I recently saw the following headline and article tagged in a social media post: “Cincinnati church wipes out $46.5 million in medical debt for 45,000 families.” Perhaps more interesting to me was the accompanying post, which was simply “We could do this. But would we?”
Think about it. What should we be doing? And why aren’t we doing it?
This has implications in our personal lives and for the Church as a whole. Sure, it would be easy to simply ask the question, “Why doesn’t my church do something like this?” or “Why are we spending large amounts of money on impressive churches or impressive icons or impressive liturgical items?” And those are questions that our leaders must be willing to ask and answer. But for us, something else is at the heart of the matter.
Take a moment and think about the past day, week, even year. How much time, energy, and talent was spent with an inward focus looking for or achieving an inward result? Would I summarize my actions, what I actually do, as primarily self-fulfilling or self-emptying? And, if I call myself a Christian, are my actions aligned with what Christ taught and did?
I don’t know the specifics about this Cincinnati church and what they were able to do. It’s not for me to analyze or judge. I do know that there are people in need. Financial need, emotional need, medical need, hunger, alone, unloved, uncared for, and the list goes on. What strikes me is that I spend most of my time and days ensuring that the needs above are taken care of for myself. How much time will I spend ensuring that they’re taken care of for others?
How shall I live?
Dn. Marek Simon
Dn. Marek is the Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Fellowship. He is passionate about serving and mentoring young people, helping them explore their faith, and growing the ministry of OCF so that all college students have the opportunity to participate. Dn. Marek lives in the Nashville area with his wife and two children.
Growing up participating in extracurricular activities, you learn a lot of life lessons that stick with you forever. One of the biggest lessons everyone learns at a young age is about the importance of teamwork.
Everyone knows the go to phrase that every coach or teacher would say constantly: “There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team.’” Whether you played sports, an instrument, performed in plays, or anything else, you were taught early on that teamwork makes the dream work. You learned that teamwork was one of the biggest keys in being successful.
Just like being a team player is essential to being successful in activities or careers, being a team player is also essential to growing our relationship with Christ and the Church. So how can we become team players in the Orthodox Church? Go to Church on a regular basis.
Why does going to Church make you a team player?
You are present with people who share your faith and you are worshiping together, as a family, as a team, leading each other into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The word “Church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia which in ancient Athens signified the citizens assembly. The Church is not meant to just be a place for individuals, it was created and designed to be a place for a multitudes of people to assemble and be immersed in their common faith. Think about the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is full of prayers that specifically focus on a group of people. After each petition, are the words “…let US pray to the Lord.” Not let ME pray to the Lord, but let US pray to the Lord. These prayers are meant for all of us, together as God’s faithful servants to come together and pray to the Lord.
In Matthew 18:20, Christ says “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” How cool is it to think about that? Christ said it to us Himself. He is in our midst when we all come together to pray in His name.
Coming together and praying as a team helps us to build a stronger connection not just to Christ, but to each other. When we worship Christ with others, we feel that we are part of the same team. We feel that we are struggling and getting through life together. The more people with whom we are praying, the stronger our prayers become, bringing us all closer to Christ and to each other.
So why can’t you pray on your own? You can, and you definitely should. Just like a professional athlete takes care of himself outside of practices and games, we should be taking care of our spiritual life when we are not present in the Church. But just like the professional athlete, it is required of us as Orthodox Christians to come together, as a team, and support each other in growing in our spiritual lives.
No one can struggle through life alone. We need our spiritual team to support us with our struggles in life. We need to be present at Church for our prayers to be united with the prayers of our teammates. We need to be present at Church and allow Christ to be in our midst.
So let’s work together to become closer to each other and Christ. Let’s gather in His Church and worship together as one team. Together we can pray with our team in order to live our dream in the Kingdom of God.
Hi everyone! My name is Joanna Psyhogios. I am from Wilmette, Illinois and I am a member at St. John the Baptist Church in Des Plaines Illinois. My first experience with OCF was during College Conference East, and I have been active in participating in College Conference and OCF Retreats ever since. In my free time, I love to play and watch every sport, coach basketball to youth teams, watch movies and TV Shows, and play Jungle Speed (Shoutout to CC Midwest!). I am really excited to share what I have learned about the Orthodox faith through the OCF blogs!
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the end of the road. The boss level. The final countdown.
Before you spiral into a pit of self-loathing, as you lament the classes you skipped and readings you skimmed in weeks long passed, we’re here to help.
Finals are an unbelievably stressful time, and it’s quite easy–almost encouraged, even–to throw everything out of wack. Schedules, sleep patterns, priorities, diet–in the mad dash that is studying for finals, the college culture often demands from us more than we can reasonably give. That disparity upsets our natural balance and our perspective.
As such, let’s take a deep breath and break down the best ways to stay sane in finals season.
As is rightfully so, prayer is a good first step in everything. Of course, prayer in situations like these can be quite difficult. We don’t want to step in front of our icons (a location that we, perhaps, have attended only infrequently in recent months) and suddenly approach God, the wish-granter and gift-giver, and submit our requests in a moment of need. Prayer is a relationship and a conversation, not an order given to a waiter.
For what, then do we pray?
Well, we still should not be afraid of asking for what we need–but we must recognize that we do not need to pass these exams. No matter how crucial they may be to our degree/occupation.
What we needis help–and that’s in everything, not just finals. In our fallen world with our fallen nature and our fallen habits, we need God’s help if we are ever to grow closer to Him, to live a life full of faith and worship.
As such, we have to be sure that we’re taking our finals, and hoping to do very well in our finals, in an effort to live a Christian life. If we wish for success on our finals for the sake of our pride–to get better grades than our neighbor–or for our greed–to get a high-paying job and make tons of money to hoard and treasure–then really it would be quite better for us to pray to God that He help us struggle and fail our finals, that we may fall away from this sin, this temptation.
That brings us nicely to our second point.
A final exam is, plainly, words on a piece of paper. So is a final paper.
This piece of paper will have more significant ramifications than most pieces of paper, assuredly. It will help define your grade, which will help define your GPA, which will help define your prospects to future employers/grad schools/internships/etc.
I do not say this to frighten you. Rather the opposite.
You will take one set of final exams per semester/quarter. That’s four or five exams across an 11-15 week stretch. This will happen perhaps 8 to 12 times in your life, on average.
Every Sunday, once a week, for the history of your life time and the millennia that preceded it, the Body and Blood of Christ is sacrificed for the sins of the world and all mankind. Your participation in this sacrament will help define you. It will help define your salvation.
Taking these final exams is, simply, not the most important thing you will do this month–it’s not the most important thing you will do this week. And when you consider your prayer life, your opportunities to love your neighbor, well…it’s likely not the most important thing you’ll do on the very day.
Now of course, this does not mean we dedicate no time to the exam–we still can and rightfully should. Unless your vocation is a monastic one, then significant chunks of your day will be devoted to staying afloat in this secular world. That’s okay.
But we cannot let the relatively sporadic nature of final exams fool us into believing they are more important than the more consistent occurrence of our sacramental life. The two events are simply on different planes.
“It’s not the end of the world” feels like a cliche. It really is one. But, in this case, it bears a significant weight: when the end of the world does indeed come (ah!), how you did on your final exams won’t matter much at all.
Knowing that we have asked God for help, and knowing that our undertaking, while rightful, is not the end-all, be-all of our well-being, let’s make a decision.
Remember, we were given free will by the Lord. He wants us to choose what we do, as conscious beings and not robots.
It is easy to forget we have free will. Often we feel like we don’t have free will because the pressures of our environment constrain us and form us. This is not the case.
While we do respond to our environment (e.g., when a class has an exam, we prepare and show up for it), we may make our own choices. Every action bears consequences, and we must fearlessly say that we accept those consequences from every choice we make. Pretending that we lost our free will is often an effort to absolve ourselves from those consequences: “I missed church on Sunday, but I had to study for an exam…”
The encouragement is this: study for your exams and work very hard on them, but do so with intention, not out of default. Don’t do it because other students are doing it, because you’ve been told it’s what you’re supposed to do. Do it because these exams are important to your ideal life; a life that is aimed not on worldly success, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19). Do it because these exams, in some way, contribute to your path to the Kingdom of Heaven.
On this blog, we do a superb job talking about and giving advice for the daunting transition from high school to college. It’s a big change, most likely unlike anything you’ve experienced in your young life so far. OCF welcomes you with open arms to college life, providing a safe haven of friends, faith, and Jesus. I don’t need to tell you more — you can read about it here, here, and here.
What we don’t talk about too much on this blog is transitioning out of college and into the “real” world. As I prepare to graduate in five short weeks, I’m beginning this new phase of transition. I feel ready to move on after I receive my diploma because of OCF.
OCF taught me how to go to church on my own. It connected me with priests and friends at my college that made the task much less daunting. If you’re like me, the church you grew up in became like your second home; the parish your second family. To enter such a close knit environment as a foreigner is awkward and little scary. Through OCF, I’ve church hopped in the best possible way, both at school and various retreats and events. I’ve been exposed to various jurisdictions, chanting and singing styles, different ethnic traditions. OCF has made me more comfortable with Orthodoxy holistically, not just my isolated parish or jurisdiction.
OCF gave me friends. We have a running joke on the SLB that “OCF gives you friends,” but it really is true! I have friends from my chapter whom I’m blessed to see on an almost daily basis, friends from OCF events I joyfully reunite with at College Conference or Real Break, friends from the SLB I drive or fly long distances to see. I’m moving to Mobile, Alabama (you know, the Ortho-hub of America) after graduation. My spiritual advisor for OCF knows the priest at the only Orthodox church there, and one of my friends from my chapter and the SLB has a cousin who goes to that church. The Orthodox world is already tiny, and OCF just extends your reach even more.
OCF helped me grow as a person. Through my various roles in OCF, I’ve become a more self-confident person. I use to be cripplingly self-conscious and care much too much about what other people thought of me. Through the people I’ve met, the relationships I’ve formed, and the immense pouring of God’s love upon me, I am more comfortable with myself than I’ve ever been. I feel well-established in my faith, confident to go out in the world beyond the edges of college, to turn from Orthodox college student to Orthodox young professional.
I could go on and on about how OCF has been exceptionally transformative in my life; the heart of my college experience. But I leave you with just these three in the hopes that you, too, will reap the benefits of OCF. Join your local chapter, go to a retreat, apply to the SLB. OCF has so much to offer if you just give of yourself and trust in God.
Boy oh boy it’s Wednesday, and in Lent that means Presanctified (AKA: the greatest church service of all time).
In my opinion, Presanctified is one of the most powerful and moving services we have in the Orthodox Church. If you’ve never been, your church likely has it on either Wednesday or Friday throughout the Lenten season. If you check their website/calendar, call your priest, or ask him next time you’re there on Sunday, it’s usually far enough in the evening that it can fit within college schedules.
Part of the Lenten effort is fasting–that’s the most well-known. But it isn’t the whole kit and caboodle–there’s more to it than just that. We can’t spend Lent sinning the same way we’ve been sinning, saying the same prayers with the same frequency, attending the same services at the same times, but just eat less meat and then expect to be different. It isn’t as simple as that, as easy as that.
The Lenten effort is a frontal assault, a full-bodied push. We’re preparing for the Resurrection, for our Salvation. We can’t leave a stone unturned, a stop unpulled. This is go time.
Part of that effort is church attendance, and more than just church attendance, but sacrifice for church attendance. We miss that sometimes: when we want to attend church, we say, “Okay, when I can go to church, I’ll go.” That’s good, but that’s only half the battle.
The next step is to say, “When there is church, I will go.” One of the best ways you can communicate value is through making sacrifices: when you stop doing homework to help a friend, you’re demonstrating that you value their well-being over finishing your workload; when you sleep, go out for dinner, or do homework over attending church, you’re demonstrating that you value those things over church attendance.
Now, there are services almost every day at my parish, and I don’t nearly make it to all of them. It’s infeasible. I wouldn’t be able to get all of my schoolwork done/get enough sleep. I couldn’t live that way eternally. Eventually I would have to drop out or die.
That’s a life out of balance, and I’d never recommend that. But I would recommend gaining awareness and assuming responsibility for our choices, and thereby our sacrifices. Undoubtedly, it is difficult to say, “I am currently totally overwhelmed with schoolwork and finals and other, worthy responsibilities, but I’m just going to shirk all of that and go to church.” But it is far easier to say, “The sacrifices I make communicate my values. Because I know this, I chose to go to church this week, on this day, at this time, no matter how stressed out I feel.” By preemptively making the decision, we can base it on the immutable values we know to be true over time, not the fickle feelings of the moment.
We can never step away from being ourselves. It is an incredible onus to bear. Never can we say, “Yes, I made that choice, but that’s not representative of me.” We can say, “I made that choice, and it was a representation of me at that time, but I have changed, I have repented since then.” But we can’t check out from who we are. If we are an Orthodox Christian, we attend church, we value church. We show up to the plate.
And don’t get me wrong, that can be a very difficult plate up to which we can show. Church can unsettle us, throw us out of balance, make us feel guilty about what we’re doing, the sacrifices we’re making and the sacrifices we aren’t.
But it should. That’s a good thing. That’s our litmus check, our stock count. It gives us the opportunity to reflect on what we’ve done through a clear, unwavering, Orthodox Christian lens.
And on top of that, that incredible onus of always being ourselves, always being responsible for ourselves, always being a representation of ourselves? That’s a good thing, too! It means we are the owner of our actions, the former of our future. We have the power to choose and define. We have free will, and that is an inherently Christian thing.
Part of the Lenten effort is fasting, and every meal we are presented with a choice, an opportunity to make a sacrifice and communicate value. But the Lenten effort doesn’t end there: it asks us for entirely ourselves. Give what you can; to each his own. But understand that when you give and when you keep, when you sacrifice for this and when you sacrifice for that, you are representing yourself: you are a representative of the parents who raised you, the company you keep, the university you attend, and the church to which you belong, and the God who created you.
You are an exemplar, a model. Of what you are a model, the choice is yours.