Last summer looked abnormal for me, as it did for everyone I knew. In the span of a week, I had been sent home from my freshman year of college on an “extended spring break,” was told I would not be able to study abroad in Italy, summer church camp & the Parish Life Conference were cancelled, and I couldn’t physically be with my friends and family. Even though I was FaceTiming my friends multiple times a day and had more family time than ever before, I felt alone.
Why is this happening?
That was a thought that ran through my head every day I was home. I tried to remind myself that my situation was better than most: I was healthy with a roof over my head, family in the next room, and toilet paper to last me a lifetime. But it was hard. I struggled to find gratitude in the things I was able to experience that summer. As restrictions started to lighten up in Southern California, my friends and I had more freedom to be out and about. I was so happy to be able to leave the house that I didn’t really stop to give the last few months a second thought.
In December, we started planning what OCF at the University of Oklahoma was going to discuss for the spring semester. Katy Powers recommended Robin Phillipps’, Gratitude in Life’s Trenches: How to Experience the Good Life Even When Everything is Going Wrong, a very fitting book for our current situation. As we dove into the book, I started to realize how gratitude and perseverance go hand-in-hand. Robin focuses on the darker side of finding happiness.
People tell you that when you’re sad, you shouldn’t listen to sad music because it makes you more sad (spoiler alert: they’re right). You can follow this same principle when you’re going through life. If you dwell too much on anything going wrong in your life, you will never be able to find gratitude.
The only way to find that light of the end of the tunnel is to trek through the path before you and persevere.
As we went deeper into the book, all of the good that came out of the last year became clear to me. My dad and I spent a lot of time building a patio in the backyard, we tried tons of new delicious recipes, and my family and I got to hang out and play games almost every night. The more we talked about the book, the more I realized how much stronger I am because of the hardships we faced during this time.
It wasn’t until I sat down to write this blog post that realized how this last year has prepared me for the rest of my life. I still don’t know why God presented us with this challenge. What I do know is that our perseverance as Orthodox Christians has not only helped us grow as individuals, but has shown other people the light of Christ during trying times.
The University of Oklahoma OCF Chapter President
Hi everyone! I’m Sammy, a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma studying Health and Exercise Science and Sports Management. I was raised in Southern California at St. Nicholas until we started the St. Simeon mission in Santa Clarita. I’m the president of the OU OCF chapter and love going to Camp St. Nicholas in the summer as a camper/counselor. I love to watch sports with my friends, try out new recipes, and travel!
We are about to embark on our Lenten journey. No matter what your practice is during Lent, it seems that some seed of what we need is brought to us throughout these long 40 days. This may be an important realization about life and the faith, a wake-up call when struggling to even give up one small thing, or even a quote or sermon posted by a friend which calls you to the Lenten spirit when you least expect it.
In Lents past, I have come in full force craving a change and a distinct moment of growth in my life: departing from the routine of cluttered unrest and obtaining a clean new slate etched with sacrifice, prayer, charity, and steadiness.
This is a wonderful ideal. Is it realistic?
If we push ourselves to handle practices that appear to reflect spiritual strength we may actually be glorifying ourselves and our ability to follow practices, rather than glorifying God and practicing the faith.
St. Seraphim of Sarov tells us, “Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.”
Practicing the faith is showing up for the practices and through these things becoming a source of harmony for the world, and love for the people around us. Before we start this time of preparation, let us first find ways to practice peace.
What are some practical ways of doing this?
Set Boundaries: Setting boundaries on the ways we spend our time and on the number of things we take on is a skill that we will probably be working on forever. Setting app limits, and choosing what obligations to say no or yes to is a great start!
Declutter and find time for silence: Sometimes at the end of a long day, all we want to do is relax by watching a show or listening to music. These things are not bad in themselves, however, after we are done “relaxing” we may feel even more unrested because we did not have time in true silence. Or maybe after “relaxing”, we return to our cluttered room with the task of cleaning it still on deck for tomorrow. Sometimes our retreat must be to the other thing we need to do. Spending time to declutter and time in true silence are simple (not always easy) ways to cultivate peace.
Create a routine: Routines can be flexible but still routine. Maybe it is as small as committing to wake up each morning and say a small prayer. Make your bed each day. Drink a set amount of water. Our lives have a rhythm for a reason, the sun rises and sets, we have cycles of sleep, eating, rest, and responsibility (even the liturgical calendar gives rhythm to our year and our week). Find something small for you to keep consistent with each day so that you have a “routine” to hang onto. If all else erupts into chaos you know that at 11 pm you will go to sleep, or you will drink the 8th glass of water, or you will say the Jesus prayer at 12 pm.
Recall our dependence on Christ: “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) He made this entire earth and every fiber of you! We are already completely dependent on Him. Even if a different version of us outwardly shows up to OCF, movie night, or work, our minds, souls, and bodies are always His. Try to walk through life as one full person dependent on Christ. Turn to Him with the big decisions and the difficult news because He already has been there in all the small things.
Ask someone else how they are: We can get in a spiral of thoughts and definitely need to talk things out with someone close to us. We have been blessed to be there for the other people in our lives as well. Sometimes taking a moment to focus on another instead of ourselves gives us the separation we need from something we are stressed about. Our relationships will be strengthened and we may even get a new perspective on our own life.
Read these out to yourself. If you are with others alternate reading them aloud. Think to yourself of 2 or 3 you have trouble with and would like to work on cultivating in your life. Commit these to yourself or share them with those you are with.
“Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)
We won’t do these things perfectly, but God willing, we are able to try to do them however imperfectly we can manage. The pursuit will last our lifetime so what better time to start than now — as we prepare to learn more about ourselves and Christ this Lent.
Let us begin with peace.
Publications Student Leader
I am a senior at the University of Kentucky studying philosophy and microbiology. I love hiking, staying active, and enjoying great books and food! Above all, I love the family OCF has given me. Whatever your story may be, there is a place for you in this community! Reach out to learn more about OCF or if you would like to contribute to the blog! email@example.com
Yesterday was a typical day for me. I got up, went to class, and then went to the gym. The workout I did yesterday was a bit more intense than my normal workouts. I lifted/squatted more than normal and did more miles on the elliptical than I normally do. When I woke up this morning, I was in a lot of pain. When I went to the gym today, I had to take it a bit easier not only to recover but so that I didn’t put myself through more pain. I was texting my group of friends and told them that my body was sore, and while most of them also work out, one asked why I would put myself through that. Why didn’t I stop before I hit my limits? Why did I push through them? I tried to explain to my friend that if I push myself, what is hard now becomes easier, and I improve my fitness.
She still didn’t understand.
I used my experience doing cross country in high school to try and explain. Our races were three miles, and we ran at least six miles on our distance days once a week, because it is easier to quickly run three miles when you can moderately run six or more. We did speed workouts where we did mile repeats—a set of miles where you have to run the mile as fast as possible and you get around a 2-4 minute break in between each one (yes it is torture, no I do not recommend it), we did hill workouts, and we even lifted. This was so that we would become the best runners we could be. One could say that it worked: our team won state twice and were runner up the year we didn’t win. So why endure the pain of running and workouts? Not only did it make me a better runner, but it taught me endurance. Now I know working out isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It definitely wasn’t mine, but we are approaching something similar to a difficult workout.
Lent is coming.
Lent? Already? It’s only February?! Start eating the meat and cheese out of your refrigerator because it will be here before we know it. As a kid, I always dreaded Lent. I didn’t understand why my friends at school could still eat meat but I couldn’t. My mom used to tell my brother and me that fasting built our spiritual muscles. That was not what we wanted to hear. Fasting was hard, and we didn’t want to do it. So why do we do it? Why do we experience the suffering and pain that comes with Lent?
Pain is something that is hard to understand. In the book A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, he compares pain to visiting the dentist. Going to the dentist isn’t fun, and sometimes it’s painful, but we do it so that we stay healthy. Imagine you’re in surgery to fix something. The doctor starts cutting, but it hurts. You tell him to stop. But what happens if the doctor stops? Not only are you open on a table exposed to germs that could cause infection and the intent of the surgery might not be carried out, but if you are left open on the table, you could bleed and die. If the doctor stops cutting and doesn’t complete the surgery, the procedure that was supposed to save your life will do the opposite. So, is that pain worth it?
Is it worth it to go to the dentist and experience discomfort to keep your health in check? Is it worth it to push yourself when exercising to become stronger and more fit? Is it worth it to go through surgery even though there is pain during and after if the surgery will save your life? I think so. What I am trying to portray is the idea that suffering isn’t fun. Pain isn’t something we want to go through. As we approach Great Lent, we are going to experience discomfort and suffering of some kind. Instead of thinking of it as the worst thing ever, like I did as a child, think of it as a way to grow. This is our chance to become spiritually healthy. To experience a small amount of discomfort to strengthen our relationship with God and our life in the Church.
I wish you all well during Lent. Remember that the pain is temporary. “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
As always please feel free to reach out at any time, I pray that our lent this year will bring joy and anticipation to the resurrection of Christ.
Publications Student Leader
Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! firstname.lastname@example.org .
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Do you ever have one of those days in which you have so much work to do that you simply sit down and do nothing? Like, because you’re so overwhelmed, instead of chipping away at the work, you just deny that all of it exists?
Welcome to college.
In the worst solution ever contrived by young men and women–and that’s really saying something–we remove the burden of work from shoulders by denying its immediacy. We delay it, pretending as if we have all the time of the world. We crash, watch Netflix, eat a cookie (okay, several cookies), and feel better.
I think we can do the same things with our spiritual life–with our life in general, really.
And it’s understandable, easier to understand I think–because the time period is longer. The comeuppance of our spiritual life comes when we die, and when we arrive at the final judgment. Remembering the stakes of that eventual judgment is what gives us perspective on our daily lives; understanding that what we do today affects where we end up for eternity.
Isn’t that terrifying? Like, isn’t that draw-droppingly scary? I enter shutdown mode when I just have a lot of papers and assignments to do; when faced with the Final Judgment there’s no wonder, I think, that I want to curl up in a little ball and hide in the comfort of willing ignorance.
When we forget about that ultimate moment–the moment in which our actions are measured against our purpose; what we did against what we were made to do–we are seemingly freed from the responsibility to align with our purpose. We feel, perhaps a little synthetically, the freedom that we didn’t experience when fulfilling our purpose. Without a sense of finiteness, consequence, actions, decisions–these all exist in a vacuum. They do not matter, because we can inevitably rectify them on the ever-arriving tomorrow.
Lent, I think, helps remind us of our temporality. The Lenten process is a big countdown–among other things, of course–to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. By carving out this chunk of the year to remember the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, we’re not only reminded of Christ’s sacrifice and what that means for our salvation, but we also encounter an experience of a man–Jesus Christ–understanding his daily actions, choices, and moments all within the context of his death.
We always talk about Lent as a period of preparation, and a key aspect of that period is that we know when it ends: we have work to do; and we know when the work is due and the period ends. We can shirk it like we might our schoolwork at times, but there is an ultimate end, and that finiteness is what motivates us to be the way that we should, and not crumble to our vices in the moment.
It’s important to experience, every day, our end. To know that we do not have unlimited time and unlimited tries. That’s what instills our life with meaning, drives us beyond temptations. Experiencing temporality can be hard and scary, certainly–but it’s important that we do it, else we eternally attempt to avoid who we were meant to become.