The Light Will Not Be Overcome!

The Light Will Not Be Overcome!

As September has officially come to a close, and October has started, I have been looking back at our blog contributions. I was very moved at the sight of blog posts written by other students who also wanted to serve the Orthodox Christian Fellowship. Throughout September we focused on the OCF theme, John 1:5, “And the light shines in the darkness, and then darkness did not overcome it.” After spending a month reflecting on our theme, and reading other student’s reflections I found the Epistle reading on the last Sunday of September to be a perfect compliment to our work so far this year. This past Sunday we heard the Epistle of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians. Paul writes, “Brethren, it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ…So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6-15).” It is fitting for Paul to write this, if we remember the story of his conversion to Christianity he is a physical example of Christ’s light overcoming darkness. 

In the Acts of the Apostles we read about a man named Saul who persecuted Christians, in fact it was on his way to persecute the Christians in Damascus that he was given, “a wake up call” so to speak. We read in Acts 9 that a bright light shone forth from the heavens and God said to Saul, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”. Through that bright light Saul found himself blind and journeyed to Damascus without eating or drinking. He was found by St. Annanias who was recently celebrated (the 1st of October), (we honestly couldn’t have planned this better if we tried) and Annanais helped Saul receive his sight again. It is said in Acts 9:18 that “immediately things like scales fell from his eyes”. Saul was then baptized and his name became Paul, who is one of the most widely recognized church fathers, in fact in the icon of Saints Peter and Paul we see them holding a church together. In my opinion this was a huge breakthrough in seeing that God can create light from the darkness. In all actuality it was the light of Christ that took Saul’s sight to show him where to find the truth. The fact of the matter is, Saul found the truth without seeing! What faith! I don’t know if I would have been able to have faith like that. Yet, a man who had once killed people for declaring a man as the Christ, was now himself proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah. The man who once hunted the people who followed Christ became the one who was being hunted. 

The man who was once blinded by the light is now writing to the people of Corinth that, Christ is the light who overcomes the darkness. Let’s go back to what he wrote. “Brethren, it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” So basically, the Light, aka God, through us is shining His light to give us more light so we can glorify God. That’s a lot of light. Okay what’s next, “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” Our Earthly bodies will one day fail, we are going to die, but with Christ’s light we will have eternal life. If Christ lives in us, we will never die, so while our Earthly bodies will, our spirit will not. So, through Christ’s not only will I be illumined, but I will live in life everlasting with God. How cool is that?! I mean, think about it. If I were hearing this I would definitely say, “sign me up!” It is like that flashlight infomercial I gave in an earlier blog (read it here https://www.ocf.net/turning-on-the-light/) I wrote about how we have flashlight that guides us in our lives. 

So, the other part of the epistle I will leave to your interpretation, but think about this: Paul’s conversion was that of light, when Jesus was baptized the heavens opened and the heavens house the sun which produces light, and on the feast of the Transfiguration we hear that when Moses came down from Mount Tabor his face was still glowing and shining because it had been in the presence of Christ’s light, and we even see that his face was too bright for some of the people with him! It all comes back to light. Imagine your face glowing because you were in such deep communion with God that His light shone so brightly that it hurt other people’s eyes. I think our goal should be to achieve that, but not just because it’s amazing, but because Christ causes the light to shine in the darkness. What if you are a beacon that guides people to Christ with your light? That sounds to me like the best job ever! So the point I’m trying to make is that even in the darkness Christ’s light will shine, whether it be through you, me, or it blinds someone because they didn’t listen to anyone else. Paul went from killing Christians and persecuting the church to being the one depicted in icons as holding up the church! Someone who made it their life’s mission to destroy the church, became one of the biggest protectors of the faith! If God’s light can shine so brightly that it brings the biggest persecutor to the faith, then maybe even a little bit of that light in us will cause us to bring multitudes as Sts Peter and Paul did. Christ’s light will never be overcome by the darkness. Don’t forget that. He has illumined us all with His divine grace. The Light of lights, the True God, and the giver of light, may He intercede for us as we go through college, a time with lots of darkness that needs to be overcome. 

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

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 opportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net 

This Little Light of Mine

This Little Light of Mine

When I was younger, one of my favorite songs was“This Little Light of Mine”. The best part of the song, at least in my 4 year old opinion was when you sing, “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine!” To be honest I had no idea what a bushel was, but it was the only time my mom would ever let me enthusiastically scream the word “no”. This year, our OCF theme is John 1:5 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it (NKJV).” During the time of my absolute love for the song, I was also afraid of the dark, as I am sure most kids are. Monsters under the bed and in the closets can be the perfect means of traumatizing someone, especially a young kid. I used to sleep with a night light, I’ll admit it. I also could only fall asleep listening to music, usually byzantine chant. Somehow, with my small nightlight and byzantine chant playing in the background, the room didn’t seem as dark. 

Today, I no longer sleep with a nightlight, nor do I have to listen to music to fall asleep. I wouldn’t say I am afraid of the dark the way I was when I was a kid, but I am afraid of the darkness. Almost every Tuesday morning, a group from my OCF goes to the local church at 6 am for First Hour Prayers. The entire service is lit by candles. Usually only one for each of us, and the votives for the icons at the Iconostasis. Somehow, even in the dark, we see. It is one of the most beautiful services, and it is mainly dark. If my candle were to go out, I wouldn’t be able to see. That is just one candle. So thinking back to the song from earlier, if I were to hide my light, what effect would it have on the light of the world?

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Every little bit counts!”? Sometimes I think to myself, “does it really?” If I were to add a drop of water to a container every day would the water level rise? Probably, but why am I telling you this? Because even if your light doesn’t make up the entire candle that is the Orthodox Church, if you hide it under “a bushel” eventually it will make a change. If I were to extinguish my flame, the light will get just a little bit dimmer. Now think about the drastic new statistic that has recently come to light. 60% of teens and young adults are leaving the Christian Church. That’s over half! So if over half of the population is extinguishing their flame, how much harder will it be for people to see? We face a crisis today, some may even say it’s an epidemic. 70% of America’s teen and young adult population have been found to be depressed. Their flame is starting to struggle, but it is hard to find your way in the dark, so you have to fight to keep it lit. Maybe the person next to them has a strong flame, that might help them see a little bit. But still, they look for other ways to make the flame burn brighter, and while it may burn brighter for a short time, eventually it will die again. We fill our lives with distractions, things to make us feel better praying that the light becomes strong again. But there is only one way to make our flame strong, and it isn’t drugs, alcohol, or other risk behaviors that make us feel good. It’s God. The only person who can steady our flame is God. Now, there are resources to help, like OCF for example, but unless we allow God to strengthen our flame, it will dim. 

Earlier I talked about being afraid of the darkness. What is the darkness? As many people know I love C.S. Lewis, his books are as relatable now, as they were when he wrote them. In The Chronicles of Narnia:Prince Caspian, chapter 9, Lucy sees a bear, she is used to the animals in Narnia being friendly and talking, so she approaches the bear and tries talking to it. She gets very close to the bear and it still hasn’t “responded” the way she expected it to. Finally, the bear has enough and lunges at Lucy, but thankfully just in time, Peter kills the bear before it can hurt Lucy. Now you might wonder why I am telling you this, but it gives context to what Lucy is about to say that I think is super important. Lucy and Susan walk off to the side while the boys deal with the bear, she says, “Such a horrible idea has just come into my head…Wouldn’t it be dreadful if one day, in our world at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you would never know which were which.” We live in a world of darkness. What Lucy says here I think could be used to describe some of that darkness. To say  “what if men went dark on the inside and look normal on the outside; how would we know who was who?” We are bombarded everyday with darkness, sometimes we can see it, other times it is disguised as normal. Now think back to John 1:5, “…The darkness did not overcome [the light].” God can help steady our light, for He is the light and the giver of light, and all who believe in him will be illumined with the light of Christ. Think about Lucy in Narnia acknowledging that there was darkness she couldn’t see. We have a darkness that will be overcome with light of Christ. So, like in the song, scream “no” when asked if you should hide your light. Share Christ’s light that He has lit in you so that we can overcome the darkness with the One who is the Light.

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student

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! publicationsstudent@ocf.net 

Serve With Your Light

Serve With Your Light

In the Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare there is a quote that says, “How far that candle shines his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” Today’s post isn’t going to be, dare I say, typical. I want to talk about the opportunities we have to serve in OCF. Our theme this month, as has been reiterated over and over again, is John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Shakespeare got one thing right here, and maybe he wasn’t trying to use an Orthodox perspective, but we too believe that the world today has darkness, but the best way to keep the light shining, is to shine our own light. Now you may be thinking, “Um, I am in college, I don’t have the money/resources to do good deeds. Guess what!? OCF can give you everything you need in an easy two step process. 

First Step: Find an OCF YES Day or Retreat near you by clicking this link https://www.ocf.net/events/

Second Step: Register! (Don’t forget to show up! I guess there are three steps…)

What does a YES Day or Retreat have to do with service and good deeds?

YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) Days are an amazing one-day program endorsed by OCF and the offered by FOCUS North America (https://focusnorthamerica.org/) where students gather at a church and complete a service project of some kind. For example, last year I attended the Chicago YES Day. We went to a fast food restaurant and bought a ton of food and handed it out to people on the street and talked with them. It was really cool to hear people’s stories, even if they were just wanting a snack waiting for the bus. To see people be affected by what we did, was an incredible experience. I know I tend to forget how fortunate I am. I have my own car, and a roof over my head, and some people didn’t even have a jacket on a cold October day. People asked us where we were from, and we were given the opportunity to share our faith. Some people had heard of Orthodoxy, and some said they would even try to go to the local church that was hosting us! This truly lifted our spirits, and warmed my heart in places I didn’t know were getting cold. 

 

YES Day Chicago 2018

Last November at the Midwest Fall Retreat we made blankets. What does that have to do with good deeds? Well, we made tie blankets, with cute patterns, and sent them to a pregnancy resource center for babies. Blankets are important because babies being swaddled and wrapped in something gives them a sense of security. Pregnancy resource centers are organizations that help mothers who have difficult decisions to make when they become pregnant. Some mothers lose support from people they relied on and need help. They can go to the pregnancy resource center and receive assistance, baby food, diapers, and blankets. The blankets are important because for a mother that feels like they are losing control, the blanket isn’t just a sense of security for the baby anymore, but for the mom as well, who sees that her baby is being taken care of, and is comfortable.

Midwest Fall Retreat 2018

Last March at the Central Illinois District Retreat, the service event involved going to a place called Salt ‘n Light Ministry. This organization allows people to work and gain store credit to buy groceries, clothing, furniture, basically anything someone might need. We had students stocking fruits and vegetables, printing price tags, sorting clothes, and lots of other chores to help out. This ministry provides people with the dignity in knowing that they aren’t receiving handouts, but are reaping the fruits of their labor.

Central Illinois District Retreat 2019

So, with all those examples of things I did last year, I now am urging you to get involved, and to allow our light to shine as a “good deed shines in a weary world.” You never know when you could be the person to help someone learn to shine their own light. Sign up for an OCF event today! I promise you won’t regret it!

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student

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! publicationsstudent@ocf.net 

Overcoming Darkness in College

Overcoming Darkness in College

by Elias Anderson

Happy New Year! September marks the start of both the Ecclesiastical new year of the church and the new school year for colleges and universities across the country. For students, going back to school can be full of many emotions: excitement to see friends, nervousness about new classes, or maybe even fear of falling ill to the darkness surrounding college life. If we are not afraid of this, we should be — if not for ourselves then for our friends and peers. The statistics are out: young people are leaving the church when they get to college. I won’t delve into the why, but I do want to focus on the how. How do we prevent our brothers and sisters from cutting themselves off from Christ and His Church? The answer can be found in this year’s OCF theme which is to, “be a light in the darkness.” From the Gospel of John we know that, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). In order to defeat the darkness that surrounds college life, we must become a light like Christ who is the Light. 

I’ll continue with a little anecdote from my school’s activity fair. I was standing at our OCF booth and a kid stopped noticing our banner, and said, “Is that Orthodoxy? Like Orthodox Orthodoxy? I had no idea that existed in the Western Hemisphere!” This might make you chuckle a little, but it should also make us all realize how few people know about Orthodoxy in America. As a campus ministry, we should do our best to minister to the whole campus, not just the Orthodox kids, by inviting them to our events so that they too can learn about the Faith. By doing this, we are cultivating the light within us.

On a more individual note, it can oftentimes be harder to stand firm in the faith when we are the only Orthodox person in the room. These times, however, are the most important, as they happen constantly. What does this look like? When someone asks you about the icons on your wall or the prayer rope around your wrist or cross around your neck — give them the real answer. Tell them what it is and who you are. Not every instance needs to develop into a long, deep, conversation, but every instance does need to reveal some truth rather than result in a quick cop out. Furthermore, many times when someone asks about your prayer rope, maybe they are just breaking the ice to talk about the faith. 

Just as bringing two wavering candles together creates a bigger flame, so too, when we gather with other Orthodox Christians, will our spiritual light be bolstered. We have an opportunity every Sunday to restore and strengthen our faith so that we can continue to strengthen others’. Getting yourself to Divine Liturgy every Sunday is great, but making it as easy as possible for others to join you is even greater. Whether that be organizing a carpool or reaching out to friends you haven’t seen at church in awhile, doing everything in your power to physically keep them attending church will, in the long run, keep them in the Church.

So as the year goes on I encourage us all to keep cultivating the light within ourselves, so that it may emanate onto others, making them lights, too.

Elias Anderson

Elias Anderson

Guest Author

Hi I’m Elias Anderson. I’m from Libertyville Illinois and grew up at Saints Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview, Illinois. I’m currently a freshman at Valparaiso University majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in music. I attended the CrossRoad summer institute in 2018 and this past summer I was a CIT at the Antiochian Village and participant at Project Mexico. When I’m not in class or doing homework you can find me playing my trumpet in the jazz or concert band or guitar in my dorm room. I love everything Pan-Orthodox and am always down to converse about anything religion. 

Turning on the Light

Turning on the Light

In my opinion, one of the best movie franchises of all time, is the Harry Potter series (PS: Harry Potter has Orthodox themes, read about them here https://www.ocf.net/harry-potter-and-the-fight-between-good-and-evil/). Anyway, in the third Harry Potter Movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban, Dumbledore says something that stuck with me. “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” Our OCF theme this year is John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (NKJV).  In the Psalms we see that the “Lord is [our] light and [our] salvation” (Psalm 27:1 NKJV). Let me infomercial this for you:

Do you ever wake up in the night when it’s dark and you just can’t see?! 

Trip over your dog on the way to the bathroom?

Tired of those bulky flashlights that are just too hard to use?

Well, fear no more! Now introducing Christ!

With Christ you will never need a flashlight again!

This could be yours for only the price of faith as small as a mustard seed!

This has a lifetime warranty!

Order now, and we will throw in a free church recommendation!

Okay I’m done. But, think about it. Christ is our light in the darkness! The darkness doesn’t overcome Him! Okay but what does this have to do with Dumbledore? So, while my “infomercial” was a little on the overdramatic side, it’s true, sometimes we can’t see because it’s dark. In my life, sometimes the sorrow I have overwhelms me, and I retreat into “the darkness.” If wallowing in self-pity was an Olympic sport, I would have a gold medal. One could say, I “catastrophize” — go to the worst case scenario and stay there. So in this time of feeling sorry for myself, I sit in the darkness, waiting to be rescued, but why? Can’t I just save myself? The answer is yes. Though I am not sure I am spiritually or emotionally mature enough to practice this, I could just…turn on the light. If I were to sit in darkness, and think of everything bad, what a terrible life I would live. When I really think about it, it seems miserable. But then I realize that I do live like that! But why?! 

I have the source of light that will never go out! I have a guardian angel who is really good at protecting me. I have saints who pray for me. If I truly let the light of Christ live inside of me, I would never need to turn on the light. But being human I fall short. I think Dumbledore knew that we retreat to the darkness and forget we have the power to “flip the switch,” which is why he said, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” In John 16:22 Jesus says, “Therefore, you now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” Jesus makes this promise to the Apostles, and to us! We are going to retreat sometimes into the darkness of sorrow, fear, pity, ETC, but if we remember to turn on the light, we will see the path Christ has set forth for us, and the thousands of angels standing guard around us. For as Christ promises, while we may sorrow now, when we lay our eyes on Him who is the source of light, our hearts will be filled with a joy that no one can take from us! What a beautiful promise and an amazing correlation to our theme. Remember that the darkness cannot overcome Christ’s light, and through Him, we can remember to “turn on the lights.” For when we allow Christ’s light to shine in us, we will be filled with joy.

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student

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! publicationsstudent@ocf.net