Guided Discussion: What to Do When Life Gets You Down

Guided Discussion: What to Do When Life Gets You Down

Part I: The Feelings Are Real

Reflection

“Despondency is the impossibility to see anything good or positive. Despondency is the suicide of the soul because when man is possessed by it, he is absolutely unable to see the light and desire it.” 

Fr. Alexander Schmemann

“Great is the tyranny of despondency, and much courage do we need so as to stand manfully against the feeling, and after gathering from it what is useful, to let the superfluous go.” 

St. John Chrysostom

Part of our human experience in this fallen world is to suffer periods of sadness, hopelessness, overwhelming fear, loneliness, grief, and distress. Few escape the grips of what the saints often call despondency. They teach us that it can be brought on by a variety of life’s circumstances: facing the death of a loved one, illness, injury, loss of status or relationships, pessimism, attempting to find fulfillment in fleeting pleasures, seeing the sorrows and struggles of others, even realizing one’s own sinfulness—all these might cause bouts of despondency.

While nothing about our fallen experience is normal in the sense that it is not what we were made for, despondency is normal in the sense that we are all likely to experience it to varying degrees throughout our lives. While it is often said that joy is the sign of Christian life, joy should not be mistaken for simple happiness or outward cheerfulness nor should we feel obliged to put on a pretense of joy to prove our faithfulness. Joy is an inward gift of the Holy Spirit which is freely and mysteriously given to us and cannot be generated by any power of our own. Therefore, we must learn instead what to do when despondency invades our lives to make space for joy to arrive.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think the relationship between joy and despondency is? 
  • To the extent that you feel comfortable sharing, how do you experience despondency? Are there things that trigger it in your life? 
  • Why do you think it is that we sometimes feel pressure to hide our negative feelings? 

Part II: Crying Out

Reflection

As we mentioned before, despondency is a real experience felt by most human beings. Many throughout history have expressed this experience in the form of poetry, giving voice to their grief. Putting despondency into verse is one way of acknowledging the feelings and crying out for help.

Select one or more of the provided poems to read. You can either let each group member choose a poem or two to reflect on individually or split your group into pairs or smaller groups and give each pair/small group a different poem to read. Repeats are allowed.

Discussion Questions

  • What struck you about the poem(s) you read and how they expressed despondency?
  • Was there anything in particular that resonated with your own experience?

Part III: Surrendering to God

Reflection

“In times of any sorrow, illness, poverty, need, disagreements, and any difficulty, it is better to spend less time in ruminating and talking to ourselves, and more often to turn to Christ our God and to his most pure Mother in prayer, even if it is only a brief one. Through that, the spirit of bitter despondency will be driven away, and the heart will be filled with joy and with hope in God.”

St. Antony (Putilov) of Optina

One notable aspect of many of the poems above is how the author both grieves and surrenders their grief to God. We need not attempt to “fix” our sadness but we can open ourselves up, raw and wounded as we might be, to the healing love of God and His saints in prayer. This prayer might be said in words, like the poetry of those we read earlier, or it might be offered as silence or weeping. We might simply repeat, “Lord, Lord.” Sometimes, we may find that we need help even to pray, and we can ask our friends and spiritual elders to pray for what we are not ready to pray for ourselves. 

Discussion Questions

  • Who in your life, among both the saints and your family, friends, and mentors, can you turn to for prayers when you find yourself caught in a period of despondency?
  • How will you approach feelings of despondency when they arise in your life?

Bonus activity:


Use the blank “Crying Out” document to write your own poems or letters expressing whatever grief, worry, or fears you may currently be experiencing. For the coming week, read your poem or letter as part of your daily prayer rule as a way to surrender your despondency to God.

Conclude your meeting with this prayer for despondency from Fr. Arseny:

O my beloved Queen, my hope, O Mother of God, protector of orphans and protector of those who are hurt, the savior of those who perish and the consolation of all those who are in distress, you see my misery, you see my sorrow and my loneliness. Help me, I am powerless, give me strength. You know what I suffer, you know my grief — lend me your hand because who else can be my hope but you, my protector and my intercessor before God? I have sinned before you and before all people. Be my Mother, my consoler, my helper. Protect me and save me, chase grief away from me, chase my lowness of heart and my despondency. Help me, O Mother of my God!

Curated Discussion: Combating Restlessness

Curated Discussion: Combating Restlessness

Part I:

Start your meeting by reading from Father Jeremy McKemy’s blog post Acedia: The Two-Faced Demon.

Part II:

After reading, take 2-3 minutes to write down your initial thoughts about the article.

Part III:

Then, discuss the following questions as a group, or in smaller groups:

  1. Fr. Jeremy says that acedia strikes in different ways for everyone — some through activity and others through inactivity. In what situations and when does acedia hit you the hardest?
  2. How does acedia affect us? It is important to remember God’s saving power in our lives and that none is without hope of remedy. How are we distracting ourselves from this fact? When do you find yourself wasting the most time? How can this time be used restfully?
  1. If acedia tempts us to restlessness, it can be helpful to recall the words of St. Augustine in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” When you have you found rest in God in the past? 
  2. Fr. Jeremy lists many remedies to acedia. Which of these is the most important for you to pursue right now? 
  3. Fr. Jeremy also recounts Jean-Claude Larchet’s words that all remedies “should always be accompanied by prayer, which establishes them in God and makes of them not just simply human means.” How can we infuse prayer into our daily work?

Part IV:

Life is rhythmic, and we can notice our patterns if we pay attention. This is why the fathers included Psalm 90 in the Sixth Hour, as acedia often strikes hardest at noon. To defeat the demon of noonday, we should equip ourselves with the tools the Church provides to do so.

In the coming week, write in your notes when you’re falling to acedia — whether through hopelessness or through wasting time — and what led up to that moment. At the end of the day, ask Christ to fill your heart with zeal against this passion and remember the great hope we have in Christ, the Source of all remedies and our great Caretaker.

Here are some other tools:

  • Find a short prayer to read every time you’re tempted with distraction. It can be as simple as the Jesus Prayer or “Most Holy Theotokos, save us” or something of your own.
  • Every morning, write down what you think your day’s challenges will be, and ask Christ to give you hope during them. At the end of the day, write the silver linings that Christ gave you amidst your struggles, and give Him thanks for that.
  • Set a timer on social media or other distractions in your life and give the remaining moments that you would’ve spent on distraction to caring for those in your life. Text and check up on your friends, call your parents, or simply repeat the Jesus Prayer.

Part V:

Before departing, read the following passage from St. Augustine’s Confessions and afterwards chant or read Psalm 90.

Who will grant it to me to find peace in you? Who will grant me this grace, that you should come into my heart and inebriate it, enabling me to forget the evils that beset me and embrace you, my only good? What are you to me? Have mercy on me, so that I may tell. What indeed am I to you, that you should command me to love you, and grow angry with me if I do not, and threaten me with enormous woes? Is not the failure to love you woe enough in itself?  Alas for me! Through your own merciful dealings with me, O Lord my God, tell me what you are to me. Say to my soul, I am your salvation. Say it so that I can hear it. My heart is listening, Lord; open the ears of my heart and say to my soul, I am your salvation. Let me run towards this voice and seize hold of you. Do not hide your face from me: let me die so that I may see it, for not to see it would be death to me indeed.

St. Augustine’s Confessions

He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High shall abide in the shelter of the God of heaven.
He shall say unto the Lord: Thou art my helper and my refuge. He is my God, and I will hope in Him.
For He shall deliver thee from the snare of the hunters and from every troubling word.
With His shoulders will He overshadow thee, and under His wings shalt thou have hope.
With a shield will His truth encompass thee; thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day,
Nor for the thing that walketh in darkness, nor for the mishap and demon of noonday.
A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but unto thee shall it not come nigh.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold, and thou shalt see the reward of sinners.
For Thou, O Lord, art my hope. Thou madest the Most High thy refuge;
No evils shall come nigh thee, and no scourge shall draw nigh unto thy dwelling.
For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
On their hands shall they bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Upon the asp and basilisk shalt thou tread, and thou shalt trample upon the lion and dragon.
For he hath set his hope on Me, and I will deliver him; I will shelter him because he hath known My name.
He shall cry unto Me, and I will hearken unto him. I am with him in affliction, and I will rescue him and glorify him.
With length of days will I satisfy him, and I will show him My salvation.

Psalm 90
There’s A Saint For That : St. Silouan the Athonite

There’s A Saint For That : St. Silouan the Athonite

St. Silouan the Athonite

Icon by the hand of Janet Jaime

How can St. Silouan intercede for us?

As we can see in his simple yet complicated life, there may be no saint better acquainted with the depths of despair and despondency than St. Silouan. Although our temptation to hopelessness may look differently than Silouan’s, he still understands that same feeling. He was a young man when he first began battling despondency in full force. He is right here with us, and he shows us how to keep getting back up and resolutely place our trust in Christ. When we are perplexed, frustrated, apathetic or catch ourselves thinking or feeling some pretty negative things, we can turn to him as our friend and ask for his help. He in turn can help guide us to Christ and see His light even in the blackest hell. He can lead us by his prayers to the peace and love we find in our Savior Jesus Christ. As his spiritual son, St. Sophrony of Essex, says, “Stand at the brink of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little, and have a cup of tea.”

The Life of St. Silouan (1866-1938)

St. Silouan was a Russian peasant who traveled to Mt Athos and became a monk in the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon. He lived so simply, humbly, and quietly that he might have been forgotten had St. Sophrony (Sakharov) not become his spiritual child and, after the saint’s repose, written a book describing his life and teaching, St. Silouan the Athonite, one of the great spiritual books of our time. It was through St. Sophrony’s efforts that St. Silouan was glorified as a saint.

St. Silouan grew up with pious parents but was himself fairly “wordly” for a long while. When he was still a young man, he almost accidentally killed a man with a single punch. He was immediately remorseful and devoted himself with zeal to repentance. However, this newfound fervor only lasted a few months! He returned to his old ways until he had a horrible dream that demonstrated just how displeasing his way of life was to the Mother of God. Grieved in his soul, he devoted himself again, and this time, through the prayers of St. John of Kronstadt, made his way to the Holy Mountain with a fire burning in his heart, so deep was his repentance.

In the beginning, he made many blunders in the spiritual life but his desire for Christ was stronger than his failures. A torrent of temptations that would have led him to give up this life of prayer assailed him but still he persisted. For six months the attacks never lessened. His spirit failed, he began to lose heart and the horror of hopelessness surrounded him. He thought to himself, “God will not hear me!” He felt utterly forsaken, his soul plunged into the darkness of despondency. Sick at heart, he remained in this black hell for about an hour. That very same day, the Lord appeared to the young novice whose whole being was filled with the fire of the grace of the Holy Spirit. The gentle gaze of the joyous, all-forgiving, boundlessly-loving Christ drew Silouan’s entire being to Himself.

The period of time after this, all was beautiful and lovely. He had within himself a sense of peace, reconciliation with God, and strength to continue on. However, this gradually faded, and he was perplexed and feared losing what he had. He sought counsel from an elder concerning his experiences and worries and received good advice on prayer, but amazed at the spiritual depth of the novice, the man mistakenly praised him as well. Silouan soon found himself struggling with thoughts of vainglory among other things. He fell into despair, despite his perpetual prayer. Having known the peace and grace of the Holy Spirit, his soul grieved, begged, prayed, and wept for the return of that Light. Weary years of alternating grace and withdrawal of grace now set it.

St. Silouan was called to serve as steward to the monastery. Though he now supervised some two hundred men, he only increased his prayers, withdrawing to his cell to pray with tears for each individual worker under his care. For more than fifteen years, he struggled with demonic attacks during prayer until he was almost in despair. At this point Christ spoke to him in a vision, saying “The proud always suffer from demons.” Silouan answered, “Lord, teach me what I must do so that my soul may become humble.” To this he received the reply, “Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.” St. Silouan made this his discipline in every moment of his life with joy and thanksgiving and was granted the grace of pure prayer. He said that if he ever let his mind wander from the fire of hell, disruptive thoughts would once again plague him. In his humiliation, he was filled with a pervasive love for all — he said many times that the final criterion of true Christian faith is unfeigned love for enemies, and that “to pray for others is to shed blood.”

Adapted from: http://www.abbamoses.com/months/september.html and St. Silouan the Athonite by St. Sophrony of Essex

 

Read more about his life here: https://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2012/09/st-silouan-athonite-1938.html

And even more in this book by St. Sophrony of Essex: https://svspress.com/saint-silouan-the-athonite-new-edition/

Learn his Troparion

By prayer thou didst receive Christ as thy teacher in the way of humility,
and the Spirit bore witness to salvation in thy heart.
Wherefore, all peoples called unto hope rejoice in this day of thy memorial,
O sacred Father Silouan. Pray unto Christ our God for the salvation of our souls.

Apolytikion of St. Silouan the Athonite

by Orthodox Christian Fellowship

Pray to him

O chosen ascetic and earthly angel of Christ, all-blessed father Silouan, most excellent emulator of the fathers of Athos in vigils, fasting and humility! Through thy thirst for God and burning love for Him thou didst acquire abundant grace for thy soul, O most blessed one. Imitating Christ, thou didst crucify thyself with tearful prayer for those languishing in hades, for the living and for those yet to come. Of this thy love deprive us not, who amid the vale of sin ask thine intercession before God and cry out with compunction: Rejoice, O father Silouan, inextinguishable burning of love in thy prayer for the world!

 

Akathist to St. Silouan, Kontakion I

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Staff Pick: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Staff Pick: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Recommended by Dn. Marek Simon, Executive Director

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen R. Covey presents a holistic, integrated, principle-centered approach for solving personal and professional problems. With penetrating insights and pointed anecdotes, Covey reveals a step-by-step pathway for living with fairness, integrity, service, and human dignity–principles that give us the security to adapt to change and the wisdom and power to take advantage of the opportunities that change creates.

Podcast: Despondency with Nicole Roccas

Podcast: Despondency with Nicole Roccas

Despondency | Your Orthodox Voice on Campus: OCF Campus Ministry Podcast

In this episode Samuel Dutschmann, College Conference Midwest Student Leader, is joined by author, podcaster, and trauma coach, Nicole Roccas. They discuss despondency in the life of college students. Nicole shares insights from her work and how students might work through these restless moments of our lives.

St. John the Hut-Dweller | There’s a Saint for That

St. John the Hut-Dweller | There’s a Saint for That

St. John Calybytes “the Hut-Dweller”

Saint Nektarios of Aegina - Icon by the hand of Deacon Matthew Garrett

How can St. John intercede for us?

St. John is known for his love for his parents and his gratitude. Pray to him to grow closer to your family while you are away for college. Ask him to implore the Holy Spirit to give you a spirit of thanksgiving for all things.

Discussion Questions

  1. In the days of St. John, the Gospel was hard to come by, so St. John read it constantly as soon as he obtained it. Meanwhile, we are privileged to have the Gospel in our prayer corners and on our phones, but most of rarely make use of these resources. How can we set aside more time to read our Savior’s words?
  2. St. John lived a life of worldly luxury, but he chose to give it all up so that he could focus more on growing closer to God. What little “time-sucks” can we leave out each day to give more time to prayer?
  3. St. John couldn’t stand to be away from his parents. How can we honor our parents in this phase of our lives when we spend less time with them?

The Life of St. John

St. John was born in Constantinople to wealthy parents in the 5th century. By the age of twelve, St. John knew he wanted to enter the monastic life. Meeting a monk on his way to Jerusalem, St. John made him promise to take him to the monastery on his way back from the Holy Land.

St. John asked his parents to use their riches to commission a copy of the Gospel. When he received the copy –– bound in gold and covered in gems —- he could not put it down.

When the pilgrim monk returned, he kept his promise and took St. John to the Monastery of the “Unsleeping Ones” (Ακοίμητοι). He received the monastic tonsure, and the fathers were shocked by the young man’s zeal in prayer, obedience, abstinence, and perseverance.

After six years, he began to undergo temptations. He remembered his parents, how much they loved him, and what sorrow he caused them. He regretted leaving them, and he was desperate to see them again.
After explaining this to igumen St. Marcellus, he was released from the monastery. Asking his blessing, he prayed with the brethren that he would not succumb to temptation in the city.

When the young saint returned to Constantinople, he dressed as a beggar to avoid being recognized and given the luxuries of his worldly life. He settled by the gate of his parents’ home, like the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. His father, unlike the Rich Man, sent him food from his own table. For the three years he lived in the hut, he was insulted by the servants and braved freezing weather, conversing unceasingly with the Lord and His angels.

Before his death, the Lord spoke to him, telling him he would enter Paradise in three days. St. John then asked a servant to bring his mother to the hut, for he had a message.

At first, his mother didn’t want to come, but she wanted to know what a beggar could say to her. He explained that he would soon die and that he was thankful for her charity. Asking to be buried in rags under his lowly hut, he gave her his copy of the Gospel, saying, “May this console you in this life, and guide you to the next life.”

After showing the Gospel to her husband, they discerned that it was the Gospel they gave their son. They went back to the hut, intending to ask the pauper how he got the Gospel. St. John then told them that he is their son, and his parents wept tears of joy. He reposed in the Lord, not even twenty-five years old. His parents built a church atop his hut, and they cared for the strangers that passed through it until they reposed.

Adapted from Orthodox Church in America, “Lives of the Saints”

Learn his Troparion

(Tone 4)
From infancy fervently you loved and longed for the Lord;
you therefore renounced the world and every worldly delight,
and excelled in ascetic feats.
You set the hut you dwelt in before the gates of your parents.
Therein, all-blessed struggler, you crushed the snares of the demons.
And therefore, O John, Christ has glorified you worthily.

Troparion of St. John the Hut-Dweller

by Samuel Dutschmann

Pray to him

Kontakion

Having loved that poverty which no one can rob, you turned down your parents’ wealth, O John. Taking the Gospel of Christ in your hands, you followed Him; now pray for us unceasingly.

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Suggested Activity: “Practicing Gratitude”

Suggested Activity: “Practicing Gratitude”

We are called to be grateful in two ways: towards God and towards our fellow human beings. If practice makes perfect, however, then we need to practice gratitude in order to achieve this calling from God.

Here are two ways to practice gratitude this month:

  1. Read “This Was From Me” a letter from the perspective of God written St. Seraphim of Vyritsa to one of his spiritual children. Pretending as if God wrote a similar letter to you, write a letter of gratitude in response to God thanking him for the things that are from Him in your life.

Have you ever thought that all what concerns you, concerns Me too?
For what concerns you, concerns the apple of My eye.
You are precious in My sight, of great value, and I have loved you,
and so it is a great joy for Me to educate you.
When temptations rise up against you,
when the enemy surges against you like the rough sea, I want you to know that –

This was from Me.

I want you to know that in your weakness,
you need My strength, and that your safety lies in allowing Me to defend you.
Have you ever found yourself in difficult straits,
among people who did not understand you, who did not care about what you liked, who alienated you? –

This was for Me.

I am your God, your entire life is in My hands.
It was no accident that you found yourself in that specific place;
it was the very place I had appointed for you.
Did you not ask that I teach you humility?
Thus, I set you into that very place,
in the school where that lesson could be learned.
Those around you, those living with you,
are merely acting according to My will.
Do you struggle with money, is it difficult for you to make ends meet,
then know that –

This was from Me.

For I put money at your disposal, and I want you to run to Me,
and to know that you depend upon Me.
Bear in mind that My reserves are inexhaustible
and rest assure that I faithfully keep My promises.
May you never be told these words in your time of need:
«Do not believe in your Lord God».
Have you ever spent one night in sorrow?
Are you parted from those who are close and dear to your heart?
I allowed it so that you may turn to Me to find eternal comfort.
Have you been betrayed by your friend, or by someone you opened your heart to –

This was from Me.

I allowed that you be touched by that disappointment,
so that you may recognize that the Lord is your truest friend.
I want you to bring all your cares to Me and talk to Me about everything.
Have you ever been slandered, then leave it to Me and allow your soul to cling closer to Me,
your refuge, your shelter from disputing tongues.
I will bring out your truth like a bright light and your fate like noonday.
Have your plans come to naught, is your heart weary and grown tired –

This was from Me.

You had made your own plans, you had your own intentions,
and you brought them before Me seeking for My blessing.
However, I want you to allow Me to decide and order the circumstances of your life,
for you are merely an instrument and not an active participant.
Unexpected failures in life have come to you and despondency has taken hold of your heart, know –

This was from Me.

For it is through this weariness of your spirit
that I am testing the strength of your faith to My promises
and the fervency of your prayer for those close to you.
Was it not you who entrusted your cares for them to My providential love?
Was it not you who still entrusts them to the Protection of My Most-pure Mother?
Has a serious illness befallen you, either passing or incurable, and have you been bedridden –

This was from Me.

For I want you to know Me even more deeply through your bodily infirmities
and not to grouch because of this trial sent down to you,
and not to strive to comprehend My plans for the salvation of human souls in diverse ways,
but to bow your head without complaining and submit to My goodness for you.
If you have ever dreamed of doing some special work for Me,
and instead of that you found yourself lied down on the bed of illness and weakness –

This was from Me.

For then you would have been preoccupied with your affairs,
and I would not have been able to draw your thoughts to Me,
but I want to teach you My deepest thoughts and lessons, so that you may be in My service.
I want you to comprehend that you are nothing without Me.
Some of My best children are those who are cut off from active work,
so that they may learn to use the weapon of ceaseless prayer. –

This was from Me.

If, unexpectedly, you are called to take on a difficult and responsible position,
put your trust in Me.
I entrust you with these difficulties, and for them,
your Lord God will bless you in everything you do,
wherever you go; in everything, your Lord will be your Director and Instructor.
On this day, My child, I placed the container of The Holy Oil. Make free use of it.
Always remember that every difficulty that arises, every word that offends you,
every vanity and condemnation,
every obstacle in doing your job that could evoke disappointment, disillusion, disenchantment,
every manifestation of weakness and impotence will be anointed with this oil. –

This was from Me.

Remember that every obstacle is a Divine instruction, and therefore,
instill in your heart the words I have told you today –

This was from Me.

Keep these words in your mind and always remember them,
wherever you may go.
The pain of every sting you endure will be blunted if you will learn to see Me in everything.
Everything has been sent to you by Me for the perfection of your soul –

All these were from Me.

This Was From Me – St. Seraphim of Vyritsa
  1. Every Saturday evening, before receiving the Eucharist on Sunday morning, think of a person in your life who you do not often thank for their impact in your life, OR think of a person who you feel the opposite of gratitude to. Send them a text or give them a quick call to thank them for something from them that you often take for granted or do not notice.
Curated Discussion: “A Deeper Level of Thanksgiving”

Curated Discussion: “A Deeper Level of Thanksgiving”

Part I:

Start your meeting by listening to this clip from Father Thomas Hopko’s Speaking the Truth in Love: “A Deeper Level of Thanksgiving

(Click here to listen to the the full episode on Ancient Faith Radio.)

Part II:

After watching, take 2-3 minutes to write down your initial thoughts about the clip from the podcast.

Part III:

Then, discuss the following questions as a group, or in smaller groups:

  1. In the podcast clip, Father Thomas reads from the first chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, highlighting the dark and evil lives that ungrateful people have fallen into over the course of human history (Romans 1:21-32). What is gratitude? How does a lack of gratitude lead to a life of darkness and sin? 

If this is a difficult question, think of sin as missing the mark: How does a lack of gratitude cause us to miss the mark and how does that lead to dwelling in darkness?

  1. Why does Father Alexander Shmmeman say that “everyone capable of gratitude is capable of salvation?” What is the connection between salvation and gratitude?
  1. Father Thomas mentions our life “being gratitude & thanksgiving” and the importance of living eucharistically. Describe someone you know that encapsulates what it means to be thankful. How does that person differ from someone who simply gives thanks?
  1. The passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians that Father Thomas reads in the podcast (Ephesians 5:3-20) mentions a variety of things that we should refrain from doing in order to cultivate a life of gratitude towards God. Take another look at the things mentioned in this passage. How do they compare to the things that pull us away from a life of gratitude in today’s social climate and life on a college campus? Which of these things do you find to be your own greatest roadblock to cultivating a life of gratitude?

Part IV:

The Orthodox Church responds to the aspects of life that pull us away from a life of thanksgiving by offering us a rhythm of Divine Services that help us practice gratitude. However, to really achieve a life of gratitude we can’t solely rely on the broader rhythms of the Church. To become grateful ourselves, we must strive to practice gratitude on a personal level by engaging in each day of our lives with a positive, rather than negative, outlook.

In a planner, journal, or your phone, come up with a rythmic practice that will allow you to cultivate thanksgiving in your own life and to transition from a person who gives thanks to a person who is thankful.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Every morning, venerate an icon of Christ and give thanks for 3 unique and specific things in your life
  • Every evening, write down three things that you are thankful for from the day (after a month, it may be inspiring to look back on all the things you wrote each day of that month)
  • Set 3 alarms on your phone for particular times of the day; when those alarms go off, stop whatever you are doing for 10 seconds, and give thanks to God for something specific in your life

Part V:

Before departing, chant or read Psalm 135 (known as the second Polyeleos [the hymn of Great Mercy/Oil] from Festal Orthros).

For a reference to the traditional melody for chanting the psalm, listen to this recording

***Notes on chanting Psalm 135:

  • The phrase “Alleluia” (which means, “God praised,”) is inserted twice into each verse as a refrain, though it is not part of the text of the original psalm offered below. If you are chanting the hymn, make sure you know where to add the “Alleluia”s before doing so.
  • While most people know how to chant Psalm 135 in one mode, the recording above follows the tradition of changing modes every several verses; feel free to stick to chanting the melody in the mode you know best.

Psalm 135

O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever.
O give thanks unto the God of gods; for His mercy endureth for ever.
O give thanks unto the Lord of lords; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him Who alone hath wrought great wonders; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him that made the heavens with understanding; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him that established the earth upon the waters; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him Who alone hath made great lights; for His mercy endureth for ever.
The sun for dominion of the day; for His mercy endureth for ever.
The moon and the stars for dominion of the night; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him that smote Egypt with their firstborn; for His mercy endureth for ever.
And led forth Israel out of the midst of them; for His mercy endureth for ever.
With a strong hand and a lofty arm; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him that divided the Red Sea into parts; for His mercy endureth for ever.
And led Israel through the midst thereof; for His mercy endureth for ever.
And overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him that led His people through the wilderness; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him that smote great kings; for His mercy endureth for ever.
And slew mighty kings; for His mercy endureth for ever.
Seon, king of the Amorites; for His mercy endureth for ever.
And Og, king of the land of Basan; for His mercy endureth for ever.
And gave their land for an inheritance; for His mercy endureth for ever.
An inheritance for Israel His servant; for His mercy endureth for ever.
For in our humiliation the Lord remembered us; for His mercy endureth for ever.
And redeemed us from our enemies; for His mercy endureth for ever.
He that giveth food to all flesh; for His mercy endureth for ever.
O give thanks unto the God of heaven; for His mercy endureth for ever.

Guided Discussion : “Gratitude for Evil”

This discussion is made up of four parts, with each part containing a reflection and a set of discussion questions. Either with your OCF chapter, a friend or two, or just on your own, read each reflection and discuss the questions related to it. You can choose to break the discussion into multiple sessions, tackling a part or two a week, or you can do the whole thing in one sitting.

Part I: Framing the Discussion

Reflection

Most of us – whether Christian or not – think it’s natural to thank God or to simply be grateful when we experience something positive. In fact, in our world today, saying “Thank God,” has become a common way of expressing gratitude for a positive outcome in our lives, even by atheists. 

However, when it comes to the more difficult moments in our life – the uncomfortable and confusing ones – we often become angry, upset, or depressed. We feel as if some sort of injustice is going on. We question why something is happening to us. We wonder what we could change to make that bad thing go away. And we definitely do not thank God.

Discussion Questions

  • Why is it more difficult to be grateful in times of struggle and suffering than in positive times? 
  • What might our underlying worldview be when we react to struggle and suffering as something that we should despise rather than be grateful for? What thoughts might be causing that reaction to take place?

Part II: Reframing the Discussion

Reflection

You probably touched on this in answering the questions above, but most people don’t see struggles and sufferings as things to be grateful for because we don’t view them as good things. Indeed, why would you give thanks for anything that isn’t good?

Furthermore, we don’t give thanks to God for these things because we don’t believe they are from God. Most of us know that God is loving, compassionate, patient, and merciful. It doesn’t make sense then how things that are so uncomfortable, so hard to endure, and, so often, so clearly heartbreaking and painful, can be from God. After all, St. James tells us in his universal epistle, “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). St. James doesn’t say that bad things are from above, just good ones. So why thank God for things that aren’t from Him?

Despite both of these very logical forms of reasoning, however, we as Christians know that we are supposed to be grateful for everything in life, both what we would call good and what we would call bad.

In his epistle to the Thessalonians, St. Paul says, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5: 17-18). Similarly, perhaps one of the most famous lines in the history of the Church are St. John Chrysostom’s final words, “glory to God for all things,” which he uttered after being persecuted and walked to his death as an old man. 

The Tradition of the Church is clear, we should give thanks and praise to God for everything that we encounter in life.

Discussion Questions

  • So how do we reconcile the two competing ideas in the section above? Is it possible to say that the bad things in life are not worth thanking God for because they are not good things and only good things come from God while also saying that we should thank God for everything in life?
  • If we have to reframe our thinking here, what needs to change?

Part III: A Difficult Truth

Reflection

You may have arrived at this realization on your own, but there are a pair of possibilities worth considering:

  1. That struggles and sufferings are not actually bad.
  2. That struggles and sufferings are from God, too.

If we think that it doesn’t make sense for evil things to exist in the world when the world is created by a loving and compassionate God, then we have a choice: we can either decide that God does not exist, or we can decide that evil does not exist.

In today’s world, most people probably choose the former. After all, it’s easier to decide that there’s no God in the face of struggle and suffering because it means that we can create our own meaning in life. We don’t have to live up to someone else’s standards, and we don’t have to endure that struggle and suffering if we don’t want to.

But the reality is that we do have to endure struggle and suffering even when we don’t want to. Even if we are the most selfish people in the world and do everything to look out for ourselves and avoid any difficulties in life, we are bound to be affected by some disease, natural disaster, unlucky outcome, or, simply, death.

So it can’t be that God doesn’t exist, but that evil doesn’t exist.

Of course, this is what the Fathers of the Church teach. They say that evil is not a thing, but actually the absence of a thing. It is the absence of good. And that absence is only felt and made real when our lives do not aim at the ultimate good: God.

Discussion Questions

  • Take a moment to consider the gravity of the section above. How does it feel to be presented with the idea that evil doesn’t exist?
  • If we have experienced great pain or suffering in our lives, it might be difficult to believe that evil does not exist. How would you as a Christian support the argument that evil does not exist?

Part IV: Finding the Reason for Gratitude

Reflection

In truth, the section above is not explicitly Christian. Philosophers and great thinkers of other religions can and have arrived at the same conclusions about God and evil independently of any Christian theological foundation. However, there would still be something unsettling and empty about the section above if our discussion were to stop there, if we didn’t have the revelation of God to add to that philosophical reasoning.

In the Church, we recognize that God has not only created the world but that, out of his abundant goodness and love, He has also revealed Himself to the world and shown us the reason for the reality of struggles and sufferings which, though not evil, can still feel difficult and unnecessary.

In the Gospel of John, when Jesus and his disciples pass a man who was blind from birth, the disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” and Jesus answers them, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work” (John 9:1-5).

In the context of Genesis, the meaning of this passage becomes clear. After we humans chose not to direct ourselves towards God, after we chose to forsake His work of bringing order to the world by eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, we started to drift away from God. We no longer participated in His glory and we stopped radiating His light. However, instead of giving up on us and allowing us to drift into evil (into the dark nothingness of the night) by becoming completely separate from Him, God instead granted us more light and more day. He gave us opportunities to transform our fallen experience into good by granting us struggles and suffering.

It is when we struggle or suffer that we are motivated to choose to put our trust in God and receive His power and grace once again. It is when others struggle or suffer that we can choose to share God’s powerful grace and love with the world by tending to the suffering of others.

And Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection shows us that that suffering is not in vain. In resurrecting and promising us that same resurrection, Christ shows us that our struggle and suffering can lead us back to a place where there is no struggle or suffering, especially when we choose to participate in that suffering like He did: by engaging in it on behalf of others.

Discussion Questions

  • In light of this final section, why should we be grateful to God for all things?
  • How did acknowledging the need for gratitude in life help you change your perspective on struggle and suffering? 
  • How does a new perspective on struggle and suffering help you be more grateful?
Staff Pick: The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Staff Pick: The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Recommended by Alexandros Pandazis, Campus Missionary

When Christians first began living as monks in the Egyptian desert at the beginning of the fourth century, they had few books and almost no learning. As they gained experience, they concentrated that experience in the form of an oral tradition of tales and sayings (apophthegmata). Apart from the Scriptures (also learned by heart) this was the only training manual they had. Consequently, when the onslaught of barbarians drove many monks out of Egypt early in the following century, they found it better to preserve their oral tradition in writing.

Thus, towards the end of the fifth century there eventually emerged a codification of this monastic lore. It was in two parts: one in which the items were arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the monk who either authored the saying or was characterized in the tale; the other in which all the remaining “anonymous” material was arranged under various heads. The present volume is an attempt to provide the reader with an effective translation of the first of those parts.

Curated Content Discussion: Beauty

Curated Content Discussion: Beauty

Curated Discussion: Beauty 

Begin your meeting with a minute of silence, a prayer, and by listening to or having already listened to “The Red Flower” on Dcn. Nicholas Kotar’s Podcast In a Certain Kingdom.

In this story, Beauty and Ugliness are brought to the forefront of our minds. Dcn. Nicholas ushers us through an examination of these concepts and how our understanding of them impacts our life. He shares that Beauty is appreciated for itself; as something worthy of simple contemplation, of simply being in its presence. 

Take a few minutes to reflect upon and perhaps journal about how Beauty has impacted your life. Try to think of a few specific instances, then discuss together what thoughts, feelings, or memories arose during your contemplation. 

Dcn. Nicholas also spoke about a kindergarten teacher in France. The man in this story articulated that his appearance is what he considered to be the best expression of himself and his personhood, and so was beautiful to him. However, this expression gave children nightmares and may make us a bit uneasy. It’s okay to challenge assumptions you may or may not know you hold by discussing together:

Is Beauty objective or subjective? What makes something beautiful or ugly? Is Beauty something individual that you can have by yourself, or is it something that necessitates being shared with others?

In The Red Flower, the Beast, cursed in a hideous form, is aware of his ugliness and comes to realize that his appearance is not reflective of his true self (who he is presently or is striving to become). Instead of succumbing to it, he transforms himself and his surroundings; he grows (literally) and manifests his internal beauty. But that is not the end! As Dcn. Nicholas puts it,

“The beast yearns to share this beauty, because he understands at this point, after having manifested it, that beauty and the experience of it is a communal thing. In it, individualism fades away. True beauty can only be experienced with others.”

When the beautiful young woman comes to love him, it is for – as he himself says – his kindness, care, and good heart. She herself learns to grow in virtue and her understanding of beauty. Kotar points out that it was a mistake to want to pick the red flower. . . 

Why was it wrong to want to pick the most beautiful red flower in the world? How is the flower an image of Beauty itself? How should we instead appreciate beauty?

Now, why is Beauty important for us to discuss as Christians? It is in fact integral for us and intrinsic to our Faith. 

Where do we see beauty reflected in the church? Where do we find it in the world around us?  From where or from Whom does it come?

To wrap up, read together the quotes given below and discuss these questions:

  • How can we grow in our ability to notice and appreciate Beauty?
  • What are some ways we participate in and share Beauty through joy and love with other people?
  • What is at least one way YOU can start putting Beauty in the world?

“We do not want merely to see beauty. . . We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” 

C.S. Lewis

“Realize how much your Creator has honored you above all other creatures. He did not make the heavens in His image, nor the moon, the sun, the beauty of the stars or anything else which surpasses understanding. You alone are a reflection of eternal beauty, a receptacle of happiness, an image of the true light. And, if you look to Him, you will become what He is, imitating Him who shines within you, whose glory is reflected in your purity. Nothing in the entire creation can equal your grandeur. All the heavens can fit into the palm of the hand of God. Although He is so great that He can hold all creation in His palm, you can wholly embrace Him. He dwells in you.” 

St. Gregory of Nyssa

“Make the most of beautiful moments. Beautiful moments predispose the soul to prayer; they make it refined, noble, and poetic. Wake up in the morning to see the sun rising from out of the sea as a king robed in regal purple. When a lovely landscape, a picturesque chapel, or something beautiful inspires you, don’t leave things at that, but go beyond this to give glory for all beautiful things so that you experience Him who alone is ‘comely in beauty.’ All things are holy – the sea, swimming, and eating. Take delight in them all. All things enrich us, all lead us to the great Love, all lead us to Christ.” 

St. Porphrios of Kavsokalyvia
Suggested Activity: Food Pantry

Suggested Activity: Food Pantry

…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;  I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ 

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?

Matthew 25:35-37

The Christian life requires us to care for all of those around us and serve their needs. With the drastic costs of college tuition, many students are dealing with food insecurity on college campuses. Many of our own classmates might not know where their next meal is coming from. Because of this, there is a wonderful opportunity for your OCF chapter to be the Church on your campus and to serve the needs of your fellow students! Because of our love for the Lord and his caring for the needs of all, we can take on the needs of those around us and dedicate ourselves to serving them. 

Here are three ways to serve those in need on your campus:

  1. Volunteer at an already established center for feeding the students on your campus or in your city. A quick Google search will bring up loads of initiatives connected with your university.
  2. Start a collection drive and donate the food items needed by your local food pantry. Your chapter can collect things from its own students, from the city around your campus, or from your parishes in order to sustainably donate to your local organization. 
  3. Consider partnering with other groups on campus to begin a food pantry for students at your school! In this PDF made up by the College & University Food Bank Alliance, you’ll find a plethora of resources and guides to help your chapter begin this initiative on your campus. https://studentsagainsthunger.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/NSCAHH_Food_Pantry_Toolkit.pdf

Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Matthew 25:41
Guided Discussion: Inviting Others into Eternity

Guided Discussion: Inviting Others into Eternity

The Eternal vs The Temporal

As Orthodox Christians, we’re used to the idea of the “eternal.” Our prayers repeat over and over, “now and ever and unto the ages of ages!” This idea of something being stable, being infinite, being timeless can sometimes feel foreign in our fast-fashion, short-attention-span, Prime-delivery everyday world. What’s even more difficult than living at the intersection of these two worlds is the task of inviting others into the awareness of the eternal so that we may share with them the beauty of God and His Church. 

Do you feel a tension between the norms of society and the awareness of eternity that our faith presents to us?

Where do you find you “live” between these two worlds? Are you mostly in one? One foot in each? In a different world depending on the day of the week, season of the year, etc? 

Is it possible that these two worlds could compliment one another rather than be at odds with each other? What could that look like in our everyday lives? 

The Eternal & The Temporal

Believe it or not, both the eternal and the temporal worlds were given to us by God. We live in the temporal, there’s not much we can change about that. Through the Christian life, we are reintroduced to the eternal: to God, to eternal life, to the heavenly realm, to the saints, to the sacraments. We are called to live lives that work to intersect both worlds at all times. In our spiritual walk, our purpose is to live at the very meeting place of the eternal and the temporal. Making every temporal moment and infinite one by bringing Christ’s presence into it. 

Have you had a time/season in your life where you found the eternal sanctifying your temporal time? What was that like?

Do you struggle to live at the intersection of these two worlds? Would you rather hop into one for a time and then hop into the other at a different time? Why do you think that is?

Making the Eternal Accessible for Others

If we are to bring the eternal things of God into our everyday, temporal lives, not only will our lives be changed, but also the lives of everyone around us. Since God made us to live at the intersection of the eternal and temporal, everyone around us has a natural longing to experience the eternal things of God. This doesn’t mean we need to be preaching at our friends at all times. Living a life that is filled and sanctified with the eternal will offer a look at what a life-giving existence looks like to all those who are around us. And believe it or not, most of our friends would be receptive and interested in an invitation from you if they already see that your life is different from everyone else’s around them. 

 How can we live in such a way that makes the eternal present for those around us?

What hinders us from inviting friends into the eternal? (Prayer before eating, attending the Divine services, praying before exams, etc.)

How can we invite others to participate in the eternal?

Staff Pick: Resident Aliens

Staff Pick: Resident Aliens

Recommended by Joseph Bray, Communications Manager

“In the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, all human history must be reviewed. The coming of Christ has cosmic implications. He has changed the course of things. So the theological (and I’d add, the ecclesial) task is not merely the interpretive matter of translating Jesus into modern categories but rather to translate the world to him. The theologian’s job (and I’d add, the pastor’s, too) is not to make the gospel credible to the modern world, but to make the world credible to the gospel.”

Do you find yourself frequently getting wrapped up in political arguments? In “Resident Aliens” Hauerwas and Willimon challenge Christians to nurture life and community rather than reform secular culture. They argue that Christians shouldn’t let contemporary politics dictate the terms of Christian social thought. Only when Christians are rooted in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ do they have any stand against eroding societal moral values.

St. Nektarios of Aegina | There’s a Saint for That

St. Nektarios of Aegina | There’s a Saint for That

St. Nektarios of Aegina

Saint Nektarios of Aegina - Icon by the hand of Deacon Matthew Garrett

The Life of St. Nektarios

Anastasios Kephalas was born on October 1st, 1846, in Eastern Selyvria of Thrace (now Turkey). He was one of six children and grew up very poor, but his parents taught him from a young age to be a pious Orthodox Christian. After elementary school, he went to Constantinople with not a penny in his pocket with the hopes of earning some money to help his poverty stricken family. He was determined to study theology, a desire which stemmed from his growing love for Christ. He did not even have the money to buy a ticket for the boat ride but the sailors took pity on him and let him go. After arriving in Constantinople, he eventually found work in a factory with a tobacco merchant and earned barely enough money to feed himself, he could not even afford shoes. However, he found comfort with the lord and never cared about materialistic things. He wanted to write about his circumstances and send the letter to someone, and that someone became Jesus Christ. The letter said: “My little Christ, I do not have an apron or shoes. Please send them to me. You know how much I love you. Anastasios”. The envelope said “to the Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven”. A merchant who took the letter to mail it out saw what it said and, overcome with emotion, anonymously sent the boy money and advice on how to use it wisely.

In his young adult years, he became a monk. This was a dream come true to him because it allowed him to study the scriptures more than ever before. He fasted and prayed daily, many nights he did not sleep and just prayed until sunrise and then prayed the eternity of the next day. He was eventually ordained a deacon due to his holiness and given the name “Nektarios”. The uncle of one of the sailors from the boat many years ago, John Horemis, who was touched by the young boy, paid for him to further his studies in Athens. He then went to Alexandria, Egypt where he became very close with the Patriarch Sophronios. After furthering his education he was ordained priest, then Metropolitan of Pentapolis and eventually secretary to the Patriarch.

The holiness which radiated from the Saint in every encounter he had resulted in him being adored by everyone. He touched the lives of everyone he came across and was known for his kindness and pureness, especially to those in poverty/homeless. It is said people were drawn to him like a magnet. This led to the bishops and higher clergy to slander his name and convince the Patriarch to write a letter of suspension from the Metropolis. Saint Nektarios never tried to defend himself, instead, he prayed to the Lord and trusted his will. People became very angry and upset at the treatment he was facing and he would instruct them to remain calm and keep their faith. He eventually left very secretly for Athens to avoid any uproar. Those who committed slander against him wrote many letters to influential people in Greece saying his good virtues and kindness was all an act and he was never genuine.

Once in Athens he was refused a position in the Church of Greece by the state and Church authorities. At some point, the best and practically only option was to go to Mount Athos where he would at least have food and shelter, but he refused because he wanted to stay and help others more so than himself. He was eventually appointed a preacher by the Minister of Religion, despite this being a huge step down from his former position, he was never embarrassed to have this position. Throughout all of this, the Saint prayed for those who persecuted him and never questioned God’s will or became angry. There were a few people who came to realize the Saint was truly a good man and had been falsely accused. Their good influence led him to be appointed as dean of the Rizarios Seminary in Athens. Despite his role in the administration, he still lived as a monk with constant prayer, meditation, fasting, and ascesis.

Saint Nektarios decided he wanted to eventually leave the loud and noisy world and retreat to a place where he could just pray and enjoy the silence. He had a few spiritual daughters who wished to become nuns and together they founded a small  monastery on the island of Aegina where he retired in 1908. He had also founded a small church which was once a monastery dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The Saint would say to the nuns: “I am building a lighthouse for you, and God will put a light in it that shall shine unto the breadth and length of the whole world. Many shall see the light and come here to Aegina.” But the nuns could not understand what he was trying to tell them. It was only after the recovery of his holy relics and miracles that he began working in such abundance that they understood. He meant that his way of life, his very holy body, were the lighthouse, and if God pleased He would send his light, and it would shine throughout. Thus the words which the Saint used to say to them have been fulfilled.

Saint Nektarios often preferred to be alone only with the company of the saints and the Virgin Mary, they often appeared to him during liturgy or in his cell. After the first World War he taught his nuns to always rely on God and never keep any food in storage for themselves and give everything to the poor. He was eventually overcome with illness (cystitis) and relied on Christ through it all and never complained. He even thanked God for putting him to the test just like he did when he was faced with slander. There was a paralyzed man in the bed next to him and when he finally gave up his spirit his sweater was removed and placed on the paralyzed man’s bed and almost immediately he rose and began walking, all while glorifying God. They took his body to Aegina where they gave him a simple burial at the Convent of the Holy Trinity.

His Glorification

Many people saw Saint Nektarios as a Saint during his lifetime because of his humility, miracles, great virtues and purity he constantly upheld. His relics were removed from the grave in September of 1953 and exuded a beautiful fragrance. However, it was not until April 20, 1961, that he was recognized a Saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Since then, thousands of miracles have been attributed to his intercession, especially in cases of cancer or serious illness being cured. In 1998, the Patriarchate of Alexandria released an official apology statement on behalf of their predecessors who mistreated the Saint.

Fun Facts

● His best friend and co-confessor was Saint Savva of Kalymnos (who painted the first icon of Saint Nektarios)
● He is the author of the renowned hymn, “Agni Parthene/O Pure Virgin” to the Holy Mother
● His body smelled of fragrance so strong when he died, nothing they did would get rid of it
● He was the most popular confessor in Greece at his time
● He is the author of many writings on ethics, Church history, and theology

Discussion around St. Nektarios

 

  1. Saint Nektarios always forgave and prayed for those who persecuted him. He also never tried to defend himself and relied on Christ through everything. What are some ways we can incorporate these virtues when we ourselves are struggling with similar circumstances?
  2. Like many other Saints, Saint Nektarios used fasting as part of his regular prayer rituals. In the midst of school and social obligations, how can we as busy students incorporate fasting into our own prayer rituals?
  3. The man who funded the Saints initial studies in Athens, John Horemis, was touched by the Saint from the time he was a young boy only fourteen years old before even meeting him in person. Discuss what this tells us about the impact he must have had on people throughout his life.

A prayer to the Virgin Mary by Saint Nektarios

Take away from me, O Virgin, the fetters of sin,
Of my lusts and other transgressions: the terrible carelessness and the overcaring, the evil curiosity and the talkativeness, the useless incontinence and the haughtiness, the negligence, the drunkenness and the lack of mercy, the bad desires, the terrible impurity, the extravagance, the darkness, the great insensitivity. Take away the tendency to say jokes, the enjoyment, the prodigality. The laughter of immorality and every evil. Give me, O maiden, fasting, carefulness, vigilance and perfect obedience. Give me carefulness in all and acute discernment, silence, order and holy patience. Grant to me O Lady, eagerness to work and to attain my perfection, and zeal for virtues and exercise. Keep, O most- Holy One, my soul, my heart and my mind and guard it in virginity.

Learn his Apolytikion

O faithful, let us honor Nectarios, divine servant of Christ, offspring of Silivria
and guardian of Aegina, who in these latter years was manifested as the true friend of
virtue. All manner of healing wells forth for those who in piety cry out, “Glory to
Christ who glorified you; glory to Him who, through you, wrought wonders; glory to
Him who, through you, works healing for all.”

Learn His Kontakion

“In joy of heart let us hymn with songs the newly revealed star of Orthodoxy,
the newly erected bulwark of the Church; for, glorified by the activity of the Spirit, he
poureth forth the abundant grace of healing upon those who cry: Rejoice, O Father
Nektarios, model of patience and lover of virtue.”

Go Back to the Full List

Staff Pick: The Life of Repentance and Purity by Pope Shenouda III

Staff Pick: The Life of Repentance and Purity by Pope Shenouda III

Recommended by Demiana Saleeb,
Ministry Intern

Need better habits? Want an easy read? “The Life of Repentance & Purity” by Pope Shenouda III might be the perfect book for you! OCF Ministry Intern, Demiana, read this book during the last Lenten season and now recommends it to you. The Life of Repentance and Purity provides readers with a comprehensive overview of the practice of repentance and purity, essential aspects of Christian life. Pope Shenouda III draws on Scripture, the Church Fathers, his own experience of desert monasticism, and his experience as a shepherd to millions of Christians to provide a practical understanding of how to live a life of continually turning to God.
Curated Discussion : Building Christ-Centered Habits

Curated Discussion : Building Christ-Centered Habits

Start your meeting by watching together the Be the Bee episode “Habits” by Steve Christoforou.

Take some time to journal on your own:

  1. What habits (good or bad) are you currently growing in your life?
  2. What is one habit you’d like to uproot in your life?
  3. What is one habit you’d like to cultivate in your life?

Then, as a group or in smaller groups, discuss the following questions:

  1. What have you found to be effective in uprooting negative habits and cultivating positive habits?
  2. What do you do when you find yourself struggling to maintain good habits?
  3. How can your OCF community support one another in cultivating good habits?

On your own, journal and reflect on:

  1. What is one thing you’ll try this week to uproot a negative habit or cultivate a positive habit?
  2. If you implemented that change, how would your life look different in one month?

Finally, write an email to yourself with what you have outlined above. Schedule the email to send to your own account on the first day of Advent. Revisit this topic and the personal reflection questions when you get your email. How are you doing with your habits? What do you need to adjust? Is it time to check in with a spiritual guide to evaluate what is working and what is not? After you’ve done this, schedule yourself another email for the beginning of Lent. Any time is a good time to start building Christ-centered habits, and the Church gives us the fasting seasons to focus our energy on reorienting ourselves.

Conclude today’s meeting by praying Psalm 118(119):1-16

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,

who walk in the law of the Lord!

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,

who seek him with their whole heart,

who also do no wrong,

but walk in his ways!

Thou hast commanded thy precepts

to be kept diligently.

O that my ways may be steadfast

in keeping thy statutes!

Then I shall not be put to shame,

having my eyes fixed on all thy commandments.

I will praise thee with an upright heart,

when I learn thy righteous ordinances.

I will observe thy statutes;

O forsake me not utterly!

How can a young man keep his way pure?

By guarding it according to thy word.

With my whole heart I seek thee;

let me not wander from thy commandments!

I have laid up thy word in my heart,

that I might not sin against thee.

Blessed be thou, O Lord;

teach me thy statutes!

With my lips I declare

all the ordinances of thy mouth.

In the way of thy testimonies I delight

as much as in all riches.

I will meditate on thy precepts,

and fix my eyes on thy ways.

I will delight in thy statutes;

I will not forget thy word.

Guided Discussion: Building Christ-Centered Habits

Guided Discussion: Building Christ-Centered Habits

What does it mean to build habits that are truly Christ-centered? It means to invite Christ into our everyday lives, no matter how mundane. It means for us to call upon the Holy Spirit so that we grow in our awareness of His presence. A Christ-centered habit is a habit that allows us to recognize God’s activity in the world. St. Gregory the Theologian says simply, “We must remember God more often than we draw breath.”

Becoming aware
It’s easy to go about our day with the sense that we are isolated from God. How and when are you most aware of His presence?

Do you ever feel as if God is not present? What situations elicit that experience for you? What do you do?

What do you think of St. Gregory’s lofty challenge to remember God more often than we breathe? What can you do to actively become more aware of God in your day-to-day life?

Habits that draw us near
There are many ways we can clear our hearts to become more aware of Christ in our lives, and all of them take time, guidance, and repentance. Here is one suggestion we’d love for you to consider:

Sanctify your day with tiny prayers. Sometimes we’re prone to overcomplicate praying. Try instead when you open a book to study to say, “Lord, bless my understanding that I may give glory to You.” Or pray, “Lord have mercy on…” when you get a text message from that person. Or, if you find yourself on a solitary walk across campus, pray the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner) in rhythm with your footsteps. 

What other tasks throughout your day could you turn into opportunities to be in conversation with Jesus? What time of day or activity do you think might be most transformed in your life if you were to pray during it?

A reflection from St. Patrick
In the Breastplate of St. Patrick, a morning prayer attributed to the patron of Ireland, St. Patrick makes a conscious effort to acknowledge the presence of God, the angels, and the saints in the world in which he goes about his daily tasks. Pray the following excerpt from the Breastplate. Take your time, and recite each line slowly.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

What stands out to you in this prayer? What will you take into your life this week from St. Patrick’s attitude about the presence of Christ?

Small Acts of Service: Building Christ-Centered Habits

Small Acts of Service: Building Christ-Centered Habits

This month, start building a habit of serving others by trying to do small acts of service throughout your week. Choose one small thing you could commit to doing at least once a week every week. Some suggestions we have:

  • Check in with a friend you haven’t heard from in a while.
  • Equip your car or backpack with care packages you could offer to those who are homeless in your community (Consider including: snacks, hygiene products, $5, and a small paper icon).
  • Pick up trash on campus instead of walking past it.
  • Make a point of connecting with someone who seems disconnected in a class, group project, social setting, or org meeting.
  • Do an extra chore or the chore everyone hates at your house or apartment.