Why Should You Attend College Conference Midwest? The Speakers Speak

Why Should You Attend College Conference Midwest? The Speakers Speak

It’s the first year of College Conference Midwest! We’ve interviewed all of the speakers–and the always-charming College Conference Midwest Student Leader, Peter Savas–and asked them about their workshops, their history, and why they think you should attend CC Midwest. Read along to find out what to expect from OCF’s shiny new program!

Keynote Speaker Fr. Panagiotis Boznos

Fr. Panagiotis BoznosFr. Panagiotis Boznos is the Proistamenos of Saints Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview, IL. He was born and spent most of his childhood in the Chicago suburbs, before attending the University of Oklahoma, where he received his BA in 2008 in Religious Studies and Classical Greek. He then went on to receive his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. While a student at Holy Cross, Fr. Panagiotis met and married his wife, Presbytera Nichole. They have two children, and have been serving the community of Saints Peter and Paul since the summer of 2013.

Fr. Panagiotis–you are the keynote speaker! Why are you excited to speak to the Conference’s Theme of “Come and See” (John 1:39)?

“I am excited to speak on the theme ‘Come and See’ because it is the invitation that both Christ and His disciples use (John 1.38-51). Christ calls His followers to Himself using these words, and those who hear it make that same invitation to others. ‘Come and See’ is at the same time a personal invitation for our own salvation in Christ and a responsibility of the Christian to draw others toward salvation, as well. These words, and they way in which they are used, mean that we must be transfigured and sanctified in Christ and that our sanctification is not complete without the salvation of our fellow man.”

Fr. Gabriel Bilas

static1-squarespaceFr. Gabriel is the rector of St. Mary Magdalene Orthodox Church in Fenton, Michigan.  He live in nearby Linden, Michigan with his Matushka Laura and two beautiful children, Lucy and Noah!

He grew up in Akron, OH and was a member of St. Elia Orthodox Church of the Orthodox Church in America.  After spending ten years in the banking industry, his wife gave him the blessing to go and pursue a seminary education, and further discern a calling he had received to the priesthood.  After graduating from St. Tikhon’s Seminary, he served in a Russian Patriarchal Parish in Youngstown, OH while he awaited assignment from his diocese. He has been at St. Mary Magdalene since February, and he and his family cannot picture themselves anywhere else!

Having been a member of OCF himself, and having also attended the conference at Antiochian Village, he knew how important it was to have a vibrant local OCF for our college students. One of the first priorities in coming to the Fenton area was to establish an OCF in Flint. He has a fantastic group of college students from the four area Orthodox churches who worked hard in getting this new chapter established, and he am extremely excited at the possibilities!

On what topic will you be speaking? Why will your topic be interesting/helpful to college students?

“The title of my workshop is ‘Living Sacramentally.’ College was a confusing time for me. Although I never left the Orthodox faith, there was a time when I allowed the pressures of college to get to me, causing me to change the priorities in my life. I lost sight my role as an Orthodox Christian, and allowed the temptations of the world to overwhelm me.

What I hope to share with the students, is just how important their roles are as Orthodox Christians in the world…especially as students. Life presents so many challenges which cause us to lose our focus on Christ. St. Theophan the Recluse calls the battles within ourselves ‘unseen warfare.’ I hope to enhance the students’ understanding of the armor and weapons they were given (specifically baptism, chrismation, and the Eucharist) to fight in that war…making sure they end up on top.”

What’s the one thing at CC Midwest for which you’re the most excited?

“I love meeting new people and sharing ideas!  I gain inspiration and strength by hearing stories of how others are coping in this ‘unseen warfare!'”

Why would you recommend a student come to CC Midwest?

“I would recommend students to come to the conference for the very last word in ‘OCF’…fellowship!

One of the great things that the OCF does is create a system to hold individual students accountable to each other. You make lifelong friends who you can journey through the difficulties of college life with!

Let’s face it, college (and the years immediately after) are an extremely vulnerable time for students and their faith.  The percentages of Christians who abandon their belief in Christ during this time in their life are staggering!  By having an organization like the OCF, students can reach out to their friends who are struggling with their faith, pray for them, and give them strength to endure the hardships that come with college.”

Fr. Ciprian Sas

frciprian_outsideFr. Ciprian Sas was born in Timisoara, Romania in 1975. When he was 13 years old, his parents fled communist Romania with secret plans and trust in God that they would be reunited with their five minor children (ages 3-15) in the “free world.” Following eight to ten months of pressures from the International Red Cross on the Romanian Communist Government, he and his siblings were reunited with their parents in Sweden, where they lived for a year before moving to Canada. Fr. Ciprian received his theology degree from St. Andrew’s College in Canada, a Masters in International Business from St. Mary’s University in Minnesota, and a PhD in Educational Psychology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His Presbytera Dr. Magdalena Sas and Fr. Ciprian have three children: Elijah (13), Emanuela (11), and Isaiah (8). Fr. Ciprian has served St. Andrew’s Church in Las Vegas, NV for three years, St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Cedar Rapids, IA for almost seven years, and his current parish All Saints Greek Orthodox Church in Peoria, IL for four years.

What will your workshop cover?

“In an attempt to deepen our Orthodox Christian understanding of Salvation, my workshop will address numerous topics directly related to our salvation, such as faith, heaven and hell, sin, suffering, sacrifice, blessings, prosperity, good works, life in Christ, and acquisition of the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox Christian doctrines on these topics will be compared and contrasted to other Christian faiths and even other religions. The conclusion of this workshop will focus on everyday life behaviors and manifestations of an Orthodox Christian.”

Fr. Kosmas Kallis

kosmas-and-annaFr. Kosmas Kallis is the Youth Director/Associate Pastor at SS. Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview, Illinois.  He is originally from the home of the greatest hockey franchise in the United States, Detroit, Michigan: Hockeytown, USA.  He is the advisor to the OCF at Northwestern University and loves having the opportunity to get to know and be inspired by the young adults in the area.

On what topic will you be speaking? Why will your topic be interesting/helpful to college students?

“I will be speaking with my wife, Anna Kallis, on the topic ‘He Made Them Male And Female.’ I think the title says it all.”

What’s the one thing at CC Midwest for which you’re the most excited?

“Bonfires. And s’mores. An spending time with inspiring, interested, engaging young adults of the Midwest.”

Why would you recommend a student come to CC Midwest?

“I would say that without taking time to retreat over Christmas Break, a college kid will not truly have come ‘home’.  To really go ‘home’ for break means to come back to Christ.  If a student comes to CC Midwest, they will find Christ in their fellow students, in their discussions and lessons, and, most importantly in the chalice on Friday morning.”

Peter Savas

This is Peter Savas. Peter is running College Conference Midwest. Don't you want to see this smiling face over your winter break?

This is Peter Savas. Peter is running College Conference Midwest. Don’t you want to see this smiling face over your winter break?

Peter Savas is from the west suburbs of Chicago, specifically Holy Apostles Parish in Westchester IL. He is an active member in my OCF at Loyola University Chicago, and he is the student leader for College Conference Midwest!

Why did you decide to become CC Midwest leader?

“I always heard about College Conference, and I never got to go because it involved buying a flight, which around the holidays, was super expensive. So, when I heard there would be a College Conference opening up near Chicago, I was so pumped. I wanted to be a part of it, and help it be an amazing opportunity for college kids around the Midwest.”

What’s the one thing at CC Midwest for which you’re the most excited?

“I think just the fact that this is the opening year is really cool. This is the year where we all can kind of set the stage and start traditions. We can really make College Conference into our own. I think it’s cool to be a part of something that will outlast you. And because it’s the first year of CC Midwest, we get that opportunity. All of us that go to College Conference are going to be pioneers. We can tell our kids when they go to CC Midwest that we went to the very first one. We started the tradition that they are looking forward to so much, and I think that that’s really cool. So, I think just being a part of something really cool and new is exciting to me.”

Why would you recommend a student come to CC Midwest?

“College is tough. College is awesome… but college is tough. At least for me it is. I feel like when I’m at school I go into a bubble. I am so into whatever is going on around campus that I get lost in it. I kind of lose myself in the hustle and bustle of college. CC Midwest is an opportunity to recharge, refocus, and rejuvenate. It’s a place to regain perspective. It’s a place to ground yourself from the bubble of college. It’s a place where people can be genuine. Where people don’t have to worry about this or that or feel as though they have to act in a certain way. It’s an opportunity for a person to be authentic as themselves. I think that’s the most important thing that I really am looking forward to. I just can’t wait to be able to be genuine. That’s why I would recommend CC Midwest. Obviously it’s gonna be lit…but it’s an opportunity to be genuine with your friends, with yourself and with God. So, I think that everybody should come to CC Midwest, it is seriously gonna be awesome.”

Come and See the Empty Tomb

Come and See the Empty Tomb

Image from Ted on Flickr

Image from Ted on Flickr

Last week, we discovered that to respond to the gift of grace, we must ask Jesus to “come and see” the sins that lie within our hearts. And that, as He did with Lazarus, Jesus will call us forth into Life.

Incredibly, the final time we find “come and see” in the gospels, it is again at a tomb. This time, it is at the Lord’s tomb that an angel tells the myrrhbearers, “come and see where He laid” (Mt 28:6). They find not a dead, rotting body, but an empty tomb. They hear from the angel, “He is risen.”

This is the final destination of each disciple of Christ–to follow Christ unto death and to be raised again with Him.

But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  –Rm 6:8-11

Once we we have come to Christ, learned who He is, and allowed Him to see our own brokenness, we spend a lifetime crucifying the flesh and its passions (Gal 5:24) so that on the day of judgement, we, too, will rise into eternal Life. We spend our lives becoming dead to sin and alive to God.

It is not an easy path to ascend the Cross, but it is a path that Jesus walked Himself first and which we walk by His strength (Phil 4:13). It is a path which we can have confidence finds its end not in the grave but in the proclamation, “Christ is risen!”

So when we tell someone, “come and see,” I hope we mean more than come and see the artifacts of our faith, the incense and icons and liturgical movements. I hope it is more than a cop-out to having an explanation for who we are as Orthodox Christians. “Come and see” is an invitation to dwell where God dwells, to know Jesus as our Savior, to confess our sins and be healed, and ultimately, to complete the race blameless, entering into eternal Life which comes only from the One Who is risen. It’s an invitation open to all and which we are compelled to share with everyone we can.

But first, we must answer ourselves.

So come and see. Find out where the Lord lives, desire to be in His presence, bring Him your doubts, get to know Him yourself in prayer, let Him see who you really are, confess your sins to Him, and unite yourself to His death and resurrection. Become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Come, dear ones. Come and see.

Come and See the Stench of Death

Come and See the Stench of Death

As we have seen, the first two callings of “come and see” are both directed toward a new disciple. First, to come and see the place where Christ dwells and then to come and see for oneself who He really is. The third “come and see,” however, is different.

As Jesus nears His own crucifixion, His friend Lazarus dies and is laid in a stone tomb. Lazarus’ sisters come to Him, weeping over the death of their brother. They doubt that His presence will do any good at this point because Lazarus has been dead four days and the sweet smell of the spices that were used to anoint his body have worn off revealing the real stench of death. They weep at His feet and reprimand Him for not coming sooner.

Jesus seemingly remains unconcerned as he gets nearer to the tomb, continually reminding Mary and Martha of who He is.

Finally, He asks them, “Where have you laid him?” and they respond, “Lord, come and see.”

The third “come and see” of the gospels is an invitation for the Lord to come and see the wages of sin, to confront the death and corruption that plagues humanity–that plagues each of us.

It is an invitation we must extend to Jesus knowing that we are Lazarus, dead four days and stinking from our own sins within the stone tomb of our harden hearts. Experience (the first come and see) and knowledge (the second) of Christ are gifts of grace, freely offered by Him to those who will receive Him.

What is required of us is to respond.

And we respond by asking Jesus to come and see the sins that bind us like Lazarus in the grave no matter how foul we may think they have become. What is asked of us is that we weep bitterly, like Mary at her brother’s tomb, over the death that is within us.

When they reach the tomb, Jesus, confronted with the death of His friend and the end result of humanity’s fallen state, joins Mary in her lament. And then, incredibly and in spite of the doubts and disgust of the crowd, He asked for the tomb to be opened, and He calls the rotting Lazarus out of the tomb and into Life.

So too it is with our hearts when we truly and honestly invite Jesus to come and see what lies within. He takes away the stony hardness of our hearts, and He does not flinch at the stench of the dead man who lies therein. Instead, He weeps with us, His own heart breaking to know what tragedies we suffer at our own hands, and then He calls forth the real man saying, “Loose him, and let him go,” freeing us from the grave clothes of our the sins which bind us and offering to us True Life in Him.

Come and See that Jesus Is the Messiah

Come and See that Jesus Is the Messiah

Last week we talked about the invitation of Jesus to “come and see” where He lived, and we established that to become a disciple is first to be near to the Lord and experience Him in His own home.

This week, we take a look at what happens right after this first “come and see” calling. Immediately after John’s two disciples spend the evening with Jesus, a Galilean game of telephone begins as Andrew goes to find Peter, and after being called by Jesus, Philip goes to find Nathanael. Andrew declares, “We have found the Messiah,” and Philip says, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Pretty hefty claims.

It’s perhaps not too much of a surprise that the testimony of Philip, no matter how enthusiastic, was not enough to convince Nathanael. He’s not only not convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, but he’s not convinced it is possible for someone that important to come from such a scripturally unimportant (and sometimes disreputable) town like Nazareth.

Amazingly, Philip is not taken aback by Nathanael’s doubts nor does he try to further convince him. He simply tells him, “Come and see.” He is neither offended that Nathanael may not believe him nor is he shaken in his own decision to follow Jesus. It’s as if he says, “You don’t have to believe me. I’m convinced. Come see for yourself and decide.”

As an aside, there’s an important lesson here about evangelism. First, it’s important to notice that “come and see” only follows Philip’s willingness to seek out his friend and boldly declare to him that he has found the Savior. But once he’s given the testimony of his own encounter with the Lord, Philip allows Nathanael the freedom to come and see for himself–or not.

Philip invites Nathanael to get to know Jesus, and Nathanael comes. Though he has heard the testimony of his friend, like Thomas after the resurrection, Nathanael needs to meet Jesus himself.

Icon by the hand of Dn. Matthew Garrett. Used with permission.

Icon by the hand of Dn. Matthew Garrett. Used with permission.

To meet Jesus and discover experientially that He is the Messiah, the Savior, is essential to becoming a disciple of Christ. No one is made a believer on the testimony of others alone. You have to meet Jesus yourself by coming to Him. And while we may not be able to walk down the road from our shady fig tree to find Him, we can meet Jesus in prayer. Even a tentative or doubt-filled prayer is a vehicle for encountering the Lord. Nathanael probably wasn’t walking down the road actually expecting to meet the Messiah; in fact, he probably thought the end result of his excursion with Philip would end in disappointment, in nothing. But he made the walk anyway just to see. He carried his doubts right to the feet of the Lord.

And when Nathanael got near to Jesus, while he was still a bit down the road, Jesus called out to him, praising him for his righteous doubt and for his willingness to meet Him anyway. He tells Nathanael that He already knows about his doubts because He saw him when he was under the fig tree.

So come. Don’t be afraid to carry your doubts and your questions with you, but come. If with authenticity and honesty you approach Jesus, He will honor you from far off, coming to you and offering you His salvation so that you of your own accord, with Nathanael, can declare, “You are the Son of God.”

Come and See Where the Teacher Dwells

Come and See Where the Teacher Dwells

A new school year means a new theme for OCF!

chalice

We’re centering this year all around these three words, “Come and see.” It’s a challenge to all of us both to follow these three words and to share them with others. We have a few ideas of how you can do that this month and all year round in our Orthodox Awareness Month manual. We hope you check it out and participate.

But what does it really mean to come and see? Toward what are we coming and what will we see? Well, for the next four Wednesdays for Orthodox Awareness Month, we’ll reflect on just that!

St. John points out Jesus to his disciples. Image from Wikimedia Commons

St. John points out Jesus to his disciples. Image from Wikimedia Commons

The first time the phrase “come and see” appears in the Gospel of John is right after John the Baptist calls Jesus twice “the Lamb of God” and says that he saw the Spirit descend from heaven and rest upon Him. A few of John’s disciples must have been intrigued by their master’s deference to his newly-arrived cousin because they decide to follow Him to see where He’s going.

I’m not sure they knew what they were in for when Jesus turned and asked them, “What do you seek?” But by some moment of inspiration, they asked Him where He was staying.

In his homily on this passage, St. John Chrysostom notices

They did not say, “Teach us of Thy doctrines, or some other thing that we need to know”; but what? “Where dwellest Thou?”

It’s an interesting question. Why not ask, “What do you teach?” or “Why does John call you the Lamb of God?” There’s something significant about knowing the place where the Lord lives and then coming to stay with Him in His own home. To come and see where the Teacher dwells is experiential.

This, I think, is why we prefer the invitation “come and see” over long-winded philosophical arguments about the validity of our Orthodox Christian beliefs. We know that Truth is beyond words–it must be experienced before it can be expressed, and no expression will ever do justice to the experience itself. The place to experience God, to simply come and see where He lives, is in the Church. The Church is the place where God’s Heavenly Kingdom is most clearly breaking through into the created realm.

Take the account of the pagan Slavs sent by St. Vladimir to Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, for example. Upon returning to their king, the delegates declared

We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We only know that God dwells there.

And it is not just the beauty of the Liturgy and the music and the icons that make known the place where the Lord dwells, but the beauty of the Body of Christ, the beauty of Christian hearts being purified by God’s love.

So the first calling of come and see is simply to enter into the place where the Teacher lives, to follow Him and earnestly desire to experience the life of His Kingdom. This is the first step in the making of a disciple of Christ, to seek out where the Lord dwells and then stay with Him a while.