Real Break Jerusalem 2016 Reflection

Real Break Jerusalem 2016 Reflection

At this point, it’s been two weeks since we came back from Jerusalem, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Everyone asks me what we saw and where we went. This is hard to answer, it’s a little like saying you went to Disney; while Disney is one place, it also has an incredible amount of rides and attractions, and each person has his favorites. Like Disney, Jerusalem is special because each person is seeking a different adventure, a different sight to behold. We saw awe-inspiring things–Jacob’s Well where the Lord met St. Photini, St. Peter’s house, the Sea of Galilee, St. Savas’s monastery, and even celebrated the Liturgy at the Tomb of Christ–but it was the people that we met that changed my life. They provided context.

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Overlooking Jerusalem from Gethsemane. The domes of the Russian monastery of St. Mary Magdalene is seen in the bottom-right corner.

How to Pilgrim

When I went, I only knew a few things about the Holy Land, mostly that it was originally Canaanite, populated by the Israelites, the Lord lived there, the Jews were expelled, the state of Israel was founded in the 1960s, and that areas of the region are now divided between Palestinians and Israelis. When asked about my expectations for visiting the Holy Land, I responded that I was excited to visit the Holy Sepulchre and the Jordan. What those places really entailed was beyond me; I was just excited to go.

But when I got there, I realized that I didn’t really know what was going on. I mean, I knew the biblical stories, but it was a little hard to figure out what was going on. It’s a little like when you visit your friend’s parish, and it’s definitely the same liturgy, but it’s also clearly not yours. They might do the entrances a little differently, sing “Lord have mercy” in a different tone, or maybe they just venerate their icons differently. You definitely know how to cross yourself and how to say the creed, but you’re a little disoriented.

That’s kind of how it was for me. We would walk along the street, and were suddenly in a holy place. I’d cross myself, venerate the site, and kind of just look at it for a few minutes. When we went to the Holy Sepulchre, it was pretty impressive, because I knew I was supposed to be impressed. I mean, few things are more foundational and important than where Christ died and then rose. We went into the first chamber, venerated the stone which the angel rolled away, and then four college students crammed into the Tomb itself. Then, we slowly backed out of the Tomb, and moved on to other sites.

It wasn’t until we went back to the Holy Sepulchre, two nights later, to celebrate the Vigil that I got it. When we walked in, the stone which the angel rolled away was now an altar table, and the place where the Lord lay was the table of proskomide. It wasn’t just that the Lord sanctified this place, but we were now sanctifying it. There was a participation in these holy places. We offered up the gifts, and He gave them back to us. Just as Pascha is sometimes too sublime for words, holiness transformed the place.

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Divine liturgy at the Holy Sepulchre

Meeting the Saints

In the Coptic Church, on Pascha before the Resurrection Reenactment, we sing a hymn called “Kata Ni Khoros,” and it begins with, “What is this I hear? It is a harmonious symphony, coming to my ear.”

I once heard someone say that “A saint is someone who keeps trying.” It’s a comforting thought, and a powerful reminder that the saints are just like us (James 5:17). And yet, I also met saints, who were not just like me.

We met people who, like St. Paul, knowingly walk into danger, for the sake of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:22-29). We met all sorts of saints–priests, monks, nuns, a principal, and even just gatekeepers. Every single one of them was impacted in some way by the holiness of the places surrounding them. Where the Lord met St. Photini, there was a man who told me the things I did; at Bethany, I met a woman who was filled with the Lord’s activity; at the Russian monastery of St. Mary Magdalene, I met a woman who left all to follow Him; and at the Monastery where the Lord fasted and prayed, I met a man who spent his life in unceasing prayer for the world. They greeted us with smiles, told us of the miracles surrounding their environment, and grace just flowed from them.

What surprised me most though, was the diversity of people that we met. The priests, monks, nuns, a principal, and gatekeepers weren’t competing with each other to be the holiest in the Holy Land. They were simply themselves. One monk we met built an entire church and wrote all the icons, and another nun just prayed in her monastery. One nun went on field trips with her students and taught at her orphanage, and one priest just stayed at Bethlehem, in order to anoint pilgrims and hand out icon cards. Instead of clashing, each person did their own job, with humility. They were a harmonious symphony, who offered their service to God, who then gave me the blessings of their labor.

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A nun praying at St. Alexander Nevsky in Jerusalem

Returning Home

The trip was surreal. I saw amazing sites and met incredible people, including the other students and trip leaders who accompanied me. As a brief aside, there is an amazing depth to those surrounding us, and one benefit of the trip was how humbling it was.

We adjusted to the time difference very quickly, and we liked to joke that we were so exhausted that any time difference was just negligible. Nevertheless, halfway through the trip, we all realized that the trip would end. This was the scariest moment of the trip. Once we arrived back in the states, we would no longer be in the process of being a pilgrim. And that’s exactly what happened. When we got home, immediately people began asking me what I saw, what I learned, and where I went. And I could see that my answers weren’t always sufficient. St. Paul tells St. Timothy that now that he is a bishop, to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). I’m not a bishop, but now I have to put into words what I saw. It is now time to begin processing this life-changing exercise.

At first, I was a little scared. Would church still feel powerful? What would it be like without having caves or holy sites or the bodies of incorrupt monastics everywhere I go? But then I got my answer pretty quickly. When we returned, I visited my friend’s home parish before we returned to Pitt. I have celebrated the liturgy at the Holy Sepulchre, seen the light atop Mt. Tabor, been immersed in the Jordan River, and drank from spring where the Archangel Gabriel announced to the Theotokos the incarnation of the Savior of all creation. And yet, when I went to Holy Trinity in Stroudsburg, I stepped into a river of fire and was lifted up to the heavens. It was one of the most sublime liturgies I have ever attended. The people there, none of whom had ever been to the Holy Land, beheld the Lord with their own eyes upon the altar table, and reverently bent to meet Him who lifts us all up.

The beginning of the liturgy is not “Blessed is the Kingdom,” but is the line that precedes it: “Now it is time for the Lord to act.” As St. Photini says, “[the Messiah] will tell us all things” (John 4:25). In the meantime, I can only speak of what I saw, and be assured that not only is holiness still alive, but that now it is time for the Lord to act.

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The monastery of St. George the Hozovite is built into the mountainside. In the center, a monk can be seen traveling from one facility to the monastery.


1452097_10206000045664986_3124374769637826129_nA junior at the University of Pittsburgh, Daniel is studying psychology, history, religious studies, and Arabic, and serves as the Secretary for the Pitt/CMU OCF chapter. In addition to taking way too many classes, he loves church humor, and has the beautiful talent of being able to fall asleep anywhere, anytime.

The Twelve Days of Church

The Twelve Days of Church

At College Conference, several of the speakers mentioned how in Orthodoxy we continue celebrating Christmas past December 25 until Theophany on January 6 and that’s where we get the Twelve Days of Christmas. I thought that was pretty neat and just meant we got to keep up our tree and lights longer. However, I realized that from the Wednesday before Christmas to yesterday, Sunday, January 3, I had gone to church for twelve straight days. And in those twelve days, I had gone to Vigil, Royal Hours, Compline, Orthros, two kinds of Liturgy, Vespers, Paraklesis, and a supplication to St. Raphael.

Upon this realization, two things struck me. The first is that we are so blessed to have such a variety of services for every occasion. They’re already there, waiting for us. My mom used to teach at a Lutheran preschool and once a semester she had to go to their services to sing songs with her students. She always marveled at how they simply made up their worship. The beauty of our services is they are unchanging, eternal. It’s not for us to choose. And as we practice them, we get to know them. At College Conference, 300+ voices joined together in chanting the Paraklesis or reciting the Creed because all 300+ of those people knew the words and songs. We can pray together.

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Compline at College Conference East

The second thing that struck me was the sheer blessing and opportunity I had to go to so much church. I don’t live in a monastic community, I live on a college campus. Church every day isn’t feasible. But thanks to the cycle of services for Christmas and the timing of College Conference, I could go to church every day for those 12 days. And I love church. It brings me peace and joy; it comforts me. It’s also exhausting, but in the most rejuvenating sense of the word. Our church gives us the tools we need – orthros in the morning, compline at night, liturgies and supplications and paraklesis for the in between. All you really have to do is show up.

I don’t think that’s how most college students spent their break. But it certainly is a good way to recharge for the new semester and the New Year.

 

10 Awkward Moments of Being Orthodox on a College Campus

10 Awkward Moments of Being Orthodox on a College Campus

 1. You’re the only one awake on a Sunday morning.

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2. And you go to bed early on Saturday night so you can get up for Liturgy.

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3. Dorms make it difficult to find a quiet space to say your prayers.

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4. And they don’t let you burn incense.

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5. It’s also really difficult to hang up an icon with 3M Command strips.

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6. There’s free pizza everywhere…but it’s Lent so you can’t have any

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7. You bless your food in the cafeteria before you eat.

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8. You miss classes because of Holy Week and Pascha…but you get Western Good Friday off.

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9. When you tell people you’re Orthodox, they think you mean Orthodox Jewish.

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10. And when you tell them, no, Orthodox Christian, they still ask you if you believe in Jesus.

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What are your awkward moments on campus?

16 Ways You Might Be Orthodox

16 Ways You Might Be Orthodox

  1. You check what day of the week it is before deciding what to eat.
  2. And if it’s not a Wednesday or Friday, you’re definitely going with meat.
  3. Your saint’s day is a bigger deal than your birthday.
  4. People ask you why you cross yourself backwards.
  5. Church camp is the most exciting part of your summer.
  6. The service routinely starts 15 minutes late and lasts 2 ½ hours…but no one complains.
  7. And you know to wear your comfortable shoes because you’ll be standing the whole time.
  8. Prostrations are your preferred form of exercise.
  9. Sunday brunch isn’t a thing.
  10. You wear scarves around your head, not your neck.
  11. You don’t flinch when a priest throws water at you.
  12. You’ve been chanting in church and made up how to say some of the more complex names in the Bible.
  13. You never celebrate Easter on the same day as everyone else.
  14. The priest says “Let us depart in peace” but the service still has 20 minutes.
  15. Before you pray, you say a prayer.
  16. As soon as you get home from Liturgy, you take a PLN.
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Is there another way you “know you’re Orthodox” that we missed? Comment below!

Orthodox College Prep: A Little Bit Goes a Long Way

Orthodox College Prep: A Little Bit Goes a Long Way

ReduxAs we’ve mentioned before, the first forty days of your freshmen year of college are going to be foundational for the rest of your college experience. We’ve spent a lot of time encouraging your parents, your priest, your catechetical school teachers, and your camp counselors to help us connect you to an OCF chapter in the first forty days of school this fall. But what will you be doing in those first forty days to stay connected to Christ and His Church? After all, you are the one who will decide if all the efforts of those who love you will come to fruition. You will choose your friends, and you will choose how to spend your time. You alone will decide where your path will take you. Will you listen to Christ calling you to repentance and transformation? Will you continue to dedicate your life to Christ as your parents and godparents have done for you?

A lot will be decided–whether you are conscious of it or not–in the first forty days of classes this fall. The habits you build then will likely stick with you throughout your college career. So here’s my advice for those first forty days:

  1. Go to Liturgy. Sounds simple enough, right? But after an intense first week of getting oriented to your classes coupled with no sleep as you make new friends, when Sunday rolls around, it will be so easy to tell yourself, “I’ll go next week.” But next week often rolls around and hears the same song. And trust me, the longer you are away, the harder it will be to take the leap to go back for the first time. Being in Liturgy, in the presence of God and surrounded by the Christian community, and receiving Christ’s very Body and Blood are absolutely essential to the life of a Christian. You can’t go long without them without starting to lose a sense of who you are. Don’t know where the nearest church is? Here ya go.
  2. Go to Class. There’s a reason that freshmen year courses are often considered “weed out” classes:  they can be really overwhelming. Actually making sure you make it to that 8 AM bio class will be worth it in the long run. So will doing your homework. You do, after all, want to get that degree at the end of this whole thing.
  3. Pray on Your Own. Take five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night to be silent, be thankful, and offer up a prayer to God. Like going to Liturgy, having a prayer life will keep you centered on who you really are and will give you a chance to reflect on the challenges and choices that you are facing as a young person.
  4. Read Scripture. If reading Scripture isn’t already a part of your daily routine, now is the time to add it in. The words of Scripture stabilize, sustain, and strengthen us. As you meet challenges to your faith and your morals, having the words of Scripture to turn to, especially the words of our Lord in the Gospels, will help you make sense of the world around you and will help you navigate difficult times. Not sure where to start? Download the OCF Connect App to get the daily readings right on your phone (along with lots of other pretty cool stuff).

Just remember, a little bit goes a long way. Forty days is not a long period of time, but it’s long enough to build a strong foundation for what you lies ahead. Do what you can without making excuses, and keep the work of salvation at the forefront of your mind.