The Transfiguration of the Secular World

The Transfiguration of the Secular World

Last month I was in Washington D.C., and I met up with a friend of mine from the Antiochian Village. We spent the day walking around the National Mall just enjoying the city and each other’s company. Afterwards, she said that it was, “a nice break from the secular world.”

BUT WAIT!

Did we not just spend the whole day at the center of the United States’ government; the very heart of the secular world? How could we have escaped the secular world by immersing ourselves in its very core?

Before I offer my answer to that question, let’s take a step back and define what we mean when we say the “secular world.” Secular refers to something that has no religious or spiritual basis; so the secular world, then, is the world where religion and spirituality do not exist. From this definition, our minds often draw a dichotomy between our church worlds and everything else. And it seems natural to do this, for in one world we very clearly see Christ in the center of the dome or in the chalice, but in the other world, all we see is endless work, frequent annoyances, and countless obligations. But is this dichotomy even real? Does there exist a world without religion and spirituality? A world where Christ doesn’t exist?

The world often appears dark, for there are many evils and troubles in it, but that does not mean Christ is not present. In fact, “It is only when in the darkness of this world we discern that Christ has already ‘filled all things with Himself’ that these things, whatever they may be, are revealed and given to us full of meaning and beauty” (Schmemann). As Father Alexander Schmemann reminds us in his book For the Life of the World, Christ is everywhere and in all things. ALL things! It may be difficult to see at times, but “A Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. And this joy transforms all his human plans and programs, decisions and actions, making all his mission the sacrament of the world’s return to Him who is the life of the world” (Schmemann).

There is only one world and Christ is The Life of it. There is no distinction, then, between the secular world and the religious world. We see the one world we are in and can choose to either secularize it by taking God out of it, or sanctify it by recognizing the world for what it truly is–God’s creation, and everyone in it for who they truly are–an image of Christ.

Now, this should be great news! If there is no distinction between worlds, and all is one in Christ, then that means we can escape the secular world everywhere and every time! If we train ourselves through the tools the Church gives us of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, then we can clean the lens of our souls and be with Christ no matter where we are. Even though we know it, we often forget that Christ is everywhere. This beautiful prayer of St. Patrick (yes, THE St. Patrick) reminds us of that simple reality:

“Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.”
– St Patrick, the Enlightener of Ireland

When we attend summer camps, retreats, and other Orthodox events there is no doubt that we feel closer to Christ and truly feel refreshed and away from the troubles of the secular world. My point today is that those feelings you have at those kinds of events can be felt anytime of year, even when you’re by yourself. How? By reminding yourself constantly that Christ is always with us, for “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20). Through this reminder, the Transfiguration of the secular world occurs and places like Washington D.C can become places of great warmth and love in Christ.

Elias Anderson

Elias Anderson

College Conference Midwest Student Leader

Elias is a Junior at Valparaiso University studying music and mechanical engineering. He loves leading his OCF chapter and coming up with ideas for College Conference Midwest. When he’s not working on schoolwork, he enjoys playing his trumpet or guitar, beating his friends in ping pong, and laughing unnecessarily hard at marginally funny things. You can contact him at ccmidweststudent@ocf.net.

Make a “Small” Decision: Discover Where Christ Leads You

Make a “Small” Decision: Discover Where Christ Leads You

Have you ever made a seemingly small decision that changed your life? Maybe you sat next to someone new in class who became your best friend or maybe you spontaneously bought a book that influenced your career choice. Looking back, you probably did not give much thought about whether to choose that chair or turn that first page, but it is difficult to imagine your life if you had not done so. An opportunity felt inviting, so you simply stepped forward into it and Christ led the rest of the way.

For me, one of these decisions happened back in December 2019. Before this, I had only heard brief mention of Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF). The main event I had heard about was College Conference (CC) from a few camp friends. However, being from Kansas and knowing only a handful of people on the East coast, I was hesitant to attend. Thankfully, a friend who’d attended assured me people were welcoming and open to meeting new friends, so I decided to register my junior year of college.

I stepped foot in the Antiochian Village Conference Center (Where CC East is held) and was overwhelmed in the best way. First, the conference started out with the participants being blessed with myrrh from a miraculous myrrh-streaming icon. Then, the conference continued with workshops on topics like analyzing the Parable of the Good Samaritan and how we “are called to love our neighbor now, not when we are ‘good enough,’” how “there is no greater poverty than the poverty of love,” and how we should be wary of efficiency as this idea comes from viewing the world as a machine. I left each workshop with practical points and new perspectives to incorporate into my life. Additionally, being around hundreds of other Orthodox college students was incredible. I kept meeting amazing people up until the moment I got in the car to leave, and I could’ve talked for hours with each person! The three and a half retreat days went much too quickly, but I was ecstatic to find out there were more ways to get involved with OCF.

Through CC, I was encouraged to attend OCF’s Real Break program (Spring break and summer service and pilgrimage opportunities) and went abroad for the first time to Pro Vita Orphanage in Romania. Pro Vita is a place that embodies Christ’s teachings through welcoming and caring for anyone who needs assistance: orphaned children, people fleeing domestic violence, people with mental illness, and elderly people with nowhere to go. I wanted to connect other students with opportunities such as this, so I applied for OCF’s Student Leadership Board (SLB) as Real Break Student Leader for my final year of college.

With my plans to study abroad getting cancelled, school going online, and traditional Real Break trips being cancelled, this last year of college did not look like I had imagined. I was grateful to be healthy and have a safe place to live, but also, as many people did, I felt isolated. However, through the uncertainty, I knew I could count on OCF. I thrive off of connecting with other people, and OCF still made this possible. This community brightened up some lonely months through bringing me new mentors and friends with virtual programming of small groups, hybrid retreats, and prayer calls.

For example, while navigating the new pandemic situation with Real Break, I gained an invaluable mentor through working closely with Christina Andresen, Director of Ministries for OCF. Even though we don’t have weekly meetings anymore, I continue to be inspired by her faith, guidance, and hospitality. Additionally, I see my friendships from the SLB and other OCF events lasting a lifetime. These relationships are an answer to prayer. We can speak vulnerably about how to address struggles in our lives, share thought-provoking books, such as Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives and Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father, serve together at places like Camp Catanese, and even teach each other different, fun cultural dances.

Even after graduating, OCF continues to add blessings to my life. For instance, I am leading a weekly OCF small group this fall and am grateful to get to know wonderful women from across North America, from Alabama to Canada. Additionally, I am now interviewing for Physician Assistant school and am not sure where I will be living next year. Even with the uncertainty of waiting to hear back, I am confident there will be OCF connections wherever I end up geographically.

Fast forward almost two years from that seemingly small decision I made back in 2019, and I truly cannot imagine my life without the community, mentorship, and growth OCF has given me. My only regret is that I wish I could have discovered it earlier in college! If you are looking to enrich your faith and fellowship life in any way, join OCF! Go to your nearest retreat or conference. If that is not feasible, you are still in luck! Join small groups or call in to one of our zoom discussions. OCF is here to meet you wherever you are as you step forward on your path towards Christ. Make that “small” decision today.

Anna Spencer

Anna Spencer

Former Real Break Student Leader

Anna Spencer graduated from Kansas State University in May 2021 with her degree in Nutrition & Health and is currently interviewing for Physician Assistant schools. She loves learning about the world and the people around her through exploring new places, reading good books (she would love to hear your recommendations!), having conversations with strangers, and surprises. She is a Youth Equipped to Serve Leader, former OCF Real Break student leader, and has been a counselor for several different camps throughout the country. She loves new friends and OCF so email her if you want any extra encouragement to get involved at annaspencer517@gmail.com

Let’s Talk about What Went Down at College Conference

Let’s Talk about What Went Down at College Conference

Let’s set the scene: we had just finished breakfast after fully enjoying the treat that are the breakfast potatoes of the St. Iakovos Retreat Center. We settle down in in our seats, and we are suddenly attending a gospel concert starring none other than the wonderful Fr. Barnabas Powell. Fr Powell began to sing loudly in front of the whole conference, and to play along I exclaimed a loud and faithful, “TESTIFY,” which was followed by uproarious laughter. Let this conference begin I thought to myself.

Fr. Barnabas concludes his song and after the students’ excited applause he turns to us and in a serious and focused tone, says:

“If you do not know the identity of Jesus Christ, you will never know who you truly are.” 

What followed was the stunned silence of a room of people doubting the knowledge of their own identity and the identity of Jesus Christ. This statement set the tone and topic for the conference, “Who do you say that I am?” from the Gospel of Matthew.

As a group, we collectively gathered our scuba gear knowing fully well that at this conference we were diving DEEP into our identity and the identity of Christ. You may ask, what do we mean when we say God, and what is the identity of Jesus Christ? We as Orthodox understand God as the uncreated Being, the Creator of all, who reveals Himself as three persons in the Holy Trinity in full and complete communion, as inseparable as the fire of three candles sharing a flame.

Thankfully, Christ tells us who He is, He just flat out tells us so there is no ambiguity:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Therefore, we know that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Now what does this have to do with our own identity? In order for us to fully know ourselves and fully comprehend our identity, we have to begin to understand that Christ is the truth of life, its purpose, and its instiller of purpose concurrently. Christ is our nexus and the face, the icon by which we can know God, who lived and breathed on earth as we do, the infinity who became finite for us.

But why should we even care about knowing Christ and knowing ourselves? It’s because we’re diseased–sorry guys but it had to be said. We live in a fallen world and a fallen state, and the difference between knowing God and not knowing Him is the difference between wholeness and emptiness. Every time we are longing for home, we are hungry, we are thirsty, we cause pain, and feel pain we understand this emptiness and feel our tangible distance from God.

How do we begin to know God? Fr. Jannakos helped us answer that question. He taught us that we begin to know Him by imitating Him, by learning to tame the passions and working to attain the virtues of the Holy Spirit.

My spiritual father described the taming of the passions to me in the most beautiful way I have ever heard it, and I want to share it with you:

“Imagine the passions as an untamed fire, it grows, it spreads, and it causes destruction in everything it grows through. It is so big, it is unignorable and wild. Our job is to take those passions and tame them and (pointing to the light in the kandyli) turn them into the tame and beautiful flame of the candle that gives us warmth and light.”

This is the way of the Orthodox, becoming LIKE Christ in His perfect and sinless self. But how can we take this lofty theology and bring it down to the nitty gritty of the everyday life of a college student? To that, we turn to the expertise of Mother Gabriella, the abbess of Holy Dormition Monastery in Michigan.

Mother Gabriella, amidst her talk on the things she has learned as an abbess, and as an immigrant to the United States from Romania. She taught me how to incorporate small lessons in discipline and asceticism into my daily life. Some of her pro tips:

  • Wake up exactly when your alarm clock sounds.
  • Get to church earlier (1/2 way during matins). It shows respect and devotion to God.
  • Take a few moments every day to be quiet.
  • Clean up and put your things where they belong.
  • Control your diet.

Ultimately, these tips can help you with the discipline needed to resist temptation. The most important thing in struggle is to never struggle alone–struggle with God because alone you cannot do it. Lastly, the piece of advice that can be applied to be a better human being is to just let things go. Forgive people. You never know what they are going through on the inside. Anger is the punishment we give ourselves for someone else’s mistake. Let. It. Go.

College Conference Midwest 2019 was a blast. I got to meet a group of new people, and really get to know what they are thinking about and going through on college campuses. I got to catch up with old friends and have new adventures. College Conference is the place where you can learn and be strengthened in your faith and learn how to better yourself spiritually.

This last conference, Fr. Jonathan Bannon was able to bring an array of relics and I was able to physically meet a new slew of saints at this conference. So not only did I make more friends but spiritual ones as well.

I urge you all to continue participating if you have and encourage those who haven’t just come and try it. Let your guard down, open your mind, and learn at College Conference.