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.  

Introducing: Blog Contributor Program 2017

Introducing: Blog Contributor Program 2017

Hey gang! It is my sincere pleasure on this hump day to introduce y’all to our Blog Contributor program for 2017.

If you were with us last year, you’ll remember the onset of the Blog Contributor program. Blog Contributors are once-a-month authors, who often have one topic on which they write and provide different perspectives thereof. These students are from OCFs all across the nation, at varying stages of their college life, and the pieces they write help reach the nooks and crannies of OCF that one person could not hope to on his own.

Tasya, as a Blog Contributor *wipes tear*

We return two contributors from last year, in Mark Ghannam and Kiara Stewart, and welcome a new face in Nicholas Zolnerowich. One of our contributors from last year, the lovely and exceptional and can-you-tell-I-miss-her-work, Anastasia Lysack, moved on to become our Podcast Student Leader on the Student Leadership Board.

But I also want to take this moment to tell you more about the expansion of the Blog Contributor program. After it received good feedback and success in the early half of 2016, we grew the program, to accommodate twice as many contributors (from three to six). The first group posted on Fridays; the second group, on Saturdays. This accordingly increased the frequency of posts on the OCF blog as a whole, from three times a week (Mon-Wed-Fri) to four times a week.

This year, we’re looking to start off with six contributors from the jump, to continue giving OCF students across the nation an opportunity to regularly share their experience of Orthodoxy in college and look to help others through a similar process. So, if you’re a regular reader of the OCF blog and would like to become a Blog Contributor, you have an opportunity to do so!

Previous blogging experience is not required, but highly recommended for the Blog Contributor positions. Regular attendance to an OCF chapter (if available in your area) and participation in OCF events throughout the year is, however, expected.

There are very limited spots, of course, and it is impossible to accommodate everyone. If you’re interested in becoming a Blog Contributor, you should email Ben (that’s me!) at publicationsstudent@ocf.net. Applications for the positions will close on Saturday, October 21st. If you have previous blogging experience (such as writing a reflection for the OCF blog!), please link that work in your email.

Some of the Blog Contributors’ previous work will be linked below, so you can read the awesome work they’ve done over the past year. You can always search “Blog Contributor” to find all of their archived work.

If you apply for the position but aren’t selected, don’t worry! Guest Authors are welcomed and loved here on the OCF blog–any time you attend a retreat, YES College Day, Praxis Program, Real Break trip, College Conference, we’d love to hear about it and post your reflection here on the OCF Blog.

If you have any questions, please email Ben (still me!) so he can answer them and also tell you a joke. This is a limited-time offer of emails with really bad Dad jokes inside of them. You don’t want to miss out, folks.


Blog Contributor Posts:

Nothing Greater than Great Lent: Told By Snapchat and A Busy College Student

Redirecting

Sure, It’d Be Nice | Why OCF Matters

Redirecting

Redirecting

Image from Phil Whitehouse on Flickr

I had two of my best friends in my 11th grade physics class, which was a lot of fun. One day, we came in and our teacher presented us all with paper and some masking tape. Our teacher was going to drop eggs from different heights, our task was to build something that we could drop the eggs onto that would prevent the eggs from breaking. My approach was to build a tower and put crumpled up pieces of paper inside of it to absorb the fall.

But one of my friends had a different idea: he built a much smaller tower, about 8 inches tall, and put a curved ramp on the inside with an opening in the tower wall at the end of the ramp. It looked like a quarter-pipe, that you would find in a skate park. The egg would be dropped in the tower, go down the ramp and roll out of the side of the tower. He explained that instead of using his resources to try to stop the egg’s energy, he would simply redirect it into horizontal momentum, which is not harmful for the egg. His tower did better than mine did.

Here’s the bad news: the devil knows well the power of redirection. He sees the gifts that God gives us, and he tempts us in a distinct way. He tempts us to use that the very gifts God gives us, not to move toward Him, but to make us drift further from God. He sees the momentum that our gifts can give us toward spiritual progress, and so he redirects our momentum so it draws us away from God.

Here’s the good news: this means our approach to “fighting” sin doesn’t have to be as complicated as we often make it. We can, through prayer and God’s help, figure out the hidden good concealed in our sins.

For example, if you find that you are too concerned with what people think of you and it is preventing your spiritual growth, there are so many good qualities hidden in this sin that are simply being misused. For instance, if you are simply worrying what people think of you instead of God, redirecting that back to God can help. Also, it shows concern for how your brothers and sisters around you are feeling, which in itself is good, but you are expressing it in a way that is harmful to you. So instead of fighting against this passion directly, your new task is that whenever you find yourself being concerned with what others think of you, try to keep your concern about them, while caring only for what God thinks of you.

More good news: God also knows the power of redirection, and He likes to use the bad things in our lives–whether or not they are brought about by our own doing–for our benefit. When we think back to the worst times of our lives, we often see so many blessings that have come out of them, sometimes because beautiful situations were born out of them, other times because of personal growth. Regardless, it is critical that we recognize these blessings and even thank God for them, because then we can make the most of these redirections.

I pray that we can all look more deeply into the things in our lives, and that we can see them in the ways that will be most beneficial to us. How we see things has a massive effect on what we do about them, so may God help us to see them in the right way.


headshotPaul Murray is a senior psychology major and Spanish minor at Franklin & Marshall College, and he attends Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster, PA. His home parish is St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in New Kensington, PA, and he has spent the past three summers serving as a counselor at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh Summer Camp and the Antiochian Village. In his free time, Paul ties prayer ropes and writes descriptions of himself in the third person for blog articles.

Sure, It’d Be Nice | Why OCF Matters

This month, Ben asked us to write about why you (as a future first year college student or maybe a transfer to a new school) should make the presence of an on-campus OCF a priority as you choose the place you’ll spend the next four or so years. Now, I can already hear you thinking (because it’s what I thought when I was in your shoes), “Why the sam hill should that matter? I don’t need an OCF; sure it’d be nice, but I’m not going to let it influence my school choice that much.”

Au contraire, my friend.

Maybe Orthodoxy has just been something you take part in because your parents want you to, or “it’s just what we do on Sundays”, or maybe it was something you did as a kid and kinda grew away from as you got older and started to make more decisions on your own. Maybe you’re already incredibly invested in Orthodoxy, already know you’re picking a school with an OCF, and this post is redundant for you. No matter what boat you’re in, if you take nothing else from this post, take the idea of giving OCF a chance, cause it might just surprise you.

At least for me, one of the most simultaneously thrilling and terrifying things about moving to college was the fact that I knew absolutely no one. Conveniently, OCF is a marvelous place to meet people and make new friends! Whoo friendship!

From time to just hang out and enjoy your newfound freedom, to late-night talks that shape the way you see the world and open your eyes to truths you never imagined, the friends you make in OCF bring with them lifelong connections and endless possibilities.

Now, if you fall into the category of people who aren’t really that invested in Orthodoxy or haven’t really gone to church in a while, fear not. At least to my mind, OCF is a lot less intimidating than going to a service. No tetas or yiayiás or babushkas eyeing you down, no priest or khouria asking where you’re from and if you’ll be coming regularly. It’s just a bunch of other college students looking to learn and find fellowship.

Plus, if you really start looking into the theology and academic side of Orthodoxy, mother of pearl, there an insane amount of information to sink your teeth into! When I wasn’t so sure about Orthodoxy and really questioning whether or not I could in good faith (all puns intended) commit myself, I found that delving into the foundations and core tenets of the faith helped me find resolution and direction.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that OCF has a pretty wide range of facets. Whether you’re looking for people to hang with, information about Orthodoxy, a place to come home to, or down time from the insanity of classes, OCF has it. Give it a chance, and it might just surprise you. OCF is to college as cayenne is to Mexican hot chocolate. The final product might be A-OK, but without it, you can just tell something is missing.


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.