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!

Great Lent Begins | The Safety Net

Great Lent Begins | The Safety Net

Here we go, team!

The beginning of Great Lent in college is–at least for me–markedly different than how it began in high school. In high school, I lived with a bunch of people who were also awaiting Forgiveness Sunday–I believe the technical term is “family”–and as such, I felt the onset of Great Lent with each passing day. We planned out the meals; we talked about the church services; we shared our plans for fasting.

In college, it just kinda happens. You don’t have the community–or at least, most of us don’t have as strong of one–to commiserate with us about the loss of choice; to remind us of the wonderful opportunity set before us.

This is not an unfamiliar vacuum, I think–it’s the one of which we are perpetually aware, to one degree or another. “It’s tougher to be Orthodox at college,” we constantly tell our young adults–why? Because that omnipresence of Orthodox family is gone. We are “on our own.” We do not have the safety net.

As such, the onset of Lent isn’t as ground-shaking in college. The vacuum eats up the reverberations, the crash of the impact, and we are left with a world that feels perplexingly unchanged, from Friday into Monday. We have entered the most important period of the Orthodox calendar–but the world outside has just kept on spinning.

We–as we so often are as college students–are left responsible for far more of our world than we once were. We no longer feel the change because of our environment; rather, we are responsible for creating the change–both in ourselves and in our environment.

What does that mean, concretely? It means that our Lenten effort–and that’s a very intentional word: effort–has expanded. We once were responsible for fasting–from meat and dairy and television and music and the like–when we lived in the environment that supported our fast, bolstered our faith, facilitated our church attendance, limited our access to these temptations. Now, we are not only responsible for fasting. We are also responsible for the environment: sculpting our daily world to better provide that support, limit that access, facilitate that attendance. In a way, we are responsible for both walking the tightrope, and erecting the safety net below it.

The mind may immediately refute this notion. “I don’t need to erect the safety net,” the mind says. “I needed the safety net when I was younger, but I’m older now. I have a stronger will, a better resolve. I need to prove to myself, my family, my priest that I can pull off this fast without the help, the positive environment. It will count more that way, anyway.”

This, I would argue, is the temptation of the prideful mind. This mind is not interested in the fast–it’s interested in success, in esteem, in victory over the odds. Completing the fast doesn’t end with the good little Orthodox Christian, victoriously standing upright in the dramatic sunlight like the end of a movie–the fast ends with a dead and risen God. That is the victory.

As such, you could argue about how much the safety net, the supportive environment, is needed all you like. The environment helps us, strengthens our fast, sharpens our faith. I’m interested in that, regardless of the sacrifices it means I have to make–not going out to restaurants that I know have few fasting options; not attending parties that my friends will attend; making new spring break plans.

Enjoy your new responsibility; gear your new opportunity to a more productive, self-altering fast than you’ve ever experienced. It will be hard–thank God for that. It’s the hard things that make us better.

Lenten Reflection | Spring Cleaning

Lenten Reflection | Spring Cleaning

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.

Image from Eikonografos. Used with permission.

St. Andrew of Crete puts it better than anyone:

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.

Nothing Greater than Great Lent: Told by Snapchat and a Busy College Student

Nothing Greater than Great Lent: Told by Snapchat and a Busy College Student

Great Lent. It’s pretty much the best time of the year. Growing up, I always got super excited when Lent rolled around for some of these reasons:

1. You get to sing all your favorite hymns.

2. There are more opportunities to attend church services.

3. Prostrations = working out

4. It made me thankful for everyday things, like having a regular glass of milk.

5. Lenten food, despite being simple, is actually really good. (Editor’s note: agree to disagree)

6. There are more opportunities to receive Holy Communion.

7. And when Pascha finally comes, Lent teaches you how to feast.

But when I got to university, Lent became a little different. Scheduling in the services became much more difficult with my classes, finding Lenten food on campus is a daunting task, and my professors wouldn’t accept “I was at church” as a reasonable response for not having an assignment done, like my teachers at my Christian high school did. I remember one time talking with one of my non-Orthodox friends and casually naming off church services that I attend during Lent. “Wow,” she said, “How on earth do you have the time for that? I definitely don’t.”

You know what? Maybe my friend is right. Maybe I don’t have time for Lent. Maybe I’m just a little too busy this year. It’s March, and the list of assignments, tests, and extra-curricular events is piling up in my planner (not to mention the fact that it’s the end of the school year and I’m starting to feel pretty burned out). Right now, I want to be living from church service to church service, but the reality is I am sometimes living from deadline to deadline. What am I supposed to do?

I’m going to give it everything I possibly can.

You know why? Someday, that assignment, that test, that extra-curricular activity–none of it will matter. The time I spent praying, going to church, fasting, and serving others will. By the world’s standards, I absolutely do not have time for Lent, but we need this time of preparation more than we could ever possibly know. And no, the Snapchats I posted really can’t describe how beautiful and awe-inspiring this season is.  

Many things have changed in my life, but when I say the Prayer of Saint Ephrem or sing one of the hymns during the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, I feel as though nothing has ever changed. You see, we are most ourselves during Lent. Praying, going to church, giving alms, fasting, serving others–you will never be more human than in those moments. Yes, our other commitments are important, and I do not want to undermine the importance of those activities, but nothing ever is more important than church.

One of my fellow Blog Contributors, Paul, recently told me that one time, after he missed a Presanctified Liturgy many years ago, he told his priest, “I’m sorry I couldn’t come Wednesday, I had a few assignments and knew I needed to finish them and get some sleep.” His priest  responded, “That’s fine, but remember that when you come to church, it elevates your soul, and it often takes the body with it.” There’s nothing we need more than the healing Christ can give us if we allow Him to do so.

So please, I don’t know who you are or what your situation is, but I ask you not to let this opportunity to be the most human you can be pass you by. Don’t let our churches be filled with kids, teenagers, young professionals, middle-aged adults, and senior citizens, but empty of college students because this is one of the busiest points of the year for us. My dad’s a priest, and one thing I’ve always heard him tell his parishioners is that by the end of Lent we should be different people. And why would we not be different people? If we allow Lent to be a season of prayer and repentance, of course we will not be the same.

I’m not even going to try to advise you on what your Lenten discipline should look like, because that should be between you and those involved in your life. But I ask you to seriously consider doing something! If you have not started yet, it is never too late to start. When the Paschal homily of Saint John Chrysostom is read on Pascha, I am always amazed by these words:  

If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

If you have not begun your Lenten discipline yet, do not be afraid to start now.

College offers us so many amazing opportunities. It is pretty much common sense to know that we need to take the chance to have these experiences before we move on to a different phase of life. Some of these experiences are experiences of a lifetime. But Lent is even far more fulfilling than anything college could ever offer us, definitely much more profound than sending each other Snapchats of our fasting food and far beyond all human comprehension. So when the priest opens the church doors on Pascha, I pray that we will enter the church prepared for the feast, knowing that nothing in life is comparable to witnessing the glory of God.

All Snapchats were used with permission.


Anastasia Lysack in her third year of her Music degree at the University of Ottawa. She attends Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Ottawa, where she teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, volunteering, and visiting just about any coffee shop in the city of Ottawa.

 

How Do I Lent?

How Do I Lent?

Update: Lent started. Today is just a few days before the Sunday of St. John Climacus (aka the fourth Sunday of Lent), which means we’re more than halfway to Pascha. Some of us may have had the foresight to figure out specific goals for Lent going into it, while others may not have changed anything in their lives. Regardless of what boat we’re in, what do we do now?

In order to answer that question, we need to back up and figure out what Lent is. To fully understand that, we need to have some grasp on the state of humanity (my thought process tends to get really general really quickly, so stay with me). We are all spiritually sick. Whether or not we feel it, our souls experience sickness from disconnection with God. so how do we get healthy? Luckily, God provides us with a spiritual hospital: the Church.

The sickness that afflicts us prevents God from entering into our hearts. Our hearts are simply too hard to allow God to enter in, so we need to go to our mother, the Church, to chip away at it. Lent is a time for chipping away at that hardness of our hearts so that we can receive Christ to our fullest potential on the feast of His Resurrection.

So before we get to Paul’s monthly list, we need to remember why we do all of the things we do during Lent. Again, this is absolutely critical for two interconnected reasons: (1) if we go through the motions without realizing why we are doing it, the tasks become an end in themselves; in other words, we aren’t keeping ourselves from eating to grow closer to God, but because we feel like it’s this weird homework assignment we have to do; and (2) when we make the commandments of God an end in themselves, we become like the Pharisees, who outwardly did everything correctly but whose hearts were in the wrong places. And you can check out Matthew 23 to see how Jesus felt about them.

(Editor’s note: not a fan)

So back to the title: how do I Lent? Here are the things you can try:

1. Fast: Do something

As my spiritual father says, the amazing thing about fasting is that you can always do more or less depending on where you are. You can’t do the entire fast prescribed by the Church? That’s fine, do some part of it, like not eating meat. The fast isn’t challenging enough or spiritually beneficial to you? You can do more: skip a meal, don’t eat snacks, avoid adding salt or other flavor enhancers to your food, or avoid non-water beverages. The important thing is that you change what you normally do with food.

2. Cut something out

If you’re like me, chances are you’re doing a lot. The few seconds a day when you’re not either at a class or activity or have something to take care of, you spend figuring out how you’re going to get everything done that you need to do. There’s so much noise.

Find something in there taking you away from God, and get rid of it. I’ve done various things different years depending on what habits of mind are most destructive at the moment. This year it was deleting the Facebook app from my phone. Other years it has been not playing games on my phone during Lent. Find something that you are doing that is holding you back in some way from union with God, and get rid of it, at least until Pascha (hopefully beyond).

3. Go to church

Lenten services are where I discovered my love for the Orthodox faith. Many parishes have church on most nights of the week, so check your church’s calendar and try to make it to one, maybe two, or even all of them (that’s the recommended option). Part of Lent is adding prayer, and the church is supplying it for you. All you need to do is show up and participate.

4. Don’t worry if you slip

One of my past articles was about how you’re probably going to fail. Chances are, you are going to fall short of at least one of your goals (if you don’t, you may want to check to see if you’re pushing yourself hard enough). As someone who loves sports and is filled with useless sports stats, I have to ask you to do something that is very hard for me to do: don’t worry about your own Lenten statistics.

Read Paul’s article here!

I have wanted to be standing in the church on Pascha night, knowing that I attended every service in Lent, had not touched meat or dairy since Clean Monday, and had reached every goal perfectly. The problem with that mindset is that your whole motivation crumbles before you the second you make one mistake.

I offer this mindset as a replacement: starting right now, at this moment (be that as you’re reading this or when you think about it later), let’s strive to love God and do his holy will (citation: St. Herman of Alaska, see one of my past articles on that).

5. Talk to your spiritual father

I often think that I’m a bad judge of what is the right level to push myself in all of these categories, and I’m probably right. I have good judgment about how poor my judgment is. Don’t think about that too hard.

The good thing is, I have someone to talk all of this stuff out with, to say, “I want to do A, B, and C during Lent,” and he can say, “A and B sounds good, but you might want to consider tweaking C in this way to make it better for you.” And I have confidence that he’s right because he knows everything about my spiritual life, so he’s like a doctor giving me a specific prescription for my specific disease. What an incredible resource that we have in our spiritual fathers!

I pray that God will help us to keep all of these things in mind as we continue through our Lenten journey. May we fight our own battles while leaning on and strengthening one another. One of the beautiful things about the collective nature of Orthodox fasts is that we have our church communities and Orthodox friends all around us who are going through the same thing, and who can offer us strength and motivation to make that push to Pascha. It’s impossible for us on our own, but with God’s help and the help of the people around us, we can do what’s been laid before us this Lent.


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.

Attending Church | The Lenten Effort

Attending Church | The Lenten Effort

Boy oh boy it’s Wednesday, and in Lent that means Presanctified (AKA: the greatest church service of all time).

In my opinion, Presanctified is one of the most powerful and moving services we have in the Orthodox Church. If you’ve never been, your church likely has it on either Wednesday or Friday throughout the Lenten season. If you check their website/calendar, call your priest, or ask him next time you’re there on Sunday, it’s usually far enough in the evening that it can fit within college schedules.

Part of the Lenten effort is fasting–that’s the most well-known. But it isn’t the whole kit and caboodle–there’s more to it than just that. We can’t spend Lent sinning the same way we’ve been sinning, saying the same prayers with the same frequency, attending the same services at the same times, but just eat less meat and then expect to be different. It isn’t as simple as that, as easy as that.

The Lenten effort is a frontal assault, a full-bodied push. We’re preparing for the Resurrection, for our Salvation. We can’t leave a stone unturned, a stop unpulled. This is go time.

Part of that effort is church attendance, and more than just church attendance, but sacrifice for church attendance. We miss that sometimes: when we want to attend church, we say, “Okay, when I can go to church, I’ll go.” That’s good, but that’s only half the battle.

The next step is to say, “When there is church, I will go.” One of the best ways you can communicate value is through making sacrifices: when you stop doing homework to help a friend, you’re demonstrating that you value their well-being over finishing your workload; when you sleep, go out for dinner, or do homework over attending church, you’re demonstrating that you value those things over church attendance.

Now, there are services almost every day at my parish, and I don’t nearly make it to all of them. It’s infeasible. I wouldn’t be able to get all of my schoolwork done/get enough sleep. I couldn’t live that way eternally. Eventually I would have to drop out or die.

That’s a life out of balance, and I’d never recommend that. But I would recommend gaining awareness and assuming responsibility for our choices, and thereby our sacrifices. Undoubtedly, it is difficult to say, “I am currently totally overwhelmed with schoolwork and finals and other, worthy responsibilities, but I’m just going to shirk all of that and go to church.” But it is far easier to say, “The sacrifices I make communicate my values. Because I know this, I chose to go to church this week, on this day, at this time, no matter how stressed out I feel.” By preemptively making the decision, we can base it on the immutable values we know to be true over time, not the fickle feelings of the moment.

We can never step away from being ourselves. It is an incredible onus to bear. Never can we say, “Yes, I made that choice, but that’s not representative of me.” We can say, “I made that choice, and it was a representation of me at that time, but I have changed, I have repented since then.” But we can’t check out from who we are. If we are an Orthodox Christian, we attend church, we value church. We show up to the plate.

We can never step away from being ourselves.

 – Tweet this!

And don’t get me wrong, that can be a very difficult plate up to which we can show. Church can unsettle us, throw us out of balance, make us feel guilty about what we’re doing, the sacrifices we’re making and the sacrifices we aren’t.

But it should. That’s a good thing. That’s our litmus check, our stock count. It gives us the opportunity to reflect on what we’ve done through a clear, unwavering, Orthodox Christian lens.

And on top of that, that incredible onus of always being ourselves, always being responsible for ourselves, always being a representation of ourselves? That’s a good thing, too! It means we are the owner of our actions, the former of our future. We have the power to choose and define. We have free will, and that is an inherently Christian thing.

Part of the Lenten effort is fasting, and every meal we are presented with a choice, an opportunity to make a sacrifice and communicate value. But the Lenten effort doesn’t end there: it asks us for entirely ourselves. Give what you can; to each his own. But understand that when you give and when you keep, when you sacrifice for this and when you sacrifice for that, you are representing yourself: you are a representative of the parents who raised you, the company you keep, the university you attend, and the church to which you belong, and the God who created you.

You are an exemplar, a model. Of what you are a model, the choice is yours.

Lent | A Time of Preparation

Lent | A Time of Preparation

Icon by the hand of Dn. Matthew Garrett. Used with permission.

Well, here we are. It’s Cheesefare week. Lent is right around the corner.

The Orthodox faith is one of preparation. We’ve been moving through the pre-Lenten cycle of services and readings for a few weeks now. We’ve heard the story of Zacchaeus, who climbed the sycamore tree that he might see Christ; the story of the breast-beating publican and the self-aggrandizing Pharisee; the story of the prodigal son, who squandered his father’s inheritance away, only to return again in humility; and this past Sunday, the Sunday of the Last Judgment, we heard about how will we be judged, when we finally come before the Lord.

Much like Lent, that final Judgment Day is coming, which is undoubtedly terrifying. Nobody wants to spend a lick of time thinking about that, but we’re going to ponder it for just a second. Because it’s all too easy to say, “Okay, yeah, there’s a final judgment, and it’s coming…but, it’s really coming eventually. So I’ll get ready for it tomorrow–ah, actually, I have a thing tomorrow. How does next week look for you?”

Very simply, I’d like to impress upon you the urgency of our situation. You’ve likely heard that “you know neither the day nor the hour,” but don’t forget from where that Bible verse comes. Matthew, Chapter 25, the parable of ten maidens. If you don’t recall it, you can read it here, but if you do recall it, then you know it isn’t a parable about judgment and fear, about salvation and damnation.

It’s about preparation. We’ve been in the pre-Lenten cycle for weeks, and to prepare for what? Lent…which, you know…prepares us for Pascha. The Orthodox Church is one of preparation.

As such, one week before Lent truly begins (and remember, the meat fast has already begun this week), I’d like to encourage you to prepare. When Lent comes, if you haven’t thought at all about the effort you’re going to undertake, the discipline you’re going to impose upon yourself–if you haven’t yet generated that burning desire in your heart that says, “Yes! I will do this!” you will undoubtedly falter. If you don’t get ready for Lent, whatever your unique this is…it’s almost impossible to preserve it.

When you resolve to do something, it is not just some spontaneous revelation that crashes down on you from above, to which you adhere with unflinching resolve. Nobody says, “I’m going to eat healthier,” and then they just do, perfectly. They say, “I’m going to eat healthier,” and then they look up recipes, go grocery shopping, get their friends involved, create milestones…and then they start trying to eat healthier. And when they slip up, guess what? They’ve prepared for those moments too, and they can recover from them.

As such, my encouragement to you is to prepare for Lent. Examine how you eat at college and what level of fasting is possible for you. Consider fasts from technology, from private sins. Consider reading a book from the Church Fathers, or listening to a podcast. Pray and ask for guidance and support during this upcoming season of preparation.

If I may, I’d like to supply one quick thought on what you’re about to undertake. I’ve encouraged you to spend time during your week planning your next six-ish weeks. Perhaps you are someone who does this regularly–I know, certainly, that I am not. I want to help prepare you for one of those inflection points, one of those inevitable obstacles that arises in the face of any grand plan or resolution.

You’re going to look different.

I’m not going to spin this a different way for you. When you sit down with your friends at the cafeteria without any meat, or perhaps without any meat or dairy on your plate, people might notice. They might say something; they might not. They may understand, if you explain; they may not.

But even beyond looking different, you’ll have to force yourself to do different things as well. You’ll have to break your routines, question your regular activities, examine your life through the new lens of your Lenten effort.

You’re going to be different, too.

And being different is so tough. I would argue that the driving force that pulls us away from the faith is the unquenchable desire to be the same. Not fully, mind you–not a mindless copy of other individuals, but the desire to be seen as ordinary, regular, a member of our peer group, integrated into society. The inevitable pull of college isn’t necessarily away from church, but towards college. We want to be accepted.

But if there’s anything the pre-Lenten readings tell us–and I’ve heard those readings were about preparation–it’s that being different is good. We should be different.

Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree when nobody else was, because he was short and couldn’t see Christ–he was different, a tax collector, spurned by the people around him. But Christ dined with him anyway. The publican could have seen the Pharisee, the exalted one of his peer group, the apparently ideal person, and he could have mimicked the Pharisee–but he did not! Instead, he did what he knew was right. The prodigal son, wallowing in the pigpen, had to stand up among the pigs and say to himself, “I am not one of these. I will return to my father, where I was truly myself.” In a serious Lenten undertaking, you are going to seem different to your peers, and you are going to feel different.

Good.

Find some alone time this week. Put your phone on silent and in your bag. Make sure nobody around you is distracting you. Look in yourself. What effort does the core of your being want to undertake this Lent? Do you have the means to manifest that in every day of your life? If so, how will you accomplish it? And for what inflection points, for what inevitable obstacles, do you need to begin preparing?

Lent is inevitable. So is the Judgment Day. We best get ready.

-B

 

Of Your Time & Talents

Of Your Time & Talents

When we think of stewardship and giving back to the Church, our mind naturally goes to money. It’s really no secret that as college students we have no money. That’s why we love going home so much: free food and free laundry (and to see dear old Mom and Dad, of course). When I put my sole crumpled dollar bill into the tray on Sunday mornings, I joke that we actually are following the Church’s suggestion donation to tithe 10% of your income. Just because I don’t have a lot of money to donate to the Church doesn’t mean I can’t be an Orthodox steward. I give back to the church in two other ways – with time and talents.

In college, time is almost as precious as money. But it is one thing we can give freely. Being on the SLB is a lot of work – and requires a lot of time. Time spent organizing retreats, writing blogs, recording podcasts, scheduling speakers for College Conference or planning Real Break trips, and calling parishes and youth directors to talk to about OCF. And conference calls, we spend a lot of time on conference calls. But working on my OCF stuff never feels like work. I usually do whatever I have to do for OCF before any other homework, because I can still tell myself I’m being productive.

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My schedule is busy; every college student’s schedule is busy. Dedicate some time to give back to the church through working for this awesome ministry. In my time as Publications Student Leader, I’ve written blogs that have reached thousands of people, worked with and met leaders of the Church, and even been interviewed on Ancient Faith Radio. His Grace Bishop Gregory of Nyssa always tells us that we are not the future of the Church, we are the Church. Never have I felt more a part of the Church than I have while serving on the SLB.

As an English major, the Publications Student Leader position made the most sense for me. Publications gave me the chance to take my God-given abilities and strengths and use them to serve Him. Serving on the SLB isn’t just for people with concrete skills like writing, but for people who have a passion for OCF, a drive to improve, new ideas, leadership qualities, and most importantly a love for Christ. And being on the on the Board has helped me harness all of those skills.

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As Orthodox Christians, we are called to serve God and our neighbor. Apply to the Student Leadership Board not only to give of your time and talents to God and His Church but to your fellow Orthodox Christian college students. Use what God has blessed you with to strengthen this ministry, to grow as a young leader of the Orthodox Church, and to make incredible lasting friendships.  OCF gave me a place of comfort during my first year of college and some of my very best friends (both at my school’s chapter and on this year’s SLB). It’s taught me so much about the faith and myself as person, all while helping me become a better Christian. I can’t wait to spend another year on the SLB working for OCF, the Church, Christ, and young Orthodox Christians everywhere.

APPLY TO THE 2016 -2017 STUDENT LEADERSHIP BOARD!

Applications due back April 6th. 

Changing Our Habits in Lent

Changing Our Habits in Lent

I’ve noticed a pattern in my own life. In times of transition, like the start of a semester or the start of summer, it takes time to adjust to being in that new situation and to remember how to live on that particular schedule and in that environment. But once I complete that adjustment and establish a routine, it becomes very hard to change some habits. For example, early in the semester I may need to stay up late to do homework since I’m trying to remember how to manage my time. Then a few weeks later, when I set myself up to go to bed early, I feel like I can afford to waste time on Facebook or playing games on my phone, and I end up going to bed no earlier than normal.

I feel like this struggle was best exemplified last semester. Normally, I am involved in several organizations on campus and have very little free time that I do not have to allot to studies. However, last semester I was studying abroad, temporarily freeing me from all those commitments. I had more free time than I knew what to do with. I got in the habit of spending a lot of my time on YouTube or Netflix. So later in the semester, when I had to do a school project, make travel plans, or complete some task, I could not get myself to do it, despite my abundance of time. My habits of just doing whatever I wanted with my time were too deeply ingrained in me.

Often, at this point in the semester, there is at least one bad habit that we’ve established that we would like to change. For this, I believe Lent comes at a perfect time for us (and note that the Nativity Fast comes at a similar time in the fall semester). We have an invitation from the Church to focus on our habits, on the routine that we have established for ourselves, and really analyze it. What are we doing that works towards our salvation? What are we doing that takes us away from God? How are we succeeding or failing in our relationships? How well are we fulfilling our various roles as students, friends, employees, relatives, teammates, and Christians?

Painting by Viktor Kudrin

Painting by Viktor Kudrin

The reality is that we can conduct this analysis any time. But the beauty of this time in particular is that we are not alone. Perhaps we find encouragement from our friends that we see at OCF meetings, perhaps we find it from our friends’ Facebook posts that we know only the Orthodox truly understand. But the idea of Lent is not that I grow closer to God by myself, but that we do so as a community.

So will we continue to let our bad habits rule our lives, or will we allow God to become “Lord and Master of my life,” as the Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim states? I challenge all of us to fight against our bad habits through growth in the Church. To me this feels impossible, but I gain comfort from knowing that I am not alone in this struggle. I have the support of the Church and my friends, as well as the choir of the saints and God Himself, who holds the whole world in the palm of his hand.

May God bless the arrival of Lent and the struggles that we will engage in during this time. Amen.


HeadshotPaul Murray is a junior psychology major and Spanish minor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He is a member of Saint George Antiochian Orthodox Church in New Kensington, PA where he chants and helps direct the choir. He has served as a counselor and the music coordinator for the Greek Metropolis of Pittsburgh Summer Camp for the past two years and will be a counselor at the Antiochian Village this coming summer.

Lent – On this Journey Together!

Yesterday we entered the Great and Holy Fast of the Holy Orthodox Church. While it is almost unheard of for an Orthodox Christian to not be aware of the concept and season of the Great Fast, it is far more likely to find Orthodox Christians who are certainly unfamiliar with the common and customary practices of the fast, or to find persons who have never really engaged the fast. So in honor of the Great and Holy Fast, it might be good if we look briefly at the history of the fast, why we fast and why we as Orthodox Christian individuals may want to consider engaging the fast more fervently now, or even begin it for the first time ever.

Historically, there has almost always been some kind of engaged fast in preparation for the historical celebration within the Holy Orthodox Church of the Resurrection(Pascha) of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ either by catechumen or full-fledged member! While church historians love a good debate regarding the particulars of when it began and what it included, the fact that there was some kind of fast associated with the feast is generally settled, there was one. For some it included a rigorous one day, all day fast before the feast, for others a more lengthy and slightly less-intense extended fast. It included fasts that involved the complete abstinence of all food all the way to lesser fasts or small abstinences that restricted only some or certain foods. Over the first few centuries, different churches in different parts of the world experienced at least as many variances of fasting. However, as the church matured she continually sought out the guidance of the Holy Spirit, whom saw fit to unify the pre-Resurrection fasting of the faithful throughout the whole world.

It was then revealed in time to the Bride of Christ, through the life of the Holy Church across the globe that it would be good and holy for all Orthodox Christians to fast in loving unison, in preparation for this most Holy and Honored Feast of Feasts. The church, very “organically” if you will, settled on a fast (errr abstinence) of a forty-day period leading up to the Great and Holy Week before the celebration of the Resurrection. That is, by the action and revelation of the Holy Spirit, the Forty Day Fasting period came out of a Holy accord within the church, whereby Orthodox Christians all over the world began to embrace this extended fast, which was already well known to the Holy Fathers even in the third and fourth centuries. The forty-day period may be likened also the Lords forty-day fast in the wilderness!

Now in regards to the why, let’s be clear, there is no single answer, if someone tries to give you only one as the foundation and whole, I would reject it for being the “only reason,” for since all human beings are different, struggling with different and varied passions, the Lord may choose to allow the fast to work differently for each of us and that must be allowed. The fast allows us so many opportunities to grow in our faith and also in our appreciation of the abundance of God’s Grace and earthly bounty! For he or she who truly engages the Holy Fast, they will be:

  • Tempering their earthly wants and engaging real freedom (taking only what they need, leaving what they don’t, rather than simply taking by animal impulse alone),
  • Reflecting on Eden where our diet was simple and good, 
  • Reflecting on God Whom is the giver of all good things, 
  • Creating opportunity to necessarily try and experience new and varied foods and experiences guided by temperance rather than consuming through the monotony of impulse eating, 
  • Replacing some of the time spent eating with prayer and reflection
  • Engaging ascetical practice with millions of their Orthodox brothers and sisters at the same times and moments, 
  • Purifying their bodies of some luxury in order that the luxury and Joy of the Great and Holy Feast may be experienced in all its glory, 
  • Opening themselves up to, by removal of some things unnecessary, to the filling of a void that can and will be filled with God’s Grace and the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself

So now is the time to determine the plan, so as to achieve the goal. If the goal is important for you to experience the fullness of the Great Feast of the Resurrection, if the goal is to enter Lent as you are and with the hope that you will come out New and Stronger, if the goal is to make an attempt to return to the faith of your forebearers and to open up yourself to the saving Grace of Jesus Christ, I implore you, get it done! For your life is happening now, the choices you make right now are determining your future, for those choices aren’t future ones, self-defining opportunities are happening and are in front of you right now. If you have never fasted before, go to your priest or spiritual father and tell them truthfully, “I’m not good at this” or “I have never done this before, where do I start?” If that opportunity is not readily available to you, pray and start the fast yourself. Start with the abstinence of meat as the food core or your fast, maybe include a fast from alcohol (you know you can do it, so do it) and start wiping out the sins of greed, avarice and gossip from your palate. Fast from images that disgust, and words that hurt. Forgive others so that the Lord may forgive you, for the two actions are coterminous, one upon the other. We here at OCF believe that if any part of your person truly desires Theosis and unity with God, that the Lord will not leave you alone, but fill you and build you up into the fulfillment of that which you were originally designed to be, the fullness of the image of God.