “You anoint my head with oil, my cup runs over,” and later, in Psalm 136, “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever” repeating the final line 26 times in the same Psalm. Clearly, joy, wholeness in Christ, and, yes, happiness, are ours for the taking. Our job becomes opening our hearts to the mystery of God’s grace, and choosing in each moment to give thanks.

And so, in a world with so many choices, choose Joy.

Andrew Gluntz

Andrew Gluntz

Student Leadership Board Chairman

Andrew Gluntz is a senior at The Ohio State University studying Chemical Engineering and is currently the Chairman of the Student Leadership Board. In his free time, he enjoys drinking coffee, reading good books, and getting college students involved in OCF. So join today!

Mike Posner and Meeting Christ in Each Moment

Mike Posner and Meeting Christ in Each Moment

There is something indefinable about being in the present moment.  

Our theme for this year is “Awake O My Soul” — taken from Psalm 57, and we also hear it in the Canon of St. Andrew. When we read this verse we are calling upon our own souls to wake up.  

What are we waking up from? What are we waking up to?

One of my all time favorite middle school nostalgia songs is, Cooler Than Me by Mike Posner. Mike is forever tied to my childhood memories, but recently he has had my attention for a new reason.  

In 2019, he walked across the United States. After the passing of his dad and one of his good friends, he set out on a journey. He documents this journey in the music video of his song, Live Before I Die.

In the music video for his song, Move On, he explains why he decided to do this. He sings, “Beginnings always hide themselves in ends.” In tragedy he saw hope; hope to make a change in the way he was living, hope to truly wake up to life.  

In his song, Live Before I Die, he says, “Dear Lord, won’t you please give me wisdom, grant me peace, ‘Cause i just wanna live before I die.” 

When we say the phrase “live before I die,” we may think it means doing as many things as we can before we leave this world. However, we have the potential to grow closer to truly living or dying each day. The way we live out our moments allow us to choose to be awake to life or stay asleep.  

In Genesis 28:16, Jacob, upon waking from sleep, proclaimed, “the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” Christ waits for us at each moment. We must remind our souls of this truth and to be attentive to each second we have been given.  

Right now we are starting back at school. Many of us are coming back online. We may need a call to awake our souls now more than ever! With all that we have experienced the last few months, it may be difficult to feel that we are directing and not drifting through our lives. How can we wake up? How can we truly live at a time like this?   

In the Canon of St. Andrew, translated by Sister Katherine and Sister Thekla, we hear, “Awake, O my soul…that thou gain a mind to see God.” (pg.97)  

In A Message for our Graduates of 2020 on YouTube, His Grace Bishop Anthony said, “Keep Christ before you, the Holy Spirit beside you, and the Father above you.” If we were to carry this out in our lives each moment would be fulfilled. “He died for us, so that we could live for him.” This is how we may live before we die: to be seeking, guided, and fueled by our Lord at all times and at every hour.  

Even after Mike Posner began his journey he faced challenges. After traversing over half of our country, he was bitten by a rattlesnake and had to learn to walk again before he could continue. We don’t know what is in store for us, but what we can do is call upon ourselves, at every moment, to be awake to Christ extending to us. Awake, O My Soul, so that I may truly live before I die. 

Alethia Placencia

Alethia Placencia

Publications Student Leader

My name is Alethia Placencia! I am a Senior at the University of Kentucky. Christ often reveals himself through the people in your life. I’m so grateful for the way He has worked through OCF and those I’ve met through this ministry! 

Caterpillars with Free Will

Caterpillars with Free Will

When was the last time you saw a caterpillar in all of its colorful and bizarre glory? The first image in my head comes from the beloved children’s classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle. As the young reader is introduced to the finer points on counting food, a very important message also comes across: caterpillars are amazing, single-minded creatures. Their goal is one day to become butterflies.

The main difference between caterpillars and us, of course (beyond the obvious ones like molting), is freewill. Freewill. That means caterpillars will always progress towards their goal, and barring an external struggle like being eaten, they will succeed. They will become butterflies.

Now, imagine if caterpillars had free will. Imagine if they could just choose to stay caterpillars. What would the goal of their life be? Maybe it would just be about who eats the best leaves and who has the most effective looks for that goal. (Google them, some of their camouflage is amazing.)

Or worse yet, imagine if they didn’t even know they could become butterflies. What if their butterfly-ness was broken for millennia and finally a caterpillar savior came to restore them and show them the new way? How crazy would those few caterpillars look in their cocoon or their chrysalis? Can you imagine the trolling? “Look at that crazy one hanging upside down!” “Are you judging me for staying a caterpillar?” “Why are they limiting themselves when they should just be enjoying life?”

Sisters and brothers, you and I are caterpillars with free will! Christ is Risen from the grave, and humanity is healed. We know our path. Yet we are living in a fallen world which says that your only vocation is “you do you.” Eat the most leaves, have the best zip code, and pursue comfort while you can.

Thankfully, our Church surrounds us with the truth about butterflies.

Every icon shows us who we are called to be like. Christ shows us that we are His beloved children, called to pick up our cross and follow Him, called to lose our life and thus find it for Christ’s sake (maybe we do have molting in common), called to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy (Matt. 17:24,25; 1 Pet. 1:15). Our overarching vocation is to become saints through the sacrificial love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and our neighbor as ourselves.

When we emerge from the chrysalis of COVID-19, will we be further along in our transformation to holiness? Will our lives proclaim Christ’s transformative love to the world much as a chrysalis clears and shows a hint of the wings to come? We are caterpillars with free will. Let’s show by our good works that we are children of God, amazingly and single-mindedly working towards the transformation of all of creation, being transformed into His likeness. Be a caterpillar that chooses to become what we are meant to be. Become a butterfly.

Dr. Presvytera Athanasia Mellos Kostakis (DMin, LMSW, MDiv) is an enthusiastic OCF alumna who loves to encourage people in their relationship with God, their neighbor, themselves, and creation. When not talking with someone or devouring books like a biblical locust, you can find her and her two boys loving their neighbor through unsolicited baking. She, Fr. Peter, and their family are blessed to live and serve in Dallas.

Faith and Trust

Faith and Trust

Part of the “How Shall I Live?” Series…

Growing up, I loved loved loved math and science! Calculus was one of my favorite classes in high school… please don’t judge me. Anywho, I eventually attended Butler University and graduated from their School of Pharmacy. As I think about my youth, much of it was geared towards learning as much as I could about a particular subject and applying that knowledge.

I, probably like you, want to KNOW. Ambiguity is not my friend, and I appreciate certainty. I love black or white, and struggle with grey. 

And then there’s God. Does He exist? How do I know for sure?

Truth is, we can’t really know. For those of us who tend towards facts, knowledge, scientific proof, reasonable conclusiveness, and the like, this understanding can pose a challenging hurdle. 

When I say that I have faith or believe in God, what I’m really saying is that I trust in God, or I trust that God really exists. It cannot be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that God actually exists. Re-read that last sentence. There’s no black or white, just grey. Yet, even without 100% certainty, I can trust that God exists and live my life in such a way that reflects this trust.

If I believe/trust in God, then what? Is it just a mental exercise or a thought that I have? Certainly, there must be more, something next that would follow. Trusting in something or someone implies that we do or act in a manner that reflects this trust. Simply put, our choices and actions- that which we do- must be in alignment with our trust.

If I say that I believe, then I’ve got to step up to the plate. I can’t say and not do. I can’t tell myself or others, “I trust in God”, and not act accordingly. And it’s how we act, it’s what we do, that will be our subject matter moving forward. So, til next time… how will you live?

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek is the Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Fellowship. He is passionate about serving and mentoring young people, helping them explore their faith, and growing the ministry of OCF so that all college students have the opportunity to participate. Dn. Marek lives in the Nashville area with his wife and two children.

Good Grief

Good Grief

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

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

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

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

His Grace Bishop JOHN (Abdalah)

His Grace Bishop JOHN (Abdalah)

Guest Contributor/Bishop

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

How Shall I Live?

How Shall I Live?

A priest posed this question during his sermon recently, “How shall I live?” I immediately thought to myself, “Wow, this is a really good question!”- and I decided to start a blog. How would I answer? Was I paying attention to how I was living, or simply going through the motions? Did I realize that my choices each day- how I spent my time, who I spent it with, what I ate, what I read or watched- might be indicative of what’s important to me?

I found myself thinking about what he asked for the rest of the day. What is my purpose? For whom or for what am I living my life? What do I value? His question really sparked a desire in me to consider how I was living each day.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of possible answers to the question, “How shall I live?” We all know some of the most common answers people might give- for God, for family, for sports, for friends, for entertainment, for power, for wealth, for material possessions, for others, for retirement, for pleasure, for __________.

My three-year old son loves trains. He builds a train track, reassembles it in different configurations, plays with the blue train then switches to the green one, makes train noises, and even just sits and stares at a small, wooden train as he slowly rolls it back and forth. He doesn’t stop to think about how he’s living his life. Not yet. He just likes trains. I have the capacity to think about how I spend my time though. You do too.

Consider it for a moment: How shall I live?

We all face moments in our lives when we wrestle with this question more earnestly, especially connected to faith, our belief in God, and our understanding of who Jesus Christ is and why it might matter. Frankly, it’s just a good question to think about.

In future blog posts, I’ll explore the question “How shall I live?” in a way that is relevant to our lives. I’ll address topics such as faith and God’s existence, the path that He lays out for us, forgiveness, repentance, our ego, feelings, thankfulness, and much  more. My hope is that you and I will both learn something along the way that might help us better answer the question, “How shall I live?”

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek is the Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Fellowship. He is passionate about serving and mentoring young people, helping them explore their faith, and growing the ministry of OCF so that all college students have the opportunity to participate. Dn. Marek lives in the Nashville area with his wife and two children.

Help! I’m Stuck Inside!

Help! I’m Stuck Inside!

By Evyenia Pyle

I have officially been cooped up in my house for a week, but that’s not the worst part: this was supposed to be my spring break, so not only am I stuck at home but my mom is here, too. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom; she’s really cool. However it’s been way too many days of just each other’s company. I have found myself hiding away in my room losing hope for the rest of the academic year while the rest of the world around me is in chaos. 

My mom has been reading a lot to pass the time and recently read a book called Time and Despondency. This title seems perfect for this occasion because not only do I have way too much time on my hands, but I am despondent. What is despondency? According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary, despondency is “being in extremely low spirits; loss of hope; depression.” Now, my despondency started with me being bored and sad because I am stuck inside and couldn’t go on vacation. But as I was listening to other people complain about how tired they were and how sad they were that things are getting cancelled and that they have to stay inside, it further saddened me that so many more people are also feeling a sense of despondency (even though it was also nice to know I wasn’t alone in my feelings). It wasn’t until recently when churches started closing their doors and services were getting cancelled that I realized the severity of this situation. The loss of church, especially during Lent, a time where I needed it most, was really hard for me. My sadness and tiredness have escalated. I am despondent. 

Then something happened; God knew what I needed to hear. I accidentally came across a quote from St. Barsanuphius of Optina, and it was exactly what I needed. “You need not be despondent. Let those be despondent who do not believe in God. For them sorrow is burdensome, of course, because besides earthly enjoyment they have nothing. But believers must not be despondent, for through sorrows they receive the right of sonship, without which is impossible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” It made me realize: yes, our current situation isn’t fun, and yes, I am so bored being cooped up in my house, but we have so much to look forward to. Because we believe in God, we know that even in this time of social distancing and quarantine we are loved by Him who is Himself Love. We know that even in our sufferings Christ won’t abandon us. We know that even when we feel “extremely low” someone is going to be there to catch us.

My dearest friends, now is not the time to be despondent. It is time to do things that benefit your soul and your health. Go on a walk, clean your room, call a friend, and pray. There are so many things we can do to be active during this time. Remember, there are people out there who have no hope. We must be the examples to show that Christ is our hope. We need to remind the people that God is our refuge, and He will keep us safe according to His will. As St. Barsanuphius said, through sorrows we can be in closer communion with Christ. 

I am challenging myself to be respondent and not despondent; hopeful and not hopeless. I hope you will join me in this challenge of responding to those around us and praying for the peace of the world. People are scared, but we know that Christ has so much joy to offer in the salvation we yearn for. So, let us respond in love and let us support one another, we will get through this together and with Christ. 

As always feel free to reach out to me anytime at publicationsstudent@ocf.net, especially now in this time of quarantine: I am quite bored and would love to chat. 

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student Leader

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 .

Coronavirus: A Faith Perspective

Coronavirus: A Faith Perspective

Wash your hands! Buy Clorox wipes! Disinfect! Stay at home! Don’t touch! No hugs! Be safe! Virtual courses and classrooms! Fear, fear, fear! Overwhelmed by the onslaught of information? Not sure what to believe? Not sure what to do? This is serious stuff, all kidding aside…

How does all of this relate to our faith? It most certainly does, by the way.

As Christians, the central message of the gospel is to love our neighbor. No matter what the headline of the day is- Coronavirus, Spring Break, March Madness, St. Patrick’s Day, and the list goes on- nothing takes precedence over our effort, attitudes, care for, and love towards our neighbor.

Wait, you mean I shouldn’t worry about this virus? Let’s be clear, that is not the message being conveyed. We should all be mindful of the latest news about the virus and recommendations from trusted sources, and seek to follow their guidance. Yet, the reality of the matter for Christians is that no virus, nor anything else, should prevent us from actively loving our neighbor. What might this look like practically? 

For all of us, a first step in loving our neighbor includes taking the necessary precautionary measures to ensure that we are not exposed to or continuing the spread of the virus.

Perhaps it means that your classes are cancelled and you have free time. What are you going to do with that free time, or better stated, how will you serve your neighbor(s) with that extra free time? 

Do you know someone who is sick, or immunocompromised, or considered to be more “at-risk”? They likely wouldn’t mind a volunteer going to the grocery for them, running errands, even spending time with them since they likely are greatly reducing time spent in public spaces.

There are many who struggle with loneliness, and no one wants to feel alone. Chances are, with the fear and lifestyle modifications due to this virus, many of us are more likely to feel alone today and in the upcoming weeks, thus what can I do to share time and love with someone who might be struggling?

Prayer, like the one below, is important as well- for those who are sick, for sound discernment, for those who are traveling, and more. Let’s not skip the above though and just pray. Our faith is one of action, and no doubt that God is calling each of us every day to do something which is in service to someone else.

“O God, our help in time of need, look down and have mercy upon us and deliver from the troubles we face. Grant your divine helping grace, and endow us with patience and strength to endure this hardship with faith. I flee for relief and comfort, trusting in your infinite love and compassion, that in due time you will deliver us from this trouble, and turn our distress into comfort. Amen.”

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek Simon

Executive Director

Dn. Marek is the Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Fellowship. He is passionate about serving and mentoring young people, helping them explore their faith, and growing the ministry of OCF so that all college students have the opportunity to participate. Dn. Marek lives in the Nashville area with his wife and two children.

The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter

I recently saw the following headline and article tagged in a social media post: “Cincinnati church wipes out $46.5 million in medical debt for 45,000 families.” Perhaps more interesting to me was the accompanying post, which was simply “We could do this. But would we?”

Think about it. What should we be doing? And why aren’t we doing it?

This has implications in our personal lives and for the Church as a whole. Sure, it would be easy to simply ask the question, “Why doesn’t my church do something like this?” or “Why are we spending large amounts of money on impressive churches or impressive icons or impressive liturgical items?” And those are questions that our leaders must be willing to ask and answer. But for us, something else is at the heart of the matter.

Take a moment and think about the past day, week, even year. How much time, energy, and talent was spent with an inward focus looking for or achieving an inward result? Would I summarize my actions, what I actually do, as primarily self-fulfilling or self-emptying? And, if I call myself a Christian, are my actions aligned with what Christ taught and did?

I don’t know the specifics about this Cincinnati church and what they were able to do. It’s not for me to analyze or judge. I do know that there are people in need. Financial need, emotional need, medical need, hunger, alone, unloved, uncared for, and the list goes on. What strikes me is that I spend most of my time and days ensuring that the needs above are taken care of for myself. How much time will I spend ensuring that they’re taken care of for others?

How shall I live?

Dn. Marek Simon

Dn. Marek Simon

Executive Director

Dn. Marek is the Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Fellowship. He is passionate about serving and mentoring young people, helping them explore their faith, and growing the ministry of OCF so that all college students have the opportunity to participate. Dn. Marek lives in the Nashville area with his wife and two children.