From Being Superhuman to Being Truly Human

From Being Superhuman to Being Truly Human

By Demetra Chiafos

 

This time of year, everyone starts talking about what they’re dressing up as for Halloween, and especially in the age of Marvel films we are currently living in, people want to dress up as a superhero—or superhuman, depending on your semantics. But when I think of a superhuman, I think of someone who is truly human. Someone who has found their way through all the layers of debris this world coats us with, excavating through to their true self the way that Christ created them. Christ is the definitive human, the example we are all called to live up to despite constantly falling short. We should be Christlike, we say so often without thinking. Saints are people who have given up their life for Christ and thus gained their life back, living out the true image that God created in them.

One of my favorites of these saints is St. Demetrios, my patron saint. St. Demetrios followed Christ to personal detriment and even unto death. When the emperor told St. Demetrios, a military leader, to go out and kill all Christians, St. Demetrios instead went out to preach the Gospel. The emperor called St. Demetrios before him and demanded to know what he believed in. “Only in Christ do I believe,” St. Demetrios said, very simply and very boldly.

When a series of events related to St. Demetrios occurred that undermined the pagans—including the emperor—the emperor was angry and ordered for St. Demetrios to be killed. St. Demetrios told his faithful servant, St. Lupus, to disperse all his earthly riches amongst the poor and told him to prepare to receive heavenly riches with him. An angel of the Lord appeared to St. Demetrios while he was praying in preparation for his martyrdom and told him not to be afraid. The emperor sent men to lance St. Demetrios, and after he was killed, St. Lupus began to heal people with his blood-soaked garments. (St. Lupus was also martyred.)

Can you imagine being like St. Demetrios? Going against the orders of an emperor? Publicly preaching the Gospel in a time and place where confessing Christ would get you killed—and then saying to the emperor’s face that all the rumors the emperor heard were true and you were a Christian? Calmly asking your servant to disperse your belongings and prepare to receive heavenly riches? Clearly, St. Demetrios reached a place where God’s grace had filled him so thoroughly that he was able to become superhuman—that is, truly his most human, becoming Christlike by God’s grace.

One may look at the story of St. Demetrios and say, “Well, that was then when the earth was still full of saints, but in modern times I can’t live like that.” To the contrary, my dears! As college students, there are many ways we can seek to emulate St. Demetrios and the fruits of the spirit that he was blessed with. Many times in college—and in life, if we’re being honest—we feel separated for our faith. Perhaps it’s not as black and white as St. Demetrios’ dilemma of either killing Christians or being killed for being a Christian. Perhaps it’s in other less dire ways.

Perhaps your roommate doesn’t understand why you pray in the morning and makes it awkward. Perhaps your classmate asks you about your cross or your prayer rope. Perhaps you cross yourself before you eat and someone at your table says, “Why do you do that?” Perhaps you’ve spoken up about an important issue on your campus, about which the Church has a currently unpopular teaching, and someone has acted aggressively toward you in response. Even in the face of a genuinely curious classmate who just wants to know more, we can become afraid.

Should I speak for Christ? What is this person going to say, do, or think in response? Is this dangerous for me? Am I really qualified to teach others about the faith? I’m going to mess it up. I’m going to say the wrong thing. I’m not ready for this.

In those moments, we are called to confess Christ, just as St. Demetrios did. We can take courage from his example. He died for Christ. We can certainly pray in the morning, tell our classmate what a prayer rope is, and tell the person eating with us that we cross ourselves to ask God to bless our food before a meal. The more that we do these little things and try to let Christ visibly live in us, the more courageous we will become.

More than these small forms of confessing Christ in the day-to-day, in college and our future jobs and any other scenario, we can also take courage from St. Demetrios’ reaction to physically dying to this world for Christ’s sake. When we see depressing and evil news, it is so tempting to despair. But St. Demetrios knew exactly what was up. The accounts of his life say that he joyfully awaited his suffering, because he knew what his reward in Heaven would be.

How many of us can say the same? Do we still have joy and thanksgiving, even in our times of suffering? I know I often don’t. Of course, it is healthy to be sad. Of course, we sometimes struggle. Of course, we are many times afraid. When something terrible happens, we should weep for our brethren and bear their suffering with them. However, it is important as Christians to keep our eyes on the prize, as St. Demetrios did, and remember the riches of heaven.

Let us all go forth and strive to confess Christ to the world as St. Demetrios did. Let us struggle to become our most human—or superhuman, if you prefer—selves. May St. Demetrios intercede for all of us that we may receive the fruits of the spirit and be brave in our spiritual warfare, as he was brave and gave his life for Christ.

Demetra Chiafos

Demetra Chiafos

Guest Author

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!

Prisoner #18376: God Will Not Abandon His People

Prisoner #18376: God Will Not Abandon His People

Hi everyone! Quick disclaimer, this blog post is a bit longer than normal, but there was so much that I wanted to put in that I couldn’t tell myself to stop. Below you will read an inspiring story of one of my favorite church heroes. So, sit back, relax, and I hope you enjoy this blog post!

 

By Evyenia Pyle

When I think of superheroes, I tend to think of super strength. While thinking about superheroes of the church I thought of what it meant to have super strength in the church. Sure, we could look at Sampson in the Old Testament and read about his hair, but that was a long time ago. What if I told you that a church superhero lived in the 20th century with super strength? To open things up I have a question: How much does it take to survive the harshest conditions? I can tell you plainly that in my walks to class last winter, although they were at most 15 minutes, felt like if I didn’t get inside right then and there, I would surely die. On average it was probably 20 degrees Fahrenheit. While I admit I am a bit of a wimp, it was brutal. Today I am going to tell you the story of a man who survived unimaginable conditions in -27 degree Fahrenheit weather, a man who must have had the kind of strength only God can give you, a man who is a superhero of the church, and someone who I keep very close to my heart. This man is Father Arseny.

To give some background information before I go into the story, I should probably tell you about the prison camps. These camps were spread across Russia in its period of communism under Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. They were labor camps where “enemies of the government” were sent to die/be worked to death. You aren’t supposed to survive these camps. The conditions were terrible. Hygiene was nonexistent, no heat, barely any food, and one pair of clothes. This is where most of our story will be taking place, as Fr. Arseny was in one of these prison camps.

In the book Father Arseny 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father, it opens the scene portraying a dark morning, with gusty winds, around -27 degrees Fahrenheit. We see the people in the prison camps get out of bed for role call. Those who didn’t make it out were either dead (due to the cold, sickness, and exhaustion) or on the verge of being dead. Fr. Arseny wasn’t old, but he certainly wasn’t young, but he was always on duty. He was sent to the camps with many other priests and religious figures at the time. Most priests had to be priests in secret because of the fact that they would most likely be arrested. A middle-aged man was out in negative 27-degree weather chopping wood. Now, axes weren’t allowed on the grounds of the camp, so Fr. Arseny split the half frozen and damp wood with a wooden wedge, and another log to function as a hammer. If he failed to do this, they would have no firewood and would surely die, but Fr. Arseny was vigilant. He said the Jesus prayer has he worked, he knew that if the wood wasn’t done on time he would be punished and beaten by not only the guards, but the prisoners too. So, this was Father Arseny’s daily life, I could write so many pages on how the conditions should have killed him, but I will spare you for now. Now that you have a feel for the daily routine, I’m going to tell you about Father Arseny made it out of the place he was brought to die.

So, for starters I talked about super strength. In the book it reads, “‘Have mercy on me a sinner. Help me. I place my trust in Thee, O Lord, and in you, O Mother of God. Do not abandon me, give me strength,’ prayed Father Arseny, almost falling from exhaustion as he carried bundle after bundle of logs to the stoves.” Imagine being so close to falling down but knowing that God has a hold of you. Father Arseny trusted God to keep him upright, but the story doesn’t end there. How could he get damp frozen wood to light, he did not want to be beaten, so he prayed the Jesus prayer and at the end he added, “Thy will be done!” hoping to find dry wood. He searched and searched but found nothing. An infamous criminal saw him and asked what he was doing. This criminal reportedly committed so many crimes he could not remember them all. He evoked fear from all of the other prisoners. Fr. Arseny was afraid but told him he needed some dry wood. The criminal told Father to go with him, Fr. Arseny thought it was a trick, but went to see what would happen. The criminal had a large pile of dry wood he kept for himself, but he offered it to Father Arseny, who was a bit reluctant thinking that he might have been set up for stealing. Father finally accepted and started taking some. The criminal told him to take more and more, and then he himself picked up the dry logs and they carried it back to the stoves together. A criminal, who brought fear and despair among people and prisoners, gave Fr. Arseny what he needed so he would not be beaten. This is one beautiful example of how God never left Fr. Arseny’s side in the camp.

Another thing Fr. Arseny was known for was giving parts of his daily bread ration to the sick. Imagine working in such cruel conditions, but with only a small amount of food to help other people. I am not sure I would have the strength to do that.

Every night, even when Father Arseny didn’t get any food, he would pray the Akathist to the Theotokos, St. Nicholas, and St. Arsenios and pray for his spiritual children. When he awoke the next morning he would feel rested and full of new strength almost as if he had eaten the night before.

Some nights Fr. Arseny would stay up late and take care of the sick. He would feed them and make them hot water. This meant he would usually not get any sleep. One of the sick patients Fr. Arseny knew well. In fact it was the exact man that sentenced him to the death camp (when the government was tired of an official they too went to the death camps). Not only did Fr. Arseny forgive him, but he thanked him for sentencing him to the camp instead of sentencing him to be shot. The man was amazed by how genuine Father Arseny was and became a friend to Father Arseny. How much strength would it take to forgive someone who sentenced you to a long terrible death? Super strength.

One day Fr. Arseny was watching the prisoners fight and kill one another, he went and pleaded with a criminal who respected him, to ask him to stop the fighting, to prevent more from dying. All the criminals would listen to this man because he was one of the worst, but the criminal laughed and told Fr. Arseny that “his God” would do it if he really cared about his people. Fr. Arseny frustrated with these words cried aloud in prayer, “In the name of God, I order you. Stop this!” and immediately Fr. Arseny retreated inside himself so deeply into to prayer that he did not see the fight stop, and the living fighters caring for one another’s wounds. The criminal told Father Arseny that he doubted his God, but he wouldn’t any longer, for he had witnessed a miracle. How amazingly strong Father Arseny had to be in Christ to stop people from killing each other with words! This is yet another example of the super strength he received from God.

Now, let’s talk about how Father Arseny got the flu, with a 104-degree fever, and was expected to die in two days. Everyone was sad and tried to help, until the dreadful day came. According to the witnesses Father Arseny was physically dead. Father Arseny later reported that it was God showing him that the people in the camp were twice the ascetic he was and that he had more work to do within himself. Then the mother of God spoke to him and sent him back, and Fr. Arseny woke up and arose as if nothing had happened.

Another account of Father Arseny’s super strength is from a prisoner who was certain he would die. He couldn’t keep his boots dry for fear of them being stolen or worse, being beaten for warming his boots with the criminals. He eventually got frostbite in his feet and could not get out of bed and work. One night, Father Arseny took the man’s boots, and the prisoner assumed they were being stolen, but he had no strength to fight back. When he awoke the next morning, he was greeted by Fr. Arseny with dry boots. Every night Father Arseny would take the boots and put them by the stove and stayed and kept watch over them so that they would not be stolen. Imagine the super strength it must have taken for him to barely sleep and still be able to function enough the next morning to do the hardest work anyone has ever had to do! That is super strength.

I could go on about Father Arseny all day, I love him, but I need to make sure this blog is readable. So, again, I want to highlight the amount of strength Father Arseny had to survive the prison camp. Not only did he survive the most brutal conditions that almost no one else survived, but he lived many years after being released. Through his prayers to God, his faith, and his unwavering trust Fr. Arseny was able to bear the intolerable. It is superheroes of our church like this that cause me to yearn for this spiritual strength that is indescribable by those who witness it. I pray that one day I will have the super strength Father Arseny had in the camp, and I pray that all of you will find Fr. Arseny’s story an inspiration, a remembrance that God will always help us.

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 

Saints and Superheroes

Saints and Superheroes

Happy Orthodox Awareness Month!

So October is Orthodox Awareness Month, and I thought, what better way to participate than to have the blog focus on the “superheroes” of the church that make this month possible. As Halloween is also approaching and kids are getting their superhero outfits, I thought it would be a fitting theme for October. We are going to hear about Holy People, both alive and dead, and I am super excited for what this month’s publications will bring!

I am going to kick us off with a personal favorite saint of mine, St Evyenia (or Eugenia) of Rome. Okay yes, she is my patron saint, but she is still super cool! So let’s dive in.

The Holy Martyr Evyenia was a Roman by birth. She lived in Alexandria, where her father Philip was sent by Emperor Commodus (180-192) to be Prefect of Egypt. Evyenia was noted for her beauty and good disposition. Many illustrious youths sought her hand, but she did not wish to marry anyone, for she was determined to preserve her virginity.

She became acquainted with the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, and yearned with all her soul to become a Christian, but kept this a secret from her parents. During that time, Christians were banished from Alexandria by the command of the emperor. Wishing to learn more about Christianity, she asked for permission to visit one of the family estates outside the city, supposedly to enjoy the countryside. She left with her two servants, Protus and Hyacinthus, dressed in men’s clothes. She and her companions were baptized at a monastery by Bishop Elias, who learned about Evyenia in a vision. He blessed her to pursue asceticism at the monastery disguised as the monk Eugene.

By her ascetic labors, St. Eugenia acquired the gift of healing. Once, a rich young woman named Melanthia turned to her for help. Seeing “Eugene,” this woman burned with an impure passion, and when she was spurned, she falsely accused the saint of attempted rape. St. Eugenia came to trial before the Prefect of Egypt (her father), and she was forced to reveal her secret. Her parents and brothers rejoiced to find the one for whom they had long grieved.

The entire family accepted holy Baptism. Philip, after being denounced by pagans, was dismissed from his post. However, the Christians of Alexandria chose him as their bishop. The new Prefect, fearing the wrath of the people, did not dare to execute Philip openly, but sent assassins to kill him. They inflicted wounds upon St. Philip while he was praying, from which he died three days later, so her dad was also a saint, how cool is that.

St. Evyenia traveled to Rome and continued with monastic life, bringing many young women to Christ. She, along with St. Claudia, built a wanderers’ hostel and aided the poor. After several peaceful years, Emperor Galienus (260-268) intensified the persecution against the Christians, and many of them found refuge with Sts. Claudia and Evyenia.

The pagans dragged Sts. Protus and Hyacinthus, her servants, into a temple to make them sacrifice to the idols, but just as they entered, the idol fell down and shattered. The holy Martyrs Protus and Hyacinthus were then beheaded. They also brought St. Eugenia to the temple by force, but she had not even entered it, when the pagan temple collapsed with its idol. They threw the holy martyr into the Tiber River with a stone about her neck, but the stone became untied and she remained unharmed. They then cast her into a pit, where she remained for ten days. During this time, the Savior Himself appeared to her and said that she would enter into the heavenly Kingdom on the day He was born. When this radiant Feast came, the executioner put her to death with a sword. After her death, St. Eugenia appeared to her mother to tell her the day of her own death (information taken from http://ww1.antiochian.org/node/17207 and stories from my mom).

Okay, so is she not one of the coolest people ever. I was thinking about how she had to stumble across the epistles of St. Paul, and I realized how fortunate I was to be able to actively read the bible without facing persecution. As one of the readers of the Epistle at my local church, I have access to people who lived with Christ! St. Evyenia didn’t have that same luxury. She had to run away to become acquainted with literature concerning Christ.

So, why is she my superhero and a superhero of the church? Well, for starters the fact that God delivered her from her persecutors is amazing. It reminds me of the Psalms we sing in vespers, “Deliver me from my persecutors for they are stronger than I”. Another reason she is a superhero of the church is that she was able to perform miraculous healings! I truly believe that she and St. Pelagia were kick starters for women monasticism because they both disguised themselves as monks. I recently went to the Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan (mother Gabriella is the Abbess). We were in church a lot, and I looked up during one of the services and right next to me was a huge icon of St. Evyenia, honestly bigger than I am. I realized that while she is one of my superheroes, she is also a superhero to nuns and monastics everywhere. After talking with mother Gabriella, I discovered that it is not rare to have an icon of her at a women’s monastery. Also, she was a princess. A costume most girls dress up for Halloween in, and something every little girl most likely wants to be.

My family celebrates the feast day of the patron saint, almost more than we celebrate birthdays, we have parties, no joke. The hard thing with St. Evyenia though is that she is celebrated December 24, so the parties usually have fasting food (a real tragedy because my brother gets lamb). But another reason she is my superhero is because I got presents on the 24 for my nameday and then presents on the 25 for Christmas!

 

As we delve into more saints the rest of the month I challenge you all to either learn more about your patron saints, and/or learn about different superheroes of the church!

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 

The Light Will Not Be Overcome!

The Light Will Not Be Overcome!

As September has officially come to a close, and October has started, I have been looking back at our blog contributions. I was very moved at the sight of blog posts written by other students who also wanted to serve the Orthodox Christian Fellowship. Throughout September we focused on the OCF theme, John 1:5, “And the light shines in the darkness, and then darkness did not overcome it.” After spending a month reflecting on our theme, and reading other student’s reflections I found the Epistle reading on the last Sunday of September to be a perfect compliment to our work so far this year. This past Sunday we heard the Epistle of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians. Paul writes, “Brethren, it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ…So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6-15).” It is fitting for Paul to write this, if we remember the story of his conversion to Christianity he is a physical example of Christ’s light overcoming darkness. 

In the Acts of the Apostles we read about a man named Saul who persecuted Christians, in fact it was on his way to persecute the Christians in Damascus that he was given, “a wake up call” so to speak. We read in Acts 9 that a bright light shone forth from the heavens and God said to Saul, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”. Through that bright light Saul found himself blind and journeyed to Damascus without eating or drinking. He was found by St. Annanias who was recently celebrated (the 1st of October), (we honestly couldn’t have planned this better if we tried) and Annanais helped Saul receive his sight again. It is said in Acts 9:18 that “immediately things like scales fell from his eyes”. Saul was then baptized and his name became Paul, who is one of the most widely recognized church fathers, in fact in the icon of Saints Peter and Paul we see them holding a church together. In my opinion this was a huge breakthrough in seeing that God can create light from the darkness. In all actuality it was the light of Christ that took Saul’s sight to show him where to find the truth. The fact of the matter is, Saul found the truth without seeing! What faith! I don’t know if I would have been able to have faith like that. Yet, a man who had once killed people for declaring a man as the Christ, was now himself proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah. The man who once hunted the people who followed Christ became the one who was being hunted. 

The man who was once blinded by the light is now writing to the people of Corinth that, Christ is the light who overcomes the darkness. Let’s go back to what he wrote. “Brethren, it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” So basically, the Light, aka God, through us is shining His light to give us more light so we can glorify God. That’s a lot of light. Okay what’s next, “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” Our Earthly bodies will one day fail, we are going to die, but with Christ’s light we will have eternal life. If Christ lives in us, we will never die, so while our Earthly bodies will, our spirit will not. So, through Christ’s not only will I be illumined, but I will live in life everlasting with God. How cool is that?! I mean, think about it. If I were hearing this I would definitely say, “sign me up!” It is like that flashlight infomercial I gave in an earlier blog (read it here https://www.ocf.net/turning-on-the-light/) I wrote about how we have flashlight that guides us in our lives. 

So, the other part of the epistle I will leave to your interpretation, but think about this: Paul’s conversion was that of light, when Jesus was baptized the heavens opened and the heavens house the sun which produces light, and on the feast of the Transfiguration we hear that when Moses came down from Mount Tabor his face was still glowing and shining because it had been in the presence of Christ’s light, and we even see that his face was too bright for some of the people with him! It all comes back to light. Imagine your face glowing because you were in such deep communion with God that His light shone so brightly that it hurt other people’s eyes. I think our goal should be to achieve that, but not just because it’s amazing, but because Christ causes the light to shine in the darkness. What if you are a beacon that guides people to Christ with your light? That sounds to me like the best job ever! So the point I’m trying to make is that even in the darkness Christ’s light will shine, whether it be through you, me, or it blinds someone because they didn’t listen to anyone else. Paul went from killing Christians and persecuting the church to being the one depicted in icons as holding up the church! Someone who made it their life’s mission to destroy the church, became one of the biggest protectors of the faith! If God’s light can shine so brightly that it brings the biggest persecutor to the faith, then maybe even a little bit of that light in us will cause us to bring multitudes as Sts Peter and Paul did. Christ’s light will never be overcome by the darkness. Don’t forget that. He has illumined us all with His divine grace. The Light of lights, the True God, and the giver of light, may He intercede for us as we go through college, a time with lots of darkness that needs to be overcome. 

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 opportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net 

St. Xenia, I’m Nervous about My Future

St. Xenia, I’m Nervous about My Future

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”

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? Names are powerful way that we humans distill the lives and identities of people into a linguistic expression. Names are powerful. We are lucky because our Lord became human, and even the evocation of His name, Jesus, holds power (think about the Jesus Prayer). In the Jewish tradition, the name for Lord is YHWH, an unpronounceable and incomprehensible name for God. In Christianity, we know our God and His name.

My name, Demetri (or legally, Demetrios), comes from my grandfather, and our patron saint is St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki. He guides his namesakes, and the city of Thessaloniki of which he was charged to protect during his earthly life as a Roman. Patron saints are important because they are our guides and hopes to follow in their holy lives. Today (10/26), marks the feast day for St. Demetrios, so many years to all those celebrating!

Here is some information about his life, borrowed from a writing by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese daily readings:

“Saint Demetrius was a Thessalonian, a most pious son of pious and noble parents, and a teacher of the Faith of Christ. When Maximian first came to Thessalonica in 290, he raised the Saint to the rank of Duke of Thessaly. But when it was discovered that the Saint was a Christian, he was arrested and kept bound in a bath-house. While the games were under way in the city, Maximian was a spectator there. A certain friend of his, a barbarian who was a notable wrestler, Lyaeus by name, waxing haughty because of the height and strength of his body, boasted in the stadium and challenged the citizens to a contest with him. All that fought with him were defeated. Seeing this, a certain youth named Nestor, aquaintance of Demetrius’, came to the Saint in the bath-house and asked his blessing to fight Lyaeus single-handed. Receiving this blessing and sealing himself with the sign of the precious Cross, he presented himself in the stadium, and said, “O God of Demetrius, help me!” and straightway he engaged Lyaeus in combat and smote him with a mortal blow to the heart, leaving the former boaster lifeless upon the earth. Maximian was sorely grieved over this, and when he learned who was the cause of this defeat, he commanded straightway and Demetrius was pierced with lances while he was yet in the bath-house, As for Nestor, Maximian commanded that he be slain with his own sword.”

St. Demetrios was a young adult during the time of his martyrdom. He stayed true to his faith, despite the danger that it entailed. He was a high-ranking officer in the Roman military and was a very successful and educated man. He humbly accepted his legal punishment but offered his boldness and devotion in prayer to God on behalf of his friend, Nestor. St. Demetrios provided answers and prayer in times of fear and anxiety. His relics still stream myrrh to this day and are located in Thessaloniki.

For me, St. Demetrios is a guide and an example for me to follow in his footsteps. Just as parents genetically pass down traits and qualities, so do spiritual namesakes. I mean, many of our parents name us after specific people and saints, and we name them after them in hopes that they emulate the life of that saint, and that the saint guards them in life. My name is a way for me to honor my grandfather, and continue his memory. St. Demetrios is the patron saint of the organization that arose from the repatriation of the people of my village to the United States. When I think of St. Demetrios I also can understand my personal history and the guidance he gave to the people coming from my father’s village. I particularly turn to my saint when I feel stressed about my direction in life. Knowing that we share a name, my connection with him is a lot deeper.

A relationship with the saints is important as an Orthodox Christian. They are our examples, guides and protectors throughout our lives. Luckily, their stories come to us and you can accumulate different relationships throughout different times in your life. For example, St. Joseph becomes an awfully important saint as soon as a man becomes a father. They are the living example of gospels and they want to love and support us. Building a relationship with them now is important because they stand a lot closer to God as of now than we do, ask them to pray for you. And if you don’t have a good particular relationship with a saint, the best place to start is with the Theotokos. She is our church’s greatest saint and she also has a motherly relationship with our lord. Another good place to start is with your patron saint, whether it be the saint you were named after, or the saint of your family (in terms of slava). Reach out to them!

St. Demetrios was charged with protecting Thessaloniki during his earthly life as a roman general. As he was stripped of his authority and job, his true path in the spiritual protection of the city was revealed.

St. Demetrios is a powerful saint, and I am grateful for his spiritual guidance in my life. I hope that we all can embody is courage, faith and strength in our own lives. St. Demetrios was known to intercede in an earthquake in Thessaloniki, when your life may seem like its falling apart, ask for his help. Or, if there is a real natural disaster, ask for his help. May he intercede for us all!

Sometimes the Best Words You Can Say Are Tears

Sometimes the Best Words You Can Say Are Tears

A few years ago, I had the life changing experience of seeing a weeping icon. When I got home I couldn’t stop talking about it. I told all my friends, even those who were not Orthodox. Predictably, a few of my friends didn’t understand. Some told me I was being deceived, others thought I was going crazy. One friend went to the lengths of sending me an article about a Catholic Church that had a statue of Jesus with water coming out, and it was later discovered it was a plumbing problem. I said, “But this is myrrh! If myrrh was running through pipes to an icon not connected to any pipes or the wall we have a problem.”

My friend said, “Okay prove it, did you take a video?” I told her I had not but then followed up with a personal story:

The experience was that one of the girls with me had also doubted. I remember her saying, “There is no way this is real.” I did everything in my power to convince her otherwise, but to no avail. We agreed to disagree, and went to bed, as we were at camp. The next morning, we woke up and our cabin smelled very strongly of myrrh. We were all so confused, the smell couldn’t have been from the night before, there was no way.

The icon was titled the Kardiotissa, or the tender heart, and we had all received paper copies. One of the girls reached into her cubby and felt a drip, “Uh, I thing the ceiling is leaking.” I told her that was impossible because it hadn’t rained in three days.

For some reason my doubtful friend who was unusually quiet, whispered, “It’s not leaking. But this is.” She held up her paper icon, and myrrh started running off the paper. All of us gathered around. Her paper icon was weeping. Needless to say, she believed after that, but my school friend was still skeptical.

She asked, “Okay, then tell me why the mother of God was weeping, she’s in heaven right? Shouldn’t she be happy?”

At the time I hadn’t necessarily thought about it that much. The answer I gave went something along the lines of, “to show God’s presence in our lives.” But that question had always bothered me.

Fast forward to a few months ago, when I got a call that one of my good friends from camp had passed away. I was heartbroken. In every church service I cried. When we got to the cherubic hymn I would become infuriated because we sang “let us lay aside all earthly cares”. Well, I didn’t want to lay aside my earthly care. I wanted to be with my friend, in fact in church I knew he was there in the kingdom of heaven with me, but it frustrated me that I couldn’t reach out and hug him. He could see me, but I couldn’t see him. My mom was a real champ during that period of time, she just let me cry and gave me many hugs during church. I was even frustrated with St. Raphael, of whom I pray to every single day to watch over my friends. I didn’t know how this could have happened (St. Raphael and I have since made amends). The only thing I found comfort in was holding my paper icon of the Kardiotissa, because my friend was with me when we got them, and he too had one. That was when I felt closest to him.

One day, I looked at the beautiful icon, and I remembered the name–the Tender Heart, in this the virgin Mary is holding Jesus giving him a kiss. The Theotokos was a mother, a mother who watched her Son die. She lived an amazing life. But she was a mother. She is our mother. The Theotokos sees us weeping, and when a mother sees that her child is in pain she seeks to help them. The Theotokos, the mother of God, the Tender Heart, she was with my friend in the kingdom of heaven. I remembered in the Bible when Jesus went to see Lazarus when he had died, and He was moved by all of the friends of Lazarus crying, and He wept.

I remember texting that friend after I had come to this realization. I said, “I know why!” She of course assumed I was psychotic, and said, “You know why?” I said, “Do you remember a few years ago when you asked me why the mother of God was weeping, well I know. She is moved by our sadness, she is a mother in pain watching her children hurt. She weeps because we weep. The presence of this weeping reminds us that she hasn’t left our side, she is weeping with us.” There finally became a day where I didn’t break down crying because I saw his favorite color, or because I heard the cherubic hymn. Now I smile, knowing he is in the Lord’s hands.

Through our weeping, and through our mourning we connect to the mother of God, and she helps us because we are her children. When we feel most alone, the Theotokos is weeping with us. Through weeping and mourning we can begin to heal, what we feel has been broken.

Everything must be broken, to be put together and beautifully reinvented by God. When we are broken, bruised, shattered, hurting, and weeping, the Theotokos is watching. Through her intercessions to the Lord, we start to heal. She prays for us because we are her children. She laughs with us, sings with us, hurts with us, and weeps with us. The miracle of weeping is that we are never doing it alone. When we get lost, we are taught to find the motherly figure to go to. She is our mother, and when we are lost and in a state of mourning, she will help redirect us, and guide us.

We must find her and weep with her. For our heavenly mother and Father will never leave us to mourn alone. They are always by our sides. I pray that her tender heart will continue to help me in time of need, and weep with me. She is our mother, and she loves us as her own. “As ordered, therefore, this do I shout to you: Rejoice, O Maiden who are full of grace” (“Theotokion,”  Akathist to the Mother of God)!”


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!

A Christian Ending To Our Lives – St. Nikolai Velimirovich

A Christian Ending To Our Lives – St. Nikolai Velimirovich

We have a lot of saints in our spiritual arsenal to help us combat the trials and tribulations of modern life, and many have lived right at our doorsteps! Saint Nikolai Velimirovich is a Saint of North America, one of Serbian descent and a model for Christ’s Love throughout his life.

Let’s take a few minutes to learn about his life and how we can learn from it as college students. The parts of his life I quote are from here.

Saint Nikolai of Zhicha, “the Serbian Chrysostom,” was born in Lelich in western Serbia on January 4, 1881 (December 23, 1880 O.S.). His parents were Dragomir and Katherine Velimirovich, who lived on a farm where they raised a large family. His pious mother was a major influence on his spiritual development, teaching him by word and especially by example. As a small child, Nikolai often walked three miles to the Chelije Monastery with his mother to attend services there.

Many of the saints were inspired and influenced by faithful parents, adults, and role models. We see that St. Nikolai’s spirituality was cultivated at a young age. Let this be an example for us who may have younger siblings, cousins, or godchildren in that the formative years of a child’s life can be taught about Christ and His mercy. Also, we see that St. Nikolai is a relatively new saint, and his experiences are similar to those of us who lived not so long ago.

Sickly as a child, Nikolai was not physically strong as an adult. He failed his physical requirements when he applied to the military academy, but his excellent academic qualifications allowed him to enter the Saint Sava Seminary in Belgrade, even before he finished preparatory school.

Wow. It really seems like God was guiding his life throughout his adolescent years. Luckily for us, hindsight is 20/20. St. Nikolai had the wisdom as a young adult to learn from his failures and to transform them to make him a better person. A lot of times God isn’t going to straight out tell us exactly where we are meant to go and in what way our lives will develop. That would take out all the fun in life! St. Nikolai had faith and that guided him in his path towards sanctity; we should model his great faith and trust in God in our lives!

Saint Nikolai was renowned for his sermons, which never lasted more than twenty minutes, and focused on just three main points. He taught people the theology of the Church in a language they could understand, and inspired them to repentance.

This paragraph reminded me of the apostles when they traveled across the world. The Gospel is meant to be spread from people to people. Sometimes you have to translate the message in a way that others would understand. This particular skill I believe many of the North American saints possessed and made them excellent teachers and spreaders of the faith. St. Nikolai was nicknamed the “Serbian Chrysostom,” and many of his books, teaching and prayers are available for reading to learn more!

When Germany invaded Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941, Bishop Nikolai, a fearless critic of the Nazis, was arrested and confined in Ljubostir Vojlovici Monastery. In 1944, he and Patriarch Gavrilo were sent to the death camp at Dachau. There he witnessed many atrocities and was tortured himself. When American troops liberated the prisoners in May 1945, the patriarch returned to Yugoslavia, but Bishop Nikolai went to England.

Wow. St. Nikolai endured. I encourage you to reread this paragraph and really think about the power St. Nikolai was blessed with to endure such treacherous treatment.

On March 18, 1956 Saint Nikolai fell asleep in the Lord Whom he had served throughout his life. He was found in his room kneeling in an attitude of prayer. Though he was buried at Saint Sava’s Monastery in Libertyville, IL, he had always expressed a desire to be buried in his homeland. In April of 1991 his relics were transferred to the Chetinje Monastery in Lelich. There he was buried next to his friend and disciple Father Justin Popovich (+ 1979).

St. Nikolai remained faithful to our Lord until his last breath. When we pray for “a Christian ending to our life: painless, blameless, peaceful, and a good defense before the Judgment Seat of the Lord” the life of St. Nikolai is echoed. If you would like to learn more about his life, I encourage you to discuss it at your next OCF meeting.

Our chapter discussion resource, There’s a Saint for That, can be found here!