Why Real Break Is Better Than Camp

Why Real Break Is Better Than Camp

I know…a bunch of you are ready to fight me for such a bold and biased title.  I would say they paid me to write this, but being part of the SLB is entirely voluntary. Just hear me out, and afterward you are welcome to write Ben a counter-argument.  

1) You finally get to spend a week focused on your spiritual growth.

Most campers don’t know how to take ownership of their spiritual journey…they’re still trying to figure out if their skirts are long enough or if the counselors think they’re “cool”. Then, the counselors themselves are more focused on their campers’ experience at camp, or at least they should be.

Real Break is a chance to turn the focus back on you and your faith. While you are on your trip, whether it is a service project or a pilgrimage, you will have a moment, or ten, when this sense of peace fills you and you are simply reminded that “this came about from the Lord, and it is wonderful in our eyes.” Psalm 117(118):23

2) It’s like camp, but in March, with better food, and for adults-in-training

Confession time: I still miss camp, even after four years of adulting. Post Camp Depression (PCD) never truly goes away. But, to spend a week, away from the pressures of work and school and social media, surrounded by your brothers and sisters in Christ…I don’t know about you, but that was my favorite part about camp and is my favorite part about Real Break. You’re with 10 to 20 other college kids…adults…adults-in-training, and nobody knows anybody, yet within the first day, you will find that you have become a family.

Note: If you’re that person that decided to spend your Real Break maintaining your snap streaks…don’t. I promise you’ll get more out of it if you go off the grid. I recommend journaling (with pen and paper) instead.

3) Real Break is a once-in-a-lifetime experience

The trips and retreats organized by OCF are truly unique. First, they are pan-Orthodox. Unlike most church camps, your Real Break trip will have students from a variety of jurisdictions and from all over North America. The group itself is about as diverse as it gets.

Second, the trip’s mission presents a unique opportunity. The places you go and the things you’ll do will allow you to grow as an Orthodox Christian and simultaneously interact with a community that is not your own, yet welcomes you with open arms. Each Real Break trip has a different mission, but all have the same objective: to provide college students with a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I genuinely believe we accomplish that year after year.

Hi y’all! My name is Anna Sobchak, and I am so excited to be the Real Break Student Leader for this coming year. My OCF story has been filled with amazing brothers and sisters in Christ, some that I see at church every Sunday, and others that I’ve met through our National Programs, such as Real Break. Whether it’s dancing through the streets of Thessaloniki, praying on the coast of the Sea of Galilee, or hiking up to the monasteries of Meteora, these are the moments that have defined my college experience, and I can’t wait to share that with all of you.

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.

College YES Day Reflection | Service Knows No Limits

College YES Day Reflection | Service Knows No Limits

On Saturday, October 21, college students of the NYC Area gathered for YES NYC’s College day. The day turned one participant’s perspective on its head.

As 16 of us arrived at the parish of St. Mary Magdalen in The Upper West Side, we quickly became a little community, only growing stronger during the twenty-minute walk to our service site. From what was then our college-specific community would soon transition into something, I at least, could have never imagined. The growth of our experiences gradually expanded from the community that we thought we knew, into one intertwined in service for and with those among us.

Upon reaching Harlem’s Emmaus House, their sole volunteer for that day unassumingly received us. There, she provided us with the opportunity to package food for those who would later come seeking it.

YES does an incredible job debunking common perceptions of helping versus serving. Riddling out that distinction brings about many difficult challenges. Walking into a quieter Emmaus House with no one “needy” in sight was discouraging. After all, I signed up for this in hopes of growing in a deeper understanding of service, with a sprinkle of enlightenment from the “other” before me. And that makes for a great reflection, right?

What I failed to realize, however, is that service knows no limits. My preconceived notions painted a false hierarchy–I was the helper, seeking to serve others in need–and as such, a surprise would come from someone I least expected. And there lies the problem: the fact that I first held of view of someone other than myself as “least.”

The true manifestation of service around us emulated from this volunteer’s language of love. She did not reserve it for any specific type of person. While not directly encountering those we assume live in need, we instead heard her incredible journey in Christ; which in turn, proved to meet a need of our own. Those of us who later voiced reflection were extremely struck by her humble presence and steadfast trust in Him. We found her to be of service to us more than anything we could offer her in return.

Therefore, she prompted our new reality of an encompassing community, as the later half of our day took to Marcus Garvey Park. We met various locals, most of whom welcomed us into the neighborhood and shared bits of their lives with us. Fulfilling what we had encountered during our time at the Emmaus House, we were blessed with the opportunity to live out what we had learned–to meet people for who they were and where they happened to be in life.

Come debriefing, one participant shared a quote (as paraphrased), “wherever you find yourself in life, is exactly where God wants you to be in that moment”; and boy did this make for the day’s message. Following a reading of Matthew 25:31-46, an unprecedented silence that truly captured what words cannot came across our group. It felt like the perfect note to end on. Just as Christ speaks of hunger, food and clothing, so too does he raise the necessity of a stranger being invited in.

Thank you to everyone at FOCUS North America for organizing Yes College Days, and everything Christ illumines through their service. Glory to God for all things!

Remember, all College YES Days can be found under the OCF Events page.

March Regional Feature: South Region

March Regional Feature: South Region

Every month, the OCF social media platforms will be featuring one of the nine regions of chapters. March is the month for my birthday the South Region, which includes the great states of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Yee-haw!

On the blog, I’ll be asking the Regional Student Leader–for South, the striking Kathrine Sackllah–for a few names of people in their region who are absolutely rockin’ it. It’s an opportunity for every region to showcase and share that which makes them unique and awesome, and hopefully all the regions can learn from and grow with each other.

So, without further ado, your South All-Stars!

Anna Sobchak, Chapter President, SMU

Hi! My name is Anna Sobchak, a junior at Southern Methodist University (SMU), majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Math and currently chapter president.

How did you get involved in OCF?

Haha. It’s not a very exciting story, I’m afraid. I always knew SMU had a chapter at OCF; it was something I made sure of at all the schools I applied to. I had a friend who got me in contact with the coordinator and just went to the first meeting.

What are some of your greatest memories/experiences from OCF?

Growing up in Houston, I love every time we have a regional retreat and I get to see all the friends I grew up with. However, I would have to say my greatest experience so far was when I went to Jerusalem last spring for Real Break. It was beautiful and exciting and…honestly, I don’t even know how to describe it. Seeing all of the holy sites and just walking around the Sea of Galilee or through the Old City…it made the biblical stories seem so much more real and relatable. 10/10 would recommend.

Any advice you could give to someone else in your position?

Somehow I ended up as chapter president, but whether you just go to weekly meetings or are involved in the national level, my advice is to make sure you get involved. Different chapters do different things, but at the end of the day, it’s comforting to know that while you are at college in a new city, maybe even a new country, you have at least one brother or sister in Christ there with you. And the more you get involved, the more you’ll find out just how interconnected the Orthodox communities are all across the US.

Valerie Hanna, Central Texas District Student Leader, Texas A&M

Valerie Hanna is from Houston, Texas and a junior at Texas A&M University (Whoop!), studying Telecomm. Media Studies with a minor in Art. She is secretary of her OCF chapter and District Student Leader of Central Texas. She loves teaching Sunday School at St. Silouan Antiochian Orthodox Church, reading books instead of studying (uh-oh), practically living at her local coffee shop, sketching Disney characters, being at camp, and attending concerts.

And how did you get involved in OCF?

I knew I wanted to be in OCF before my freshman year even began. Having grown up involved in Teen SOYO, getting involved in OCF just felt like the natural “next step” in my church involvement when I left home. When applying to schools, I made sure there was a church with an OCF chapter in the general area because I knew I was going to need them. Fast forward three years, and I am both an officer in my chapter as well as District Student Leader for Central Texas and it’s been pretty great.

What are some of your greatest memories/experiences from OCF?

Last year we had a meeting right after the last Pre-Sanctified Liturgy during Lent where we got together and had some of the students teach others how to make crosses out of palms for Palm Sunday which led to us staying at the church for quite a while consisting of so much singing and so much fun. 10/10 would recommend as a fun & stress-free meeting before Holy Week! Despite the social events we have had in the past, this one felt like a really strong bonding experience for our entire group.

Any advice you could give to someone else in your position (Chapter Pres., District Leader, etc…) across the nation?

Embrace it and let it teach you things you didn’t even know you needed to learn. This goes beyond being a leadership position. You’re going to learn things that are beyond yourself. God works in each of us very differently, I feel this goes without saying, but you will be surprised as to how He is going to work through you. The feeling of being able to help nourish other OCF chapters beyond your own is incredible. I’ve put together events and done things I never in a thousand years pictured myself doing before this school year started. OCF isn’t just a temporary thing throughout my four years of college. OCF has given me my best friends, strengthened my relationships with others, and been the backbone of my entire college experience. It is what has helped keep me sane in the moments I felt so overwhelmed all I wanted to do was cry. OCF has been one of the constant reminders of the love that God has for me, for all of us. Being a leader in an organization He has allowed us to establish as a stepping stone in our journey toward salvation is more than I have ever been worthy of, but something to be so incredibly thankful for.

One Christian, No Christian

One Christian, No Christian

Community is at the very core of the Christian life. The early Church had a saying, “unus Christianus, nullus Christianus.” One Christian, no Christian. The very fabric of our faith is experienced in community. We gather to celebrate the Liturgy, marriage, baptism, and so on. We gather to mourn the dead and to bear one another’s burdens. All in community. These are things we do as God’s community, the body of Christ.

Photo by Lestat (Jan Mehlich via Wikimedia Commons

The word “Church” is translated from the New Testament Greek word ekklesia, which means an assembly or a gathering of people. This is important for us to understand. Although colloquially we use the word “Church” to reference the building where we gather, this is technically a misnomer. Father Thomas Hopko (of blessed memory) suggested that a more proper way to speak would be to say, “we are gathering as the Church” rather than, “we are going to the Church”. The Church is first and foremost, a gathering of the people of God.

This is not to discount the Church building. There is an incredibly rich and important tradition surrounding the architecture and beautiful adornments of the building where we gather. However, the Church is more than just a collection of real estate. The Church is the transcendent reality of the Body of Christ gathered together, in communion.

This community is essential to the Christian life.

While the Church is much more than a social club, the social aspect of the Church is not to be discounted. We do not finish the Liturgy and go home immediately, we share in coffee or a meal. This is why there is such a strong emphasis on the various ministries of the Orthodox church that nurture fellowship. These programs strengthen the communities in which we worship.

While we are in college, Orthodox Christian Fellowship is one of the best ways we encounter the fellowship of the Orthodox Church. Through OCF, students are invited to engage the Church in a way that speaks directly to their needs as young adults. Chapters all over the country are visited by faithful and honorable priests who take time out of their schedules to minister to students as a subset of the church population with its own specific spiritual needs.

Also, as many students are living away from their home parishes, it’s a wonderful avenue to establish a spiritual support system in your new home.

If community is essential to the Christian life, and OCF is the Orthodox community on your college campus, and one plus one equals two, then we can reasonably say that OCF is an essential part of our college experience.

The spiritual life of the Church is work. Repentance is work. There is work appointed for us, and it is vital that we set out to do this work in community. We read in Ecclesiastes 4:9 that “two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.” When we work together, we share in a greater reward.

Only a fool would set out on the journey to the Kingdom of God alone.

We must make use of every tool at our disposal. We need to gird ourselves with the strength of our Orthodox communities. It is imperative that we surround ourselves with the power of the Church, and engage it in every way we can.

While we are in college, OCF is a great way to do just that.

Mark Ghannam is a Junior at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor pursing a degree in economics, and serves as the Vice-President and Head of Clergy Relations for his OCF chapter. In his free time, Mark enjoys reading, rock climbing, and long walks on the beach while discussing Liturgical theology.Mark Ghannam is a Junior at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor pursing a degree in economics, and serves as the Vice-President and Head of Clergy Relations for his OCF chapter. In his free time, Mark enjoys reading, rock climbing, and long walks on the beach while discussing Liturgical theology.