I think October may be my favorite month of the OCF season. Obviously, it’s Orthodox Awareness Month, so a ton of chapters across the nation are completing challenges and racking up points as they grow the influence and awareness of their OCF chapter. That’s unquestionably dope.
October is also awesome because there’s so many things for which to register–College Conference and Real Break are the first two, big programs that come to mind. The majority of the registrants for these programs come in this month, as students start planning how they’ll stay involved with OCF over their breaks.
But my favorite part of October is the massive swell of Regional Retreats (and other regional/district events, such as YES College Days). Though those big national programs have great merit, the power of OCF will always be the chapter life, and from the chapter life effortlessly blossoms the district and regional community.
Which brings us to the best thing ever: Regional Retreats.
Peter Savas, ladies and gentlemen
If you’re in the Midwest (what’s good fam?) then I have great news and terrible news: you have a Regional Retreat coming up!…and it’s already full. But hey: Northeast and Northwest–get a move on!
Mid-Atlantic? Yinz..Y’inz’s?…y’all’s already happened. Hope you didn’t slack.
I like to tout district and regional events as that natural extension of chapter life, but even for folks like me without a chapter, regional life becomes all the more crucial. It is the closest replacement for chapter life that can be achieved. I still remember my first Regional Retreat fondly: organized by current SLB chairwoman Nicole Petrow (but not really, shouts to Amelia Barron and Alexandra Mamalakis), it finally gave me a taste of that which I always imagined OCF provided.
I rolled up to Kenosha, Wisconsin in Peter Savas’s car, having endured the 1.5 hour trip through the Red Line and the Blue Line to make it to some church in northwest Chicago I didn’t even know. I sat in the back seat with Deanna Kolas and learned things about Minnesohta, like how to correctly pronounce Minnesohta.
We arrived late (100% Peter’s fault) and slid in to Fr. Patrick Reardon’s keynote session. Fr. Patrick’s mind-blowing, gang. He’s one of these priests that’s been everywhere and interfaced with every faith you can imagine and he just sat at a table with a Bible in front of him, quoting Scripture at least 200 times.
And he didn’t even open the Bible once. It was just there for show. The whole thing was up in his head.
He talked about the Stoics and Epicureans, the roles of women in the church, stupid stuff that Paul did when he was evangelizing. I just sat there and thought to myself how he could probably take any one of my professors to town and back four times over. I’m pretty sure Peter and I also ended up busting out in silent laughter for some reason–you know, that pinch-your-nose-and-grab-your-sides-cause-you’re-trying-not-to-make-noise laughter? Can’t for the life of me remember why. I feel like Welch’s fruit snacks were involved, but that’s all I’ve got.
Fr. Pat, with Bible.
I had cool camp connections with a bunch of people I didn’t think I would–I knew Elias Pagones’ sister and somebody’s else’s friend or cousin or something. Maria Pavlos and I talked bands (Glass Animals is Top-5 and alt-J is Top-3 don’t @ me) for like, two hours around the bonfire, and then proceeded to have a random Facebook Messenger conversation about it a few weeks post-retreat. Alexandra Mamalakis and I talked half-marathons and all the smart people in her family at 1 in the morning.
And we served a Paraklesis by candlelight. That was a fantastic Paraklesis.
Everything I ever wanted to get out of OCF, I got in little bite-sized pieces over that weekend. I miss St. Iakovos Retreat Center and the hanging icons in the tiny chapel and the unique icon of Christ in the welcome lodge. I miss that written telephone game and the huge monastery where I went to communion at the wrong time.
And that Midwest Retreat that’s all filled up? Yeah, I’m one of the names on the outside looking in.
I’ve got work that weekend–and don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I write about football. It’s the ideal situation for me, given that my usual outlet for work avoidance was, uh, football-watching. But I want to get back to that retreat more than just about anything, and I can’t.
Try a Regional Retreat. Not for me, but for yourself–unless “for me” really motivates you, in which case, try a Regional Retreat for me. If you’ve already gone, go again, because we should but I can’t so you must.
And be sure to remember what fruit snack-related humor puts you in stitches when you’re there.
I’m fortunate to have the perspective on SLI that I do. Last year, in 2016, it was hosted for the first time at St. Iakavos Retreat Center in Kenosha, WI (10/10, currently recommending to friends)–but it was a closed retreat. Only the Student Leadership Board (SLB) attended, and the entirety of the retreat was geared on preparing those students for their distinct roles, as Northwest Regional Leader or Real Break Student Leader or Publications Student Leader (hi that’s me), and for their collective role, as young leaders in OCF and in the church.
This summer, in 2017, SLI changed. It became a two-pronged effort–the first prong remained the same, in that only the SLB attended the first portion of the retreat and participated in the same events as last year. The second half of the retreat, however, was open to the whole of OCF. The keynote speaker, the workshops, the skills training, the worship opportunities, the fellowship–all of the pieces that make an OCF retreat so special–were extended to everyone.
The numbers at SLI more than doubled, once opened to everyone. But the experience of SLI wasn’t enriched solely because of the numbers amassed–it was the fresh insight, the boots-on-the-ground perspective offered by so many of the new participants that added a different depth to SLI.
You see, we all have interesting OCF stories–how we arrived to the place at which we currently are with OCF. Sharing those stories–“My OCF Story”–is one of the first activities we did at the retreat. My OCF story has always been pretty lame: I go to a school with no chapter, and I lack the resources to start one with any consistency. I always wanted to be involved with OCF, however, and my sister worked on the SLB as the Publications Student Leader. Once she left the position, I applied for it and got it. And here I’ve stayed.
As such, I’m woefully divorced from chapter life. I don’t get that weekly dose of camaraderie that wooed so many others to regular involvement with OCF; nobody rides the train with me to church on Sundays. It’s not all lamentable, however–my lack of chapter life leads to greater involvement with regional and national programs, to get my OCF fix.
My example serves the point: college is all about new perspectives and experiences and responsibilities, right? I mean, that’s what everybody and their mother warned you about when you first left home, a bright-eyed freshman. And universities across the nation endeavor, night and day, to create safe spaces in which each individual has the freedom and security to be who they believe they are.
We often frame those differing perspectives in a light combative with the Church. That the new experiences and perspectives and opinions will seek to pull us away from the Church, make us question our faith, chew into our time that otherwise would be spent in worship and prayer. There’s a lot of truth there, I’m afraid. A lot of what’s common to universities–from party culture to liberal arts curriculum–finds itself at odds with the faith.
But there is no reason why differing experiences, perspectives, and opinions cannot be geared to strengthen our faith as well. OCF retreats regularly present us this opportunity: to hear from a Greek who grew up in Chicago and that’s all he knows of the Orthodox church; from a Russian who immigrated to Wisconsin when she was young; from a convert who has lived in twelve different states and attended thirty different churches.
The young men and women who attended SLI were living proof, not only of the vitality of the Church, but of its resiliency. College life allegedly pulls us away from the Church–and the threat is there, certainly–but OCF programs keep growing bigger and faster, incorporating new faces and stories. The laughs and prayers and shares of SLI, as a microcosm for OCF as whole, showed our vibrancy and our joy as collegiate Orthodox Christians.
Thank God SLI was opened to all of OCF. The strength of OCF isn’t the board, nor is OCF for the board. It was important that we had those days, to coordinate and plan for the year to come–but far more important was the time we had together. The mission of OCF is realized in the chapter members, who unabashedly bring the entirety of who they are to the table, and through their singularity, bring us all closer as one in Christ Jesus.
Greetings friends! (Berkeley greeting)
My name is Claire and I am one of your Blog Contributors this year! Yay online writing!
So…could you tell us a little more about yourself?
Well, I am a sophomore at UC Berkeley, studying Theater and Performance Studies and English. I L-O-V-E theater and its ability to create communities, just like what Orthodoxy does! If I am not in church, I am in the theater, and if I am not in the theater, I am in church.
Ooo! What’s Berkeley like? Do all the hippies hang out there?
Yes? But also….Berkeley is quite a hip-hoppin’ place. Since there are so many students from all over the world who attend the school, we have a pretty diverse group of people. Last year our OCF had two exchange students from Greece! It was ah-mazing to hear their international perspective on Orthodoxy, being an American group of students.
Nice, what makes you want to blog for OCF?
Overall, I think it is extremely important for Orthodox college students to see each other sending out their thoughts about their faith into the blog-o-sphere. More often than not, we think we are alone in the struggles we are dealing with at school: questioning our faith, explaining it to others, knowing how to defend it, etc. However, my posts this year will be focusing mainly on how we, as a student community, can work together to address these challenges we face in the secular world.
Why are you excited about OCF this year?
After serving as a counselor at my Metropolis Camp this summer, Saint Nicholas Ranch in Dunlap, CA (Picture above taken at said place), I really felt called to dive into young adult ministry. The Bay Area Young Adult Ministry is thriving and I feel called to bring that same energy to all the OCFs I am able to affect and you who is currently reading this blog post!
I will be contributing monthly to the OCF blog so look out for my articles as well as as ones from my fellows Contributors!
Have a great fall!
Peace out homeslice! (Typical Berkeley goodbye)
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.