One Christian, No Christian

One Christian, No Christian

Community is at the very core of the Christian life. The early Church had a saying, “unus Christianus, nullus Christianus.” One Christian, no Christian. The very fabric of our faith is experienced in community. We gather to celebrate the Liturgy, marriage, baptism, and so on. We gather to mourn the dead and to bear one another’s burdens. All in community. These are things we do as God’s community, the body of Christ.

Photo by Lestat (Jan Mehlich via Wikimedia Commons

The word “Church” is translated from the New Testament Greek word ekklesia, which means an assembly or a gathering of people. This is important for us to understand. Although colloquially we use the word “Church” to reference the building where we gather, this is technically a misnomer. Father Thomas Hopko (of blessed memory) suggested that a more proper way to speak would be to say, “we are gathering as the Church” rather than, “we are going to the Church”. The Church is first and foremost, a gathering of the people of God.

This is not to discount the Church building. There is an incredibly rich and important tradition surrounding the architecture and beautiful adornments of the building where we gather. However, the Church is more than just a collection of real estate. The Church is the transcendent reality of the Body of Christ gathered together, in communion.

This community is essential to the Christian life.

While the Church is much more than a social club, the social aspect of the Church is not to be discounted. We do not finish the Liturgy and go home immediately, we share in coffee or a meal. This is why there is such a strong emphasis on the various ministries of the Orthodox church that nurture fellowship. These programs strengthen the communities in which we worship.

While we are in college, Orthodox Christian Fellowship is one of the best ways we encounter the fellowship of the Orthodox Church. Through OCF, students are invited to engage the Church in a way that speaks directly to their needs as young adults. Chapters all over the country are visited by faithful and honorable priests who take time out of their schedules to minister to students as a subset of the church population with its own specific spiritual needs.

Also, as many students are living away from their home parishes, it’s a wonderful avenue to establish a spiritual support system in your new home.

If community is essential to the Christian life, and OCF is the Orthodox community on your college campus, and one plus one equals two, then we can reasonably say that OCF is an essential part of our college experience.

The spiritual life of the Church is work. Repentance is work. There is work appointed for us, and it is vital that we set out to do this work in community. We read in Ecclesiastes 4:9 that “two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.” When we work together, we share in a greater reward.

Only a fool would set out on the journey to the Kingdom of God alone.

We must make use of every tool at our disposal. We need to gird ourselves with the strength of our Orthodox communities. It is imperative that we surround ourselves with the power of the Church, and engage it in every way we can.

While we are in college, OCF is a great way to do just that.

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.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.

Blog Contributor Saturday | Kiara Stewart

Hi friends! My name is Kiara Stewart, and I’m the third member of the Saturday Blog Contributor Team! This is my senior year (I’m not sure how or when this happened, but here we are) at Alfred University in Alfred, New York as an art major. When I’m not covered in clay, you can usually find me wandering in the woods, writing poetry, or knitting (sometimes all three), and I ADORE all things fuzzy.

Anyway, my quirky self aside, my introduction to OCF came the first Sunday of my freshman year at coffee hour. Another college student invited me to a meeting and I said, “Sure! . . . What’s OCF?” Obviously, I was pretty clueless, but over the years, OCF became quite the city on a hill for me. There is no OCF at my university, and to be frank, it’s pretty secular. That said, the church I attend (joy of joys!) is home to an OCF that’s a mash-up of students from about seven different schools. Without that OCF (and soul-shaking things like College Conference), I’m honestly not quite sure how I would have made it this far.

So fast forward to this year, and I hear that Ben is looking for regular guest contributors on the OCF blog. (I may or may not have scared the ever-living daylights out of my roommate when I leapt out of bed yelling, “I GOTTA TEXT BEN ABOUT THIS CONTRIBUTOR THINGY.” Oops.) I knew immediately that if there was room, I wanted to be a contributor. Not because I have any kind of special wisdom or knowledge or spiritual know-how (believe me, not my strong suit) that sets me apart but because like Mark said, I want to be a voice crying in the wilderness.

I love Alfred dearly, and I would never want to go anywhere else, but I have to admit that on the spiritual front, it’s been a rather lonely three-and-a-half years. No OCF, the nearest church is an hour and a half away, no other practicing students (or at least, none that my searching and scouring has turned up). Without OCF, my other Orthodox friends, and my AV family, I really don’t know how I would have weathered my time here. It’s far too possible that I would have fallen away from the faith.

One of my favorite songs is by an artist called Citizen Cope (painfully hipster, I know, I know), and there’s a line that says, “Until the spirit and the mind ain’t fighting/Until the scenes of tomorrow and today finally play/I will carry you through the hurricane waters”. Whenever I listen to that song, it makes me think of this incredible network of Orthodox people I have the chance to be a part of, the eternity we are all trying to reach, the opportunities we have to aid each other in that struggle.

To me, being a Blog Contributor is a chance to be that voice crying in the wilderness, to be the person who eases another’s loneliness, to offer the back that will carry you through the hurricane waters of this tempestuous life. I can bring only myself, a love of our God and our faith, an open heart, and a slightly silly sense of wonder. But if you’ll have me, I’d love to walk a ways with you.

Kiara (like the Lion King II) Stewart is a senior art major at Alfred University, is a member/organizer of the Rochester OCF, and is trying to start a new chapter in Alfred! When she’s not covered in clay in the studio, Kiara likes to spend her free time reading, hiking, and hanging out with the Amish.

Blog Contributor Saturday | Maria Conte

Blog Contributor Saturday | Maria Conte

Hey y’all! I’m Maria Conte, your newest member in the band of bloggers (along with my other friends Mark and Kiara, eyyyy!) A little about me–I’m a SUPER senior (aka fifth year) at Virginia Commonwealth University studying Creative Advertising and Creative Writing just for fun. I’m an avid ice cream eater, runner, driver of country roads, and newly rekindling my love for playing field hockey (#clublife, #aintaboutthatD1life). I love going to the Blue Ridge Mountains when I can, and I bake brownies e’rry week for my OCF chapter. I like brownie batter so it’s a win-win situation.

My first memory of OCF was being a camper at Antiochian Village. I was eleven years old and my counselor must have gotten some free OCF garb in her staff meeting and gave it to me back in the cabin. It was a blue and red bball cap and one of those Livestrong bands we all know and love, but it was blue and said Orthodox Christian Fellowship.

And that was my intro. Fast forward eight years later, and I’m at my first college, Mary Washington (yes I’m a transfer student!!). It is a small college and I was one of five Orthodox kids there. Our group wasn’t even big enough to form an OCF, so we made a makeshift tradition called Sunday Snackin’ where instead of napping after Liturgy we would snack like kings, and I literally gained my freshman fifteen via eating a box of off-brand Honey Bunches of Oats and Nutella with pretzels every Sunday. 10 out of 10 would not recommend.

Eating healthy is hard

Even though my first college did not have an official OCF presence, I was still able to get involved with OCF events. My freshmen and sophomore year of college, I did Real Break in Guatemala and Honduras. This was such a great way to meet other Orthodox friends from across the country and have a week together working and having fun. It’s amazing how small the Orthodox world is, and it starts with making friends though OCF events. Just a few weeks ago, I bumped into a Real Break friend at a wedding that I hadn’t seen for four years! God is good.

I began attending College Conference East over winter breaks, and through that, I met and connected with people who would be my future co-staffers and friends at the Antiochian Village. OCF events really helped me and others learn about summer camp opportunities.

Now that I’m reaching the tail end of my college life, I can really looks back and see that OCF events and working at an Orthodox summer camp with fellow OCFers was the most influential part of my life. Being around people my age whom I looked up to made me strive to be closer to my faith because I saw all these amazing people shining their light and smiles everywhere they went. And it was a bright light!

For the bright light, you know?

OCF is such a blessing. The friends you meet through OCF make your world smaller, and it’s so nice having a support system of Orthodox friends, even when they are states away. And who knows, maybe one day twenty years from now you’ll be vacationing with your family in Boston, doing the Freedom Trail and all that (and maybe the Patriots won’t be an NFL dynasty at that point, who knows… not tryin’ to make my Boston friends salty here), and MAYBE you’ll just walk into a church there on Sunday morning and at coffee hour you bump into an old OCF friend you went on Real Break with years ago. I’m just saying. The Orthodox world is small and happy.

Anyway, I’m super excited about joining the OCF blogging team. God bless and have a wonderful day! I’ll catch ya on the flippy floppy.

Maria Conte is a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University studying creative advertising.  She is the VP and official brownie baker of her OCF.  Maria attends Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Richmond, VA.  In her free time, you can find Maria driving the back roads, jammin’ out to 70’s and 80’s music.

Blog Contributor Saturday | Mark Ghannam

Blog Contributor Saturday | Mark Ghannam

As​ ​I​ ​was​ ​getting​ ​ready​ ​to​ ​make​ ​a​ ​decision​ ​about​ ​where​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​attend​ ​college,​ ​a​ ​priest whom​ ​I​ ​love​ ​and respect​ ​told​ ​me​ ​to​ ​make​ ​sure​ ​I​ ​was​ ​only​ ​considering​ ​schools​ ​with​ ​an​ ​Orthodox Church​ ​nearby,​ ​and​ ​a​ ​strong OCF​ ​on​ ​campus.​ ​As​ ​I​ ​do​ ​more​ ​than​ ​I​ ​care​ ​to​ ​admit,​ ​I​ ​did​ ​not​ ​take the​ ​advice​ ​of​ ​the​ ​priest.

OCF​ ​played​ ​no​ ​role​ ​in​ ​my​ ​decision​ ​to​ ​come​ ​to​ ​the​ ​University​ ​of​ ​Michigan.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​the​ ​only​ ​school​ ​I wanted​ ​to​ ​go​ ​to,​ ​and​ ​once​ ​I​ ​was​ ​admitted,​ ​I​ ​accepted​ ​immediately.​ ​With​ ​so​ ​many​ ​other​ ​things​ ​to consider​ ​when​ ​choosing​ ​a​ ​college,​ ​OCF​ ​landed​ ​nowhere​ ​even​ ​near​ ​my​ ​radar.

I​ ​got​ ​lucky.

The​ ​University​ ​of​ ​Michigan​ ​has​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most​ ​active​ ​OCF​ ​chapters​ ​in​ ​the​ ​country,​ ​and​ ​a thriving​ ​Orthodox​ ​community​ ​that​ ​makes​ ​a​ ​special​ ​effort​ ​to​ ​tend​ ​to​ ​the​ ​needs​ ​of​ ​college students.​ ​A community without​ ​which​ ​I​ ​would​ ​have​ ​absolutely​ ​lost​ ​my​ ​mind​ ​by​ ​now.

In​ ​some​ ​ways,​ ​college​ ​is​ ​a​ ​very​ ​difficult​ ​time​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​our​ ​minds​ ​centered​ ​around​ ​the​ ​joy​ ​and​ ​the victory​ ​of​ ​Christ.​ ​We​ ​are​ ​surrounded​ ​by​ ​so​ ​great​ ​a​ ​cloud​ ​of​ ​anxiety​ ​and​ ​sorrow;​ ​so​ ​much​ ​fear​ ​of the​ ​unknown​ ​future.​ ​What​ ​am​ ​I​ ​going​ ​to​ ​study?​ ​Which​ ​internship​ ​can​ ​I​ ​get​ ​this​ ​summer?​ ​Am​ ​I going​ ​to​ ​have​ ​a​ ​job​ ​when​ ​I​ ​graduate?

On​ ​top​ ​of​ ​that,​ ​we​ ​have​ ​so​ ​many​ ​people​ ​proclaiming​ ​their own​ “​good​ ​news”​ ​that​ ​we’re told that the​ ​only​ ​sure-fire​ ​way to​ ​alleviate​ ​all​ ​of​ ​this​ ​is​ ​to​ ​drink​ ​until​ ​you​ ​forget​ ​it​ ​exists.

I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​start​ ​writing​ ​for​ ​the​ ​OCF​ ​blog​ ​​NOT​​ ​because​ ​I​ ​have​ ​a​ ​spiritual​ ​life​ ​worthy​ ​of​ ​sharing, nor​ ​because​ ​I​ ​have​ ​perfectly​ ​adapted​ ​the​ ​spirituality​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Orthodox​ ​Church​ ​to​ ​a​ ​life​ ​in​ ​college.

I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​start​ ​writing​ ​for​ ​the​ ​OCF​ ​blog​ ​precisely​ ​because​ ​I​ ​battle​ ​with​ ​the​ ​same​ ​things​ ​that every​ ​other​ ​Orthodox​ ​college​ ​student​ ​does.​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​be​ ​“the​ ​voice​ ​of​ ​one​ ​crying​ ​out​ ​[from]​ ​the [college​ ​campus]”​ ​challenging​ ​myself​ ​publicly,​ ​and​ ​others,​ ​to​ ​take​ ​a​ ​harder​ ​look​ ​at​ ​the​ ​way​ ​we live​ ​out​ ​our​ ​faith​ ​while​ ​we​ ​are​ ​in​ ​school.

Around​ ​us​ ​is​ ​chaos.​ ​Walk​ ​around​ ​the​ ​average​ ​college​ ​campus​ ​on​ ​Saturday​ ​night,​ ​merely​ ​hours before​ ​we​ ​partake​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Eucharist,​ ​and​ ​see​ ​for​ ​yourself.​ ​St.​ ​Gregory​ ​the​ ​Great​ ​reminds​ ​us​ ​in​ ​his commentary​ ​on​ ​the​ ​book​ ​of​ ​Job​ ​that​ ​“amid​ ​the​ ​tumult​ ​of​ ​outward​ ​cares,​ ​inwardly​ ​a​ ​great​ ​peace and​ ​calm​ ​is​ ​reigning,​ ​in​ ​love.”

To​ ​that​ ​place​ ​of​ ​interior​ ​peace​ ​and​ ​calm,​ ​we​ ​must​ ​go.

College​ ​is​ ​plentiful​ ​in​ ​excuses​ ​for​ ​not​ ​doing​ ​what​ ​we​ ​should​ ​be​ ​doing.​ ​For​ ​most​ ​of​ ​us,​ ​our​ ​camp experiences​ ​come​ ​to​ ​a​ ​close​ ​during​ ​our​ ​college​ ​years,​ ​Sunday​ ​School​ ​is​ ​over,​ ​and​ ​many​ ​of​ ​us​ ​do not​ ​have​ ​anyone​ ​that​ ​will​ ​drag​ ​us​ ​to​ ​church​ ​on​ ​Sunday​ ​or​ ​make​ ​sure​ ​that​ ​we​ ​pray​ ​before​ ​meals.

We​ ​need​ ​to​ ​start​ ​trimming​ ​the​ ​fat​ ​and​ ​seeing​ ​that​ ​there​ ​is​ ​work​ ​appointed​ ​for​ ​us.

I​ ​will​ ​be​ ​writing​ ​more​ ​in​ ​the​ ​coming​ ​days.​ ​I​ ​hope​ ​you​ ​look​ ​for​ ​my​ ​next​ ​posts.

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.