by A Guest Author | Nov 20, 2017 | Student Reflection
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.
by Benjamin Solak | Nov 9, 2017 | Student Reflection
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.
by Benjamin Solak | Nov 6, 2017 | Student Reflection
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.
by A Guest Author | Oct 30, 2017 | Guest Post
Among my group of girlfriends, the subject of spiritual fathers has come up a lot lately–how to build a relationship with a priest enough to be able to confide in them, confession with priests, reaching out, etc. It’s been a topic of conversation and anxiety for a while, especially as we get increasingly busier with our lives and search for spiritual guidance.
Flashback about three weeks ago. I was talking to a close friend of mine among the said group. I called her to catch up but I admittedly had an ulterior motive. I was having a life-transition crisis and I needed to vent it out. I knew she would offer the perfect guidance as a friend, fellow Christian, and a critic to tell me I needed to chill out–which I very much needed. My rant to her was a flurry of stress and worry over every little decision I had made in the past month. Whether I made the right school choice, career aspirations, why the heck I left Texas (best country out there), etc. etc. (there were a lot of et ceteras). It was a life update turned into a storm of stress and worry and anxiety over every little thing. As I was venting through all this, I did begrudgingly acknowledge that I was worrying about it way more than I was praying about it. I had been so caught up in analyzing of all of it that I just could not get out of my head enough to take a step back and turn to God. Come to think of it, as worried as I was, I did have to admit that I had gotten some cool opportunities since starting school and even got a job opportunity that I would have never gotten if I hadn’t moved. In fact, there were a lot of moments over the past month that were little blessings to keep me going, even though I hadn’t thought to focus on them.
As I was talking this out (I’m very much a talk-it-out person, down to calling my sister at the grocery store about whether to get Ben & Jerry’s or Talenti), my friend laughed.
“You know I had a wise friend once tell me that when things get overwhelming, you just need to step back and P.R.A.Y. And you literally just did that, but backwards.”
The P.R.A.Y. acronym stands for Praise, Repent, Ask for others, and then for Yourself. What’s ironic is that I was the one who had told her about that method (can’t take all the credit; shout out to Gigi Shadid, 2012 CSR Winter Camp speaker). And she was right–I basically used the P.R.A.Y. method but backwards, choosing to count my blessings last instead of first. It was a funny full-circle moment as I sheepishly consented to my backwardness of thought.
Fast forward to a week or two later during our girls’ night discussion. Our topic was spiritual fathers since it had been on all of our minds (this is what we read if you want to know). Throughout the course of our conversation, we came to the realization that, in a way, we were all each other’s spiritual advisors. Don’t get me wrong–friends do not by any means replace a clergy advisor. But we realized that there are a lot more people surrounding us who are leading us on the Path than we really saw because we were so focused on the idea of a “spiritual father” alone, not realizing the countless ways we were advising and guiding each other spiritually.
So here’s my take-away for you. Lean on each other for spiritual guidance and companionship, friends. The people you surround yourself with, whether through OCF or other means, will have more of an impact on you than you realize, and taking this life journey with them makes it so much more comforting and doable. After all, it is said that you come to emulate the five people you spend the most time with. Think of who those five people are and whether you would be proud to reflect them. For me the answer is thankfully a resounding yes.
Hibbah Kaileh is a graduate student at George Washington University studying global security policy. She served as the South Student Leader on the 2015-2016 Student Leadership Board. Among her many talents is the ability to voraciously devour a novel (usually Harry Potter) or a Netflix series (usually The Office) in the span of a few days.
by A Guest Author | Oct 23, 2017 | Student Reflection
Hello friends! For those of you who followed the blog last semester, hi again! It’s good to see you, and I hope that midterms haven’t been too terrible. And to newcomers to the blog, I AM SO GLAD YOU’RE HERE.
Ben has been kind enough (or maybe I conned him into it . . . we may never know) to invite me back as a Blog Contributor for this semester! If you remember from spring (and absolutely no worries if you don’t), I was a senior, which means that I’ve now (gasp) graduated. But isn’t OCF just for college students? Au contraire, my friends. OCF is for students under the age of twenty-five, so I’m not-so-stealthily sneaking by.
This is a bowl Kiara made for me (it’s Ben). It is now my sugar bowl. I love it lots.
Anyway, having graduated in May, I’m now working on a master’s degree in art therapy at George Washington University (don’t be fooled, I’m not really that smart—God definitely had a hand in getting me accepted). Though I’m no longer an art major, you can still frequently find me covered in clay, and my love for wandering in the woods, writing poetry, and knitting hasn’t changed. Write me a poem about ceramics, and I just may love you forever.
[Ben Note: can confirm.]
If you recall from my posts last semester (or if you don’t), the university I attended was pretty intensely secular. No OCF, the nearest Orthodox church was an hour and a half away, and I was the only practicing Orthodox student on campus. Not exactly the thriving community you’d hope for. Things like this blog, College Conference, and OCF retreats were some of the only lifelines I had to our faith, and staying connected was more than a bit difficult. To be frank, it was lonely and hard and very definitely not fun. 10/10 would not recommend.
Fast forward to today, aaaaaaand the school I currently attend doesn’t have an OCF either. I know, I know, I can hear you guys are shaking your heads and asking why I don’t learn from my mistakes. But hear me out; it’s not as bleak as you think. I’m now sharing living space with another young Orthodox adult (shout out to Rose for being the best Dox roommate I could ask for), church is only thirty minutes away (!!!), and GMU (which is about fifteen minutes away from my house) has a budding OCF! Being in the D.C. area, there are a TON of college-age Dox people, and we’re carving out our own little community.
The moral of this story is, whether your school has a massive, flourishing OCF or you’re the only one on campus, there’s hope. And OCF is here to lend a hand and a hug if you’ll have us.
One of the things my professors stress (over and over and over) in class is that 90% of being an art therapist is listening. It’s not about giving advice, and it’s not about you being omniscient and solving people’s problems. Just listen. Reflect back what they’re saying, and be the sounding board that lets them find their own solutions.
I think there are any number of parallels here, both with OCF and with our relationship with God. (I know it’s a little ironic for me to be going on about listening when I’m doing all the talking, but bear with me.) First of all, how frequently are we called to be still, or to be silent, and to seek God that way?
At the risk of being cliché, think of Elijah; the voice of God wasn’t in wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the gentle whisper after. No matter the tempests of our life, help does come. And it comes when we take time to listen.
Relating that idea to OCF and to this blog, it’s our job to listen to and for you. I can blather on all I like about whatever pops into my cluttered mind, but it’s of no use to you if it isn’t something you need. So please, reach out to us—to Ben, to Mark, to Nick, to me, to anyone you’d like—and tell us what you need, what’ll be beneficial to you. At the risk of speaking for my fellow Contributors, I think it’s safe to say that none of us took this position because we think we have earth-shatteringly good ideas; we took it because we want to walk with you as we all try to walk in faith. So if you’ll have me, let’s walk a little farther together.
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.