Time to Hit the Gym

Time to Hit the Gym

Fr. Jonathan Bannon–a priest, an OCF advocate (he was the spiritual father at the last College Conference Midwest!), and a talented graphic designer–drew up a Lenten infographic that’s perfect for college students.

Here are 7 tips for getting into the spiritual gym and getting yourself ready for Pascha!

  1. Confess

The best way to start Lent is on a clean slate. Confession is a good way to grow closer to the Lord and learn from your spiritual father. Your OCF chapter chaplain is very qualified to hear your confession. Confession helps you understand your flaws even deeper and is a good place to know where to start. With confession, you can take all your sorrows to the Lord and start anew. A good resource for guiding yourself in Holy Confession can be found here. Ask yourself the questions and humble yourself so you can be resurrected in Christ!

  1. Commune

Communion is the pathway to Life. John 6:53-54:

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

Lent is impossible without the help of our Lord. Learn to depend more and more on our Lord so you can become closer to Him. Many parishes also hold Presanctified Liturgies where you can get some extra strength from our Lord throughout the week. 

  1. Become Charitable

Be a little more generous and more lenient with people. Hold your tongue. Monetary donations are not necessary (but if you are moved to give, OCF is a wonderful place to donate that money). You could also donate your time to perform any of the charitable acts described in the beatitudes. 

  1. Pray the St. Ephraim Prayer Daily

O Lord and Master of my life!

Take from me the spirit of sloth,
faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity,
humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother,
for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

The prayer of St. Ephraim just puts you into the Lenten mood. Each of the sentences is usually followed by a prostration. HERE is some of the spiritual gymnastics that Lent can call for. Get your blood flowing in the morning and night in devotion. Many prayer books have the St. Ephraim prayer built into them, so you may just need to look for it. 

  1. Be in Church (and OCF) More

Being in the home of Christ will help you stay in the Lenten mood. Your spiritual battery might need some more juice during these stricter times. Another great reason to be in church more is that there is camaraderie with the people who are undergoing the same struggle. Share your triumphs, ask for advice, and swap recipes–you’re not alone in this struggle. Your OCF is another great resource for finding this camaraderie. 

  1. Hide Your Fasting

Fasting is an important part of Lent because it helps us focus on what really matters–relying on God in all things. However, it is important that you try to let your fasting be between you and God (and your spiritual father). Fasting is a tool for self-control, not an ends in and of itself. Fasting is a way for you to train your spiritual muscles, so get to the gym! Please also do not try to make others feel bad about their commitment to fasting, although do not be afraid to encourage others! Sometimes people just need a little push, but do not let prideful thoughts take over because that defeats the whole purpose of fasting. Here is a great guide for some Lenten recipes curated by your OCF board!

  1. When You Fall, Get Back Up!

This is the most important part of Lent. If you break the fast, it’s not the end of the world. We are human, we will fall. The important thing is not to let yourself keep falling, but instead stand up and keep trying. No one can run a marathon without training; use Lent as a training period to come closer to the Lord! 

Glory To God For All Things | You Have Failed, But You Are Undefeated

Glory To God For All Things | You Have Failed, But You Are Undefeated

“Glory to Thee for the prayers offered by a trembling soul.”

(Ikos 4, the Akathist of Thanksgiving)

As I sat down to work on this post, I realized that my laptop cord is juuuuuuust barely too short for me to sit in my favorite spot in the corner of the couch while it’s plugged in.  So, as I type, I’m perched a smidgen in from the corner, right at the point where two cushions meet.  (I realize that most of you are thinking, “Kiara, on what planet does this relate to that quote you put up there?” Hang on—we’ll get there.)  

I’m caught somewhere between cozy-comfy and actually kind of uncomfortable. This is where my stubbornness gets the best of me because I refuse to scoot off of the cushion meeting point, just on principle. It’s dumb, I know, and I’m reminded of how frequently we feel this way. Not necessarily this specific situation (because honestly most people aren’t as absurd as I am), but how many times have you found yourself feeling two wildly different, even opposing, things at the same time? It’s more common than we’d like to admit, frankly.

And this is where Orthodoxy comes in. Our faith not only acknowledges but embraces the fact that we are all a bit (or a lot) of a living, walking paradox. Take our funerals: even as we mourn, we gleefully anticipate the departed’s eventual resurrection in Christ. There is room both for overwhelming sorrow and pain alongside breathlessly anticipatory hope. Take confession: it’s expressly designed to both acknowledge our pain and our wrong, as well as affirm our beauty and goodness as a child of Light. There is room for us to be both hurt and healed.  

Even our God embodies two complete and contradictory truths because He is both fully God and fully man! If anyone understands being a paradox, it’s DEFINITELY Him.

Meet yourself where you are: it’s okay to feel annoyed by fasting, even as you’re excited for what the fast brings! In a perfect world, would we all love fasting and serve God flawlessly, without reservation and with our whole selves? You bet your bottom lip we would! Do we live in that world? Not even close.  

Now, none of this is to say that we can slack off, or write off mediocre effort as, “Oh it’s okay, I’m just meeting myself where I am; Kiara said it’s fine.” Nice try my dudes, but that’s not how this works either. The point of this is not to give you justification to not give your all; it’s to remind you that perpetually beating yourself up and making yourself feel guilty because you haven’t had a perfect fast or didn’t go to church this week or whatever won’t solve anything. Repent, go to confession if at all possible, pick yourself up, and try again. Acknowledge the paradox: you have failed, but you are undefeated.  

Now, to return to that quote, “Glory to Thee for the prayers offered by a trembling soul.” When I read that (as I sat on my simultaneously comfy and uncomfy perch), all of this came flooding into my brain. I realize that’s a pretty big leap. Just roll with it.  

Think of the times that we tremble.  We tremble when we’re afraid, when we’re cold. We tremble when we’re so moved and joyful that it seems our body can’t contain it and we’re just going to vibrate away like a hummingbird flitting to nectar. We tremble when we’re nervous, and we tremble when we’re about to receive something we’ve anticipated for what feels like an eternity.  

Within that one word, there are paradoxical multitudes.  As there are paradoxical multitudes within us, and as there are paradoxical multitudes—both literal and figurative—within Orthodoxy. We are not alone in our contradictory truths. Look at the season we’re in; we’re fasting and preparing for the birth of Christ even as we feast and celebrate the innumerable joys in our lives.  

By the time this post goes up, Thanksgiving will have just happened.  And so, remember the delights for which you are thankful. And remember the delights for which you sorrow. Bring these seemingly competing truths and emotions together into one, and I have a feeling you’ll find a truth deeper than either side alone. Let yourself tremble in the face of your joy, let yourself tremble in the face of your struggle.

Glory to God for the prayers offered by a trembling soul.

Kiara (her Arabic-speaking friends like to call her cucumber, because apparently a khiara is a cucumber in Arabic—who knew?) Stewart is a first-year grad student at George Washington University. When she’s not reading endless art therapy texts or busy making art, Kiara likes to spend her free time reading, hiking, and hanging out with the Amish.


Oof. Just the word is scary. Confession.

Look, as far as the sacraments go, I can’t really speak to marriage or unction, and to be honest, my memory of baptism and chrismation might be a little fuzzy, but I feel pretty secure in saying that up to this point, the toughest sacrament with which I’ve dealt has to be confession.

It’s on my mind today because I had the opportunity to go this past week. It was…well, it was what it always was. Gut-wrenching and embarrassing, exhausting and renewing, rife with uncertainty and doubt and faith and repentance. I hope.

When I was younger, confession always made me cry. Now that I’m older…okay, so confession still makes me cry, but I think it’s for a different reason. When I was younger, I was so scared of confession, so mortified at listing all of the things that I had done poorly, that I cried tears of fear at the impending lightning bolt that was, no doubt, hurtling its way down to earth to wipe me from the face of the planet. I did not have a full understanding of what confession was, the purpose it served: I thought it was a listing of my sins.

I still don’t have a full understanding of what confession is, but I think I’ve got a better bead on the purpose it serves: it is, of course, about forgiveness. About wiping the slate clean. About washing away the muck. And now after confession, I don’t cry out of fear of the God that is far away, trembling with anger over the sinful man who dared come before him, but I cry out of fear as I run to the God who is close by, awaiting me with open arms as I flee the sins that I allowed to enter my life, that starting pulling me away from Him. I don’t cry because I’m afraid of God–I cry because I just came to understand what my life looked like away from God, and I’m afraid of that.

Fr. Noah Bushelli of St. Philip’s in Souderton, PA likes to remind us that repentance is inexorably linked to the Greek word metanoia, which means a change of mind, a conversion of thought. Fr. Noah likens repentance to an about-face, a turning around of the heart to face God. And no matter how far down we have gone on the incorrect path, if we turn around to face God, suddenly, we are on the right one.

During my confession this past week, I was very impatient. I didn’t understand why I was struggling with the same nonsense that had plagued me for years. I wanted to know what I was doing wrong and how I could fix it.

I think that’s the easiest thing to do to confession: think of it as an exam, one of those weekly quizzes teachers use to “check your progress”–ugh. We have to go to confession and recap our old problems, talk about our solutions to those problems, and then come up with new ones to share. If we didn’t evolve, if we didn’t grow from that past confession, no matter how long ago it was, to this confession, then we just flat-out failed.

Well, yeah. That’s why we’re at confession.

Confession isn’t an every-so-often check-in with your priest/God. It’s not a progress report. It is a turning-around, a wiping away of the muck–it is the prodigal son in the pigpen who stood up, got out of the dirt, turned to face his father’s house, and began walking. And we fool ourselves into thinking that this is a one-time deal, that we better stay upright and on the path, at least until we get to the next pigpen, because if God sees us in the same pigpen…


See, it’s even weird to finish that sentence. If God sees us in the same pigpen, He’ll grow angry that we haven’t changed? We are sinful creatures stuck in a fallen, mucky world, and we all have our individual crosses to bear. Some will bear great doubt; some great pride; others great lust; others still great envy–but all will bear it and fight with it over long expanses of our life. To overcome great sin one must have great confession–and that means regular, heartfelt confession–great prayer, great sacramental life, great service, great worship, great love, and probably roughly five hundred other things I neither know nor understand.

We don’t get mad at a dish for getting dirty again, having worn it after we washed it! Nor do we wear a shirt out into the world, full of dirt and grime and body odor (looking at you, fellow college boys), and expect dirt to bounce off of it because we’ve already washed it once for that reason! And of course, we mean far more to God than a shirt means to us–how the more then will He care for us. “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, I shall be whiter than snow,” the Psalmist says. Where was the ‘good for only 30 uses over lifetime’ disclaimer? Where was the ‘only works on each sin one time’ limit?

I don’t want you to think confession is a trial, where you squint your eyes and clench your shoulders, bracing for the fury that God may unleash. I don’t want you to think confession is a check-in point, where you’re supposed to have taken great leaps and strides since your last time around (of course, there is nothing wrong with being a better man, with new battles to fight–it just doesn’t happen every time). I don’t want you to think anything about confession at all, really. There’s nothing quite like it, in human terms. It’s you, turning and facing God. How can that possibly be circumscribed in human terms?

So go. Go to confession. Write down your sins before you go so that you don’t forget any. Stand in the church, facing God for what may be the first time in months, in years. That’s okay. You’re on the right path, now.


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.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Image from Wikimedia Commons

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.