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.
Like the prodigal, I have returned.
I am back for another year of contributing to the OCF blog, and I am charged with the task of reintroducing myself, and I wonder what might be worth saying.
Rather than sharing the same tired anecdotes about my extracurricular activities and favorite Netflix shows, I have chosen the words of the great poet Kahlil Gibran to try to give you insight into the idea that has been dominating my thoughts. Maybe this will be a better way to get to know me.
“We are all beggars at the gate of the temple, and each one of us receives his share of the bounty of the King when he enters the temple, and when he goes out.
But we are all jealous of one another, which is another way of belittling the King.”
This poem from Gibran’s Sand and Foam captures a deep truth that most of us fail to recognize: we are all
in search of the same things. We all want to be valued, we all want to be filled with joy, we all want to be at peace, and most of all, we all want to be loved. “We are all beggars at the gate of the same temple.”
We are all promised these things from a myriad of different types of places and people. Every advertisement we see on television is subtly (or often times, not so subtly) telling us that another material product will be the answer to our search. Our social environments often try to convince us that certain worldly lifestyles will be what we are looking for. If we use enough of the right drugs or go to the right parties with the right people, we will find the peace and joy we so desperately seek. However, as Gibran reminds us, the true treasure comes from the King alone—the King of Kings, I might add.
When we doubt the King, or when we doubt that amidst all the worldly promises, Christ is the only one who can deliver on his divine promises, we belittle him. Hopefully, through this blog, we might try to take a look at some of those promises and how God—the King—delivers on them.
For those of you who were truly interested, my favorite show on Netflix is The West Wing, I am a senior at the University of Michigan studying economics, I enjoy reading, and I am the Vice-President of my OCF chapter.
I hope all of you are enjoying your first weeks back at school, and for those just entering college, I hope the adjustment has gone well. May we keep a clear enough vision to see who is promising us what, and may God grant us the strength to put our hope in Him who is the answer to all of our searching.
Mark Ghannam is a senior studying economics at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. His hobbies include beard growing, obsessing over Ancient Faith Radio podcasts, and Michigan football. Catch him rock climbing, reading, or browsing Reddit.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
Sure, It’d Be Nice | Why OCF Matters
Sup team! My name is Benjamin Solak, and I’ll be your Publications Student Leader for OCF 2017-2018!
Wait…didn’t you do this job last year?
And they gave it to you again?!
I’m as surprised as you are, dear reader.
Okay, so what’s the plan for the blog this year?
A lot of super cool stuff. After our Blog Contributor program went super well last year, we look to be reviving that this year, starting in October, with a couple familiar faces, and some new ones too. If you’re interested in being a Blog Contributor, or if you’re unfamiliar with the program, you should email me at email@example.com.
We’ll be looking to engage the community in an even bigger way this year. The loveliest part of the OCF Blog is that it is an ongoing, national effort of OCF. It allows OCFers from Nebraska and New York to connect with those in Nevada and North Carolina. Anytime there is a College Conference, Real Break trip, Regional Retreat, District Retreat, Day of Prayer activity, Day of Light activity, OAM challenge–anything–I want to hear about it! If your chapter has done something cool and you think the blog should know, you should email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you just thirsty for emails because they make you feel important?
Oh, most definitely.
Do you have anything else in the works for us to know about?
Okay, what else CAN you tell us?
I’m a third-year student at the University of Chicago (which is in Chicago. Sometimes people ask me that.) studying Comparative Human Development. I’m an unhealthy football fan, and I cover the Philadelphia Eagles for a site called Bleeding Green Nation, and college football and the NFL Draft with NDT Scouting. I run when my knee doesn’t hurt and complain when it does. Sometimes I pace myself, and eat the entire package of Chips Ahoy Chewy in two sittings.
I can also tell you that the mission of this blog is to magnify exposure. Whether it’s something done in the OCF that merits the eyes of the national body, or if it’s you, and how the OCF blog can assist your spiritual growth and enrich your college life. The four pillars of OCF are fellowship, education, worship, and service–and all four of those will be highlighted throughout the year, that the multiple and international efforts of OCF may always present to you a full body of the church.
I run the blog, but the blog isn’t about me, it’s about you–and, not unlike Horton the elephant, I mean what I say and say what I mean. As your OCF year enters full swing, I’m excited to be right there with you.
What a guy.
Oh stop, you.
Read on for a post about chapter meeting and activity ideas that incorporate the four pillars of OCF!
Come and see. (Editor’s note: #OCFComeAndSee)
That is the message that 320 college students got attending OCF College Conference at three different locations across the US. If you were not one of those students, let me get you caught up. Having attended College Conference East, I can’t speak for what happened in the West or Midwest, but I’m going to guess that many of the messages were similar. Keynote speaker Fr. Timothy Hojnicki and five workshop speakers spoke to us about how to make this phrase, “Come and See,” relevant in our lives, and there was one message that really stood out to me: the best way to spread Orthodoxy is to live Orthodoxy.
You know the man Victor Lutes took all the pictures! Props to Victor.
So let’s talk about that. It’s a new year, and whether or not you’re into New Year Resolutions, we as college students are going back for another semester, which is a beautiful opportunity to make changes that will lead to spiritual growth. As someone who frequently failed to implement the goals that he makes for himself, I want to spend the five minutes of your attention that I get per month to talk about the attitude with which we should approach these changes. I am going to share with you some thoughts from an under-qualified mind, so all I’m asking is that you take some time to think about what I have to say. Talk to your friends, see if it make sense, get their ideas. We are all working towards spiritual growth, let’s work together to make it happen.
All right, here we go.
1. Have checkpoints, but make sure they’re not the end goal.
This is one of my biggest problems. I make small goals (e.g., read the Bible every day), but I approach it with the mindset that once I reach that goal, I’m done, or that somehow spiritual growth becomes automatic once I do that.
From what I’ve experienced and read, I’m inclined to think that this is not at all how it works.
Once I start reading the Bible every day, not only will it be a struggle to maintain that goal, but I also need to put in my own effort to use that as a step-stool to reach a higher goal. As a musician, I will use a musical metaphor. I might want to play a certain scale at a certain tempo, which is a great goal. However, most recital audiences could not care less how quickly I can play that scale unless I can use that skill to make something musical happen. So not only do I need to practice to make sure I can keep playing that scale well, but I need to use that scale (and whatever else I have grown in) to push me down the path of becoming a great trombone player.
2. You’re going to fail, probably. Especially if you rely on your own strength.
I hate this one. I would get this advice all the time, and it would just make no sense to me. I should just approach my goal of reading the Bible every day assuming that I will fail? Isn’t that setting me up to fail? Now, 1,687 failed goals later, I realize why this advice is given. I would approach my goals with the assumption that my strong work ethic and determination would get me through.
One problem with that: five days later, when I’m really tired, thrown off my routine, and really just want to watch Netflix instead, my end goal flies out of my head and my human will is crushed. Then once that happens, I have no plan to get back into it. I thought I would succeed, so what do I do now that I failed? If I cited Netflix as my reason for not reading the Bible today, why can’t it be my reason tomorrow? Will my work ethic and determination fail me again?
Now let’s stop here and come up with a better approach. Let’s start with prayer, just taking a quick moment asking God to help us do this. Then we will game plan. We know that we at least have a shot whenever we remember the end goal–becoming like God–and how our goal will get us there: in my case of reading the Bible, giving me both direct information on how to become like God and a structural foundation that will help me use other tools such as readings from saints and divine services to work towards my aforementioned goal.
If you have a short attention span like me, you will forget that end goal (and how your task gets you there), and the task you are working on becomes much harder. You probably will fail to complete it once or twice (or much more than that). Here is the most important lesson from this section of my essay: don’t freak out about it (like I always would). You fail, you are ashamed for having failed, and you don’t want to think about your goal anymore. Remember: you are not relying on your own strength, you are relying on God to help you. Your own strength failed you this time, but tomorrow, with God’s help, you got this.
These are Paul’s strategies for goal-setting that Paul can use to carry out his goals better. Are they applicable in your life? Maybe. I’m no goal expert (like Sidney Crosby is, let’s go Pens!), but perhaps these are either directly applicable, or you can take bits and pieces from them. Talk with friends, see how they approach their goals. If we talk about these things, we can learn from others’ mistakes instead of having to make them ourselves. And if we don’t take their advice and do end up making the same mistake, we acknowledge that our stubborn head needed that, and we get up and try again. May God give us the strength to keep getting up, no matter how many times we get knocked down, so that we can keep making spiritual progress on the path towards Him.
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.