The Fast

The Fast

In this space, I speak a lot about the limits and constraints that college life puts on our participation of the faith.

I’ve written about prayer, confession, service, almsgiving–all through the lens of our limits as poor, busy, terrified-for-our-future college students.

The intention there is clear–and, I believe, justified. As a ministry oriented towards college students and the Orthodox faith, it is appropriate that we would create resources to help college students address the obstacles between them and the ideal practice of their faith. It is also appropriate that we would share stories of success, of the aspects of our collegiate life that help us grow in our faith (see: reflections on OCF retreats/programs).

Of all of the sacraments and practices of the Church, however, I don’t think any one is as clearly helped by our college life than fasting.

Those are my two cents–they’re worth exactly two pennies. If your experience is different, which is entirely possible, then you may disagree. Furthermore, I am in no way saying that fasting is easy. It is not. I will struggle with it, whine (waaay too much) about it, and fail at it inevitable this season.

But my experience of fasting at college has always boiled down to pure, undiluted, individual choice.

Of course, most everything boils down to choice. Pray before you go to sleep? That’s a choice. Get up for church on Sunday mornings? That’s a choice. But in so many of these life choices, we can feel constrained and steered by many other external factors. We feel that these motivations and limitations rob us of our choice.

But fasting–the exclusion of meat and/or dairy from the diet–more easily distances itself from these limiting factors. Why? Because, at college, you have significant control over what you eat.

Let’s say you’re on a meal plan. Well, you typically walk into a large cafeteria that has many food options–and there’s going to inevitably be at least a vegetarian option, if not two or three. In that moment in which you hold the empty tray in your hands, there is nothing impeding your path to the pepperoni pizza, and there is nothing impeding your path to the salads. The call is yours.

Let’s say you aren’t on a meal plan–then you buy your own food. Yeah, if you have roommates who cook for the whole apartment, now you’re in a bit of a bind. You have to strike a balance between asking them to keep your dietary restrictions in mind for 40 days (less, because you won’t even be at college for some of them) and cooking your own food. But I believe that’s possible.

Especially because OCF has a fasting cookbook for you!

New OCF College Lenten Cookbook

Boom-shakalaka!

As I said at the beginning of this post, OCF helps address the obstacles between the college student and the full realization of their faith. Despite the extent to which I personally find fasting to boil down to a choice, you may not. That’s where the cookbook comes in. It’s full of recipes to help you make it through the fast, recipes that are so simple you can make many of them with nothing but a plate and a microwave.

Often, we leapfrog choice with willful ignorance. Because choice is hard–it forces us to evaluate what we truly value–and often leads to less instantly gratifying decisions, we attempt to circumvent it by denying its existence. We ignore the information that gives us the power to choose. We don’t learn the strategies, listen to the sermons, read the books, so we can pretend we did the best we could–because that was all we knew.

If you’ve arrived here–at the end of the post–then your choice in fasting has hopefully been exposed. If your mind, instinctively seeking an out, whispered an insistence that you didn’t have the means to cook fasting food for yourself, hopefully the cookbook proves a counter-punching resource for you.

It’s my favorite Bible quote–it seems to always apply–so let’s drop it right here to end this post. In the 13th chapter of John, Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet, reminded them that they view him as the Teacher, reminded them of all of the examples he has given them. He’s preparing to be Crucified. He then says:

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. – John 13:17

Note: If you have any cool fasting recipes/easy fasting treats or anything in between, the 2018 Lenten Cookbook is currently being compiled. Go here for a recipe submission form!

Parish Life | Gaining Perspective as a College Student

Parish Life | Gaining Perspective as a College Student

I couldn’t be more blessed with my parish here in Chicago.

There are tons of Orthodox churches all across the city. I know that different students from different OCFs way across the city go to different churches, but I’ve been fortunate enough to find the one in which I feel both comfortable and pushed to be better; welcomed, and supported.

Parish life can be something over which we gloss in OCF. Many of our pillars–fellowship, education, service–replicate exactly those that are utilized by the many healthy parishes across the nation. OCF organizes service trips; so do many churches. OCF organizes Scripture study and book readings; so do many churches.

Now, OCF serves these similar functions as the parish for a distinct reason: As a college student, it can be quite tricky to become engaged in these aspects of parish life. Church youth groups are often geared toward younger students, and rightfully so: once those youth leave for college, they can no longer be members of the group.

Meanwhile, the adults of the parish–even those on the younger side–have likely been members of the parish for a few years. Their concerns are perhaps starting a family, settling in to their profession, creating a state of permanence that a nomadic college student simply cannot. They’re at a different stage in their life.

And accordingly, OCF creates a community of the like-minded, similar-staged college students, that we may be buttressed by these pillars of education and fellowship and service in the Church.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Bill Colclough.

That being said, we must recognize a crucial point: Both college life, and by extension, OCF life are not meant to replicate the aforementioned permanence of a fledgling adult who has landed in a home, has a home parish, and has some real consistency to their lives. College and OCF life are, by their nature, transient.

We forget this because we spend years–long, hard, awful years–in high school being told that the end is college; that we must appropriately cite our sources, because we will have to do that in college; that we must do extracurricular activities, because colleges will like that. Our paradigm for decision-making and effort is solely based on college as an end goal. But it is not an end. It is a means to an end.

The end of all things is Christ. The end of all things is the second coming and eternal salvation in the Kingdom of Heaven. As Orthodox Christians, standing in the face of this truth, everything we do must be geared toward arriving at this end as prepared and humble servants; as guests wearing the wedding garments; as virgins with oil in our lamps.

As such, my encouragement to you today is to examine: what are your ends? Do you do what you do to get good grades? To get a good job? To make money? To have a family? To live a happy life? Perhaps, even, do you do what you do because it feels good in the moment? I cannot tell you how you should divide your efforts on a daily basis, but I do know that the Lord said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” If there’s something in your life that isn’t leading you to the kingdom, you have to sit and think about that.

It is in this mindset and in this spirit that I return to my original point: I am so blessed with the parish that I have. It is youthful, thriving, and joyous. If I wanted to show anyone what Orthodoxy looks like–not in a monastery on a hill or a village in the home country–but in the center of a city in America, I would take them here.

But I don’t participate in that parish nearly as much as I should. Don’t get me wrong: I go to church every week that I’m in Chicago. (Okay, I was really sick like two weeks ago, but you get the point.) But my involvement with OCF–good, valuable, important to me–fools me into believing that I needn’t involve myself with my parish.

However, I know that, as the future rolls ever toward me, parish involvement is on my horizon. I know that, to make it to the kingdom, I need a home parish. I need that stability, that consistent involvement, those people who know me well through my faith. I know that my opportunities to serve, to learn, and to commune will no longer come from OCF in the nearing future. And I have to start preparing for that.

My prayer is that the Lord helps me do this. It is difficult, to pull oneself far back, to such a wide-reaching perspective–but, it allows the self to make more level-headed, forward-thinking decisions. It is only by looking at the long-term can we gain the insight needed to change the short-term.

Why I Read the Scriptures Every Day

Why I Read the Scriptures Every Day

Why is it important that we read the Scriptures?

It’s a question that has bothered me, over my time as a young adult making the effort. You all know that kid in your one discussion class? The one who has an opinion about, um, everything? Always dropping unnecessarily big words that they don’t even properly understand? Convinced they have great insight worthy of sharing at the drop of a hat?

Sometimes, that’s how I felt about reading the Scriptures at a personal level. I don’t think I’m nearly as good at reading and understanding the Scriptures as, say, the priest I see every Sunday who went to seminary and learned how to interpret the Bible. I mean, if understanding Scripture were easy, there wouldn’t be a big talk right after the Gospel reading to unpack what was just said. I didn’t want to become the “that guy” who reads through something incredibly complex and fools himself into thinking he understands it.

And, funnily enough, that fear has shaped a lot of my experience reading through the Scriptures so far. If you flip through my copy of the Bible, you’ll find way more question marks in the margins than anything else. Focused on my lack of understanding, I’ve had the experience of learning some while reading the Bible, but asking and wondering even more.

Public Domain image from dustytoes on Pixabay.

But it’s not a bad wondering. I’m not at the place where I feel I don’t understand my faith or that the Bible is saying things that surprise me and shock me. It’s a good wondering–it proves that my faith is dynamic, layered, and alive. Sure, there are question marks in the chapters and verses not read in the Sunday cycle of Bible readings, but there are plenty of question marks in the familiar parables as well.

Also–and this may shock you–reading something daily is better than reading something weekly. Honestly, it surprised me–my experience reading the Scriptures consistently has helped color in the gaps between the Gospel narrative provided by only a weekly dip. I promise you, I had no idea how often Jesus “got on a boat and went to the other side” until I started reading Matthew every single day of the week.

But that’s just a casual example: reading the full narrative elucidates the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees, Jesus and his disciples, the people and Jesus Christ. You come better to understand how immediately Jesus starting challenging the law and foreshadowing the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

If you’re like me, you’re reading something for class every single day. If you’re reading something for Classic English Lit on the daily, and you’re not reading Scripture on the daily, which is important to you? Which will have a greater influence on your life? You’re getting to class every day (at least, you’re telling your mom you are)–but you can’t get to church every day, can you?

Me? I watch football literally every. single. day. If I’m not finding a way to actively, intentionally, hungrily engage with my faith on the daily, I’m losing spiritual ground to a game. That’s not good.

So I read the Scripture because I’m quite fearful of what might happen if I don’t. I’ll distance myself from my Lord, keeping Him at a distance and keeping my faith as a static, placid entity that I’ve fooled myself into believing I fully understand. That sounds lazy, irresponsible, and scary. And I want to avoid things like that.

I use MyBiblePlans.com to create my schedule (it’s fully customizable). It uploads directly to my Google Calendar, so I can get handy little notifications on my phone.

 

Introducing: Blog Contributor Program 2017

Introducing: Blog Contributor Program 2017

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 publicationsstudent@ocf.net. 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

Redirecting

Sure, It’d Be Nice | Why OCF Matters

It Could Go Either Way

It Could Go Either Way

College and the Church can be…oof.

That’s a sad reality, a tough reality, but let’s call it what it is: a lot of the experiences offered and knowledge presented to us create some degree of friction with the practices and teachings of the Church. Not all of it, of course!–but a good deal.

And this isn’t exclusive to college–that’s important to note. A lot of the experiences and knowledge of the world itself, fallen and broken, create some degree of friction with the Church. College is just our current context for that friction. It is the environment in which we are.

I want to tell you a story. It’s an amazing story, but in order for it to be amazing, we’ve gotta start with a bad story.

In my first year at the University of Chicago, I was put in a temporary dorm–Broadview Hall, almost a mile away from campus. It was a retired hotel in which us lucky first-years were holed up as Campus North Residential Commons (audience: oooh!) were constructed. Some griped, but I loved it. I had a single dorm with my own bathroom, there was always breakfast in the fridge downstairs and a rickety elevator that broke every other day.

I was in Room 527. Across the hall, in Room 524, was a young woman who we will call…Hannah. Hannah and I were both first years, so we went through the glorious rigmarole of orientation week together. Obviously, there were a ton of first-years with us, but Hannah was aggressively outgoing and friendly. For those of you who know me, I’m also socially…exuberant. So we chilled and had a good time.

via Wikimedia Commons

Hannah was obsessed with trains. Every time we rode Chicago’s L into the city, she was over the moon. Her room, across the hall from mine, faced east–you could only see buildings. My room faced the Metra line.

When Hannah discovered this, she immediately asked if she could come study in my room so she could also watch the trains. I mean, I was down. Hannah was super entertaining and was struggling to make any solid friendships early on, so I figured it was a good thing to do.

And then one day, Hannah asked me about the ‘pictures’ on top of my fridge. They were my icons.

I don’t know if I thought we could have avoided the topic entirely, somehow–or maybe, naive as a first-year, I imagined the conversation going far easier in my head. You see, Hannah had made it very clear from the first day of orientation that she had strong views on a ton of tough contemporary issues–and I knew those views would put her at odds with a lot of the Church’s teachings.

So she asked me about the pictures; I told her they were icons and that I was an Orthodox Christian. So, she asked me what that meant, what I believed, and so on. As best as I could at the time, I tried to communicate the Orthodox views in a sympathetic and non-confrontational manner, also asserting that I wasn’t nearly the ideal source for some of these difficult questions.

Hannah left my dorm room and never spoke to me again. She would up and leave tables if I sat down at them for a while, though she stopped with that eventually. Still, she hasn’t said a word.

Now, obviously, Hannah is an extreme case. As I said, she was a little socially awkward, so I don’t think she was adequately equipped to handle such a situation. But that experience soured me–hard–on how college and the Church interfaced. Reading through Genesis and St. Augustine and Dante across my first year of school, and hearing all of the…different interpretations thereof, didn’t help either.

But fast-forward to the amazing part of the story: right now, in my third-year at college. I’m taking a Russian Civics class, and the second week has been all about the varying religious and cultural beliefs of the Slavic regions, and the eventual onset of Christianity and precipitation into one giant big ole Russia.

via Wikimedia Commons

I mentioned during a comment in class that I’m Russian Orthodox. Since then, my professor–who won’t stop calling me Sam incidentally–has turned to me multiple times for my input on comments he makes or to help answer questions from students. I passed my cross around class so folks could look at it–I modeled what the three-bar cross looks like, because it was on the frocket of my AV Male Staff 2017 shirt (shoutout AV Male Staff 2017).

I had this awesome experience of Christianity in college. Just rad and a half. I got to stand there and explain what I believe, field questions, and make clarifications to a group of people that–for the most part–seemed interested in and respectful of what I was saying. And it was so dope.

Maybe to them I was just a peculiar echo of a long-passed novelty; someone clinging to silly beliefs. If that’s their judgment, that’s okay. College has always been a place for me where my faith isn’t treated with respect or as legitimate. But last week, that changed a little bit–I got a taste of the greener grass on the other side.

We always hear about the persecuted fathers of the Church–of St. Paul getting scorned and stoned and chased out of town for trying to live, unashamedly, a good and holy and just life.

And we remember St. Paul and the church fathers, not only because they went through this, but because they weren’t embittered, jaded, worn down, or defeated. They remained thankful (#GloryToGod), resilient, faithful, and humble.

I had written off college, I think. I’d encourage you to avoid a similar trap. The world has beauty if we don’t dull our eyes and relinquish our efforts in finding it, and every once in awhile, someone out there has ears to hear.