Simon Says

Simon Says

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Glory To God For All Things | Dissatisfaction

Glory To God For All Things | Dissatisfaction

Glory to Thee, making us dissatisfied with earthly things.

I’m a biology major, currently in my junior year, which means I get to mess around with all sorts of weird stuff. Currently, I’m wrapping up a semester-long experiment, the purpose of which was to isolate a virus, grow it on bacteria, and learn all about it (which is exactly as interesting and smelly as it sounds).

One of the high points was extracting the DNA, what really makes the little guy tick. My lab partner and I had spent two months growing our virus and worked for three straight hours to get that DNA out as meticulously as possible. Three hours of pipetting later, we got what we were looking for: a couple of drops of liquid in a vial. Two weeks later, it was in the trash, tossed out with everything else when the experiment ended.

It was one of the weirdest mixes of pride and sadness I’ve felt. So much work for so little, and even that little would end up in a dump just a short time later. It was, in a word, dissatisfying. It was amazing work, and we had done it well, and I was proud of the things I had done, but…in just a little while it had passed away.

Reading this verse and thinking about it, I’m realizing that life is full of buts (haha…buts). There’s nothing in our life that doesn’t come with its own sad little caveat. There are little ones: you can clean your room, but it’s just going to get dirty again (in spite of that, my mom still made me clean up my Legos). There are medium ones: you can put all your effort and money into school, but there’s no guarantee it’ll pay off; you can invest in relationships, but they’re almost certainly going to hurt you. And then, there’s the big one: you can live your life well, do good, love people, have it all…but you’re going to die, those you love are going to die, and everything you’ve stored up will, eventually, be dust.

Sometimes, all those buts (okay it was funny the first time but let’s move on) can be depressing and a real source of despair. As St. John of Damascus says, “What earthly joy remains unmixed with grief?” The non-rhetorical answer to that rhetorical question is nothing.

That sort of despair is something I struggle with. Sometimes the world seems bleak and very cold, with nothing good in it. Sometimes the buts get so big (now it’s just gratuitous) that it can be hard to see the good that’s there too.

But that’s not true. The world, and everything in it, is “very good” (God’s words, not mine). God created earthly things, and we can enjoy them and know Him through them. They’re a source of joy and comfort and laughter for us, and that’s not a bad thing. The problem comes when we stop there, when we take the happiness the world can give us and don’t try and go beyond.

The things we experience are ultimately unsatisfying: as Jesus says, everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again and again and again until we stop being able to thirst. But he’s not telling us not to drink water! He’s not telling us to not enjoy it. It’s good to drink water and enjoy it, as long as we’re seeking the living water too. It’s good to enjoy earthly things, as long as they don’t stay merely earthly, as long as we’re seeking the heavenly too.

Earthly things don’t satisfy us because we weren’t made for earthly things. The world doesn’t make us perfectly happy because it’s far from perfect. A traveler doesn’t feel at home in a hotel because he’s not at home. We don’t feel at home here because we’re not at home. We are, like Abraham, strangers and sojourners. Our home is heaven, and we “desire a better country” (Hebrews 11:16).

When we feel most comfortable with just our earthly lives, we’re in danger. When we forget the things of the earth are mortal, we make them immortal; when we make them immortal, we make them gods, and we forget the Immortal God who is our true home, our true Life. It is when we are most conscious that “heaven and earth will pass away” that we are able to be closest to Christ.

It is this sort of dissatisfaction, a true, godly satisfaction which stems from the knowledge that no matter how good it is (and it is very good), it will be taken away and replaced with (or rather, transformed into) something much better, that is a gift from God.

Earthly things are wonderful, but it is God who gives them meaning and worth, and He graces us with this feeling to help us remember that. Today, I thank God for giving us this dissatisfaction in order to remind us that we are not children of the world, but sons and daughters of the Most High.


Nicholas Zolnerowich is a junior biology student at UMBC, where he is also the president of his OCF. He enjoys the outdoors, superheroes, and talking about himself in the third person.

Glory To God For All Things | You Have Failed, But You Are Undefeated

Glory To God For All Things | You Have Failed, But You Are Undefeated

“Glory to Thee for the prayers offered by a trembling soul.”

(Ikos 4, the Akathist of Thanksgiving)

As I sat down to work on this post, I realized that my laptop cord is juuuuuuust barely too short for me to sit in my favorite spot in the corner of the couch while it’s plugged in.  So, as I type, I’m perched a smidgen in from the corner, right at the point where two cushions meet.  (I realize that most of you are thinking, “Kiara, on what planet does this relate to that quote you put up there?” Hang on—we’ll get there.)  

I’m caught somewhere between cozy-comfy and actually kind of uncomfortable. This is where my stubbornness gets the best of me because I refuse to scoot off of the cushion meeting point, just on principle. It’s dumb, I know, and I’m reminded of how frequently we feel this way. Not necessarily this specific situation (because honestly most people aren’t as absurd as I am), but how many times have you found yourself feeling two wildly different, even opposing, things at the same time? It’s more common than we’d like to admit, frankly.

And this is where Orthodoxy comes in. Our faith not only acknowledges but embraces the fact that we are all a bit (or a lot) of a living, walking paradox. Take our funerals: even as we mourn, we gleefully anticipate the departed’s eventual resurrection in Christ. There is room both for overwhelming sorrow and pain alongside breathlessly anticipatory hope. Take confession: it’s expressly designed to both acknowledge our pain and our wrong, as well as affirm our beauty and goodness as a child of Light. There is room for us to be both hurt and healed.  

Even our God embodies two complete and contradictory truths because He is both fully God and fully man! If anyone understands being a paradox, it’s DEFINITELY Him.

Meet yourself where you are: it’s okay to feel annoyed by fasting, even as you’re excited for what the fast brings! In a perfect world, would we all love fasting and serve God flawlessly, without reservation and with our whole selves? You bet your bottom lip we would! Do we live in that world? Not even close.  

Now, none of this is to say that we can slack off, or write off mediocre effort as, “Oh it’s okay, I’m just meeting myself where I am; Kiara said it’s fine.” Nice try my dudes, but that’s not how this works either. The point of this is not to give you justification to not give your all; it’s to remind you that perpetually beating yourself up and making yourself feel guilty because you haven’t had a perfect fast or didn’t go to church this week or whatever won’t solve anything. Repent, go to confession if at all possible, pick yourself up, and try again. Acknowledge the paradox: you have failed, but you are undefeated.  

Now, to return to that quote, “Glory to Thee for the prayers offered by a trembling soul.” When I read that (as I sat on my simultaneously comfy and uncomfy perch), all of this came flooding into my brain. I realize that’s a pretty big leap. Just roll with it.  

Think of the times that we tremble.  We tremble when we’re afraid, when we’re cold. We tremble when we’re so moved and joyful that it seems our body can’t contain it and we’re just going to vibrate away like a hummingbird flitting to nectar. We tremble when we’re nervous, and we tremble when we’re about to receive something we’ve anticipated for what feels like an eternity.  

Within that one word, there are paradoxical multitudes.  As there are paradoxical multitudes within us, and as there are paradoxical multitudes—both literal and figurative—within Orthodoxy. We are not alone in our contradictory truths. Look at the season we’re in; we’re fasting and preparing for the birth of Christ even as we feast and celebrate the innumerable joys in our lives.  

By the time this post goes up, Thanksgiving will have just happened.  And so, remember the delights for which you are thankful. And remember the delights for which you sorrow. Bring these seemingly competing truths and emotions together into one, and I have a feeling you’ll find a truth deeper than either side alone. Let yourself tremble in the face of your joy, let yourself tremble in the face of your struggle.

Glory to God for the prayers offered by a trembling soul.


Kiara (her Arabic-speaking friends like to call her cucumber, because apparently a khiara is a cucumber in Arabic—who knew?) Stewart is a first-year grad student at George Washington University. When she’s not reading endless art therapy texts or busy making art, Kiara likes to spend her free time reading, hiking, and hanging out with the Amish.

Blog Contributor Friday | Introducing Nick Zolnerowich

Blog Contributor Friday | Introducing Nick Zolnerowich

Hello, friends! My name is Nicholas Zolnerowich, and I am also a person who now does these blog things. I’m currently chugging my way through my junior year at UMBC, where I am a bio/psych double-major pre-med student. When I’m not in class or doing homework, you can usually find me hiking in the woods, procrastinating, or engaging in baguette sword fights (one of those is incorrect).

This is the part where I’d love to give you a crazy inspiring story of why I joined OCF: I joined, not because of my devotion to Christ (it’s not that great), or my desire to bond with other Orthodox college students (I hate socializing), or my soaring spiritual life and how I exude incense while I pray (that one’s actually true). That would be pretty neat.

The truth is, I joined OCF because I was expected to. My parents, my parish priest, and my camp friends all acted like it was the norm. I didn’t want to be the one heathen that didn’t belong to an OCF, so I showed up to my first meeting entirely due to peer pressure.

There were five people there (I knew none of them) and it was one of the most awkward two hours of my life (for those of you who don’t know me, I would rather fight a horde of extremely crotchety beavers than experience a new social situation). I seriously considered never going back…but they knew my name now! My face was in their systems. If I stopped going, they would see me around campus, stare me down, and whisper about me to their taller, more attractive, bearded friends.

by Tom via flicker

And that peer pressure, the same peer pressure that convinced me to go in the first place, convinced me to come back. And come back again. And keep coming back every Monday for the last three years. And boy, am I glad I did.

Why? Well, I’m glad you asked, slightly skeptical reader. It really comes down to peer pressure. Everyone who’s anyone can tell you about peer pressure: you’re a sweet innocent kid who has stuck to decaf your whole life, but if you let yourself be surrounded by friends who think caffeine is hip, suddenly you’re knocking back espresso like it’s gosh-darn 1999.

Peer pressure is talked about to the point where it’s kind of goofy, but with some perspective, I think we can all acknowledge it’s a serious thing. It convinces us to drink dangerously or illegally, to not cross ourselves in public, to avoid talking openly about our Faith, or to not wear Crocs in public. Peer pressure can be insidious.

But we rarely hear about the flip side: peer pressure can push us in the right direction. The same influence that makes us not want to be the one guy not drinking at a party is the same influence that makes us not want to be the one guy that doesn’t show up at Saturday Vespers, the one guy that isn’t fasting, the one guy that slacks off with their faith, and it’s that peer pressure that saved me.

When the pressures and desires and passions that are part of the standard package at most colleges began to pull me away from the Church, when that pull became too strong for me, the knowledge that I would be missed if I stopped going to church kept me going. The desire to fit in the best possible way with the best possible people held me up when I wasn’t at my best; and hopefully by God’s grace I have provided that influence to somebody else as well.

That’s why I took this blog person position, and why I’m excited about it. The support I have been given has helped me get this far, and even though I’ve got a long way to go, I’ve “seen some stuff.” I’m grateful for the experiences and mistakes I’ve been able to learn from, and grateful for the chance to pass some of that on.

College is tough. We lose our support system. We lose the people who pushed us in the right direction and find ourselves often surrounded by people going the other way. That’s why OCF matters. That’s why it’s so important.

We hold each other up, improve each other, guide each other in the right direction. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Join OCF, join a parish, stay connected however possible. It is our responsibility and privilege, as children of God, to sharpen our brothers and sisters and to let ourselves be sharpened as well.


Nicholas Zolnerowich is a junior biology student at UMBC, where he is also the president of his OCF. He enjoys the outdoors, superheroes, and talking about himself in the third person.

Blog Contributor Monday | Introducing Kiara Stewart!

Blog Contributor Monday | Introducing Kiara Stewart!

Hello friends! For those of you who followed the blog last semester, hi again! It’s good to see you, and I hope that midterms haven’t been too terrible. And to newcomers to the blog, I AM SO GLAD YOU’RE HERE.

Ben has been kind enough (or maybe I conned him into it . . . we may never know) to invite me back as a Blog Contributor for this semester!  If you remember from spring (and absolutely no worries if you don’t), I was a senior, which means that I’ve now (gasp) graduated.  But isn’t OCF just for college students? Au contraire, my friends. OCF is for students under the age of twenty-five, so I’m not-so-stealthily sneaking by.  

This is a bowl Kiara made for me (it’s Ben). It is now my sugar bowl. I love it lots.

Anyway, having graduated in May, I’m now working on a master’s degree in art therapy at George Washington University (don’t be fooled, I’m not really that smart—God definitely had a hand in getting me accepted). Though I’m no longer an art major, you can still frequently find me covered in clay, and my love for wandering in the woods, writing poetry, and knitting hasn’t changed. Write me a poem about ceramics, and I just may love you forever. 

[Ben Note: can confirm.]

If you recall from my posts last semester (or if you don’t), the university I attended was pretty intensely secular. No OCF, the nearest Orthodox church was an hour and a half away, and I was the only practicing Orthodox student on campus. Not exactly the thriving community you’d hope for. Things like this blog, College Conference, and OCF retreats were some of the only lifelines I had to our faith, and staying connected was more than a bit difficult. To be frank, it was lonely and hard and very definitely not fun. 10/10 would not recommend.

Fast forward to today, aaaaaaand the school I currently attend doesn’t have an OCF either. I know, I know, I can hear you guys are shaking your heads and asking why I don’t learn from my mistakes. But hear me out; it’s not as bleak as you think. I’m now sharing living space with another young Orthodox adult (shout out to Rose for being the best Dox roommate I could ask for), church is only thirty minutes away (!!!), and GMU (which is about fifteen minutes away from my house) has a budding OCF! Being in the D.C. area, there are a TON of college-age Dox people, and we’re carving out our own little community.  

The moral of this story is, whether your school has a massive, flourishing OCF or you’re the only one on campus, there’s hope. And OCF is here to lend a hand and a hug if you’ll have us.

One of the things my professors stress (over and over and over) in class is that 90% of being an art therapist is listening. It’s not about giving advice, and it’s not about you being omniscient and solving people’s problems. Just listen. Reflect back what they’re saying, and be the sounding board that lets them find their own solutions.  

I think there are any number of parallels here, both with OCF and with our relationship with God. (I know it’s a little ironic for me to be going on about listening when I’m doing all the talking, but bear with me.) First of all, how frequently are we called to be still, or to be silent, and to seek God that way?

At the risk of being cliché, think of Elijah; the voice of God wasn’t in wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the gentle whisper after. No matter the tempests of our life, help does come. And it comes when we take time to listen.

Relating that idea to OCF and to this blog, it’s our job to listen to and for you. I can blather on all I like about whatever pops into my cluttered mind, but it’s of no use to you if it isn’t something you need. So please, reach out to us—to Ben, to Mark, to Nick, to me, to anyone you’d like—and tell us what you need, what’ll be beneficial to you. At the risk of speaking for my fellow Contributors, I think it’s safe to say that none of us took this position because we think we have earth-shatteringly good ideas; we took it because we want to walk with you as we all try to walk in faith. So if you’ll have me, let’s walk a little farther together.


Kiara (her Arabic-speaking friends like to call her cucumber, because apparently a khiara is a cucumber in Arabic—who knew?) Stewart is a first-year grad student at George Washington University. When she’s not reading endless art therapy texts or busy making art, Kiara likes to spend her free time reading, hiking, and hanging out with the Amish.