Hey y’all! I’m Maria Conte, your newest member in the band of bloggers (along with my other friends Mark and Kiara, eyyyy!) A little about me–I’m a SUPER senior (aka fifth year) at Virginia Commonwealth University studying Creative Advertising and Creative Writing just for fun. I’m an avid ice cream eater, runner, driver of country roads, and newly rekindling my love for playing field hockey (#clublife, #aintaboutthatD1life). I love going to the Blue Ridge Mountains when I can, and I bake brownies e’rry week for my OCF chapter. I like brownie batter so it’s a win-win situation.
My first memory of OCF was being a camper at Antiochian Village. I was eleven years old and my counselor must have gotten some free OCF garb in her staff meeting and gave it to me back in the cabin. It was a blue and red bball cap and one of those Livestrong bands we all know and love, but it was blue and said Orthodox Christian Fellowship.
And that was my intro. Fast forward eight years later, and I’m at my first college, Mary Washington (yes I’m a transfer student!!). It is a small college and I was one of five Orthodox kids there. Our group wasn’t even big enough to form an OCF, so we made a makeshift tradition called Sunday Snackin’ where instead of napping after Liturgy we would snack like kings, and I literally gained my freshman fifteen via eating a box of off-brand Honey Bunches of Oats and Nutella with pretzels every Sunday. 10 out of 10 would not recommend.
Eating healthy is hard
Even though my first college did not have an official OCF presence, I was still able to get involved with OCF events. My freshmen and sophomore year of college, I did Real Break in Guatemala and Honduras. This was such a great way to meet other Orthodox friends from across the country and have a week together working and having fun. It’s amazing how small the Orthodox world is, and it starts with making friends though OCF events. Just a few weeks ago, I bumped into a Real Break friend at a wedding that I hadn’t seen for four years! God is good.
I began attending College Conference East over winter breaks, and through that, I met and connected with people who would be my future co-staffers and friends at the Antiochian Village. OCF events really helped me and others learn about summer camp opportunities.
Now that I’m reaching the tail end of my college life, I can really looks back and see that OCF events and working at an Orthodox summer camp with fellow OCFers was the most influential part of my life. Being around people my age whom I looked up to made me strive to be closer to my faith because I saw all these amazing people shining their light and smiles everywhere they went. And it was a bright light!
For the bright light, you know?
OCF is such a blessing. The friends you meet through OCF make your world smaller, and it’s so nice having a support system of Orthodox friends, even when they are states away. And who knows, maybe one day twenty years from now you’ll be vacationing with your family in Boston, doing the Freedom Trail and all that (and maybe the Patriots won’t be an NFL dynasty at that point, who knows… not tryin’ to make my Boston friends salty here), and MAYBE you’ll just walk into a church there on Sunday morning and at coffee hour you bump into an old OCF friend you went on Real Break with years ago. I’m just saying. The Orthodox world is small and happy.
Anyway, I’m super excited about joining the OCF blogging team. God bless and have a wonderful day! I’ll catch ya on the flippy floppy.
Maria Conte is a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University studying creative advertising. She is the VP and official brownie baker of her OCF. Maria attends Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Richmond, VA. In her free time, you can find Maria driving the back roads, jammin’ out to 70’s and 80’s music.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 2017! I’d like to start off by saying that many of us (myself included) will turn twenty this year, and that is the silliest thing I have ever heard. My number is gonna start with a two. Two is an adult number. You could do ridiculous things when you were nineteen and people would be like, “It’s fine, guys: his number starts with a one…you know, he’s still young, he makes mistakes, it’s okay.” But if you do ridiculous things now people are like, “Hey! Your number starts with a two now. You can’t be a doofus anymore. Time to shape up.” Scary, man.
Re-centering our focus, it’s 2017, and if you’re not back at school already, you’ll be heading there shortly. After breaks, we always return to school rejuvenated–at least, that’s the hope and intention. In our revitalization, we have the opportunity to make and adhere to new resolutions, more austere resolutions, that we may have failed to achieve later in the semester, browbeaten by the rigors of college life.
Of course, this return has the added brunt of the new year–the opportunity to demonstrate the tangible individual change from the person you were in 2016 to the person you will become in 2017. Some of you may have resolved to accomplish certain things; others may have foregone the opportunity. Regardless of which year it is, from where you are returning, and where you are heading, I want to give you some resolutions you can pursue, some reasons to pursue them, and how to get started. Here we go:
1. Read a book
I don’t know a better way to get smarter faster than by reading. The people who teach you things learned those things from a person who read a book, or they learned it from reading the book that someone wrote. Think about all the learning you do on an average day. The majority comes from reading articles or reading books for class or listening to someone speak on a topic they understand–they are well-read, as it were.
Eric Thomas is a pastor and motivational speaker who likes to say that “knowledge is the new money.” I don’t really know what this means, besides the fact that knowledge has value. The speakers you listen to might be limited to the people you know, but the books to which you have access–unfathomable depths of knowledge, man.
Concrete things to try:
- Ask your priest/spiritual father for a good spiritual book to read–and recommend to your OCF chapter president that the entire chapter read it together, occasionally meeting for discussion.
- No OCF chapter? Hit up a friend, show them this blog, and read with them.
- No friends? Oh, c’mon. Hit me up at email@example.com
- Do you regularly watch Netflix before you go to sleep? While you eat meals? Replace your dead show time with a book for one week straight and see how you feel.
- Start small (less than 250/300 pages) and only commit small chunks of time per day (30 minutes).
- Find a topic in which you’re really interested
- A lot of comedians write hysterical books, fyi.
2. Read the Book
If you were fortunate enough to attend College Conference East, Fr. Bogdan Bucir gave an incredible talk about reading the Bible as Orthodox Christians. Daily scriptural reading supplements and informs our faith. It contextualizes many familiar prayers and hymns. It purifies our mind and infuses our day with life, especially when we do it in the morning.
It’s tough to fully experience the Church without attending divine services regularly, participating in the sacramental life, praying, fasting, and reading Scripture daily. Quite simply, daily Scripture reading is part of the prescription given to Orthodox Christians by the church fathers–when we neglect it, we neglect caring for the roots of our faith. It’s a dangerous proposition.
A lot of students don’t read the Bible every day–or, you know, ever. That’s okay. Don’t be like a lot of students. Be like Christ.
Concrete things to try:
- Download the DailyReadings app from the Play Store or App Store. It tells you the fasting prescriptions of the day, the saints and feasts of the day, and the daily Epistle and Gospel readings. Nice.
- Download a Bible app that either has the Revised Standard Version (RSV) or New King James Version (NKSV). These are the two accepted translations of the Orthodox Church. This is the app I use (for Android). I can bookmark and favorite and stuff. Still nice.
- Check out the website My Bible Plans. It lets you create a custom Bible reading plan with which books you want to read, and over how many days you’d like to read those books. It gives you an iCal feed that you can easily hook up to your Google Calendar, or will send you an email every morning with your chapters for that day (in English Standard Version, so use your app from #2 to read the right version)
- Set a time every day to read the Bible. Don’t just add it to the to-do list. It’ll fall off as the world overwhelms you. My time is every morning, after I wake up. Chose a time and stick to it.
I still remember the talk my junior high received from a man whose teenage son had unexpectedly committed suicide. Incredibly heavy stuff. He told a story of a man who killed himself by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and in his apartment, they found his suicide note, and it read: “I’m walking to the bridge today. If one person smiles at me on my way there, I will not jump.”
I hope the stakes of your smile aren’t that high. If so, that’s a lot of pressure, and I don’t do well smiling under pressure–I look terrible in pictures. But we forget blessings so much quicker than curses; bemoan struggles far before giving thanks. What a pleasure it is to be attending a university, to have unimaginable opportunity buzzing in through our every action, every moment cracking with the electricity that is our potential. I own cool sunglasses and bright red pants; I have amazing friends and a family that teases me as much as I do them; I watch football on Sundays and eat hot dogs sometimes; I believe in a merciful God and His ultimate sacrifice for my salvation.
How dare I be anything less than joyful?
P.S. Sometimes things stink. Yep. Smile anyway. It makes things better.
Concrete things to try:
- Watch this Ted Talk by Shawn Achor, who (IS THE MAN!) works at Yale (I think?) studying happiness and positivity. Then, do literally everything he says
- tl;dr: take time, every night, and write three things for which you’re grateful. Describe them in detail; put them in a memo in your phone if you don’t have a journal.
- Pick a person every morning that’s valuable to you and find a way, that day, to adequately express to them why and how they’re valuable to you.
- Not always with words.
- Empathize with others. In every interaction, ask yourself what it’d be like to be in the other pair of shoes, and how you’d hope other people treated you.
- You’ll find yourself saying ‘Thank you’ and ‘Please’ roughly, I dunno, 7 bajillion times more than you do now.
I honestly believe everyone should read, and read as much as they can, and a big part of that reading should be the Bible, and they should smile a lot more too. I think everyone can be reading more and smiling more than they currently are.
I can think of plenty more things that fall under this category, but you know you a lot better than I do. I’m gonna throw out a bunch of things that I think are awesome, and a few of those concrete tips that might help you out. You do you, and pick a good one.
- Pray daily for 30 days
- Scientifically, the prevailing belief is that it takes roughly seven weeks to fully ingrain a new habit. That’s 49 days. But just for 30 days, pray daily. See if it’s ingrained by then
- Set the alarm five minutes earlier and pray in bed if need be.
- Place an icon on your pillow every day, so you can’t lay your head down without hitting it
- Copy prayers from oca.org and put them in a note on your phone, so you don’t have to worry about a book
- “Swing that collection plate this way!”
- Beginning the habit of giving to the church now–yes, now, as a poor college student–empowers you to do it later. You might not have the monetary means to make a big impact now–because of the whole poor college student thing–but you may later.
- When going out to eat/for coffee, buy a cheaper option than you’d usually purchase, and donate the difference to the church
- Ask your priest about the ability to give online. Some church have those now #innovation
- When you come across something you really want to buy, but don’t need, and find yourself using the “it’s really not that much” rationalization, donate that money to the church.
- Find a service opportunity
- Yes, you, poor and busy college student. Begin building a habit now that you’d like to have later. If you ask yourself the question, “Do I want to be doing this in ten years?” and can answer ,”Yes,” start doing that thing today.
- There are student organizations on your campus that are built for charity. I’m almost positive. Find them and see how you can get involved.
- If the homeless are around your area, grab an extra fruit from the dining hall, make a sandwich, and have it in a Ziploc bag for when you’re walking around.
- Cough Real Break OCF Cough
Good luck to you, my friends. Comment below with your struggles or stories, and feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org with any cool or interesting results!
Happy New Year!
Well, it’s certainly that time of year! If you aren’t already embroiled in your first finals of the 2016-2017 academic year, then they’re right around the corner.
Finals can be (read: are) a stressful time for students, and that stress manifests itself in different ways for different people. For Orthodox Christians particularly, our academic life can start to eat into our spiritual life. Long nights bent over the books can supersede evening prayers and preclude the morning ones as well; the urgency and time-consumption of impeding tests and due dates can supplant services over the weekend.
That’s okay, that’s a reality: the world has to be balanced, and all balancing requires sacrifice. Now, most people around you will advocate the sacrifice of the spiritual for the sake of studies–as they rightly should. They’re not Orthodox Christians (probably), so they don’t share your perspective, and if they are students, they understand the stress of finals. They will encourage you to empty yourself into your academic life. My goal, here, is to politely disagree.
Human beings were made for the glorification of God, and as such, there is no life outside of God. C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity:
God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
This, frankly, is pretty nuts. I mean, it’s something we all believe and accept, but if you apply it to your everyday life, it throws quite the wrench in things.
What do you do, when you’re sad and want to be happy? I watch Netflix, and if that doesn’t work, I keep watching Netflix anyway. I might talk to one of my close friends or loved ones. I’ll also get on Twitter and argue with someone about the Philadelphia Eagles.
What do you do, when you think about your long-term happiness? I think about my grades, definitely–they are the benchmark of success in my main occupation of life: college. I think about my friends and family, when I’ll get to see them next, how they’ll be with me throughout the years of my life. I think my job, at school and at camp, and the impact I’m making in my work.
What do you do, when you think about your even longer-term happiness? I think about the family I want to raise and the job I want to have. I think about how I’m going to impact the world and how awesome it will be. I also think about raising my family in the church.
Just there, for me, was the first time God got involved in the happiness quest. Not in the short-term, of today’s emotions; not in the long-term, of my yearly plans; but in the longer-term, of my five-year plan.
Fr. Paul Lazor always told me that happiness had the same root word as happenstance–and as such, it was just as coincidental. Happiness happens to you, it’s a feeling, and feelings are fleeting. They come and go with the wind, and are defined by many factors outside of our control.
Joy, on the other hand, is something far greater. It is a state of being that is rigid, that weathers the storm of circumstances and the fallen world. It is something we can only achieve in our relationship with God.
I make this distinction to say that, perhaps, like me, you might be happy if you did well on your finals–but, if the Divine Liturgy and daily prayers were sacrificed in this effort, you would feel no joy. That happiness would eventually dissipate–at the very least, by next semester, when the cycle repeats. Maybe you could sustain that happiness over your entire college career, graduate with that killer GPA, which will help you get that incredible job you’ve always wanted–maybe you can keep feeding the happiness, helping it endure. But eventually, the world might catch up with you, and the happiness will evaporate. And, if you’ve followed this successful path without God, you will be left without joy.
My encouragement to both you and to myself, my friend, is quite simple: do not forget God this finals season, this Christmas season, as the weight of the world and its temporal happiness would have you do. Do not sacrifice the rush of happiness for the enduring warmth of joy in the Lord.
P.S.: This is all quite well and good, but without concrete ideas on how to accomplish this, we may find ourselves stranded on a sea of ideals, without the paddle of actual practices. As such, here are a few things we can do to help achieve this remembrance of the Lord.
- Check out the Orthodox Prayer website for prayers before and after studying, among many other prayers.
- Organize a study session with OCF friends after Liturgy on Sunday
- Try to select a really cool spot on campus/in the city that’s near the church.
- As you’re about to write your name on your final exam, make the sign of the Cross.
- Share this article with someone else and promise one another you’ll remember God throughout your finals.