On Paraklesis

On Paraklesis

One of the most beautiful prayers passed on through holy tradition is the service of Paraklesis. Any time you have a need, you can bring it in humility to the feet of the Theotokos or the saint you are asking for intercession. The nine canons are like roses of prayer that are offered to our intercessors. This service became really dear to my heart after praying it at OCF retreats and with my OCF chapter. It made me feel closer to them and closer to the Theotokos.

Just like we can ask our friends and family to pray for us, we can ask the saints and the Theotokos to pray for us in our daily struggle towards the kingdom. Throughout this post, I will include some lines from the poetry of the service that help illustrate the love of the Theotokos, and encourage you to respond in love to her.

Paraklesis translated from Greek literally mean “a pleading.” Bring all you worries and fears, and place them in the hands of God, and know that He will take care of them in the way that is best for you:

I entreat you, O Virgin, disperse the storm of my grief,
and the soul’s most inward confusion, scatter it far from me; you are the Bride of God, for you have brought forth the Christ, the Prince of Peace; O all-blameless one.

The Paraklesis is a service where you can bring down the walls you put around you, bring all your stresses, wishes, hopes, failures and anguishes for you and for whomever you want to pray and offer a supplication to God through an intercession. No person is closer to Him than His mother, the Virgin Theotokos. She looks after us as our spiritual mother.

Deliver us,
all of your servants, from danger, O Theotokos;
after God, we all flee to you, for shelter and covering, as an unshakable wall and our protection.

Throughout the service, descriptions of the holy life of the Theotokos and the help she has given to the people who have loved her throughout the ages. She will protect you, no matter where you are in life she is there, praying and talking to Christ on our behalf.

No one is turned away from you, ashamed and empty, who flee to you, O pure Virgin Theotokos;
but one asks for the favor,
and the gift is received from you,
to the advantage of their own request.

The Theotokos loves us and prays for us as if she were our own mother. She knows what its like to be a human being, and she endured one of the most painful experiences known to humanity–witnessing the death of her Son. She gets it. To me, the Paraklesis service is special because I feel like I am not alone in my worries and stresses and I can share them with the Mother of God. I also really love that when I know someone is going through hardship I can actually do something to help them. Not only can I offer my struggles, but I can offer the struggles of others through my prayer.

Oppressed I am, O Virgin;
in a place of sickness,
I have been humbled; I ask you: bring remedy,
transform my illness, my sickness, into a wholesomeness.

The walk towards the kingdom is not a lonely one. We walk together as Christ’s Church. We can come together to pray, to support, and to love one another and help make this life more like the kingdom through our conscious effort. We can come together to pray for each other and strengthen each other. We are a community of Orthodox Christians, and we stand together in fighting each of our good fights. Don’t be ashamed to be a “mama’s boy” or a “mama’s girl” because we can all use the help and shelter that she provides.

My numerous hopes are placed
before you, most-holy one;
Mother of our God,
guard me with care, within your sheltered arms.

Just like a child clings to its mother, crying for the even the smallest boo-boo, we have our Holy Mother that will comfort us in our times of need. Each time you pray a Paraklesis service, let God and the Theotokos speak to you through the service, and become closer to them.

The Silent Treatment as Medicine

The Silent Treatment as Medicine

“Noise is one of the most common pollutants. It is often ignored because it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. And yet it can have negative effects on human well-being” (ASHA.org). Did you know that a hair blow dryer can cause hearing damage because of the amount of noise it produces? We live in a world today that is surrounded by noise. It is extremely difficult to find silence.

I was at a winter retreat a few years ago, and Fr. Silviu Bunta challenged us to sit in silence for five minutes every day. At the time, I thought he was crazy. There was no way I was going to sit in silence for five minutes every day. I love to talk, and anyone who knows me can attest to this. I asked Fr. Silviu if I could listen to music and reflect that way.

He looked at all of us and said, “No.” Just no.

Fr. Silviu continued to tell us that when people were tortured for information, the torturers would play loud and fast music. When this happens, our minds become overstimulated, and we can’t take much more, and our bodies start to shut down. Someone then asked if loud and fast music and noises are okay in moderation, and Fr. Silviu said, “If you fill yourself with noise, how can you expect to hear God”.

That made me think of the Bible, where God speaks to Elijah.

“Then He said, ‘Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;  and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.  So it was, when Elijah heard it…”
1 Kings 19:11-13

Elijah did not hear the Lord during the noise but in a “still small voice”. Some translations write that it was a stillness, others a whisper. Throughout my life, I wished that God’s voice would come in a booming thunder, that it would shake the heavens and declare its victory through the world. God could totally do that, but instead he speaks to us through silence. We must quiet our hearts, thoughts, desires, and earthly cares in order to hear God.

Saint Isaac the Syrian once said, “Silence is the sacrament of the world to come.” St. Iassac has a point. As much as I hate to admit it, we can see in the story of Elijah, we will not be able to speak with God with so much background noise. Imagine you’re at a party or a large social gathering. Your friend is speaking in a normal voice but ends up shouting, so you can hear them. So, imagine trying to whisper in a crowded room and expecting your friend to hear you. It’s probably not going to happen.

If we fill our lives with noise how will we hear God? When I think of sacraments, I think of baptism, chrismation, and communion, three important things that help us towards our salvation. For St. Isaac to call silence a new sacrament, it must be essential to guiding us towards salvation.

If we want to look at the scientific side of things, there are proven things that can happen to our bodies with excess noise exposure. Excess noise exposure can cause: a change in blood pressure, change in heart rate, change the way the heart beats (possible abnormal palpitations), disturb digestion and harm your organs, contribute to premature birth, and disrupt sleep. But don’t forget that on top of all of that, we can start to lose our hearing. I am not saying we should live the rest of our lives in complete silence shutting ourselves out from the world. That would also be detrimental to our health because we need human interaction to survive. So, what are we supposed to do if we should live in silence, but not shut ourselves up in our rooms?

Fr. John Breck writes, “Silence is not just the absence of ambient noise. Nor does it mean the lack of laughter or music or shared reflection. Silence is a state of mind and heart, a condition of the soul. It is inner stillness. Silence in heaven reigns amidst joyous song and ceaseless celebration. It is awe in the presence of the Divine.”

One of my favorite parts of that quote is that silence “is awe in the presence of the Divine.” The presence of God is everywhere and fills all things. He is in me and you and your next-door neighbor. He is everywhere, so when we are in the presence of the Divine, we must be in awe. By quieting our souls through prayer, fasting, and vigilance we can hear God.

My mom used to always tell me, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Fr. John helps us see that listening to music isn’t evil and speaking with friends isn’t detrimental, but we have to remember that it canbe. If we listen to music that is harmful to our souls and bodies, our souls are no longer quieted, but aroused with the passions. If we speak wrongfully and with hatred, we add fuel to the fire of the burning passions.

I want to hear God. That is a goal, but I haven’t because of the noise in my life. It’s time to drown out the noise, to listen for the still small voice. I have been trying to practice silence. It’s hard, but the more I do it, the more possible it becomes. Not only has this been quieting my soul, but it has helped me to keep my thoughts and words in check.

I pray that you will find the silence needed to hear God and listen. I pray that like the other sacraments we can join together to find the silence we need. I pray that we can find our state of awe and together stand in the presence of our Holy Father. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 11:15)


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

How Liturgical Prayer Saved My Life

How Liturgical Prayer Saved My Life

My alarm goes off at 6:30 AM this morning. I hop in the shower, get dressed, say my morning prayers, and head off to church for the Royal Hours for Nativity. Since I am a tonsured reader, I help read some of the psalms, Old Testament, and Epistle readings for the service and also intone some of the hymns and prayers here and there. The Royal Hours is, objectively speaking, an astonishingly beautiful service, speaking of the immense power and humility of God to become incarnate as a baby boy in order to redeem humanity. And I felt none of that beauty.

You see, I have a disease called major depressive disorder. The main symptom of this disease is the inability to feel pleasure and meaning in things that used to feel pleasurable and meaningful. And so even though I am active in the Church and OCF, try to say my prayers every day, and try to pay attention during the services, I hardly ever feel anything positive during them. On the contrary, I spend a lot of my time in prayer internally wondering whether God is listening or not, questioning why He would give me such a screwed-up brain if He supposedly loves me so much.

And yet, the Church proclaims that God is good. The Church tells me that Christ came to earth and suffered in the flesh, being crucified and resurrected in order to destroy death and raise the dead from the tombs. And I really do believe these things with all my heart, even when my brain is telling me otherwise.

I pray because I believe Christ rose from the dead. “I believed, therefore I have spoken” proclaimed King David in the psalms, and so I, too, speak in prayer because I believe (Psalm 115:10). This is why the services of the Church are so important to me: they call me to pray even when I don’t feel like it, even when my brain is giving me every reason not to. I need the constant call of the Church to “again and again in peace pray to the Lord.” I need the reminders that God loves me, even when my brain is incapable of seeing it.

God loves you, too. He loves each one of us more than we know how to love. And it is this love, given to me through the Church’s discipline of liturgical prayer, that encourages me to pray, even when I can’t feel that love around me.

This discipline, I believe, has saved my life on more than one occasion from the dark and self-destructive thoughts that often haunt those of us with depression. I hope that the same love of God also encourages you to pray, regardless of whether you feel that love or not.


This post was written by an anonymous OCF student. If you would like to contribute to the OCF blog, email: publicationsstudent@ocf.net

10 Ways to Grow in Your Faith in 2019

10 Ways to Grow in Your Faith in 2019

1. Read the Whole Orthodox Study Bible

I know this sounds like a daunting task to complete in one year, but this PDF gives you a guide to reading the entire Orthodox Study Bible in one year. The PDF starts on September 1st (for the Ecclesiastical New Year), but you can still start the guide and finish reading the whole bible in one year. By reading less than five chapters a day, you can feel extremely accomplished and become more knowledgeable at the end of one year.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 

2. Join or Support a Mission Team

Being apart of missions has been some of the best experiences of my life. There are many Orthodox organizations that make it possible for you to participate in short- or long-term mission trip. You can check out the awesome mission and service trips that are set for 2019 through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center, the International Orthodox Christian Charities, and Project Mexico. You can also check out some awesome OCF Real Break options through each one of those great organizations!

3. Sit in Silence for at Least 10 Minutes a Day

In our very busy lives, we usually forget to just take a few minutes to reflect on our day. Learning how to sit in silence for a few minutes a day will help you to wind down and be peaceful. And when I say sitting in silence, I don’t mean sitting on your phone in silence. Remove all distractions and take a few minutes each day to reflect and give praise to God for the blessed day.

 
 

 

 
 

4. Choose a Book to Read and Finish It

One of the things I love about Orthodoxy is how the faith can reach everyone, no matter what their interests are. Whatever you love in this life, you will be able to find an Orthodox book that peaks your interest. Want to learn how Orthodoxy differs from other religions? Check out Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: Finding a Way to Christ in a Complicated Religious Landscape. Are you an aspiring actor or artist? Check out The Mystery of Art: Becoming an Artist in the Image of God. A fiction fan? Check out Letters to St. Lydia or Icon. If you find it hard to pick up a book and read, check out some audiobooks that you can listen to. You can find all these books and more at Ancient Faith online bookstore.

 
 
 
 
 
 

5. Go to Confession at Least Three Times a Year

A good rule of thumb when deciding when to go to confession is to try and go during the major fasting periods of the church. The three main fasting periods are Advent (Christmas Fast), Great and Holy Lent (Pascha Fast), and the Fast for the Dormition of the Theotokos (First 15 days in August). By going to confession during these time periods, you would be going to confession every four months. This gives you time to reflect and take a lot of the burdens from your soul away throughout the year.

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 

6. Listen to a Podcast that Interests and Inspires You

Ancient Faith Radio has so many cool podcasts you can choose from. You can download the Ancient Faith Radio app on your phone and have hundreds of podcasts at the tip of your finger! Some of them are even led by college students! Check out this blog post from November to learn about some of the great podcasts you can find on their app.

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 

7. Learn More about a Saint that Interests You

There’s a Saint for That is a great way to learn about saints that can help you in your everyday life. There are saints who intercede for traveling, for education, for health, for finding things that have been lost, and for many other reasons. You can also check out stories of the saints of the day on the OCA Website. OCA’s website gives you the story of multiple saints daily so you can learn about a new one everyday!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 

8. Connect with an Orthodox Community

One of the best ways to grow in your faith is to surround yourself with others who are immersed in the same faith as you. You can meet some of your life-long friends at your campus OCF meetings, OCF regional retreats, and at College Conference. Check out the current listing of OCF events to register! Also look into your parish to see opportunities for you to meet and hang out with young adults in your area.

9. Talk to a Priest about Questions You Have

 
 

Make a list of a few questions to ask your spiritual father or parish priest. Talking through your questions with them will strengthen your knowledge about the faith and also your relationship with your spiritual father.

 
 
 
 
 

10. Go to a Service or an Orthodox Church that You Have Never Attended Before

Step out of your comfort zone and check out other parishes in your area. Visit Greek Churches, Russian Churches, Romanian Churches, etc. Go and experience Orthodoxy in every language you can. Also try and attend services you don’t attend regularly. There are services offered weekly like Saturday Vespers or services offered only a few times a year like the Salutations, Paraklesis, and Presanctified Divine Liturgy.

 
 

 
 
 


Hi everyone! My name is Joanna Psyhogios. I am from Wilmette, Illinois, and I am a member at St. John the Baptist Church in Des Plaines, Illinois. My first experience with OCF was during College Conference East, and I have been active in participating in College Conference and OCF retreats ever since. In my free time, I love to play and watch every sport, coach basketball to youth teams, watch movies and TV Shows, and play Jungle Speed (shoutout to CC Midwest!). I am really excited to share what I have learned about the Orthodox faith through the OCF blogs!

10 Signs You Celebrate Christmas the Orthodox Way

10 Signs You Celebrate Christmas the Orthodox Way

Christmas, for most Orthodox Christians, is a time of fasting, prayer, worship, sacraments, spiritual renewal, and philanthropy. It is a more religious celebration that is not as commercial as in some cultures. It is a time where we also have many traditions that help make it the beautiful holiday it is.

#1 Fasting before Christmas is harder than fasting for Lent

All those Christmas cookies really do you in on the days leading up to Christmas, also why does everything Christmas have to be made with MILK? Also fair warning—whilst eating Greek kourambiedes do not inhale because you WILL choke on the powdered sugar, nothing like a little danger in a cookie I suppose.

#2 If your name is Chris/Christina you feel a little petty for having your namesday be on Christmas day 

Yes, you get to celebrate being named after Christ but unfortunately the presents are usually grouped together, nothing like a 2 for 1 deal, am I right?

 

 

 

#3 You get to watch your friends exchange gifts on December 25th but you have to wait until January 7th.

Some jurisdictions are still on the Old ‘Julian’ Calendar and have to wait an extra 13 days for Christmas to happen… patience is a virtue!

 

 

 

#4 Part of decorating the Christmas tree (Badnjak) includes burning it in on Christmas Eve and then baking it into bread.

Look up this cool Serbian Tradition! Just don’t stand too close to the fire because you might lose an eyebrow or two. 

 

 

 

 

#5 You kind of know where the 12 days of Christmas really comes from.

It’s the amount of days between His birth and Epiphany! A lot of people even keep their decorations up until then. Why do you need 11 pipers piping for that?

 

 

 

 

#6 You’re really confused about who Santa really is.

Is he St. Nicholas of Myra? Is he St. Basil? And when are you going to exchange gifts? Greek Orthodox Christians in Greece traditionally exchange presents on New Year’s Day, the feast day of St. Basil the Great

 

 

 

 

 

#7 Christmas Eve ham? Try a 12-part vegetarian extravaganza including perogies, cabbage rolls, beets, borscht, and potatoes that symbolize the 12 Apostles. 

This particular tradition is called Sochevnik in Russian. Good thing we’ve been fasting for so long because that dinner sounds delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

#8 Your family is a Christmas Eve church family or a Christmas Day one, either way you celebrate the Nativity in a prayerful way and with communion of course!

A picture from the church of the nativity. According to Holy Tradition, that spot is where the star indicated the place of Christ’s birth!

 

 

 

 

#9 Your Christmas music has been playing on repeat since November.

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear” –Elf

The hymns of the church for the Nativity are filled with so much beauty and joy! My church has had the tradition where our youth group would go and sing carols to sick and elderly parishioners, and the joy they experienced when we would come sing makes your entire week .

#10 You’re genuinely excited for the coming of the Christ. You have been praying, and you keep the true meaning of Christmas, the Nativity of our Savior, close to your heart. 

He came to save us! Let us rejoice!

“‘She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” -Matthew 1:21-23

 

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Ultimately Christmas is a time for families and friends to get together. There is so much beauty that we all share in our ‘traditions’ that everyone celebrates Christmas in their own special way. Orthodoxy, being a part of history for centuries, has molded some beautiful festivities that bring us together because of our mutual love for Christ. 

Merry Christmas!

For His Mercy Endures Forever!

For His Mercy Endures Forever!

We are now in the wake of Thanksgiving, #GivingTuesday, and coursing through the Advent season. Gratitude is a theme that presents itself during this season and its an important quality to have to grow in humility. We Christians are not only ‘thankful’ in an ethereal sense but we are thankful to God. We owe Him everything from the beat in our hearts to the earth we live on.

Where do I start with being thankful to God? The first thing that popped into my head, and now is completely stuck in my head, is Psalm 135 (136), otherwise known as the Polyeleos. It is a beautiful hymn that describes how we can be thankful to God and glorify creation.

You can listen to it here:

If you listen to the lyrics, you can hear King David writing about the thankfulness and gratitude seen in the beauty of God’s creation. But the repeating reason for gratitude? “His mercy endures forever.” What does this mean? It means we can be happy and excited that God gives us an opportunity each and every day to get up, repent, and resist sin. It means that every day we get to wake up with the choice to grow closer to God. It means that we live in a reality where our God loves us with His entire being and the extent of His mercy cannot be known. It means that God has sent His ACTUAL SON to die for us on the cross and in His mercy, redeem us and return us to our fully human state in His presence. His mercy endures forever and ever and unto the ages of ages, so let that sink in, and in turn show your gratitude to God and His creation by giving thanks in the blessings and tribulations you receive each and every day.

This week, I asked the other members of the Student Leadership board to tell me what they are thankful to God for in their lives, these are the replies they sent me:

 

I’m thankful for the regional and district events that have made my university’s OCF so incredibly close this year in comparison to last year. Without them, members in my OCF would never have been able to see what OCF is, means, and stands for. It inspired our chapter to embody the things we experienced and has given me some of my closest friends at school.

Kristina Anastasiadis, Northeast Student Leader

I’m thankful for my family and friends who challenge me everyday to grow in my faith.

Caroline Retzios, Great Lakes Student Leader

I am thankful for my OCF Real Break trip to Thessaloniki, Greece. My experiences on the trip helped deepen my faith and my relationship with the Lord. Additionally, it provided me the opportunity to meet many extraordinary Christ like individuals who truly changed my life!

Elizabeth Buck, South Student Leader

I’m thankful for Orthodoxy in college. It’s kept me grounded and made me realize what’s most important at all times, and I’m thankful for cows.

Amelia Barron, Midwest Student Leader

I’m thankful for the continual challenges God blesses me with every day, as they have helped me grow in so many ways.

Alex Lountzis, Southeast Student Leader

I’m thankful for the peace felt after receiving confession and the reconciliation I always feel with Christ afterwards. 🙂
+ Alex(^) and the entire SLB

Eva Tempenis, Media Student Leader

I am thankful for everyone around me encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone and leading me to new experiences and adventures in life.

Quinn Marquardt, Mountain Student Leader

I am thankful to God for showing my the path to Orthodoxy in college!

Zoe Kanakis, Southwest Student Leader

The SLB has numerous things to be grateful to God. Reflect on what you are grateful for, and say THANK YOU. God and His people need to be thanked for all that they do.

Why We Have to Thank God, Even for 8-AMs

Why We Have to Thank God, Even for 8-AMs

 

As college students, we have a lot to be thankful for. We are thankful for our family, our friends, our home. A lot of times, we are thankful for simple things like the free food on campus or the email from our professor canceling our 8 a.m. class. I don’t know about everyone else, but every time one of those small things occur to me, I think to myself, “Thank God” and then continue on eating my free pizza or roll back into bed.

But let me tell you something I never do.

I don’t wake up for my 8 a.m. classes and say, “Thank God.” I also don’t utter those words when I use the money that I have to pay for my meal. I usually don’t remember to thank Him at all. Why is that?

Well, as a society, we have a small problem. We love to express our thankfulness to God when things are going well in our lives. But, when everything is just average or going poorly, we forget about God and even question his intentions. Instead of thanking God constantly for what He has given us, we question why He has given us struggles in our lives.

As the Thanksgiving season has come and gone, we have to ask ourselves, how can we work towards being thankful to God every day, no matter what is occurring in our lives? Even if we do not realize it, we do give thanks to God in many ways throughout our daily and spiritual lives.

Did you know that we can give thanks to God by receiving Holy Communion? The word “thanksgiving” translates to Eucharistia in Greek. In turn, the word Eucharist is used in the Orthodox Church to describe the act of the Orthodox faithful receiving the consecrated body and blood of Christ, otherwise known as the sacrament of Holy Communion.

St. John Chrysostom teaches us that one way to be thankful to God is to participate in the Eucharist consistently. He states that “the dread Mysteries, full of such great salvation, which are celebrated at every Liturgy, are also called a Thanksgiving [Eucharistia] because they are the remembrance of many benefits…and in every way cause us to be thankful to Him.” By receiving Holy Communion, we are not only bringing Christ into our lives, we are thanking Christ for giving us life and the hope for the resurrection by remembering what He sacrificed for us all.

St. John Chrysostom also states:

Whenever we are either in poverty, or in sickness, or are being insulted, then let us intensify our thanksgiving; thanksgiving, I mean, not in words, nor with the tongue, but in deeds and works, in mind and in heart; let us give thanks to Him with all our souls.

Here, he gives us new meaning to how we as Orthodox Christians can practice thanksgiving in our lives. He encourages all of us to give thanks to God with our entire soul. According to him, to achieve this we must focus on not only offering our thanksgiving to God with our prayers, but with our acts towards others.

One of my favorite verses from the Bible comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I never really thought about how I could incorporate the message of this verse in my everyday life until about a year ago.

In the summer of 2017, I was given an opportunity to travel to Rosarito, Mexico and spend a week working on building a home for the Ramirez family with Project Mexico. While building the home for the Ramirez family, we all saw how much they rejoiced with us every minute of the day with their radiant smiles and loving hospitality towards us.

We saw their love for Christ when they welcomed us into their home and made a group of thirty missionaries homemade meals every day, even though they barely had money to make ends meet. They were thankful for everything that they had, even though they had very little.

My greatest takeaway from this trip was not that I built a home for a family in need, but that I was able to learn from the Ramirez family what it means to rejoice always and give thanks for everything every single day.

This is why, I believe, St. John Chrysostom states that by helping others, we can and will be able to open our hearts and be able to learn how to be thankful to God with all our souls. Christ gives us many opportunities to give thanks to Him daily in different forms, either through Holy Communion or through good acts towards others. We just have to work on acting on those opportunities given to us by Christ so we can remember to give thanks to him daily and not just one month of the year.  


Hi everyone! My name is Joanna Psyhogios. I am from Wilmette, Illinois and I am a member at St. John the Baptist Church in Des Plaines Illinois. My first experience with OCF was during College Conference East and I have been active in participating in College Conference and OCF Retreats ever since. In my free time, I love to play and watch every sport, coach basketball to youth teams, watch movies and TV Shows, and play Jungle Speed (Shoutout to CC Midwest!). I am really excited to share what I have learned about the Orthodox faith through the OCF blogs!

When Thankfulness Is Hard

When Thankfulness Is Hard

Most often, I am truly thankful when I am not trying to be. There’s a sensation of gratitude overflowing in the soul when an unexpected blessing comes my way or when I happen to avoid an accident by some providential circumstance.

But when set occasions for thankfulness come around, such as the Eucharist or this holiday we call Thanksgiving, I find it difficult to replicate sincere gratitude which comes unexpectedly. Sure, I can always afford a few moments to say the prayer before devouring an inordinate amount of food on Thanksgiving. But deep down, I am painfully aware that this is not the same thankfulness that brings tears to my eyes after moments of crisis. It feels artificial, wrong even. Aware as I am of the fact that I am privileged beyond belief, there is no pain in my heart for those who are not. Tragically, I simply accept it as the reality and carry on, offering my lip service as though it is the best I have.

But this is not enough.

This is merely Cain’s offering, and we should strive to be like Abel, offering the best of ourselves to God. We are human beings endowed with spiritual faculties, not just lips. We were made for thanksgiving, as we are instructed in the holy Scriptures to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18).

As Christians, we ought to approach this American holiday not as an occasion to be proud of the relative prosperity we enjoy in this country but as a call to aspire to the state of humility, love, and thanksgiving which Christ intends for us to exist in perpetually.

So what do we do when we find ourselves stuck in this thanklessness? How can we get ourselves out? Perhaps what makes this state of thanklessness so frustrating is exactly the point: we cannot get ourselves out. There is no thanksgiving without love, and love is a gift. We do not “think” love into existence whenever we happen to have a need for it. In order to be thankful, we must accept the gift of love from Christ who is Love. If our hearts are closed to this gift, we will have nothing to offer God when we attempt to give thanks.

This realization highlights two important details about thanksgiving. The first is that thanksgiving is not merely gratitude for the opportunity to consume large quantities of material possessions. St. Basil the Great reminds us that our material excess does not belong to us at all:

The bread you are holding back belongs to the hungry; the coat you guard in your locked storage-boxes belongs to the naked; the shoes wasting away in your closet belong to those who have no shoes. The silver you hide in safekeeping belongs to the needy one.

Should we find ourselves in a state of material abundance, it is important that we understand God’s gift of love is revealed in part through His provision for our needs, and with excess comes the responsibility and the opportunity to participate fully in His gift of love through giving. Mercy is itself an active part of thanksgiving.

The second detail is that in contemplating Christ’s gift of love for us, we understand that like love, thanksgiving has both a subject and an object. Almost every religion values gratitude in some way. Even secular self-help literature tells us of the psychological benefits of practicing gratitude in meditation. This is not a bad thing per se, but I wonder: just who are we to be thankful to? We cannot be thankful for without someone to be thankful to. As Christians, we do not offer up our thanksgiving to some impersonal abstraction of causality, but to a person, Christ.

So let’s remember when we come to the table this Thanksgiving and bow our heads to pray: thanksgiving is not a mere obligation but a perpetual state of being to which we have been called, made possible by love of our Christ our God, who has brought us out of non-being into existence and provides for our needs so that we may continue to exist, always commending ourselves and our whole life to Him.


Hello! I’m Daniel Bishop, and I’m an Orthodox Christian and a contributing blogger for OCF. I study English at the University of Dallas, and I’m involved with youth and young adult ministries in my parish, my OCF chapter, and my local pan-Orthodox community. I enjoy studying classical languages and literature, playing music, traveling, rock climbing, and chanting. Feel free to contact me at dbishop@udallas.edu if you have any questions or comments.

Sending Thoughts and Prayers

Sending Thoughts and Prayers

Why does it seem like there’s so much hate and pain in the world? Shootings and many acts of violence plague our nation. Division in politics and the politicization of these traumatic events turn tragedy into arguments with seemingly no end in sight. The media paints a picture of our nation of intense pain and suffering of the people that desensitizes us to violence.

“Thoughts and prayers” are given freely on social media. Many people disregard their power either in their unfaithfulness or their desire to see political action. But are prayers that useless? No. We live in fallen world, so there is going to be pain, disease and suffering.

Prayers are a source of strength. They’re not supposed to be magic wishes to just make the problems go away. Tragedies happen, and that’s it, we can’t control it, but we can control our reaction to it. If we ask our Lord for strength, we can bear the tragedies ever more gracefully and with humility. We can really extend our hearts to those who need them through prayer. Sending prayers calls our Lord and His saints to grant forgiveness and bestow strength. Send prayers, partake in the healing that Christ grants.

In the Epistle reading from today, 1 Thessalonians 5:9-13 & 5:24-28, St. Paul gives us advice for how to conduct our lives within this fallen world:

Brethren, God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him. Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. Brethren, pray for us. Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. I adjure you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

The antidote for the suffering in the world is the peace of heaven which is experienced in our relationship with Christ Jesus. When we partake in the sacraments, pray to Him and do good things in His name, we can join in on the healing of the world and perform His will “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

Our generation is feeling a lot of loneliness and isolation that can tragically manifest itself in violence. Social media can connect us but also make us feel disconnected. We have to learn and force ourselves to go out into our lives and our college campuses to love as He loves. The pain and suffering can feel like there’s darkness all around us. Luckily, we have light, we have The Light and The Way! Be the beacon of God’s love that our world so desperately needs. Love so that you may bring light into the darkness, emboldened by God’s presence in your life and the humanity we all share.

Reminiscent is the morning prayer of St. Philaret,

“Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray Yourself in me. Amen.”

Next time you see a tragedy on the news, write down the names of the victims, pray for their souls, and pray for the strength of their families. Forgive others, and come to know Christ. Pray He strengthens you to participate in the healing and love that our fallen world thirsts for.

 

God Lives on the First Floor

God Lives on the First Floor

When my friends in our chapter of OCF told me about the Great Lakes retreat, I was initially very hesitant go with fall semester crunch-time descending upon us. In the end, however, I decided to go with them because the retreat was not only the weekend of my name day (the feast of St. Demetrios), but also the weekend of the 40-day memorial of my godfather, named Demetrios, who shares my patron saint. It seemed like a good time to say, “Homework can wait. I need to focus on God right now.” I am so glad I did.

The first evening of the retreat, we had a Paraklesis service at St. George Orthodox Church in Fishers, Indiana, opening our time together in prayer. Then we played icebreaker games before heading over to the house on the parish’s property, which they graciously provided for us to spend the night in. We stayed up late sharing our stories with each other, making up songs together, and confiding in one another about our struggles, questions, and concerns that are currently heavy on our hearts.

The second day, which we mostly spent at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Carmel, Indiana, largely focused on the discussion of our assigned topic, “Thou Art With Me: A Present God in a Broken World.” Mr. Niko Tzetzis gave us a fantastic presentation about Fr. Stephen Freeman’s book, Everywhere Present. In this book, Fr. Freeman explains the “two-story universe” theory. He states that the American culture in the 21stcentury conditions us to operate under the assumption that we live on the “first floor” of the universe, and that God lives on the “second floor” above us. Exiled to this distant second floor, God seems far from us and we rarely interact with Him except to ask Him for things. Our discussion led by Mr. Tzetzis was more impactful than just buying the book and reading it alone (though I highly recommend the book, I’m reading it now!) because we were able to speak to our specific, personal, and unique challenges in finding and acknowledging the constant presence of God. We worked together as individuals and as a group to find ways that we can increase our awareness of the fact that God does live on the “first floor” of the universe with us, and that He is present with us everywhere, always.

Along with the discussion of our topic, we had a service event! We cut up old plastic bags from grocery stores—which we had all saved for this event instead of throwing them away—and learned how to tie them together to make waterproof mats for people experiencing homelessness to sleep on. This event was a wonderful idea because it’s a practice that we can take back to our colleges, parishes, and OCF chapters. It is good for both the people receiving the mats and for the environment by reducing plastic waste!

There are many moments I will never forget, and I could write about this retreat for a very long time, but one moment stands out. On the second day, we put our phones away and had 10 minutes of quiet time in the nave at Holy Trinity. After this quiet time, Mr. Tzetzis gathered us all together and said, “I don’t know if you’ve heard…” My stomach immediately sank. He told us about the senseless violence that had occurred earlier that day at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Immediately, led by the priest at Holy Trinity, we prayed the Trisagion Service together for the victims. Mr. Tzetzis reminded us afterward that when we pray, we are praying simultaneously with the angels, the saints, the departed, and our Lord. They are all present with us everywhere and always in the reality of our one-story universe.

While I originally debated about attending the retreat, I’m overjoyed that I went. The power of the lifelong friendships you form and the spiritual refocusing you experience at OCF events is not to be underestimated. Yes, we have homework, jobs, hobbies, other student organizations, and every other worldly distraction you can think of. Despite these distractions, please always take the opportunity to attend OCF events, including but not limited to your regional and district retreats, College Conference, and Real Break. I promise you, whatever you give to OCF and to the Church, even if it is only your time, attention, and presence, you will receive back multiplied.


My name is Demetra Chiafos. I am currently a third year at The Ohio State University, where I am the secretary of our OCF chapter and am pursuing a dual degree in dance and the Japanese language. Two fun facts about me are that I play the piano and I love writing short stories and novels!

 

You Have to Ask Yourself the Hard Questions

You Have to Ask Yourself the Hard Questions

Last night I registered for my region’s regional retreat. It got me thinking about this year’s OCF theme: “Who do you say that I am?”

In context, the theme comes from Matthew 16:13-16. Take a moment to think about it.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

St. Peter takes the ultimate leap of faith, declaring Jesus as the Messiah. Thousands of years of Jewish tradition were fulfilled by the Person he was looking in the face. Peter did not know about the Resurrection or how his life would go, but in that moment he knew Jesus Christ was and is God. “Who do you say that I am” is an expression and confession of faith; it’s an opportunity, it’s an invitation, it’s a way of life, and it’s an inspiration. 

Let’s turn the attention personally. Who do YOU say that Jesus is? Yes you can ‘say’ He is God, but do you really live in that way? Do you know who He is? Can you even say who you are?

Ask yourself this hard question. Who do you believe Jesus is? If you don’t know, great; that’s an opportunity to grow in your faith. If you do know, do you act like you know who He is?

Jaroslav Pelikan talks about the duality in the reality of Christ. He says, “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen-nothing else matters.” 

There are two possibilities that his argument creates. If Christ is risen, then we have nothing to fear. Then we can know our Creator. We know His life, His sacrifice, and His love. Are you leading and living your life in the reality that Christ is truly Risen? Orthodoxy in its beginning was not a religion; it was and is “the Way” that people follow to get to know God.

Let’s look at the alternative, very nihilistic in essence. If Christ is not risen, that means we are still bound by death. That sin and brokenness don’t matter. It means that people are fallen, and there is nothing we can do it about it. It means that we can’t be refashioned into the image and likeness of God.

Who do you say that He is? Think about this question, and develop an answer because you will be called to answer that question either in this life or the next. Confess and live your faith.

And honestly, if you feel like you are losing faith, transform that feeling into an opportunity to learn more and ask why. St. Peter here confesses that Jesus as the Messiah,  during Christ’s crucifixion he denies Christ three times. Yet St. Peter repented and became one of the greatest evangelists in history, the rock on which Christ built His church.  Doubt and fear are a part of our fallen nature, but they can be a chance to grow spiritually.

“Who do you say that I am?” Who do you say that you are?”

Ask. Grow. Repeat.

There’s No I in Prayer

There’s No I in Prayer

Growing up participating in extracurricular activities, you learn a lot of life lessons that stick with you forever. One of the biggest lessons everyone learns at a young age is about the importance of teamwork.

Everyone knows the go to phrase that every coach or teacher would say constantly: “There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team.’” Whether you played sports, an instrument, performed in plays, or anything else, you were taught early on that teamwork makes the dream work. You learned that teamwork was one of the biggest keys in being successful.

Just like being a team player is essential to being successful in activities or careers, being a team player is also essential to growing our relationship with Christ and the Church. So how can we become team players in the Orthodox Church? Go to Church on a regular basis.

Why does going to Church make you a team player?

You are present with people who share your faith and you are worshiping together, as a family, as a team, leading each other into the Kingdom of Heaven.

The word “Church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia which in ancient Athens signified the citizens assembly. The Church is not meant to just be a place for individuals, it was created and designed to be a place for a multitudes of people to assemble and be immersed in their common faith. Think about the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is full of prayers that specifically focus on a group of people. After each petition, are the words “…let US pray to the Lord.” Not let ME pray to the Lord, but let US pray to the Lord. These prayers are meant for all of us, together as God’s faithful servants to come together and pray to the Lord.

In Matthew 18:20, Christ says “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” How cool is it to think about that? Christ said it to us Himself. He is in our midst when we all come together to pray in His name.

Coming together and praying as a team helps us to build a stronger connection not just to Christ, but to each other. When we worship Christ with others, we feel that we are part of the same team. We feel that we are struggling and getting through life together. The more people with whom we are praying, the stronger our prayers become, bringing us all closer to Christ and to each other.

So why can’t you pray on your own? You can, and you definitely should. Just like a professional athlete takes care of himself outside of practices and games, we should be taking care of our spiritual life when we are not present in the Church. But just like the professional athlete, it is required of us as Orthodox Christians to come together, as a team, and support each other in growing in our spiritual lives.

No one can struggle through life alone. We need our spiritual team to support us with our struggles in life. We need to be present at Church for our prayers to be united with the prayers of our teammates. We need to be present at Church and allow Christ to be in our midst.

So let’s work together to become closer to each other and Christ. Let’s gather in His Church and worship together as one team. Together we can pray with our team in order to live our dream in the Kingdom of God. 


Hi everyone! My name is Joanna Psyhogios. I am from Wilmette, Illinois and I am a member at St. John the Baptist Church in Des Plaines Illinois. My first experience with OCF was during College Conference East, and I have been active in participating in College Conference and OCF Retreats ever since. In my free time, I love to play and watch every sport, coach basketball to youth teams, watch movies and TV Shows, and play Jungle Speed (Shoutout to CC Midwest!). I am really excited to share what I have learned about the Orthodox faith through the OCF blogs!

Yes, college life is stressful (but you can transform it)

Yes, college life is stressful (but you can transform it)

Everyone feels stressed out, anxious or overwhelmed at some point in their college career. Some people feel it every week or even every day. Anxiety is a real clinical problem that is a result of our biology overreacting to stressful situations. If you feel like you may be clinically anxious or like your anxiety is unmanageable–seek help from a professional.

Anxiety itself is a spiritual problem and its solution is gifted when Christ offers himself in his wonderous mercy. By my spiritual father, I was told that many of Christ’s miraculous healings represent spiritual problems. The paralytic was rendered immobile by his physical sickness, spiritually, we can be rendered immobile by things like stress and anxiety. 

Therefore, we must turn to Christ to help alleviate that spiritual anxiety. The Epistle of St. Paul in his letter to the Phillipians shines light on the antidote to that stress:

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Phillipians 4 5:-9

St. Paul is instructing us not to worry! The antidote to anxiety is faith, and trust. We as people, hold a false understanding that we can control the things happening around us when we really can’t. What we actually need to do is to put our faith in God, and pray for the peace of the Holy Spirit. Christ has a plan for all of us, and we never can fully know what that path is! However, we can ask and we can receive guidance and peace if we pray for it humbly and respectfully.

It is incredibly difficult to fully put our faith in Christ. That requires a lot of effort and vulnerability. However, we can do some things to help alleviate stress. One of our best strategies to combat stress is to be prepared. When you’re prepared you’ll be assured that you have done your best in the situation and everything else is not something you can control. Another way is to find healthy ways to deal with stress like: working out, taking a hot shower, listening to music, or talking it out with a friend or family member. Just make sure that you do something healthy because stress is real.

College life is stressful. There’s so much pressure on us. But you can transform that stress and start your journey in acquiring the peace of the Holy Spirit!

Simon Says

Simon Says

Our theme for OCF this year is “Who do you say that I am” (Matthew 16:15). My favorite part of this verse is how Simon Peter responds. Simon says, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). When Jesus heard this, He calls Simon Peter his rock, and declares that on that rock He will build His church.

How cool would it be to have the Lord tell you that we were the rock He wants to build His church on, and yet we are all called to be that rock. So, thinking of Simon, I would like to share who Christ is to me.

I was once told that our hearts were a puzzle with a missing piece, and the only way that piece could be filled was with Christ. He is our missing puzzle piece. In my day to day life I tend to forget this. I try to find different things that fill the space a little bit but are inevitably the wrong puzzle pieces.

I have had a few roadblocks in my life, as I’m sure we all have. People would always tell me to use coping skills. We tried so many things like writing, playing music, writing music, running, and taking my dogs on walks (my personal favorite). These “coping skills” would work for a period of time, and to an extent, but they never made me feel truly better.

A few years ago, I learned how to make prayer ropes. It is still to this day one of my favorite things to do. One thing I found, was that my knots wouldn’t turn out unless I was praying while making them. So, I started praying, honestly just talking to God. I didn’t know what to say all the time, so a lot of it was the Jesus prayer. I got into the habit of praying when I did things that, when times of struggle came I would immediately pray. When I prayed, it wasn’t necessarily like all my problems were solved, but there was a sense of relief. I knew that the Lord heard me, being able to tell Him my thoughts and feelings was so comforting. Praying became my coping skill. I came to realize that the Lord is my best friend. Being able to talk to Him and knowing how much He cares for me is such a comforting thing. He will never turn His back on us because He loves us.

The coolest thing about Christ is that He always knows what we are going through.

“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). During Holy Week it is hard not to be moved by how much abuse Christ endured. To be spat on, lashed, to wear a crown of thorns, to have people telling you to save yourself, and to be betrayed by the one you love is not what I call the best day ever. Christ is also in each and every one of us. When we hurt, He hurts. When we suffer, He suffers. Our loving God will never turn His back on us.

I love the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy is talking to Mr. Tumnus about Aslan. Lucy is in awe of him and exclaims that she can’t believe he is a tame lion. The line that always gets me is Mr. Tumnus’s response. He tells Lucy that Aslan is not tame, but he is good. This was an eye opener for me. He is God, and “his mercy endures forever” (Psalm 135), and He is the One “who struck Egypt with their first born…who divided the Red Sea in two parts…who struck down great kings…it is He that remembered us in our low estate” (Psalm 135). Psalm 135 has to be one of the coolest passages, going back and forth as to how the Lord has shown mercy but isn’t “tame”. He walked on water! Parted the Red Sea! He is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

I challenge you all to think of who Christ is to you. Always remember our heavenly Father is ever present with us. When school gets hard or we hit a road block. The Lord was there, is there, and always will be there.


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!