In this space, I speak a lot about the limits and constraints that college life puts on our participation of the faith.
I’ve written about prayer, confession, service, almsgiving–all through the lens of our limits as poor, busy, terrified-for-our-future college students.
The intention there is clear–and, I believe, justified. As a ministry oriented towards college students and the Orthodox faith, it is appropriate that we would create resources to help college students address the obstacles between them and the ideal practice of their faith. It is also appropriate that we would share stories of success, of the aspects of our collegiate life that help us grow in our faith (see: reflections on OCF retreats/programs).
Of all of the sacraments and practices of the Church, however, I don’t think any one is as clearly helped by our college life than fasting.
Those are my two cents–they’re worth exactly two pennies. If your experience is different, which is entirely possible, then you may disagree. Furthermore, I am in no way saying that fasting is easy. It is not. I will struggle with it, whine (waaay too much) about it, and fail at it inevitable this season.
But my experience of fasting at college has always boiled down to pure, undiluted, individual choice.
Of course, most everything boils down to choice. Pray before you go to sleep? That’s a choice. Get up for church on Sunday mornings? That’s a choice. But in so many of these life choices, we can feel constrained and steered by many other external factors. We feel that these motivations and limitations rob us of our choice.
But fasting–the exclusion of meat and/or dairy from the diet–more easily distances itself from these limiting factors. Why? Because, at college, you have significant control over what you eat.
Let’s say you’re on a meal plan. Well, you typically walk into a large cafeteria that has many food options–and there’s going to inevitably be at least a vegetarian option, if not two or three. In that moment in which you hold the empty tray in your hands, there is nothing impeding your path to the pepperoni pizza, and there is nothing impeding your path to the salads. The call is yours.
Let’s say you aren’t on a meal plan–then you buy your own food. Yeah, if you have roommates who cook for the whole apartment, now you’re in a bit of a bind. You have to strike a balance between asking them to keep your dietary restrictions in mind for 40 days (less, because you won’t even be at college for some of them) and cooking your own food. But I believe that’s possible.
Especially because OCF has a fasting cookbook for you!
As I said at the beginning of this post, OCF helps address the obstacles between the college student and the full realization of their faith. Despite the extent to which I personally find fasting to boil down to a choice, you may not. That’s where the cookbook comes in. It’s full of recipes to help you make it through the fast, recipes that are so simple you can make many of them with nothing but a plate and a microwave.
Often, we leapfrog choice with willful ignorance. Because choice is hard–it forces us to evaluate what we truly value–and often leads to less instantly gratifying decisions, we attempt to circumvent it by denying its existence. We ignore the information that gives us the power to choose. We don’t learn the strategies, listen to the sermons, read the books, so we can pretend we did the best we could–because that was all we knew.
If you’ve arrived here–at the end of the post–then your choice in fasting has hopefully been exposed. If your mind, instinctively seeking an out, whispered an insistence that you didn’t have the means to cook fasting food for yourself, hopefully the cookbook proves a counter-punching resource for you.
It’s my favorite Bible quote–it seems to always apply–so let’s drop it right here to end this post. In the 13th chapter of John, Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet, reminded them that they view him as the Teacher, reminded them of all of the examples he has given them. He’s preparing to be Crucified. He then says:
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. – John 13:17
Note: If you have any cool fasting recipes/easy fasting treats or anything in between, the 2018 Lenten Cookbook is currently being compiled. Go here for a recipe submission form!
I couldn’t be more blessed with my parish here in Chicago.
There are tons of Orthodox churches all across the city. I know that different students from different OCFs way across the city go to different churches, but I’ve been fortunate enough to find the one in which I feel both comfortable and pushed to be better; welcomed, and supported.
Parish life can be something over which we gloss in OCF. Many of our pillars–fellowship, education, service–replicate exactly those that are utilized by the many healthy parishes across the nation. OCF organizes service trips; so do many churches. OCF organizes Scripture study and book readings; so do many churches.
Now, OCF serves these similar functions as the parish for a distinct reason: As a college student, it can be quite tricky to become engaged in these aspects of parish life. Church youth groups are often geared toward younger students, and rightfully so: once those youth leave for college, they can no longer be members of the group.
Meanwhile, the adults of the parish–even those on the younger side–have likely been members of the parish for a few years. Their concerns are perhaps starting a family, settling in to their profession, creating a state of permanence that a nomadic college student simply cannot. They’re at a different stage in their life.
And accordingly, OCF creates a community of the like-minded, similar-staged college students, that we may be buttressed by these pillars of education and fellowship and service in the Church.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Bill Colclough.
That being said, we must recognize a crucial point: Both college life, and by extension, OCF life are not meant to replicate the aforementioned permanence of a fledgling adult who has landed in a home, has a home parish, and has some real consistency to their lives. College and OCF life are, by their nature, transient.
We forget this because we spend years–long, hard, awful years–in high school being told that the end is college; that we must appropriately cite our sources, because we will have to do that in college; that we must do extracurricular activities, because colleges will like that. Our paradigm for decision-making and effort is solely based on college as an end goal. But it is not an end. It is a means to an end.
The end of all things is Christ. The end of all things is the second coming and eternal salvation in the Kingdom of Heaven. As Orthodox Christians, standing in the face of this truth, everything we do must be geared toward arriving at this end as prepared and humble servants; as guests wearing the wedding garments; as virgins with oil in our lamps.
As such, my encouragement to you today is to examine: what are your ends? Do you do what you do to get good grades? To get a good job? To make money? To have a family? To live a happy life? Perhaps, even, do you do what you do because it feels good in the moment? I cannot tell you how you should divide your efforts on a daily basis, but I do know that the Lord said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” If there’s something in your life that isn’t leading you to the kingdom, you have to sit and think about that.
It is in this mindset and in this spirit that I return to my original point: I am so blessed with the parish that I have. It is youthful, thriving, and joyous. If I wanted to show anyone what Orthodoxy looks like–not in a monastery on a hill or a village in the home country–but in the center of a city in America, I would take them here.
But I don’t participate in that parish nearly as much as I should. Don’t get me wrong: I go to church every week that I’m in Chicago. (Okay, I was really sick like two weeks ago, but you get the point.) But my involvement with OCF–good, valuable, important to me–fools me into believing that I needn’t involve myself with my parish.
However, I know that, as the future rolls ever toward me, parish involvement is on my horizon. I know that, to make it to the kingdom, I need a home parish. I need that stability, that consistent involvement, those people who know me well through my faith. I know that my opportunities to serve, to learn, and to commune will no longer come from OCF in the nearing future. And I have to start preparing for that.
My prayer is that the Lord helps me do this. It is difficult, to pull oneself far back, to such a wide-reaching perspective–but, it allows the self to make more level-headed, forward-thinking decisions. It is only by looking at the long-term can we gain the insight needed to change the short-term.
On Saturday, October 21, college students of the NYC Area gathered for YES NYC’s College day. The day turned one participant’s perspective on its head.
As 16 of us arrived at the parish of St. Mary Magdalen in The Upper West Side, we quickly became a little community, only growing stronger during the twenty-minute walk to our service site. From what was then our college-specific community would soon transition into something, I at least, could have never imagined. The growth of our experiences gradually expanded from the community that we thought we knew, into one intertwined in service for and with those among us.
Upon reaching Harlem’s Emmaus House, their sole volunteer for that day unassumingly received us. There, she provided us with the opportunity to package food for those who would later come seeking it.
YES does an incredible job debunking common perceptions of helping versus serving. Riddling out that distinction brings about many difficult challenges. Walking into a quieter Emmaus House with no one “needy” in sight was discouraging. After all, I signed up for this in hopes of growing in a deeper understanding of service, with a sprinkle of enlightenment from the “other” before me. And that makes for a great reflection, right?
What I failed to realize, however, is that service knows no limits. My preconceived notions painted a false hierarchy–I was the helper, seeking to serve others in need–and as such, a surprise would come from someone I least expected. And there lies the problem: the fact that I first held of view of someone other than myself as “least.”
The true manifestation of service around us emulated from this volunteer’s language of love. She did not reserve it for any specific type of person. While not directly encountering those we assume live in need, we instead heard her incredible journey in Christ; which in turn, proved to meet a need of our own. Those of us who later voiced reflection were extremely struck by her humble presence and steadfast trust in Him. We found her to be of service to us more than anything we could offer her in return.
Therefore, she prompted our new reality of an encompassing community, as the later half of our day took to Marcus Garvey Park. We met various locals, most of whom welcomed us into the neighborhood and shared bits of their lives with us. Fulfilling what we had encountered during our time at the Emmaus House, we were blessed with the opportunity to live out what we had learned–to meet people for who they were and where they happened to be in life.
Come debriefing, one participant shared a quote (as paraphrased), “wherever you find yourself in life, is exactly where God wants you to be in that moment”; and boy did this make for the day’s message. Following a reading of Matthew 25:31-46, an unprecedented silence that truly captured what words cannot came across our group. It felt like the perfect note to end on. Just as Christ speaks of hunger, food and clothing, so too does he raise the necessity of a stranger being invited in.
Thank you to everyone at FOCUS North America for organizing Yes College Days, and everything Christ illumines through their service. Glory to God for all things!
Hello, friends! My name is Nicholas Zolnerowich, and I am also a person who now does these blog things. I’m currently chugging my way through my junior year at UMBC, where I am a bio/psych double-major pre-med student. When I’m not in class or doing homework, you can usually find me hiking in the woods, procrastinating, or engaging in baguette sword fights (one of those is incorrect).
This is the part where I’d love to give you a crazy inspiring story of why I joined OCF: I joined, not because of my devotion to Christ (it’s not that great), or my desire to bond with other Orthodox college students (I hate socializing), or my soaring spiritual life and how I exude incense while I pray (that one’s actually true). That would be pretty neat.
The truth is, I joined OCF because I was expected to. My parents, my parish priest, and my camp friends all acted like it was the norm. I didn’t want to be the one heathen that didn’t belong to an OCF, so I showed up to my first meeting entirely due to peer pressure.
There were five people there (I knew none of them) and it was one of the most awkward two hours of my life (for those of you who don’t know me, I would rather fight a horde of extremely crotchety beavers than experience a new social situation). I seriously considered never going back…but they knew my name now! My face was in their systems. If I stopped going, they would see me around campus, stare me down, and whisper about me to their taller, more attractive, bearded friends.
by Tom via flicker
And that peer pressure, the same peer pressure that convinced me to go in the first place, convinced me to come back. And come back again. And keep coming back every Monday for the last three years. And boy, am I glad I did.
Why? Well, I’m glad you asked, slightly skeptical reader. It really comes down to peer pressure. Everyone who’s anyone can tell you about peer pressure: you’re a sweet innocent kid who has stuck to decaf your whole life, but if you let yourself be surrounded by friends who think caffeine is hip, suddenly you’re knocking back espresso like it’s gosh-darn 1999.
Peer pressure is talked about to the point where it’s kind of goofy, but with some perspective, I think we can all acknowledge it’s a serious thing. It convinces us to drink dangerously or illegally, to not cross ourselves in public, to avoid talking openly about our Faith, or to not wear Crocs in public. Peer pressure can be insidious.
But we rarely hear about the flip side: peer pressure can push us in the right direction. The same influence that makes us not want to be the one guy not drinking at a party is the same influence that makes us not want to be the one guy that doesn’t show up at Saturday Vespers, the one guy that isn’t fasting, the one guy that slacks off with their faith, and it’s that peer pressure that saved me.
When the pressures and desires and passions that are part of the standard package at most colleges began to pull me away from the Church, when that pull became too strong for me, the knowledge that I would be missed if I stopped going to church kept me going. The desire to fit in the best possible way with the best possible people held me up when I wasn’t at my best; and hopefully by God’s grace I have provided that influence to somebody else as well.
That’s why I took this blog person position, and why I’m excited about it. The support I have been given has helped me get this far, and even though I’ve got a long way to go, I’ve “seen some stuff.” I’m grateful for the experiences and mistakes I’ve been able to learn from, and grateful for the chance to pass some of that on.
College is tough. We lose our support system. We lose the people who pushed us in the right direction and find ourselves often surrounded by people going the other way. That’s why OCF matters. That’s why it’s so important.
We hold each other up, improve each other, guide each other in the right direction. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Join OCF, join a parish, stay connected however possible. It is our responsibility and privilege, as children of God, to sharpen our brothers and sisters and to let ourselves be sharpened as well.
Nicholas Zolnerowich is a junior biology student at UMBC, where he is also the president of his OCF. He enjoys the outdoors, superheroes, and talking about himself in the third person.
I’m going to boast on someone else’s behalf, for a second.
Last spring, the then-Chairman of the Student Leadership Board, Emma Solak (some relation, maybe), spoke at the Orthodox Youth and Camp Workers Conference. She was brought in to discuss what it meant to “Keep the Faith” in college, and why there was less to fear than we sometimes fool ourselves into believing.
That’s not really the boast part, yet.
Fast-forward to September: A Serbian church in Merrillville, Indiana–St. Sava–was looking to better engage the youth of their parish. The core group, that had helped establish the church and brought it through its growing years, was beginning to pass away or grow too old to continue carrying the torch. In order for St. Sava to remain a healthy, proud parish, the next generation would have to step up into the shoes of the one before it.
In effort to engage their youth, the parish sought speakers for their 103rd anniversary banquet–speakers geared towards addressing the younger members of the church. And, on the magical website called YouTube, they found one: Emma.
I was able to accompany Emma on her trip to Indiana, where we were blessed with the hospitality and passion of the Historical Society and hosts at St. Sava. Driving back to Chicago, two things struck me:
Firstly: youth in the Church is not all doom and gloom. You could see that at St. Sava. Some of the young members of the church received awards for their service to their parish, their dedication in fulfilling their responsibilities. In the massive banquet hall, children ran around at every turn. There were three age levels of Serbian dance, and a choir of adorable little munchkins that sang traditional Serbian songs.
We talk about the difficulties of retaining youth in the church because, frankly, it is important to retain youth in the church, and it can be difficult. That being said, it is important that we enjoy and recognize those youth that still staunchly remain in our parishes across the nation.
Retaining youth isn’t a numbers game, nor is it some sort of forced captivity–keep them in parishes long enough until they grow old enough to know they need the Church. We should spend intentional time appreciating the presence of youth in our church, no matter how small, and seek to understand why they enjoy and thrive in the Church as they do.
Secondly, I was struck by that service that OCF could render: providing a speaker, fresh out of college, to a church seeking such an individual. We talk at lengths regarding the manner by which OCF serves us–what programs OCF offers, how it can help us. We also sometimes consider, “What we can do, through OCF, that serves others.” Real Break, YES College Days, these programs in which we tell OCF we want to give back, and OCF points us at people in need.
But we, as members of the Body of the Church not just OCFers in a program, regardless of age and occupation and schooling level–we have talents to give to the Church. Emma spoke to St. Sava’s church, in part because of her experience with OCF, but not as representative of OCF–she spoke as a young woman who was strong and active in the Church. We can all be that! We all should be that.
The further away OCF floats from that pure idea–forming persons who are strong and active in the Church–the more it becomes just another student organization. It loses its true purpose: equipping us, not for being OCF members, but for being real, live, actual Christians.
Hello friends! For those of you who followed the blog last semester, hi again! It’s good to see you, and I hope that midterms haven’t been too terrible. And to newcomers to the blog, I AM SO GLAD YOU’RE HERE.
Ben has been kind enough (or maybe I conned him into it . . . we may never know) to invite me back as a Blog Contributor for this semester! If you remember from spring (and absolutely no worries if you don’t), I was a senior, which means that I’ve now (gasp) graduated. But isn’t OCF just for college students? Au contraire, my friends. OCF is for students under the age of twenty-five, so I’m not-so-stealthily sneaking by.
This is a bowl Kiara made for me (it’s Ben). It is now my sugar bowl. I love it lots.
Anyway, having graduated in May, I’m now working on a master’s degree in art therapy at George Washington University (don’t be fooled, I’m not really that smart—God definitely had a hand in getting me accepted). Though I’m no longer an art major, you can still frequently find me covered in clay, and my love for wandering in the woods, writing poetry, and knitting hasn’t changed. Write me a poem about ceramics, and I just may love you forever.
[Ben Note: can confirm.]
If you recall from my posts last semester (or if you don’t), the university I attended was pretty intensely secular. No OCF, the nearest Orthodox church was an hour and a half away, and I was the only practicing Orthodox student on campus. Not exactly the thriving community you’d hope for. Things like this blog, College Conference, and OCF retreats were some of the only lifelines I had to our faith, and staying connected was more than a bit difficult. To be frank, it was lonely and hard and very definitely not fun. 10/10 would not recommend.
Fast forward to today, aaaaaaand the school I currently attend doesn’t have an OCF either. I know, I know, I can hear you guys are shaking your heads and asking why I don’t learn from my mistakes. But hear me out; it’s not as bleak as you think. I’m now sharing living space with another young Orthodox adult (shout out to Rose for being the best Dox roommate I could ask for), church is only thirty minutes away (!!!), and GMU (which is about fifteen minutes away from my house) has a budding OCF! Being in the D.C. area, there are a TON of college-age Dox people, and we’re carving out our own little community.
The moral of this story is, whether your school has a massive, flourishing OCF or you’re the only one on campus, there’s hope. And OCF is here to lend a hand and a hug if you’ll have us.
One of the things my professors stress (over and over and over) in class is that 90% of being an art therapist is listening. It’s not about giving advice, and it’s not about you being omniscient and solving people’s problems. Just listen. Reflect back what they’re saying, and be the sounding board that lets them find their own solutions.
I think there are any number of parallels here, both with OCF and with our relationship with God. (I know it’s a little ironic for me to be going on about listening when I’m doing all the talking, but bear with me.) First of all, how frequently are we called to be still, or to be silent, and to seek God that way?
At the risk of being cliché, think of Elijah; the voice of God wasn’t in wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the gentle whisper after. No matter the tempests of our life, help does come. And it comes when we take time to listen.
Relating that idea to OCF and to this blog, it’s our job to listen to and for you. I can blather on all I like about whatever pops into my cluttered mind, but it’s of no use to you if it isn’t something you need. So please, reach out to us—to Ben, to Mark, to Nick, to me, to anyone you’d like—and tell us what you need, what’ll be beneficial to you. At the risk of speaking for my fellow Contributors, I think it’s safe to say that none of us took this position because we think we have earth-shatteringly good ideas; we took it because we want to walk with you as we all try to walk in faith. So if you’ll have me, let’s walk a little farther together.
Kiara (her Arabic-speaking friends like to call her cucumber, because apparently a khiara is a cucumber in Arabic—who knew?) Stewart is a first-year grad student at George Washington University. When she’s not reading endless art therapy texts or busy making art, Kiara likes to spend her free time reading, hiking, and hanging out with the Amish.
It’s really, really tough to be a college student in a time of crisis.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently–how could you not? In the football-related work that I do, I interact with a really large network of people around the country–which is awesome, but also quite eye-opening. As such, I worked directly with a few people who had to evacuate and experienced flooding during Hurricane Irma; because it’s football work, I was exposed a ton to Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt’s national campaign to raise money for Houston following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey; a lot of media folks live in California, where fires have been burning homes and polluting the air; and that doesn’t even touch those in Puerto Rico, many of whom are currently without clean water.
Things are not good on the natural disaster front.
As a college student, this can be incredibly frustrating. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have the funds with which you can make a monetary impact on these events as each arrives–if so, count your blessings. I would venture to say that many of us aren’t there.
The question becomes, of course, what can we do? I don’t have a comprehensive list, nor am I well-versed in all of the various opportunities/outlets that exist (please comment below and on social media with cool stuff you do), but I can tell you about what I think and what I’ve done.
I think it’s very easy to forget that our greatest agency, whether we can give $1 or $1,000, isn’t in the money we give, but rather our prayers. And we really have to be careful of muddling that priority list: reducing prayer to “well, at least I’m doing this” or “well, I can’t really give that much, so I’ll pray instead.” Because donations are more publicly visible, more empirically tangible, they feel more impactful.
When you give money online to relief funds, bright little graphics pop up, and you’re thanked by the program and so on. Why? To make you feel that initial jolt, that rush of altruism. When you pray for the suffering, when you pray for the first responders, when you pray for the safety of the world, you’re usually rewarded by the same stillness and silence of the room in which you are. Little emoji prayer hands don’t start popping up, as if you’re gaining experience points in some video game.
The hope is, of course, that your prayer is so fervent and heartfelt that you might truly experience, viscerally, that interaction you just had with God’s grace and mercy. The reality–at least for me–is that I’m not nearly a good enough supplicant to regularly have that experience. And, as such, it is easy to feel effete and irresponsible–like we are not doing enough. But there is nothing we can do–mankind, in all of our combined efforts–that holds a candle to what the Lord can do, through his long-suffering and compassion. It is important to remember this.
via Wikimedia Commons
It is also important, however, to do what we can in the world with our resources. Remember the tale of the man on the roof in the flood who denied the boat and the helicopter and the rescuers, because he was so faithful God would save him. When he died and saw God, he asked why God had not rewarded his faith: God said that He had…with a boat and a helicopter and rescuers.
So, what can we do, in the face of our limited resources? The first, easiest answer is to give what we can. Sure, one college student may not offer much–but there’s quite a good deal of us in OCF, you know. Through our community, our efforts are multiplied.
We can also recognize that immediate aid to places in dire need, while primary and necessary and invaluable, isn’t the only aid. On Real Break New Orleans this past March, a few of my fellow students and I toured through the Lower Ninth Ward, beholding destruction you wouldn’t believe happened twelve years ago. OCF offers many activities that are service-based–primarily a giving of time, rather than a giving of money–throughout the year, including YES College Days and Real Break trips.
Finally, I think it’s important to do little things–no matter how small. Not simply for the sake of it–just to say you did–but because, as an Orthodox Christian, giving to those in need should become a fixture of your life. Remember, the values and habits you construct now follow you into adulthood–without a dedication to helping those in need now, you’ll struggle to develop the habit when you have the resources. Using small, convenient outlets like freerice.com or Charity Miles help you have a consistent impact, without putting you in a financial bind.
Welcome to college: with an increase in choice comes an increase in responsibility. One of my favorite Bible quotes comes from Jesus (shocker), when He was hyping the disciples up in the upper room before His Crucifixion–I’ve probably told this to every camper I ever had:
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
– John 13:17
You know things. But that isn’t enough. That just gets you to the battlefield–now, you’ve gotta do stuff, too. It’s time for action.
It’s a question that has bothered me, over my time as a young adult making the effort. You all know that kid in your one discussion class? The one who has an opinion about, um, everything? Always dropping unnecessarily big words that they don’t even properly understand? Convinced they have great insight worthy of sharing at the drop of a hat?
Sometimes, that’s how I felt about reading the Scriptures at a personal level. I don’t think I’m nearly as good at reading and understanding the Scriptures as, say, the priest I see every Sunday who went to seminary and learned how to interpret the Bible. I mean, if understanding Scripture were easy, there wouldn’t be a big talk right after the Gospel reading to unpack what was just said. I didn’t want to become the “that guy” who reads through something incredibly complex and fools himself into thinking he understands it.
And, funnily enough, that fear has shaped a lot of my experience reading through the Scriptures so far. If you flip through my copy of the Bible, you’ll find way more question marks in the margins than anything else. Focused on my lack of understanding, I’ve had the experience of learning some while reading the Bible, but asking and wondering even more.
But it’s not a bad wondering. I’m not at the place where I feel I don’t understand my faith or that the Bible is saying things that surprise me and shock me. It’s a good wondering–it proves that my faith is dynamic, layered, and alive. Sure, there are question marks in the chapters and verses not read in the Sunday cycle of Bible readings, but there are plenty of question marks in the familiar parables as well.
Also–and this may shock you–reading something daily is better than reading something weekly. Honestly, it surprised me–my experience reading the Scriptures consistently has helped color in the gaps between the Gospel narrative provided by only a weekly dip. I promise you, I had no idea how often Jesus “got on a boat and went to the other side” until I started reading Matthew every single day of the week.
But that’s just a casual example: reading the full narrative elucidates the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees, Jesus and his disciples, the people and Jesus Christ. You come better to understand how immediately Jesus starting challenging the law and foreshadowing the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
If you’re like me, you’re reading something for class every single day. If you’re reading something for Classic English Lit on the daily, and you’re not reading Scripture on the daily, which is important to you? Which will have a greater influence on your life? You’re getting to class every day (at least, you’re telling your mom you are)–but you can’t get to church every day, can you?
Me? I watch football literally every. single. day. If I’m not finding a way to actively, intentionally, hungrily engage with my faith on the daily, I’m losing spiritual ground to a game. That’s not good.
So I read the Scripture because I’m quite fearful of what might happen if I don’t. I’ll distance myself from my Lord, keeping Him at a distance and keeping my faith as a static, placid entity that I’ve fooled myself into believing I fully understand. That sounds lazy, irresponsible, and scary. And I want to avoid things like that.
I use MyBiblePlans.com to create my schedule (it’s fully customizable). It uploads directly to my Google Calendar, so I can get handy little notifications on my phone.
I am back for another year of contributing to the OCF blog, and I am charged with the task of reintroducing myself, and I wonder what might be worth saying.
Rather than sharing the same tired anecdotes about my extracurricular activities and favorite Netflix shows, I have chosen the words of the great poet Kahlil Gibran to try to give you insight into the idea that has been dominating my thoughts. Maybe this will be a better way to get to know me.
“We are all beggars at the gate of the temple, and each one of us receives his share of the bounty of the King when he enters the temple, and when he goes out. But we are all jealous of one another, which is another way of belittling the King.”
This poem from Gibran’s Sand and Foam captures a deep truth that most of us fail to recognize: we are all
in search of the same things. We all want to be valued, we all want to be filled with joy, we all want to be at peace, and most of all, we all want to be loved. “We are all beggars at the gate of the same temple.”
We are all promised these things from a myriad of different types of places and people. Every advertisement we see on television is subtly (or often times, not so subtly) telling us that another material product will be the answer to our search. Our social environments often try to convince us that certain worldly lifestyles will be what we are looking for. If we use enough of the right drugs or go to the right parties with the right people, we will find the peace and joy we so desperately seek. However, as Gibran reminds us, the true treasure comes from the King alone—the King of Kings, I might add.
When we doubt the King, or when we doubt that amidst all the worldly promises, Christ is the only one who can deliver on his divine promises, we belittle him. Hopefully, through this blog, we might try to take a look at some of those promises and how God—the King—delivers on them.
For those of you who were truly interested, my favorite show on Netflix is The West Wing, I am a senior at the University of Michigan studying economics, I enjoy reading, and I am the Vice-President of my OCF chapter.
I hope all of you are enjoying your first weeks back at school, and for those just entering college, I hope the adjustment has gone well. May we keep a clear enough vision to see who is promising us what, and may God grant us the strength to put our hope in Him who is the answer to all of our searching.
Mark Ghannam is a senior studying economics at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. His hobbies include beard growing, obsessing over Ancient Faith Radio podcasts, and Michigan football. Catch him rock climbing, reading, or browsing Reddit.
Hey gang! It is my sincere pleasure on this hump day to introduce y’all to our Blog Contributor program for 2017.
If you were with us last year, you’ll remember the onset of the Blog Contributor program. Blog Contributors are once-a-month authors, who often have one topic on which they write and provide different perspectives thereof. These students are from OCFs all across the nation, at varying stages of their college life, and the pieces they write help reach the nooks and crannies of OCF that one person could not hope to on his own.
Tasya, as a Blog Contributor *wipes tear*
We return two contributors from last year, in Mark Ghannam and Kiara Stewart, and welcome a new face in Nicholas Zolnerowich. One of our contributors from last year, the lovely and exceptional and can-you-tell-I-miss-her-work, Anastasia Lysack, moved on to become our Podcast Student Leader on the Student Leadership Board.
But I also want to take this moment to tell you more about the expansion of the Blog Contributor program. After it received good feedback and success in the early half of 2016, we grew the program, to accommodate twice as many contributors (from three to six). The first group posted on Fridays; the second group, on Saturdays. This accordingly increased the frequency of posts on the OCF blog as a whole, from three times a week (Mon-Wed-Fri) to four times a week.
This year, we’re looking to start off with six contributors from the jump, to continue giving OCF students across the nation an opportunity to regularly share their experience of Orthodoxy in college and look to help others through a similar process. So, if you’re a regular reader of the OCF blog and would like to become a Blog Contributor, you have an opportunity to do so!
Previous blogging experience is not required, but highly recommended for the Blog Contributor positions. Regular attendance to an OCF chapter (if available in your area) and participation in OCF events throughout the year is, however, expected.
There are very limited spots, of course, and it is impossible to accommodate everyone. If you’re interested in becoming a Blog Contributor, you should email Ben (that’s me!) at email@example.com. Applications for the positions will close on Saturday, October 21st. If you have previous blogging experience (such as writing a reflection for the OCF blog!), please link that work in your email.
Some of the Blog Contributors’ previous work will be linked below, so you can read the awesome work they’ve done over the past year. You can always search “Blog Contributor” to find all of their archived work.
If you apply for the position but aren’t selected, don’t worry! Guest Authors are welcomed and loved here on the OCF blog–any time you attend a retreat, YES College Day, Praxis Program, Real Break trip, College Conference, we’d love to hear about it and post your reflection here on the OCF Blog.
If you have any questions, please email Ben (still me!) so he can answer them and also tell you a joke. This is a limited-time offer of emails with really bad Dad jokes inside of them. You don’t want to miss out, folks.
That’s a sad reality, a tough reality, but let’s call it what it is: a lot of the experiences offered and knowledge presented to us create some degree of friction with the practices and teachings of the Church. Not all of it, of course!–but a good deal.
And this isn’t exclusive to college–that’s important to note. A lot of the experiences and knowledge of the world itself, fallen and broken, create some degree of friction with the Church. College is just our current context for that friction. It is the environment in which we are.
I want to tell you a story. It’s an amazing story, but in order for it to be amazing, we’ve gotta start with a bad story.
In my first year at the University of Chicago, I was put in a temporary dorm–Broadview Hall, almost a mile away from campus. It was a retired hotel in which us lucky first-years were holed up as Campus North Residential Commons (audience: oooh!) were constructed. Some griped, but I loved it. I had a single dorm with my own bathroom, there was always breakfast in the fridge downstairs and a rickety elevator that broke every other day.
I was in Room 527. Across the hall, in Room 524, was a young woman who we will call…Hannah. Hannah and I were both first years, so we went through the glorious rigmarole of orientation week together. Obviously, there were a ton of first-years with us, but Hannah was aggressively outgoing and friendly. For those of you who know me, I’m also socially…exuberant. So we chilled and had a good time.
via Wikimedia Commons
Hannah was obsessed with trains. Every time we rode Chicago’s L into the city, she was over the moon. Her room, across the hall from mine, faced east–you could only see buildings. My room faced the Metra line.
When Hannah discovered this, she immediately asked if she could come study in my room so she could also watch the trains. I mean, I was down. Hannah was super entertaining and was struggling to make any solid friendships early on, so I figured it was a good thing to do.
And then one day, Hannah asked me about the ‘pictures’ on top of my fridge. They were my icons.
I don’t know if I thought we could have avoided the topic entirely, somehow–or maybe, naive as a first-year, I imagined the conversation going far easier in my head. You see, Hannah had made it very clear from the first day of orientation that she had strong views on a ton of tough contemporary issues–and I knew those views would put her at odds with a lot of the Church’s teachings.
So she asked me about the pictures; I told her they were icons and that I was an Orthodox Christian. So, she asked me what that meant, what I believed, and so on. As best as I could at the time, I tried to communicate the Orthodox views in a sympathetic and non-confrontational manner, also asserting that I wasn’t nearly the ideal source for some of these difficult questions.
Hannah left my dorm room and never spoke to me again. She would up and leave tables if I sat down at them for a while, though she stopped with that eventually. Still, she hasn’t said a word.
Now, obviously, Hannah is an extreme case. As I said, she was a little socially awkward, so I don’t think she was adequately equipped to handle such a situation. But that experience soured me–hard–on how college and the Church interfaced. Reading through Genesis and St. Augustine and Dante across my first year of school, and hearing all of the…different interpretations thereof, didn’t help either.
But fast-forward to the amazing part of the story: right now, in my third-year at college. I’m taking a Russian Civics class, and the second week has been all about the varying religious and cultural beliefs of the Slavic regions, and the eventual onset of Christianity and precipitation into one giant big ole Russia.
via Wikimedia Commons
I mentioned during a comment in class that I’m Russian Orthodox. Since then, my professor–who won’t stop calling me Sam incidentally–has turned to me multiple times for my input on comments he makes or to help answer questions from students. I passed my cross around class so folks could look at it–I modeled what the three-bar cross looks like, because it was on the frocket of my AV Male Staff 2017 shirt (shoutout AV Male Staff 2017).
I had this awesome experience of Christianity in college. Just rad and a half. I got to stand there and explain what I believe, field questions, and make clarifications to a group of people that–for the most part–seemed interested in and respectful of what I was saying. And it was so dope.
Maybe to them I was just a peculiar echo of a long-passed novelty; someone clinging to silly beliefs. If that’s their judgment, that’s okay. College has always been a place for me where my faith isn’t treated with respect or as legitimate. But last week, that changed a little bit–I got a taste of the greener grass on the other side.
We always hear about the persecuted fathers of the Church–of St. Paul getting scorned and stoned and chased out of town for trying to live, unashamedly, a good and holy and just life.
And we remember St. Paul and the church fathers, not only because they went through this, but because they weren’t embittered, jaded, worn down, or defeated. They remained thankful (#GloryToGod), resilient, faithful, and humble.
I had written off college, I think. I’d encourage you to avoid a similar trap. The world has beauty if we don’t dull our eyes and relinquish our efforts in finding it, and every once in awhile, someone out there has ears to hear.
I think October may be my favorite month of the OCF season. Obviously, it’s Orthodox Awareness Month, so a ton of chapters across the nation are completing challenges and racking up points as they grow the influence and awareness of their OCF chapter. That’s unquestionably dope.
October is also awesome because there’s so many things for which to register–College Conference and Real Break are the first two, big programs that come to mind. The majority of the registrants for these programs come in this month, as students start planning how they’ll stay involved with OCF over their breaks.
But my favorite part of October is the massive swell of Regional Retreats (and other regional/district events, such as YES College Days). Though those big national programs have great merit, the power of OCF will always be the chapter life, and from the chapter life effortlessly blossoms the district and regional community.
Which brings us to the best thing ever: Regional Retreats.
Peter Savas, ladies and gentlemen
If you’re in the Midwest (what’s good fam?) then I have great news and terrible news: you have a Regional Retreat coming up!…and it’s already full. But hey: Northeast and Northwest–get a move on!
Mid-Atlantic? Yinz..Y’inz’s?…y’all’s already happened. Hope you didn’t slack.
I like to tout district and regional events as that natural extension of chapter life, but even for folks like me without a chapter, regional life becomes all the more crucial. It is the closest replacement for chapter life that can be achieved. I still remember my first Regional Retreat fondly: organized by current SLB chairwoman Nicole Petrow (but not really, shouts to Amelia Barron and Alexandra Mamalakis), it finally gave me a taste of that which I always imagined OCF provided.
I rolled up to Kenosha, Wisconsin in Peter Savas’s car, having endured the 1.5 hour trip through the Red Line and the Blue Line to make it to some church in northwest Chicago I didn’t even know. I sat in the back seat with Deanna Kolas and learned things about Minnesohta, like how to correctly pronounce Minnesohta.
We arrived late (100% Peter’s fault) and slid in to Fr. Patrick Reardon’s keynote session. Fr. Patrick’s mind-blowing, gang. He’s one of these priests that’s been everywhere and interfaced with every faith you can imagine and he just sat at a table with a Bible in front of him, quoting Scripture at least 200 times.
And he didn’t even open the Bible once. It was just there for show. The whole thing was up in his head.
He talked about the Stoics and Epicureans, the roles of women in the church, stupid stuff that Paul did when he was evangelizing. I just sat there and thought to myself how he could probably take any one of my professors to town and back four times over. I’m pretty sure Peter and I also ended up busting out in silent laughter for some reason–you know, that pinch-your-nose-and-grab-your-sides-cause-you’re-trying-not-to-make-noise laughter? Can’t for the life of me remember why. I feel like Welch’s fruit snacks were involved, but that’s all I’ve got.
Fr. Pat, with Bible.
I had cool camp connections with a bunch of people I didn’t think I would–I knew Elias Pagones’ sister and somebody’s else’s friend or cousin or something. Maria Pavlos and I talked bands (Glass Animals is Top-5 and alt-J is Top-3 don’t @ me) for like, two hours around the bonfire, and then proceeded to have a random Facebook Messenger conversation about it a few weeks post-retreat. Alexandra Mamalakis and I talked half-marathons and all the smart people in her family at 1 in the morning.
And we served a Paraklesis by candlelight. That was a fantastic Paraklesis.
Everything I ever wanted to get out of OCF, I got in little bite-sized pieces over that weekend. I miss St. Iakovos Retreat Center and the hanging icons in the tiny chapel and the unique icon of Christ in the welcome lodge. I miss that written telephone game and the huge monastery where I went to communion at the wrong time.
And that Midwest Retreat that’s all filled up? Yeah, I’m one of the names on the outside looking in.
I’ve got work that weekend–and don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I write about football. It’s the ideal situation for me, given that my usual outlet for work avoidance was, uh, football-watching. But I want to get back to that retreat more than just about anything, and I can’t.
Try a Regional Retreat. Not for me, but for yourself–unless “for me” really motivates you, in which case, try a Regional Retreat for me. If you’ve already gone, go again, because we should but I can’t so you must.
And be sure to remember what fruit snack-related humor puts you in stitches when you’re there.
If you’ve been keeping a weather eye on the OCF Events page (highly recommended) you’ll notice it’s speckled with the most recent addition the family of awesomeness that OCF offers: YES College Days. If you’ve been around the OCF halls for a few years, you’ll know that this is something we rarely offered in the past.
YES College Days are the result of a partnership between OCF and FOCUS North America. FOCUS (Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve) North America is an Orthodox organization focused (see what I did there) on addressing poverty across the United States. They’re stationed in over 20 cities across the country, and they offer a ton of different programs and service opportunities.
One of the most widespread and successful of the FOCUS programs: YES (Youth Equipped to Serve). YES trips are available for youth from a junior high through a college age, and endeavor to provide those students with perspective, as well as an opportunity to grow as young leaders and stewards of the church, through their interaction with the poor and needy in a certain area.
College students, you say? Enter OCF.
So OCF and FOCUS paired up to create a ton of YES College Days–a ton of YES College Days–through OCF networks and as OCF events. The infrastructure of District Student Leaders and Regional Student Leaders already exists. The chapters and friendships already in place help students arrive in waves. The mission of the YES College Day aligns with the mission of OCF.
Already scheduled for the upcoming months are YES College Day in New York, Oklahoma, Philly, and more–but don’t worry if you can’t access any of those places, trips for you are gonna pop up soon. Now, if you can get to these College YES Days…why should you go?
I mean, I can rattle off a billion reasons for you right away if you like: serving Christ, helping the poor, helping another Orthodox organization, getting a break from school, meeting OCFers in your immediate area, taking a road trip with your OCF chapter members, gaining leadership skills, working with a FOCUS trip leader, etc…
But if all of those don’t do it for you, I’ll tell you one of the biggest reasons I’ll be attending my YES College Day.
I go to school in the south side of Chicago: Hyde Park. Whenever old people hear I go to school in south Chicago, they kinda lose the minds. Their memory of south Chicago illustrates a violence-ridden, gang-run area. The reality today is that, though south Chicago isn’t nearly the place it once was (I promised I’m safe, Mom), the shades of those days remain.
And there is infuriatingly little I can do about that.
I hate walking my streets and seeing people that I want to and should help, but then I remember my tenuous financial stability as a college student, and I feel limited in my utility. Do what you can, sure–but what I can do is too little. Unacceptably little.
YES Days provide college students an avenue for work that they may be unable to achieve on their own. Some things, like prayer and education, I may feel I can do in my dorm, by myself, using the resources available to me–and there’s truth to that, though there’s also immense value in doing it with the body of the Church that is OCF. But this level of service work, to which we are called, for which we are responsible…I’d wager it’s incredibly tough to do it alone.
So again, here’s the list of current College YES Days scheduled. Reach out to your Regional Student Leader for more information on when one in your area might be.
11 times in the Morning Prayers; 12 in the Evening Prayers. 5 times in the Trisagion alone.
We throw the word ‘glory’–and it’s kin, glorious and glorified and glorify–around a lot in the Church. That’s not bad–but all too often, we become desensitized to it. I mean, think about how many times during one church service you say, “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.” It’s a big number, folks.
But what does it mean to give glory? So often we see it paired with worship, like in the Evening Prayers: “O Christ our God, who at all times and in every hour, in heaven and on earth, art worship and glorified…” We see it so often at the conclusion of prayers: “…for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”
I think this leads us too easily to lumping ‘glory’ into that with which it’s paired. Worship is a more concrete concept than glory–I know what it looks like to worship something, I can picture it my head, so glorifying something probably looks just like that. God has the kingdom–yep, with God is the kingdom, is Heaven–He has the power–yup, God’s powerful–and He has the glory–well, that’s probably just another big impressive thing that God has.
Iconography Painting Transfiguration Of Christ
But glory has more layers than that. I mean, if someone were to ask you “What’s glory? I don’t know this word,” you wouldn’t be able to respond with “Well, it’s a big impressive thing that’s kinda like power and being worshiped.” Not unlike beauty or love, glory tends to be one of those aspects of God that is best understood when you see it, experience it. When you try to define it, you find that you actually know it intrinsically. Glory is essentially “Um, that.” points at glorious thing
Then how can we pray these words, at the beginning of the Trisagion: “Glory to thee, our God, glory to thee?” How can we answer the call of OCF this year, and glorify God in all things (#glorytogod), if we cannot easily construct for ourselves an image of glory, of glorifying?
We must recognize, I think, that our closest attempt to glorifying God is often our helpless outpouring of thanks to Him. The Akathist of Thanksgiving service, rife with glories, typifies this effort for us. Each Ikos has within it a serious of petitions meant to glorify God. From the first Ikos:
Glory to You, Who called me to life,
Glory to You, Who have shown me the beauty of the universe,
Glory to You, Who have opened before me the sky and the earth as an eternal book of wisdom,
Glory to the eternity of You, in the midst of the world of time,
Glory to You, for Your hidden and evident goodness,
Glory to You, for every sigh of my sadness,
Glory to You, for every step of my life, for every moment of joy,
Glory to You, O God, unto ages of ages.
It is a thanking of God, but a transcendent thanking; the capstone of all thanks that can be given. Consider the things for which God is glorified: giving the speaker life itself, moments of joy, sighs of sadness, the beauty of the universe, all goodness. Can proper thanks be given for these things? Likely not. So, glory is given.
God is glorious, magnificent, beautiful–there’s nothing in that realm of glory that we can give Him. We give God glory because we need to thank Him, to honor Him, as the pinnacle of deference and gratitude. And again, God doesn’t need that from us–He doesn’t need anything from us. It is for our sakes that we give glory to God.
If we did not, there would be no purpose to our lives, no meaning to our breaths. Our world, a product of happenstance and coincidence and cosmic mush, would act upon us, and through our misguided and feeble human attempts to interpret it, we would fall into damnation and hopelessness.
Glory to God, for communion with Him is the purpose of our very existence. Glory to God.
I’m fortunate to have the perspective on SLI that I do. Last year, in 2016, it was hosted for the first time at St. Iakavos Retreat Center in Kenosha, WI (10/10, currently recommending to friends)–but it was a closed retreat. Only the Student Leadership Board (SLB) attended, and the entirety of the retreat was geared on preparing those students for their distinct roles, as Northwest Regional Leader or Real Break Student Leader or Publications Student Leader (hi that’s me), and for their collective role, as young leaders in OCF and in the church.
This summer, in 2017, SLI changed. It became a two-pronged effort–the first prong remained the same, in that only the SLB attended the first portion of the retreat and participated in the same events as last year. The second half of the retreat, however, was open to the whole of OCF. The keynote speaker, the workshops, the skills training, the worship opportunities, the fellowship–all of the pieces that make an OCF retreat so special–were extended to everyone.
The numbers at SLI more than doubled, once opened to everyone. But the experience of SLI wasn’t enriched solely because of the numbers amassed–it was the fresh insight, the boots-on-the-ground perspective offered by so many of the new participants that added a different depth to SLI.
You see, we all have interesting OCF stories–how we arrived to the place at which we currently are with OCF. Sharing those stories–“My OCF Story”–is one of the first activities we did at the retreat. My OCF story has always been pretty lame: I go to a school with no chapter, and I lack the resources to start one with any consistency. I always wanted to be involved with OCF, however, and my sister worked on the SLB as the Publications Student Leader. Once she left the position, I applied for it and got it. And here I’ve stayed.
As such, I’m woefully divorced from chapter life. I don’t get that weekly dose of camaraderie that wooed so many others to regular involvement with OCF; nobody rides the train with me to church on Sundays. It’s not all lamentable, however–my lack of chapter life leads to greater involvement with regional and national programs, to get my OCF fix.
My example serves the point: college is all about new perspectives and experiences and responsibilities, right? I mean, that’s what everybody and their mother warned you about when you first left home, a bright-eyed freshman. And universities across the nation endeavor, night and day, to create safe spaces in which each individual has the freedom and security to be who they believe they are.
We often frame those differing perspectives in a light combative with the Church. That the new experiences and perspectives and opinions will seek to pull us away from the Church, make us question our faith, chew into our time that otherwise would be spent in worship and prayer. There’s a lot of truth there, I’m afraid. A lot of what’s common to universities–from party culture to liberal arts curriculum–finds itself at odds with the faith.
But there is no reason why differing experiences, perspectives, and opinions cannot be geared to strengthen our faith as well. OCF retreats regularly present us this opportunity: to hear from a Greek who grew up in Chicago and that’s all he knows of the Orthodox church; from a Russian who immigrated to Wisconsin when she was young; from a convert who has lived in twelve different states and attended thirty different churches.
The young men and women who attended SLI were living proof, not only of the vitality of the Church, but of its resiliency. College life allegedly pulls us away from the Church–and the threat is there, certainly–but OCF programs keep growing bigger and faster, incorporating new faces and stories. The laughs and prayers and shares of SLI, as a microcosm for OCF as whole, showed our vibrancy and our joy as collegiate Orthodox Christians.
Thank God SLI was opened to all of OCF. The strength of OCF isn’t the board, nor is OCF for the board. It was important that we had those days, to coordinate and plan for the year to come–but far more important was the time we had together. The mission of OCF is realized in the chapter members, who unabashedly bring the entirety of who they are to the table, and through their singularity, bring us all closer as one in Christ Jesus.
Sup team! My name is Benjamin Solak, and I’ll be your Publications Student Leader for OCF 2017-2018!
Wait…didn’t you do this job last year?
And they gave it to you again?!
I’m as surprised as you are, dear reader.
Okay, so what’s the plan for the blog this year?
A lot of super cool stuff. After our Blog Contributor program went super well last year, we look to be reviving that this year, starting in October, with a couple familiar faces, and some new ones too. If you’re interested in being a Blog Contributor, or if you’re unfamiliar with the program, you should email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll be looking to engage the community in an even bigger way this year. The loveliest part of the OCF Blog is that it is an ongoing, national effort of OCF. It allows OCFers from Nebraska and New York to connect with those in Nevada and North Carolina. Anytime there is a College Conference, Real Break trip, Regional Retreat, District Retreat, Day of Prayer activity, Day of Light activity, OAM challenge–anything–I want to hear about it! If your chapter has done something cool and you think the blog should know, you should email me at email@example.com.
Are you just thirsty for emails because they make you feel important?
Oh, most definitely.
Do you have anything else in the works for us to know about?
Okay, what else CAN you tell us?
I’m a third-year student at the University of Chicago (which is in Chicago. Sometimes people ask me that.) studying Comparative Human Development. I’m an unhealthy football fan, and I cover the Philadelphia Eagles for a site called Bleeding Green Nation, and college football and the NFL Draft with NDT Scouting. I run when my knee doesn’t hurt and complain when it does. Sometimes I pace myself, and eat the entire package of Chips Ahoy Chewy in two sittings.
I can also tell you that the mission of this blog is to magnify exposure. Whether it’s something done in the OCF that merits the eyes of the national body, or if it’s you, and how the OCF blog can assist your spiritual growth and enrich your college life. The four pillars of OCF are fellowship, education, worship, and service–and all four of those will be highlighted throughout the year, that the multiple and international efforts of OCF may always present to you a full body of the church.
I run the blog, but the blog isn’t about me, it’s about you–and, not unlike Horton the elephant, I mean what I say and say what I mean. As your OCF year enters full swing, I’m excited to be right there with you.
What a guy.
Oh stop, you.
Read on for a post about chapter meeting and activity ideas that incorporate the four pillars of OCF!
I had two of my best friends in my 11th grade physics class, which was a lot of fun. One day, we came in and our teacher presented us all with paper and some masking tape. Our teacher was going to drop eggs from different heights, our task was to build something that we could drop the eggs onto that would prevent the eggs from breaking. My approach was to build a tower and put crumpled up pieces of paper inside of it to absorb the fall.
But one of my friends had a different idea: he built a much smaller tower, about 8 inches tall, and put a curved ramp on the inside with an opening in the tower wall at the end of the ramp. It looked like a quarter-pipe, that you would find in a skate park. The egg would be dropped in the tower, go down the ramp and roll out of the side of the tower. He explained that instead of using his resources to try to stop the egg’s energy, he would simply redirect it into horizontal momentum, which is not harmful for the egg. His tower did better than mine did.
Here’s the bad news: the devil knows well the power of redirection. He sees the gifts that God gives us, and he tempts us in a distinct way. He tempts us to use that the very gifts God gives us, not to move toward Him, but to make us drift further from God. He sees the momentum that our gifts can give us toward spiritual progress, and so he redirects our momentum so it draws us away from God.
Here’s the good news: this means our approach to “fighting” sin doesn’t have to be as complicated as we often make it. We can, through prayer and God’s help, figure out the hidden good concealed in our sins.
For example, if you find that you are too concerned with what people think of you and it is preventing your spiritual growth, there are so many good qualities hidden in this sin that are simply being misused. For instance, if you are simply worrying what people think of you instead of God, redirecting that back to God can help. Also, it shows concern for how your brothers and sisters around you are feeling, which in itself is good, but you are expressing it in a way that is harmful to you. So instead of fighting against this passion directly, your new task is that whenever you find yourself being concerned with what others think of you, try to keep your concern about them, while caring only for what God thinks of you.
More good news: God also knows the power of redirection, and He likes to use the bad things in our lives–whether or not they are brought about by our own doing–for our benefit. When we think back to the worst times of our lives, we often see so many blessings that have come out of them, sometimes because beautiful situations were born out of them, other times because of personal growth. Regardless, it is critical that we recognize these blessings and even thank God for them, because then we can make the most of these redirections.
I pray that we can all look more deeply into the things in our lives, and that we can see them in the ways that will be most beneficial to us. How we see things has a massive effect on what we do about them, so may God help us to see them in the right way.
Paul Murray is a senior psychology major and Spanish minor at Franklin & Marshall College, and he attends Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster, PA. His home parish is St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in New Kensington, PA, and he has spent the past three summers serving as a counselor at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh Summer Camp and the Antiochian Village. In his free time, Paul ties prayer ropes and writes descriptions of himself in the third person for blog articles.
So it was about 4 o’clock when my good friend picked me up from Norman, Oklahoma to go to the OCF South Regional Retreat (which was well organized by Katherine Sackllah and George Katrib, who did a wonderful job!) I was pumped to see my old friends from camp and make new friends in the faith. The drive was long but well worth it when we arrived.
When we arrived at 9 o’clock at night after our last stop at CVS because someone who shouldn’t be named had a fever and potentially could have infected everyone at the retreat, but on the bright side no one got sick! So as I walked in with my obnoxious Bob Stoop visor and an OU PFG shirt, I interrupted what was probably the most fascinating talk of my Orthodox Christian life. The talk was with Fr. Simeon and he discussed various topics about the faith that were thought-provoking and led me to further understand Orthodoxy.
Throughout the retreat, we enjoyed each other’s company and we could really dive into the talks. The weather was perfect, the people there were amazing, and the experiences that we had were unforgettable (especially when some people flipped their canoe after a game of King of the Hill). Even though everyone there was looking for a good Orthodox Christian wife or husband (just kidding), we were able to make new friends in the faith and overall have a grand ol’ time.
To be more specific, my biggest take away was the fact that every college student was struggling with the same issues that I was. Being a college student, as we all know, is difficult, especially in the secular world which we live in. We have issues that we have to deal with, such as drinking on a Saturday night or being pressured into sex by a boyfriend or girlfriend. After going through a rough spot in my life, and then attending this retreat, I was able to become rejuvenated in the faith and live as a light on my campus.
Our calling is to get to Heaven and take everyone with us that we can through Christ. This was evident at the retreat. The people, like I said, were amazing and really felt the Holy Spirit work through them, because they felt comfortable and more at home. I felt that the people there trusted everyone and could share their experiences with the Orthodox church in a non-judgmental way. It was truly a “home away from home.”
After returning back to my university, I reflected on the retreat and was really inspired to contribute back to the Orthodox Church.
Shout out to all the regional leaders (Valerie Hanna and Anna Sobchak) that were there and the OCF leaders (Katherine Sackllah and George Katrib) who made this experience such a blessing. Lastly I would like to thank Fr. Simeon for providing us with his wisdom and taking time out of his busy schedule to visit and talk with us.
Peter Huseth attends the one and only University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. He is an advertising major with a minor in English Writing. He’s currently a sophomore, and when he isn’t in deep theological thought, he’s playing guitar for the beautiful handmaidens of God.
You probably assumed this title was clickbait…don’t worry, I would have, too. Panic! at the Disco and Youth Work are not usually used in the same sentence, but I promise I do have an explanation.
Here it is:
A few weeks ago I woke up on a Saturday morning to a text from my boss asking if I could chaperone a teenager to a Panic! at the Disco concert. Mind you, I, being the complete theater nerd that I am, had never been to a concert and did not know what I was in for. So I decided to go and to treat it like a mini-adventure.
After agreeing to attend, the child’s parent called me to confirm details. I listed my credentials as a Youth Worker for the Metropolis of San Francisco and explained that I had been background checked and gone through Youth Protection Training in preparation for my experience as a camp counselor. This seemed to put their mind at ease.
The night went really well, the teen had a wonderful time. As the concert neared its end, I ushered them out quickly to avoid the large line at the merchandise stand so they could buy the shirts they had expressed to me they wanted before the start of the concert.
As we stood in line, the parent began to call, telling the child that they needed to come immediately to the car so we could pick them up as it was too late for them to be out. I watched the kid’s face start to crumble. Luckily, we moved up in the line quickly, they picked out the shirts they wanted, and we ran to the car.
So how does Youth Work play a role in this situation?
Last summer I served as a Youth Worker for the Metropolis of San Francisco. I worked at Saint Nicholas Ranch for two weeks co-counseling a cabin and making arts and crafts with various age groups. Before this experience, I was not confident working with children, let alone teaching children about a faith that I was and am still understanding myself.
What I learned in my short two weeks is that Youth Workers are there for the kids. We are there to ensure that their time spent at camp or at a concert is an experience they can remember and look back on as a memory that was part of their growth and maturation as a person. The positive experiences we give them can be building blocks for more fulfilling and impactful interactions in the future.
I encourage young adults to take one summer of their lives and go and serve these youth. They need you just as much as you need them.
(Editor’s note: hey it’s Ben. So, I’ve worked as a camp counselor for the past two years and am going back for a third summer this year, and I wanted to take a moment to say that, no matter your archdiocese, geographic location, and camping history, you can work at camps. You don’t have to, but it’s pretty stinking fun.
Some folks may tell you that OCF is like camp, just not during the summer–I don’t necessarily agree. I think they’re two radically different experiences that are unified through their mission and through Christ. You should go to your archdiocese’s website (or be like me and go cross-archdiocese shocked face) and see what camping opportunities there are for you this summer! We out.)
Each household has its own set of routine chores that needs to get done. Vacuuming, sweeping, making the beds, doing the laundry, and so on. However, many families will set aside a time for a deeper and more thorough cleaning of the home. Spring cleaning. Spring cleaning is a time to undertake the chores that we don’t make time for on a day-to-day basis.
Great and Holy Lent is the Spring cleaning of our interior lives.
In its eternal wisdom, the Church calendar gives us a yearly preparatory time to take a richer and more holistic examination of the entire universe that is within us.
Each of us has wounds that stretch down deep inside of us; painful experiences, insecurities, fears, jealousies, and many other things that keep us from the eternal Joy of God’s Kingdom. These things can debilitate us, rendering us unable to be as joyful, as loving, and as compassionate as the Lord calls us to be. We make poor decisions, we find it harder to love those that hate us, we stress out and have anxiety, and we miss out on the glory of the Kingdom.
I fell beneath the weight of the passions and the corruption of my flesh, and from that moment has the enemy had power over me. Instead of seeking poverty of spirit, I prefer a life of greed and self-gratification. Therefore, O Savior, a heavy weight hangs from my neck.
And this is where it gets really good…
I persist in caring only for my outer garment, while neglecting the temple within me, one made in the image of God.
How much time do we spend worrying about the external world? How much do we care about nurturing social images and external appearances? Unfortunately, our obsession, and I daresay addiction to these things, never strikes us as being abnormal because all around us people are doing the exact same thing.
While we keep busy trying to manipulate everything going on around us, and spend so much energy on our “outer garments”, we completely neglect the temple made in God’s image, that is divinely placed within us.
“The Kingdom of God is within,” the Lord tells us in Luke 17:21. Ask almost any Christian what the goal of the Christian life is, and they will almost certainly say, “heaven.” If Christ, our Lord and our God, says that the Kingdom is within us, why don’t we go there?
We are scared.
We keep our headphones plugged into our ears, we spend hours mindlessly scrolling through pictures and videos of other peoples lives, and we avoid our inner life at all costs because we are uncomfortable with what goes on inside of us. There are thoughts we don’t understand, feelings we cannot articulate, and an entire universe that we do not know how to navigate.
When those things are brought to the surface, we mistakenly think that our problems are outside of us. We blame other people and lash out at them, we spread gossip, and we try to change everything outside of us without ever considering that maybe the problem lies within.
Lent is our time to reorient ourselves and to remember that there is quite possibly more work to be done inside of us than there is to be done outside of us. Maybe a better way to say this would be say that without the internal work of Lent, our external work will be meaningless. St. Paul says it like this:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. –1 Cor 13:1-2
Without the internal work of Lent, we will be unable to love perfectly. If we are unable to love perfectly, then nothing else matters. So we must dig deep, and begin the journey within.
How do we do this? 2,000 years worth of spiritual literature covers this topic. Some of my personal favorites are The Kingdom Within by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, The Roots of Christian Mysticism by Olivier Clement, and Into The Silent Land by Martin Laird. Read up!
Also, making time for silent prayer and reflection is an integral part of our spiritual practice. St. Basil the Great calls silence “the beginning of the purification of the soul.” Turn off the TV, close Snapchat and Instagram, and simply take time to be still. The Psalms tell us to “be still, and know that I am God.”
Just as a family takes the time to clean their home more thoroughly, we as Orthodox Christians take Lent as a time to be more intentional in our spiritual practice, so that we might find deeper healing for our infirmities.
May this Lent be to our spiritual edification and enlightenment. May we answer the Church’s call to dig deeper within ourselves. May we seek the everlasting Kingdom of God within ourselves.
Mark Ghannam is a Junior at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor pursing a degree in economics, and serves as the Vice-President and Head of Clergy Relations for his OCF chapter. In his free time, Mark enjoys reading, rock climbing, and long walks on the beach while discussing Liturgical theology.