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.

High School to College | Crossroads

High School to College | Crossroads

It​ ​would​ ​be​ ​wrong​ ​of​ ​me​ ​to​ ​write​ ​this​ ​post​ ​pretending​ ​like​ ​the​ ​spiritual​ ​transition​ ​from​ ​high school​ ​to​ ​college​ ​is​ mostly​ ​seamless​ ​with​ ​a few​ ​slip-ups​ ​on​ ​the​ ​way. In​ ​fact,​ ​I​ ​really​ ​think​ ​I​ ​would​ ​be​ ​flat​ ​out​ ​lying​ ​to​ ​you​ ​and​ ​that​ ​is​ ​a​ ​sin,​ ​so​ ​I​ ​must​ ​keep​ ​to​ ​the​ ​rule of​ ​honesty.

Currently,​ ​I​ ​am​ ​in​ ​my​ ​second​ ​year​ ​in​ ​school.​ ​My​ ​first​ ​year​ ​was​ ​spent​ ​attending​ ​almost​ ​every OCF​ ​meeting​ ​and​ ​every​ ​Sunday​ ​Liturgy​ ​possible.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​responsible.​ ​I​ ​found​ ​rides​ ​to​ ​church, ways​ ​to​ ​attend​ ​Thursday​ ​Bible​ ​study.​ ​I​ ​did​ ​everything​ ​I​ ​was​ ​“supposed”​ ​to​ ​do​ ​to​ ​set​ ​myself​ ​up for​ ​success​ ​in​ ​my​ ​spiritual​ ​realm.​ ​However,​ ​here​ ​I​ ​am,​ ​halfway​ ​through​ ​my​ ​second​ ​year,​ ​and my​ ​spiritual​ ​life​ ​has​ ​waned​.

I​ ​have​ ​rehearsals​ ​on​ ​Tuesday​ ​nights​ ​so​ ​I​ ​miss​ ​our​ ​OCF​ ​meetings​ ​and​ ​on​ ​Sundays​ ​when​ ​I should​ ​be​ ​going​ ​to​ ​church​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mornings.​ I have to be honest with you, while I know this lifestyle is not necessarily conducive to growing a faith, I do not regret the choices I have made when planning my weekly schedule as I know they contribute to my education. However, while I never intended to impede my spiritual growth, I have made a choice that does, and must face the effects of that choice.

During​ ​Christmas​ ​Break,​ ​my​ ​freshman​ ​year​ ​of​ ​college,​ ​I​ ​took​ ​confession​ ​with​ ​my​ ​parish​ ​priest, and​ ​he​ ​gave​ ​me​ ​this​ ​advice​ ​when​ ​I​ ​told​ ​him​ ​I​ ​felt​ ​like​ ​I​ ​had​ ​not​ ​been​ ​doing​ ​enough​ ​for​ ​my faith​ ​while​ ​in​ ​school.​ ​His​ ​advice:​ ​​Claire,​ ​you​ ​are​ ​in​ ​college.​ ​You​ ​are​ ​there​ ​to​ ​learn​ ​and​ ​to receive​ ​a​ ​degree.​ ​While​ ​God​ ​should​ ​always​ ​stay​ ​at​ ​the​ ​center​ ​of​ ​your​ ​life,​ ​do​ ​not​ ​punish yourself​ ​if​ ​you​ ​cannot​ ​always​ ​attend​ ​liturgy​ ​or​ ​OCF.​ ​That​ ​is​ ​not​ ​why​ ​you​ ​are​ ​in​ ​school.

via barnzy on flickr

It​ ​is​ ​from​ ​this​ ​advice​ ​I​ ​offer​ ​you​ ​my​ ​own:​ ​When​ ​you​ ​come​ ​to​ ​college,​ ​you​ ​have​ ​the​ ​opportunity to​ ​essentially​ ​design​ ​your​ ​own​ ​life.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​a​ ​massive​ ​responsibility​ ​for​ ​so​ ​young​ ​and inexperienced​ ​a​ ​person.​ You will make choices that you will not know whether to consider morally right or wrong. You will go through periods of time where nothing seems quite right with any aspect of your life.

​If​ ​you​ ​cannot​ ​get​ ​yourself​ ​to​ ​OCF,​ ​or liturgy,​ ​or​ ​any​ ​other​ ​type​ ​of​ ​service​ ​being​ ​offered​ ​at​ ​your​ ​school​ ​all​ ​I​ ​ask​ ​is​ ​that​ ​you​ ​take​ ​a moment,​ ​when​ ​you​ ​can,​ ​to​ ​appreciate​ ​what​ ​you​ ​see​ ​around​ ​you.

Look​ ​around​ ​at​ ​creation,​ ​appreciate​ ​the​ ​specific​ ​things​ ​in​ ​life​ ​that​ ​give​ ​you​ ​joy.​ ​For​ ​me,​ ​it​ ​is when​ ​I​ ​walk​ ​towards​ ​my​ ​first​ ​class​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mornings​ ​in​ ​the​ ​sprinkling​ ​rain,​ ​umbrella-less, looking​ ​at​ ​the​ ​blooming​ ​flowers​ ​in​ ​the​ ​trees.​ ​That​ ​is​ ​all​ ​part​ ​of​ ​creation​ ​and​ ​we​ ​have​ ​the blessed​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​experience​ ​it.

We​ ​live​ ​in​ ​a​ ​turbulent​ ​world​ ​that​ ​asks​ ​quite​ ​a​ ​bit​ ​of​ ​its​ ​young​ ​people.​ ​Take​ ​advantage​ ​of​ ​this education​ ​God​ ​has​ ​given​ ​you​ ​and​ ​use​ ​it​ ​to​ ​increase​ ​the​ ​goodness​ ​and​ ​kindness​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world. And​ ​like​ ​the​ ​tenth​ ​leper,​ ​come​ ​back​ ​and​ ​tell​ ​Him​ ​thank​ ​you​ ​when​ ​you​ ​have​ ​received​ ​your​ ​gift.


Claire is a sophomore at UC Berkeley studying Theater and Performance Studies and English. She currently attends Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in San Francisco. Her favorite Saint is Saint Pelagia the actress and when not in church or the theater, she likes to spend her time exploring San Francisco, reading plays, and eating sushi.

 

It Takes Time to Grow a Tree

It Takes Time to Grow a Tree

Back in October, I attended an Orthodox Christian Fellowship meeting where I asked a priest for some advice on a relationship I was pursuing. I explained to him my worries and he told me this: “In any relationship, if the tree bears no fruit, it will die.” My following question was a query as to how I would know whether or not this “tree” was dead and he answered me with the one exceedingly complex word an impatient person never wants to hear: time.

Well, what the heck, priest.

Yet, I took his advice and here is my working conclusion:

Within my own spiritual growth, my unwillingness to let go of time has been my downfall. With this unwillingness comes anxiety, stress, and frustration as to when the ultimate moment of By George, I think I’ve got it! appears. I am coming to realize that one may never “get it” because then what is the point of the journey? Orthodoxy, and moreover religion for that matter, is not something to be “gotten”;  it is something to be pursued. Like growing a relationship, it takes time, care, and effort, and because the world is so diverse, all of these nurturing tactics differ depending on the person. If only it was all so easy: go to church every Sunday with the same homogeneous group of people who all believe the homogeneous thing you do, and you virtually have no issues with anyone because we are all homogeneous and believe in the homogeneity. But this is not what God intends.

He desires that you are challenged, because how then is it possible to make genuine attempts to discover His grace more fully and openly through the other icons of Christ He has created?

After spending a week at College Conference West, I am seeing why He has placed certain people in my life, whether they are Orthodox or not. They are part of the journey. Some are permanent and some are temporary, but regardless of their status they all play a role in how I grow in Christ and better yet, how Christ grows in me; and as time passes, the fruit the tree bears continues to grow as the people who love me nurture and water my soul.


Claire is a sophomore at UC Berkeley studying Theater and Performance Studies and English. She currently attends Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in San Francisco. Her favorite Saint is Saint Pelagia the actress and when not in church or the theater, she likes to spend her time exploring San Francisco, reading plays, and eating sushi.

The Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer

“Pray the Jesus Prayer!” my friend shouts.

It’s a warm August day; I’m about eleven years old at the time. A number of my church friends and I are in a rowboat—probably too many of us in one boat, maybe a little too young to be out unsupervised.

“I’ve never had to row in wind this strong before,” a friend calls over the chaos of panicking kids.

“Um, okay, I guess let’s all try praying, guys,” I say quietly.

O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Three short years later, I am sitting in a dark hospital waiting room for what seems like the thousandth time. In my hands, I am holding the back brace that will turn me from a confident tomboy to a self-conscious teenager.

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Credit to Art4TheGloryOfGod via flickr

“Walk up to the X-ray machine and stand straight,” I heard the familiar voice of the technician.

O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Fast forward another six years, and now I am teaching Sunday School. “Okay, everyone, today we are going to learn about the Jesus Prayer. Do you all know it? It goes like this: O Lord Jesus Christ…” “Have mercy on me a sinner!” I hear the group of six- and seven-year-olds say. I look up and smile, knowing that the Jesus Prayer is one of the first things we teach kids when they start Sunday School at age three.

You might be wondering why, at my church, children learn this prayer at such a young age, when they are probably too young to understand its meaning. Yes, it is in part because the prayer is short, but there is so much to it than that.

Earlier I mentioned two stories that have happened in my life where, momentarily, I genuinely felt afraid and alone. Remember the rowboat story? My friend’s older brother swam over and helped us row to shore, and moments later it seemed as though nothing had happened. And the hospital story? The X-ray clinic is a fading memory.

Likely some of you reading this right now are enduring trials much worse than the ones I have mentioned. Maybe, right now, you are living through some of the worst years of your life. I don’t know. Everyone faces different struggles in their lives.

The Jesus Prayer is so important to me because I associate it with God’s enduring work in my life over the years—the work of a God who was present somewhere even during the darkest moments, a God who will never abandon us. The words are so simple but so profound at the same time: O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. When I pray these words, I am also reminded of these words from the book of Deuteronomy: God will never leave you nor forsake you. If your heart is open to Him, of course God will have mercy on you! I hope this prayer can be a constant reminder to us of God’s enduring love for humankind.

Of course, praying is not magic, as several of my fellow Blog Contributors have dutifully reminded us over the past few weeks. I don’t pretend to understand how God works, and I don’t pretend to understand why it might sometimes seem as though our prayers go unanswered. But, all the experiences that I have associated with the Jesus Prayer over the past few years remind me that, despite moments of genuine fear and pain, we have a loving and merciful God, and that all our trials shall some day pass.


13161708_1015307835213376_5072390570379906980_oAnastasia 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.

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

“O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who art in all places and fillest all things, Treasury of blessings and giver of life: come and dwell in us, cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord.”

You may have heard this prayer before, but have you ever taken a second to think about who it is to? We have prayers to God (as a Trinity and in His various Persons), the Theotokos, and various saints: which one is this? As it turns out, this is the only prayer in Orthodoxy (as far as I know) to the Holy Spirit. Let’s break it down.

Of course, I am not an expert on this prayer. I have done no additional research on it for the sake of this article.

From the hand of Deacon Matthew Garrett

From the hand of Deacon Matthew Garrett

Everything I am about to say is stuff that I have learned or thought through, so I strongly encourage you to enhance your knowledge of this prayer by discussing it with a priest and thinking about it on your own.

There are two halves to this prayer. The first half outlines who the prayer is to, the second outlines the request (before adding more about who the prayer is to). The opening line are all phrases that Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit. He tells his disciples multiple times that He will send them “the Comforter,” instructing them to remain in Jerusalem until He does. In fact, one time He goes as far as to tell them that it was good that He was leaving them, because if He had remained on earth, the Comforter would not have come. He also refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth in the Gospels.

 

 

We go on to say that this Comforter and Spirit of Truth is in all places and fills all things. This is critical in the Orthodox understanding of the Kingdom of God and salvation, and it influences Orthodox architecture.

Let’s suppose for a moment that the purpose of life is to be where God is, and let us suppose that God is in heaven. Therefore, the purpose of life must be to get to heaven so that we can be with God. If we believe that God is in all places, this is problematic because God is already here. God is already present with us, wherever we are, whatever we are doing. We don’t need to get to some other place to be with Him. What does that mean about heaven? Well, it means that we get to live out the Kingdom of God here on earth by connecting ourselves to the God who surrounds us, filling all things. This is why Orthodox churches have domes, showing the encompassing presence of God, rather than steeples pointing to some place where we presume He is.

I know there is still more to unpack in the first half, but I don’t know enough to talk about it, so let’s move on to the second half. What are we asking this omnipresent Comforter, this Spirit of Truth? It looks to me like an invitation. We are simply saying: come, be with us. Whatever we are doing right now, come be a part of it so that what we do may become sanctified. Come live in me, that I may learn to live in you.

We get to live out the Kingdom of God here on earth by connecting ourselves to the God who surrounds us, filling all things.

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One last thought about this prayer: remember it when Pascha comes around, because you will notice that we don’t say it any more. Once Christ is risen, He is with us. Like He said, the Comforter need not come while He’s here. After His ascension, we stop singing Christ is Risen, but we still don’t add this prayer back in. We wait 10 more days until the day of Pentecost, when the Comforter comes. On that day, that prayer is more powerful than ever, as for the first time in 50 days, we as a Church come together and ask the Holy Spirit to “come and dwell in us, cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Gracious Lord.”

May this prayer have new meaning to us whenever we say it, and may we remember it whenever we are doing anything for which we could use the Spirit’s guidance. May the Holy Spirit guide us all in this effort.