Come Receive the Light

Come Receive the Light

by Demetra Chiafos

Every year on Pascha, the church goes dark and the priest emerges from the altar holding a single candle, its flame burning brightly. He chants, “Come, receive the light from the light that is never overtaken by night.” It is simple in its beauty, and it contains Christ’s promise to us. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Drink from the well of eternal life and never thirst again. Come, receive the light.

This promise is beautifully comforting. Unfortunately, the world we live in is full of darkness, and we are flooded with heartbreaking news. Even in our own lives, our own cities, on our own college campuses, suffering is never too far out of reach. We live in a broken world. However, despite this brokenness, Christians are called to rejoice in the knowledge that Christ reigns triumphant, ever drawing us closer to His eternal Kingdom.

When we acknowledge that this earthly life is not permanent, orienting ourselves toward Christ and His eternal Kingdom, we begin to see the world differently. When we focus on Christ triumphing over death, shattering the gates of Hades by dying on the Cross, we begin to see His candle through the darkness much more clearly. At OCF’s Summer Leadership Institute, we talked about how Christ never forsakes us. Even when it feels like God isn’t answering our prayers, or like senseless evil surrounds us, God will never abandon us. As it is written in Psalms 139:7-12 (NKJV):

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.

The OCF story that I tell frequently, however, is how my OCF chapter and parish community at school were there for me during one of the most difficult weeks of my life. My dad passed away during finals week in December of 2018. At its most intense and acute, grief felt like a physical ache that would never go away. I felt blinded by it, stumbling through each day, trying to do the things that needed to be done.

However, through my OCF chapter, God made the night “shine as the day” like in the Psalm. I texted our group chat that I didn’t want to be alone and they surrounded me like my personal battalion of angels. My dad died Sunday night. They compared schedules and made sure that one of them was with me Monday through Friday until I could get home, studying with me, eating lunch with me, or taking me to church. Anything I needed, anything they could say or do, they were there. No questions asked.

They are the perfect example of Christ’s love: eager to serve, immediate to help. There’s a quote attributed to Fred Rogers about how even in the times of worst despair throughout history, there have always been helpers, and instead of despairing we should look for the helpers. Through this experience, I have realized that to be true. There are always so many helpers: those who stand up for their bullied peers in high school, those who give the food they’re holding to the homeless with no second thought, those who have ripped the shirt off their back to staunch someone else’s bleeding. My friends who rallied around me in my time of need. I can think of more examples than I can list here.

 “Come, receive the light.” It is indeed a promise that no matter how dark our world gets, the light will never be overtaken. Beyond a promise, though, it is also a calling. We are called to be the helpers and to embody Christ’s light. Let us all approach Christ, our good and loving God, and rejoice in Him—for no matter how dark the world looks, He will never abandon us.

 

Demetra Chiafos

Demetra Chiafos

Guest Author

 My name is Demetra Chiafos and I am a senior at The Ohio State University! I am originally from Iowa. My dual degree is in dance and the Japanese language. This is my third year as a member of the student leadership board for the OSU OCF chapter. I love reading, writing, and traveling. I also play piano and sing in the choir at my school parish!

Light Shining in the Darkness

Light Shining in the Darkness

by Paul Murray

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend [overcome] it,” (John 1:1-5).

​This is the beginning of the Gospel account of St. John, in which he beautifully and poetically retells the story of creation. His readers knew the story so well, but here he shows that Jesus was there from the very beginning. So much can be said on these five verses, so we can only scratch the surface in this brief blog post. The whole thing can be summarized like this: Jesus is God, and He always existed and was involved with creation. He created everything, including all life, meaning the life that He gives shines throughout the world as light. OCF’s theme for this year centers around verse 5, “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” so we will dig in deeper to what this means.

What is the darkness?

Do we see darkness around us? Just yesterday as I was getting a haircut, my barber, knowing that I am in seminary, asked about what I thought about everything going on in the world. He said, “At my age, having seen what I’ve seen, I had hoped things would be better by this point.” We don’t have to look very far to see the darkness in the world. We see so much pain and destruction, so much needless suffering, so much hatred, such clear failure of empathy, so many people crying out in distress yet so few ears open to hear their cries. How do we battle such monstrous darkness?

Light in darkness

St. Porphyrios has a simple answer, as he does to most complex issues. “Don’t fight to expel darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for the light to enter, and the darkness will disappear.” Think of this along with John 1:5: “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” What darkness can overpower light? Light always wins out over darkness; there is simply no other way for things to be. If there is darkness, light is not present, and if there is light, there cannot be darkness.

So what do I do?

“You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). This is what Christ tells His disciples, in whose footsteps we now follow. If Christ is the true light (John 1:4) and we are the light of the world, that means that we, the Church, are called to be the presence of Christ in this world. We are battling darkness, and He is the light; what chance do we have in our battle without Him? How could we eliminate darkness without light?

Okay, but really, what do I do?

First, we pray. Prayer opens us up to dialogue with God. We need to pray every morning and every evening, as we are able. It can be 30 seconds or 30 minutes (or beyond), but it needs to be something to be the foundation of our day. And we can also find moments for prayer or stillness throughout the day; one of my favorites is walking back to the dorm from the library at night. Everything is so still, the work for the day is done (or at least, more done than it used to be), and there is so much around me to be thankful for.

Second, we show love and kindness to all who we meet. We can try to do this without prayer and trust in God, but we will find ourselves constantly falling short until we are united with Him. We are called to be first of all kind and loving to our friends and the people close to us, and then to extend out from there. Christ makes clear from His account of the last judgment in Matthew 25 that our priority are the poor, the hungry, and the needy in any way. We may see people struggling with various things on our campuses, and many of them may not have people to help them, or even people to talk to them and share in their struggle for a few seconds. We are called to be the light in their darkness by simply being with them; no more, no less.

Take-Away Point:

Here’s the main message, my friends. Being the light in the darkness means we must be connected to God and strength from Him, which comes from prayer (especially thanksgiving), reading scripture, and spending time in stillness. Having this foundation, we extend that same love that He shows to us constantly to everyone around us, especially when it is hard. In this way, we battle the darkness, not by futile means that we contrive of ourselves, but by allowing the Light to enter into our situation, so that the darkness is simply no more. If we focus on the darkness that is still out there, we will become dejected and give up. But if we focus on who we are called to be—God’s presence in our communities, most especially to the person in front of us at any given moment—then we can call upon the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and work through us to spread light to our communities around us.

Paul Murray

Paul Murray

Guest Author

Hi! I’m a third-year seminarian at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA. I have a Bachelor of Arts in psychology with a minor in Spanish, and am working towards my Master of Divinity. When I am not writing blog articles for OCF, I canusually be found working on some project for school or something else, practicing chanting,refining my Super Smash Bros game with other HCHC students, or throwing a Frisbee at people to try to get someone to play catch with me.

 

For What Are We Chosen?

For What Are We Chosen?

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.  1 Peter 2:9

All right, it’s time to brag. Being born an Orthodox Christian of Greek descent has put me in contact with countless entertaining people. Being Orthodox led to my involvement in OCF, which then led to my being surrounded by clergy; it’s really not unlike that scene in Toy Story with the aliens and the claw machine except I’m not as talented as Tom Hanks and none of the priests I’ve met worship the most bogus arcade concept in all of existence.

Public Domain image from Tony Baldwin

In my neck of the woods, being Greek means being surrounded by countless loud, hilarious, loud, outspoken, loud people. I love my family to death, however they all definitely have their opinions, and are always more than eager to share them with me. After a few of my aunts and uncles learned that I spend a lot of time at school doing work for the Church they decided to share this pearl of wisdom with me:

“Be careful that you don’t become a priest!”

Unfortunately, when someone has seen enough church politics, they often become disillusioned with church leadership, and since many of our priests often have the final say on whatever happens in a church, I can see why so many discourage me from joining the priesthood. However, some of my more adamantly opinionated family members may be a little disappointed; I’m already part of the priesthood. In fact, so are they—and some of them didn’t even have to take a single church history class.

In his epistle, St. Peter refers to all of us as being part of “a royal priesthood.” Even for those of us well-versed in Church hierarchy, these words sound slightly daunting. But as daunting as this revelation is, it shouldn’t come as a total surprise. Our understanding of the sacraments is definite proof that we are part of some royal priesthood. During baptisms we sing, “all those who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ,” and we understand Christ as the Chief Priest of our Church. When we participate in the sacrament of confession, the priest places the epitrachilion over our heads as a sign that his anointing as a priest has passed down to us. (His Grace, Bishop Gregory of Nyssa gives a really nice explanation of how this works here in his College Conference East address). So, this should be crystal clear, right? No concerns? At least everyone who likes wearing black is cool with this whole royal priesthood thing, right?

Well, when I first read this verse, I was still a bit puzzled. After all, if we are a “royal priesthood” why is it necessary for our church to ordain priests and how can we act as priests if we aren’t ordained? To answer this question, let’s consult the authority of all life’s great conundrums—Hollywood. Particularly, the movie Dead Poets Society.

 

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CC image from Michael Newhouse on Flickr

Dead Poets Society is a story about young people with tremendous gifts. The premise of the movie revolves around a boarding school English teacher, Mr. Keating (Robin Williams), who uses unconventional methods to teach his students about free thought and the importance of developing a passion for poetry. The characters’ gift is the ability to use language in a way that gives them a better love of each other and the world around them. If you haven’t seen the movie, the only other thing you really need to know is that it’s full of Walt Whitman, carpe diem, and honestly stellar headpieces.

One of the ways that Keating initially sells the value of poetry to his students is when he tells them that language was invented for the purpose of “wooing women.” This titillating incentive serves as the gateway for Keating’s students to realize the power they possess as linguists and creative minds. They form their secret after-hours poetry club—The Dead Poets Society. They read to each other, they write, and they fall in love with the endless sea of passion and meticulous craftsmanship found in linguistic art.

Now, in the infant moments of the Dead Poets Society, Keating’s students realize the power they have in their new found individualism and love of poetry. However they quickly start to abuse that power by taking part in excessive smoking, drinking, and profanity. When some of the students’ behavior comes to light, Mr. Keating cautions them to tame their new found passion and freedom by being “wise, not stupid.”

There are two really key things to glean from these few paragraphs of cinematic rambling:

  1. Let Mr. Keating be your model for ordained clergy, and let his students your model for the rest of us—the lay-priesthood. Mr. Keating is trained in the knowledge of literature, and is professionally associated with the institution of learning (school/church). His students have a different association with the school, but they have within them the same power of language as Mr. Keating. They then continue to exercise that power through Mr. Keating’s guidance.
  2. On occasion, Mr. Keating’s students abuse their power, and when they do, their teacher is responsible for guiding them back to a healthy way of using their gifts. However, the young men’s love for language is no less intense, and their relationships with each other are no less bold and dynamic. The iconic final scene of the movie shows the students’ love of language and each other in action. The film ends with them sharing their innate gifts, which their teacher helped hone.

So what does being a royal priesthood mean outside of the hokey fantasy world that is English class? Let’s briefly turn back to our Church’s liturgical tradition—particularly the Church’s vesting prayers. When the priest puts on the sticharion,  his bright tunic, he recites the following:

My soul shall rejoice in the Lord for he has clothed me with a garment of righteousness and has covered me with the robe of gladness. He has crowned me as the bridegroom and has adorned me as a bride with jewels.”

CC image from  Wikimedia Commons

CC image from Wikimedia Commons

There’s something spectacular about the image of being adorned by Christ as both His bride and bridegroom. I can only imagine the weight of those words and what a priest must feel whenever he recites them. However, the gravity of that imagery should not be lost on the rest of us. We are the Church—Christ’s bride. We are the royal priesthood.  We are to take on our own ministries—our own Dead Poets Societies.

As college students, we’re blessed to have the tools for ministering at our disposal. We can host dinners, we can volunteer at soup kitchens, we can tutor, we can start Bible studies, we can join protests, we can organize charity benefits, we can cultivate strong friendships, and I could really keep going on like this. Through the Holy Spirit the possibilities of what we can do are endless, and if we let Him work through us, whether we wake up each morning and put on a cassock or if we put on a graphic t-shirt, crocs, and sweatpants (something which I advise against, by the way), we fulfill our duty as a royal priesthood, and further the process of filling the world with Christ’s “marvelous light.”