Growing up participating in extracurricular activities, you learn a lot of life lessons that stick with you forever. One of the biggest lessons everyone learns at a young age is about the importance of teamwork.
Everyone knows the go to phrase that every coach or teacher would say constantly: “There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team.’” Whether you played sports, an instrument, performed in plays, or anything else, you were taught early on that teamwork makes the dream work. You learned that teamwork was one of the biggest keys in being successful.
Just like being a team player is essential to being successful in activities or careers, being a team player is also essential to growing our relationship with Christ and the Church. So how can we become team players in the Orthodox Church? Go to Church on a regular basis.
Why does going to Church make you a team player?
You are present with people who share your faith and you are worshiping together, as a family, as a team, leading each other into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The word “Church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia which in ancient Athens signified the citizens assembly. The Church is not meant to just be a place for individuals, it was created and designed to be a place for a multitudes of people to assemble and be immersed in their common faith. Think about the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is full of prayers that specifically focus on a group of people. After each petition, are the words “…let US pray to the Lord.” Not let ME pray to the Lord, but let US pray to the Lord. These prayers are meant for all of us, together as God’s faithful servants to come together and pray to the Lord.
In Matthew 18:20, Christ says “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” How cool is it to think about that? Christ said it to us Himself. He is in our midst when we all come together to pray in His name.
Coming together and praying as a team helps us to build a stronger connection not just to Christ, but to each other. When we worship Christ with others, we feel that we are part of the same team. We feel that we are struggling and getting through life together. The more people with whom we are praying, the stronger our prayers become, bringing us all closer to Christ and to each other.
So why can’t you pray on your own? You can, and you definitely should. Just like a professional athlete takes care of himself outside of practices and games, we should be taking care of our spiritual life when we are not present in the Church. But just like the professional athlete, it is required of us as Orthodox Christians to come together, as a team, and support each other in growing in our spiritual lives.
No one can struggle through life alone. We need our spiritual team to support us with our struggles in life. We need to be present at Church for our prayers to be united with the prayers of our teammates. We need to be present at Church and allow Christ to be in our midst.
So let’s work together to become closer to each other and Christ. Let’s gather in His Church and worship together as one team. Together we can pray with our team in order to live our dream in the Kingdom of God.
Hi everyone! My name is Joanna Psyhogios. I am from Wilmette, Illinois and I am a member at St. John the Baptist Church in Des Plaines Illinois. My first experience with OCF was during College Conference East, and I have been active in participating in College Conference and OCF Retreats ever since. In my free time, I love to play and watch every sport, coach basketball to youth teams, watch movies and TV Shows, and play Jungle Speed (Shoutout to CC Midwest!). I am really excited to share what I have learned about the Orthodox faith through the OCF blogs!
You know how some churches have a sign out front that says, “Come as you are”? I think it’s usually sort of code for, “Don’t worry, you don’t need to dress up.” But really, “come as you are” should mean just this. Come as you are–not only in your external appearance but in the core of your being. How beautiful it is that the Church truly means this when she says it! The Divine Liturgy does not require you to be in a good mood or to be happy with God or for you to completely understand every teaching of the Church or for you to be a “good” person.
But I know how it works. We listen to all sorts of excuses that pass through our minds of why we can’t or won’t or shouldn’t go. Well, to counter those temptations, I’d like to give you some reasons to come, of why the liturgy is for you.
Did something wonderful just happen in your life? Come, rejoice! The liturgy is for you.
Are you having a horrible week? Come, and like the psalmist, ask God, “How long will you forget me, Lord?” The liturgy is for you.
Are you struggling to concentrate during prayer? Come, breath in the incense even if the words rush pass you. The liturgy is for you.
Have you overcome temptation even once this week? Come, give thanks to God for giving you strength. The liturgy is for you.
Are you bearing a heavy cross or a deep fissure in your heart? Come, let your weight be lightened by Christ’s love. The liturgy is for you.
Have you been at church every week? Come, let your heart beat in sync with the rhythm of prayer. The liturgy is for you.
Has it been a long time since you’ve come to worship? Come, let your heart be reformed by the patterns of praise. The liturgy is for you.
Do you feel like you can never be or do enough? Come, to Christ you are precious and beloved, and He desires to make you whole. The liturgy is for you.
Is your life hectic and busy? Come, set aside all earthly cares and just for a moment, enter into the eternity of the Kingdom. The liturgy is for you.
Have you experienced loss and are grieving? Come, Christ joins you in your sorrow and weeps with you at the tomb. The liturgy is for you.
Are you lonely? Come, surround yourself with the great cloud of witnesses, both those who stand before the throne and those who stand beside you. The liturgy is for you.
Are you sick? Come, our Lord comforts and heals the weak in body and spirit. The liturgy is for you.
Don’t really understand what’s going on during the service? Come, for Christ desires all of you, not just your understanding, and in time, He will reveal to you His fullness. The liturgy is for you.
Have you sinned? Come, be reoriented towards the Orient from on High. The liturgy is for you.
I feel as though I could go on forever–there is not one emotional state or level of holiness or amount of intellectual understanding that is required for you to enter into the liturgy. The only requirement is that you are willing to actually face yourself, to let your heart be vulnerable and let Christ’s light reveal the dark corners–that you are willing to walk the journey of repentance and are open to being joined to Christ in love. So come as you are. The liturgy is for you.
Surprise of the day: university is a challenging experience. For some people, these years are the most trying of their life so far. We all know that balancing countless assignments, family responsibilities, a social life, extra-curricular activities, a part-time job, figuring out future plans, etc… can bring us to a breaking point.
So, when Sunday morning comes along, I know many of us are tempted with the possibility of sleeping in, or taking a few hours for a much-needed break. I know! I have to force myself out of bed on a Sunday morning, exhausted from a week’s worth of schoolwork and thinking about how unprepared I am to sing in the choir and teach my Grade 1 and 2 Sunday School class.
But, through it all, those two hours on a Sunday morning give me hope. Those two hours on a Sunday morning, if I allow them, shift my focus and bring it back to where it needs to be. Those two hours are worth far more than any earthly obligation.
The joy that we receive each Sunday when we meet Christ at the chalice cannot compare to any earthly responsibility, accomplishment, or treasure. Liturgy is the closest we will ever get on this earth to heaven. You and I both understand how important this is.
Why then, do we arrive to Liturgy late and leave early? Why do we shove it somewhere on our weekly to-do lists? Why do we go to church and think about other things the whole service, barely noticing that the great Mystery that is unfolding before us? I, for one, am so guilty of everything on that list. Life is difficult, and no one is perfect.
I pray that even, during all the busyness of this world, we will never forget that the Liturgy is a great gift that God has given us. The priest, during the anaphora, says these words that always catch my attention: “We also thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands, even though You are surrounded by thousands of Archangels and tens of thousands of Angels, by the Cherubim and Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring with their wings.” May we never forget to thank God for the church services He has given us.
I think that the first step to thanking Him is being there, not only being physically present but also present with our whole being. Next time you attend Divine Liturgy, I encourage you to consider the words of the Cherubic Hymn, a hymn that many of us have heard our whole lives. It begins with the following words: “We who mystically represent the Cherubim.” I have also heard: “We who mystically image the Cherubim.” Regardless, when you pray this hymn you understand that what happens during the Divine Liturgy is absolutely awe-inspiring, and beyond comprehension.
There is nothing on earth higher, greater, or more holy than the Divine Liturgy; nothing more solemn, nothing more life-giving.” – St. John of Kronstadt
I don’t want to pretend that I am perfect, or have my life completely figured out, because really I don’t. For now, the best advice I could honestly give you, from one typical student to another, from one Orthodox Christian to another, is this: church should not be one part of our life, it should be our life. Maybe it seems like a very basic reminder, but sometimes we all forget that church needs to be our number one priority, because someday that party isn’t going to matter, the grade you got on that midterm isn’t going to matter, but your faith will.
Finally, for those of you right now who are struggling with studying for midterms (I know I am) or facing any other trials, I would like to leave with you one of my favorite Bible verses:
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. – John 14:27
Anastasia Lysack in her third year of her Music degree at the University of Ottawa. She attends Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Ottawa, where she teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, volunteering, and visiting just about any coffee shop in the city of Ottawa.
A new school year means a new theme for OCF!
We’re centering this year all around these three words, “Come and see.” It’s a challenge to all of us both to follow these three words and to share them with others. We have a few ideas of how you can do that this month and all year round in our Orthodox Awareness Month manual. We hope you check it out and participate.
But what does it really mean to come and see? Toward what are we coming and what will we see? Well, for the next four Wednesdays for Orthodox Awareness Month, we’ll reflect on just that!
The first time the phrase “come and see” appears in the Gospel of John is right after John the Baptist calls Jesus twice “the Lamb of God” and says that he saw the Spirit descend from heaven and rest upon Him. A few of John’s disciples must have been intrigued by their master’s deference to his newly-arrived cousin because they decide to follow Him to see where He’s going.
I’m not sure they knew what they were in for when Jesus turned and asked them, “What do you seek?” But by some moment of inspiration, they asked Him where He was staying.
In his homily on this passage, St. John Chrysostom notices
They did not say, “Teach us of Thy doctrines, or some other thing that we need to know”; but what? “Where dwellest Thou?”
It’s an interesting question. Why not ask, “What do you teach?” or “Why does John call you the Lamb of God?” There’s something significant about knowing the place where the Lord lives and then coming to stay with Him in His own home. To come and see where the Teacher dwells is experiential.
This, I think, is why we prefer the invitation “come and see” over long-winded philosophical arguments about the validity of our Orthodox Christian beliefs. We know that Truth is beyond words–it must be experienced before it can be expressed, and no expression will ever do justice to the experience itself. The place to experience God, to simply come and see where He lives, is in the Church. The Church is the place where God’s Heavenly Kingdom is most clearly breaking through into the created realm.
Take the account of the pagan Slavs sent by St. Vladimir to Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, for example. Upon returning to their king, the delegates declared
We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We only know that God dwells there.
And it is not just the beauty of the Liturgy and the music and the icons that make known the place where the Lord dwells, but the beauty of the Body of Christ, the beauty of Christian hearts being purified by God’s love.
So the first calling of come and see is simply to enter into the place where the Teacher lives, to follow Him and earnestly desire to experience the life of His Kingdom. This is the first step in the making of a disciple of Christ, to seek out where the Lord dwells and then stay with Him a while.
As the end of the semester approaches, college life gets busier and busier. Papers, exams, and presentations pile up along with the pressure of moving and preparing for a summer internship, job, or classes. This year, it just happens to align with me for the busiest time of the Liturgical year – Holy Week and Pascha. When I first looked at the two calendars and realized finals and Holy Week would share the same dates, I was filled with horror and despair.
I was standing in church this past Sunday thinking about the two papers I have due this week, the bibliography I had yet to write for a paper I didn’t even know the topic of, the choir music I had to memorize, and the various meetings I had planned for the week.
While my brain was creating a mental to do list, my lips were moving along to the Cherubic Hymn. As I sang the words and melody by heart, I was suddenly jarred from my school stress and brought forcibly into the now. The hymnography hit me hard. “Let us lay aside all earthly cares.” I realized I was standing in the presence of God and the miracle of Holy Eucharist, yet my mind was stuck in the blackhole of school stress.
The Church, in its never-ending brilliance, gives us everything we need. Our minds naturally wander, but the church is constantly pulling us back. That’s why the priest or deacon says “Let us attend!” so many times! The Cherubic Hymn warns us of what is to come – the Holy Mystery of Communion – and gives us explicit instructions on how to prepare.
During this busy time of the semester, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and often the last thing we want to do is get up on a Sunday morning to go to Liturgy. It’s so tempting and simple to get that extra hour of sleep or studying. We cannot forget the Church, even more so as we approach Holy Week and the Lord’s triumphant Resurrection. I know for myself, attending services in the middle of a crazy week help break up the monotonous studying and refreshes me. It reminds me of what is truly important and of the eternal love of Christ for his people.