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.

The College Experience: It’s About So Much More Than You

The College Experience: It’s About So Much More Than You

So, as you may have noticed, the Blog Contributor posts for the month of February have focused on the transition from high school to college. Since my younger sister is currently making this transition herself, it has definitely been on my mind a lot these past few weeks and months. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the college experience, especially since I’m still a university student and struggling to make it through myself. But, this being said, since I’m currently a junior (finals are in two months—what?!), I hope to offer to any high school student reading this a few words about what I’ve learned over these few short years.

1. Treasure these last few months.

It’s no secret that, if you’re reading these words right now as a high school student, your life is about to do a full 180-degree twist. Please, use this time wisely, and enjoy every moment you have now. Spend lots of time with your family and friends. Your first year of college will likely be the busiest year so far of your life, so enjoy that free time. Finally, if you’re already been accepted into college, you’re probably super-excited and focused on that right now; but keep fighting that battle, and finish high school strong.

2. Enjoy the time now, but also plan ahead.

I hope I don’t sound like I’m contradicting myself, but while taking the time to appreciate these last few months you have as a high school student, also be sure to take the time to plan ahead. Does your school have an OCF chapter? You can check that out here. Do you know which church you’ll be attending while away at college? The time to make these decisions really is right now, and not the first Saturday when you’re away at school. Also, be sure send an introductory email ahead of time to the priest at the church you’ll be attending while at college! As the daughter of a priest, I can tell you that, if you contact your clergy ahead of time, it will totally make their day. Plus, it will make you feel a little more at home when you get there!

Going to OCF meetings has been one of my favourite parts of college

3. It’s about your time to grow up and make your own decisions.

Most likely, unless your circumstances were exceptional, going away to college (or even entering college and staying at home) will be the first time that you are able to make decisions completely for yourself. That’s a really exciting thing! So, go and try something new. The experiences that you have now might never be available to you again, so take advantage of them. We all know that college is about more than the classes you take, so make wise use of the extracurricular opportunities that come your way.

4. But, it’s about more than you. Sorry.

I’ve heard so many people tell me that college is all about me. My classes, my choices, my life. However, the world is never going to be all about you, and the decisions you make will always have an impact on others. Don’t let anyone ever fool you into believing the myth that these years are for worrying about yourself and that somehow things will work out later. College represents only about four years of your life, but the relationships you have with your friends, your family, and with God are forever. If we neglect these relationships in college, then we risk going down a selfish and self-destructive path.

So, my advice to you is to let this time be self-forming but not self-focusing. Use these years to become the most kind, loving, and giving person you can be. The college experience will leave us all as suddenly as it came along, but the decisions we make in college will not. I know this sounds scary, and it sometimes makes me pretty nervous, too, so I’ll leave you with these last words: college is a very stressful time, but in the midst of it all, if you focus on the One in Whom you put your trust, the world somehow seems a lot less frightening place after all.

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

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.

To All High School Seniors…And, You Know, Everyone Else | How To Transition

To All High School Seniors…And, You Know, Everyone Else | How To Transition

There are a few major transitions in life that you know will change your life forever. Going to college is one of them. For anyone who commutes to college, perhaps the transition is not as stark (I wouldn’t know because I’ve only lived at school), but if you’re going from living at home your whole life to suddenly living in a dorm room with one or more strangers and taking care of yourself, there is absolutely no way to be fully prepared for it.

How could you be? You’ve never experienced anything like this before. You can’t go into it expecting to know every detail of how it will be.

Despite all this, I think I handled my transition pretty well. I figured out some of the things I did that worked, and others that didn’t. And here’s the thing: now that I’m a senior in college, I will be undergoing another one of these major changes, so I’m really writing this article to myself. All that being said, here’s Paul’s Guide to Major Life Transitions (Editor’s note: trademark pending), written specifically for transitioning into college.

1) Find a church

If you haven’t done so yet, do it right now.

Look up the school you’re going to (or the ones that you might go to if you haven’t committed yet), the city you’ll live it, etc., and find a church there. Doing that is way more important than anything I have to say in the coming paragraphs, so just stop reading this and go do that, it’s a better use of your time.

Then figure out how you’ll get there. Is the church close enough to walk to? You may want to give that a go. Will you have a car? If not, get in touch with your campus’ OCF advisor, president (talk to your regional leader if you can’t figure out who that is), or the parish priest of the church to see if someone could get you to church.

I am blessed with a parish here filled with people who were constantly offering to drive me to church, which was only a mile from my school. I got rides to every service I wanted to go to for three years until I finally got a car here.

I stress to you: do this now. Before you get to school. Once you get there you will be so overwhelmed with everything else going on that church can slip away way too easily. Do your research beforehand so that you can get in the habit of going to church early.

2) Be prepared, yet adaptable

This one is more my personal philosophy that may not work for you, but I’m thinking it might. You need just the right level of mental and physical preparation transitioning to college or elsewhere. Saying, “I’ll figure it out when I get there,” is probably not the best preparation method, yet if your planning is too detailed, you will be completely thrown off the first time something contradicts your plans.

You will want some ideas of how you will approach your classes, your social life, your church life, etc., but don’t write anything in stone in your head. There are so many factors that you can’t control, so write all of your plans in pencil with a great big eraser waiting to rewrite things as necessary.

(Side note: I strongly recommend taking this same approach with your major. Go into college knowing what you like and what you might want to do if you can, but keep an open mind and be willing to make adjustments to your plan.)

3) Do stuff

College is amazing. You get to be in an environment where your job in life is just to learn as much as you can, taking it all in from the experts, so that you can go out into the world and be the best you can be at whatever you do. So go take advantage of it. For example, my school brings in a guest speaker every week and gives pizza to anyone who goes and listens to the talk. I go as often as I can regardless of the topic because that’s what college is about.

Outside of academics, keep doing what you love. In my case, I had the opportunity to keep playing trombone after I got into college, so I joined the band and the orchestra. But even more importantly, try new stuff. One of the best decisions I made in college was joining the ultimate frisbee team. I knew nothing about the sport besides the rules when I went to my first practice, and I instantly fell in love with it.

(Editor’s note: We will neither confirm nor deny if this is Paul.

It is.)

College is about learning as much as you can and developing as a person, but that can happen outside of the classroom, lab, or lecture hall. My opinion is that if you live at school and the only commitments you have are class-related, you’re not doing college right.

4) Every once in awhile, remember you enjoy what you do.

Most college students would tell you college is overwhelming, and in my experience, they’re right. If you’ve been adding up all the things that I tell you I do, you may conclude that I’m a busy person, and sometimes I get stressed and collapse into a state of wanting to ignore my responsibilities.

But I found a trick to avoid reaching that state: it’s to remember that I actually do enjoy what I’m doing. My classes this semester are in psychology (my major), Spanish (my minor), and philosophy (I’m a nerd, so that’s my ‘fun class’).

(Editor’s note: this is also Paul.)

I chose to study that stuff because I enjoy it. I do music stuff and ultimate frisbee stuff because I enjoy those things, and the truth is that when I’m home too long for a break, I’m begging in my head for the opportunity to do all of them again. So basically what I’m saying is, have fun every step of the way.

5) Talk to adults

I didn’t do this intentionally, but a few times it came up. I’m guessing that many of the adults in your life have been to college: ask them about it. What did they enjoy? What weren’t they prepared for? What do they regret? What advice do they have? You’re allowed to learn from other people’s experiences, not just your own.

As with all my lists, these are the things that help me that I think would help you. What would you add? What would your friends in college/older siblings/parents add? I pray that your transition goes well, and that those of us currently in college can still take what we can from these lessons and apply it.

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

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.