What a time to be alive! College Conference registration is OPEN! Real Break registration is OPEN! And finally, Regional Retreat registration is–you guessed it–OPEN!
The comprehensive list of Regional Retreats currently scheduled and open for registration (did you hear? Registration is OPEN!) can be found on the OCF Events page right here.
To tell you a little more about what Regional Retreats are and why you should go, I’d like to introduce to you your very own Regional Student Leader! If you’re unsure in which region you live, check out this handy-dandy map right here!
Red – Northwest
Dark Blue – Southwest
Yellow – Mountain
Light Blue – Midwest
Dark Green – South
Pink – Great Lakes
Orange – Southeast
Light Green – Mid-Atlantic
Purple – Northeast
Please get in contact with your RSL–they’re here for you and built to make your life awesome.
If you’ve attended a Regional Retreat and have a story you’d like to share, I’d LOVE to feature it on the blog. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll set you up.
Without further ado–here are your RSLs, and their thoughts on Regional Retreats!
1. So, what exactly is a Regional Retreat? Like, what happens?
A Regional Retreat is an event that brings Orthodox college students (and those inquiring about the Faith) together for a wholesome weekend of discussion, fellowship, service, and worship. Students of all jurisdictions come from around the entire region to meet friends, offer work for the Glory of God through a service project, and most importantly worship together as the body of Christ.
– Niko Wilk, Southeast Regional Student Leader
2. So why should I go?
You should go because it is such a NEEDED break from your school work. Also, it is a good way to be spiritually renewed and regain your energy for the rest of the semester. Another bonus is that you get to meet some incredible people who are going through similar life experiences as you, and I mean, who doesn’t like more Orthodox Christian friends?
– Rachel Howanetz, Mid-Atlantic Regional Student Leader
3. What makes regional retreats special, unique? Why are they different from my regular OCF chapter meeting?
So you can find an Orthodox spouse!!!!!! HAHA jk Ben don’t put that in the blog.
(Yeah, okay Nicole.)
If there’s one piece of advice I have to offer, it is not to let your college OCF chapter become your only experience with Orthodoxy in college. Retreats such as this one can introduce you to the wide world of OCF that exists outside of your comfort zone at school. Boris Pasternak once wrote that unshared happiness is not happiness – and I think to a certain extent the same can be said for one’s faith life. Come to the Midwest regional retreat to take a breather from school, meet new friends, and rejuvenate your faith life.
– Nicole Petrow, Midwest Regional Student Leader
4. What was the best regional retreat you’ve ever attended? What made it so good?
The best retreat I ever attended was in Syracuse, NY. The speakers were really great, but what made it meaningful for me was the priest’s advice of how to deal with a very difficult professor who tested my own faith. I came back equipped with the right tools of patience and prayer, plus all the ethnic dances were quite a workout and a lot of fun!
– Sypridoula Fotinis, Northeast Regional Student Leader
5. Okay, in 1-6 words, why will your regional retreat be the best in the country?
Incredible retreat center and awesome speakers! LITURGICAL. ARTS. Need I say more? We have a nature walk! Because Christ is at the center! It’s in the mountains of Colorado. Faith, Friends, and Fun! Abbot Tryphon will be speaking! It brings us love at home. TEXAS.
6. How has a regional retreat changed your life?
Even as a Regional Student Leader, I haven’t been to one yet. This will be the first retreat in the Northwest Region. Planning it has been a blessing to realize that I can do things that scare me when I’m with Christ.
– David Munkres, Northwest Regional Student Leader
7. Funniest story ever from a regional retreat–go!
[This one time at the OCF retreat, (please omit this section) NOPE!] Our group sat around a table and a waitress asks us if we would like desert. Then the priest says, “Orange whip? Orange whip?” quoting the Blues Brothers. I immediately began cracking up, then we look around and realize that no one understood the reference but us.
– Spiro Morris, Great Lakes Regional Student Leader
8. Why did you want to become a Regional Student Leader and start organizing these retreats?
I wanted to become a Regional Student Leader because when I started college, I didn’t have any Orthodox friends on campus, there was no OCF chapter on campus, and the closest church was 45 minutes away and a lot of the time, the road was closed so I couldn’t make it over in the winter. I decided to start a chapter at my university and it is finally almost in place!
I didn’t know about the Mountain Regional Retreat until two months after it had taken place. I knew that I really could have benefited from attending this retreat and that is a very large reason why I because a regional leader…to help get the word out about the regional retreat and let other OCF students know the benefits from attending.
– Quinn Marquadt, Mountain Regional Student Leader
9. Okay, what if I can’t make it on the weekend it’s scheduled? Are there other things for me to do?
On this particular weekend the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco is also having their annual fall young adult retreat. That will be held at the Monastery in Dunlap, CA. Otherwise, definitely contact me to see how you can get involved, whether it be at a local chapter, or remotely! There are always opportunities for you to grow in Christ– and I encourage you to take these opportunities. You will be so happy you did.
– Markayla Stroubakis, Southwest Regional Student Leader
10. Any other advice/info?
GET INVOLVED! YOU’RE NEVER TOO COOL FOR JESUS AND FREE PIZZA.
– Kathrine Sackllah, South Regional Student Leader
I do not have the time.
I have a major test next Friday over a knot of material that I still haven’t untangled, I need to pack so that I can move out of my apartment in three weeks, and I haven’t finished the project that I am supposed to present to an audience on Thursday. I am far too busy; yet, I still find myself crunching down the gravel drive to Camp Nazareth on a sunny afternoon for the OCF Pittsburgh District Event. As soon as we drive past the cross-bearing domes, I know that I have made the right decision. Where it stands at the heart of camp, the chapel forces me to reexamine what it is that I hold at the heart of my life. It is an indisputable reminder that my every thought should not be centered on myself.
It always surprises me that this camp, two hours away from my actual house, feels so much like home. That night, I look around the campfire and realize that the students here may not know each other’s names—but we talk about our lives and our favorite movies and our plans for the future like we have been at this camp together for weeks instead of hours. OCF has always been that way in my mind. It is impossible to call someone a stranger when you both know, from the moment you meet, that you are family in Christ.
After services and breakfast the next morning, we circle up and Father Loposky leads a discussion about living our faith. He asks us about the time we spend in school working towards a diploma— as well as the time we spend in our busy days working towards a different, far more important sort of qualification. The key to sharing our faith is taking the time to see God in our own lives, he tells us. I know by the stories that are then volunteered in the circle that we will all leave this weekend with that lesson firmly imprinted in our minds and hearts. For our service project, we tackle the hiking trails armed with rakes and enthusiasm, but it isn’t long before we learn the difference between “fit” and “camp-fit;” in summary, only one involves the stamina to rake trails through the woods for a full morning. When we reach the waterfalls, we take a break to climb rocky ledges and to take turns skipping flat stones across pools of sparkling, clear water.
When I leave later today, I will return to an evening of sleep-deprived studying and stress. Right now though, that world is far away, and the undeniable evidence of something far more beautiful surrounds me. In this place, with these brothers and sisters surrounding me, I can feel the presence of God. Where I stand now, I feel like I have all the time in the world.
Ileana Horattas is a second-year student at the Northeast Ohio Medical University. She is a proud adoptive member of the Akron OCF chapter, as well as a member of the Akron Annunciation Greek Orthodox parish.
This past weekend, myself and 15 other college students had the blessing of attending the Pittsburgh District Event at Camp Naz. In 24 hours, we served Vespers and Morning Prayers, attended three sessions by Fr. Stephen Loposky, ate together, raked the hiking trails at Camp Naz, participated in team building activities, and played two rousing games of Scatergories.
Fr. Loposky’s sessions continued to explore the theme he began talking about at College Conference East, “A Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness.” We talked about how and when to talk about the Faith. One thing Fr. Lopkosy said that stuck out to me was:
You can’t talk about the Faith without knowing where God is in your life. And if you don’t spend time with the Faith, you can’t live it.
At any OCF event – District Events, Regional Retreats, Real Break, College Conference, weekly chapter meetings – I know God is there. I see it in the pure wisdom my peers share with the group, in the fellowship and love we have for each other, in the services prayed. I see him working in bringing us all together through the storms of our busy lives to a shelter of peace and prayer. It’s also a chance to really spend time with the Faith. Living the Faith is easy at OCF events. Everyone is doing the same thing you are. It’s once you step outside that comfort zone that the going gets tough.
Going to OCF events helps us prepare to be that voice crying out in the wilderness. Once we leave the familiarity and comfort of OCF, it’s much harder to be confident in what you believe and have the courage to be a witness. But with every OCF event I attend, I feel a little bit stronger and the wilderness becomes a little less intimidating.
The school year and thus the OCF year is drawing to a close. Next year, I encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for OCF events near you. College can be a wilderness of tricky questions and highly-opinionated people and professors that you don’t have to navigate alone. Make an effort to go to a Regional Retreat or College Conference to learn about, spend time with, and grow in the Faith.
What do you get when 10 young adults representing six different OCFs in five states and 11 nuns hailing from Kansas to Berlin spend the weekend together in close quarters? In preparation for Great Lent, the Cornell OCF and friends from Upstate NY, Manhattan, New Jersey, Virginia, and West Virginia, journeyed to the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA for a long-anticipated weekend retreat for a chance to rejuvenate, a chance to re-establish a lost connection with Christ, and a chance to go back to taking on the world.
Everyone arrived at sunset on Friday evening and celebrated Vespers before partaking of a wonderful fish dinner, complements of the local firemen and the nuns. This was a rare treat for the monastery, permitted by a timely fast-free week going from the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee to that of the Prodigal Son. After a delicious meal, it was time for introductions. The Very Reverend Mother Christophora, the abbess of the monastery and the spiritual leader of the community, threw a curve ball and had each nun introduce the sister to their left. Despite being put on the spot, the nuns did an outstanding job and said only the nice things (by request). This was a delight to witness and set the tone for the entire weekend: one of openness, laughter, and just simply being.
Later that evening, Mother Paula gave us a tour of the grounds and taught us about the monastery’s founder, Mother Alexandra, also known as Princess Ileana of Romania. The men even had the privilege of staying in her former house! Saturday was our only full day at the monastery. It began with Commemorations to St. Raphael of Brooklyn throughout Divine Liturgy, followed by brunch where Mother Christophora read us a reflection on the psalm “By the Waters of Babylon” which is sung at Matins in the weeks preceding Great Lent to remind us that our true home is in the heavenly Jerusalem, and not the Babylon of this world. Great Lent is a return home. One of the highlights was singing this hauntingly beautiful hymn together with the nuns at Saturday evening Vigil. In between the morning and evening services, we spent our free time exploring the trails around the monastery, including the cemetery where Mother Alexandra, Fr. Thomas Hopko, and several other faithful are laid to rest.
We were very blessed to have many wonderful conversations with the nuns throughout the weekend. Casey Garland (Cornell OCF) reflected, “The nuns were very open with us, answering our many questions about their lives (how they became nuns and what life in the monastery was like), providing us with guidance and practical tips for growing closer to God.” Each conversation yielded spiritual gems. An older priestmonk who frequents the monastery said that we must always say to the Lord, “Take my life in your hands.” And, “If we ask sincerely, God will always help us.” Mother Karitina challenged us to never shy away from our faith, saying that “we must always fight for our freedom.”
On Sunday morning, after celebrating the Akathist “Glory to God for All Things” and then the Divine Liturgy where we commemorated the return of the Prodigal Son and received the Eucharist, we had the pleasure of one last meal together. Mother Magdalena brought us to tears with her own story of returning home after losing everything, including her faith, during her turbulent college and young adult years. She reminded us that the Orthodox Christian Faith is not about an idea, but about a person: the person of Jesus Christ. And prayer is the means by which we develop our relationship with Him. Mother Magdalena warned us against approaching prayer as we would a skill to be mastered. Prayer is not like riding a bike or building a bridge. You don’t simply learn how to do it and then you’ve mastered it. Nobody can teach us to pray except for the Holy Spirit. In order to keep our prayer and our hearts pure, we must follow the Holy Fathers and “deflect unwanted thoughts with the flick of the will before they bite the heart.” As Saint Paisios says, “If you pay attention to them [thoughts], you create an airport inside your head and permit them to land.” Satisfied by this enriching discussion and Sister Helene’s scrumptious cookies (which also kept us awake on the long ride home), we set out into the glorious 60 degree sunshine to pack and to say our goodbyes. In addition to the cookies, each of us received an embroidered pouch of soil from St. Herman’s grave courtesy of Mother Galina, as well as some other generous gifts from the monastery.
Mother Christophora and the sisters of the Monastery of the Transfiguration are masters of hospitality whose love for each other, for their guests, and for Christ is evident in everything that they do. Spyridoula reflected on her experience, “What surprised me the most was how welcoming, hospitable, and downright funny all the mothers and sisters were and how much they are like you and me. Sometimes, it is easy to think that the people in cassocks are worlds apart from our lives. But they are not. They help us through prayer, through their advice, and through their smiles and humor.” It is difficult to taste of this “fountain of refreshment” and not be transfigured. We are thankful beyond words for our time spent there. It appears that the retreat is already bearing fruit, as two freshman undergraduates who attended are in the process of starting new OCF chapters at Morris County Community College and Coldwell University respectively. One has reached small group status while the other is struggling to get off the ground. Providentially, their OCF district student leader, Janine Alpaugh, was also in attendance and was able to provide them with connections, resources, and suggestions from other chapters. God always provides!
While the time we spent in Ellwood City was brief, it was full of rest, laughter, and direction. “There are some moments that should never pass away. What is glimpsed in them should never end. That it does end, and, even more, that it is only experienced momentarily anyway, this is the real sadness of human existence.” These words, taken from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s Eschatology: Death and Life Eternal were used by Daniel Stauffer (Cornell OCF) to summarize our weekend at the monastery. “What was glimpsed there should have never ended,” Daniel concluded. Simeon (Morris CC OCF) reflected on the weekend by sharing “This weekend I can truly say that I grew closer to God. The services allowed singing, ultimately resulting in a truly personal connection with Christ which engulfed me in prayer.” As we enter joyfully into the Great Fast and head towards the glorious Light of Pascha, perhaps it is only beginning.
This article was co-authored by the OCFers in attendance, Gregory Fedorchak, Janine Alpaugh, Casey Garland, Daniel Stauffer, Spyridoula Fotinis, and Simeon Brasowski. Simeon Brasowksi took all the pictures.
Students at Agia Skepi Monastery
Last month, students from the Mid-Atlantic Region gathered in Taylor, PA for an evening with at St. George with Fr. Mark Leasure and the myrrh-streaming Kardiotissa icon. They also enjoyed a talk on martyrdom by Fr. Andrew Damick and a visit to Agia Skepi monastery. Here are some thoughts from the students reflecting on the retreat:
“You are never alone when you have your faith.”
–Maria Kirifdes, sophomore, University of Delaware
“I love the retreats OCF hosts. Experiencing the beauty and peace of the nus and their home was quite moving. [I took away] a sense of renewal in a hectic semester and peace. Also, a stronger growing in my faith.”
–Ethan Comfort, junior, Kent State Univeristy
“I feel like I’m on a spiritual high.”
–Kyriakos Theophanous, senior, University of Pittsburgh
“I was in awe being the presence of the icon. I loved that we all chanted together with such love in our voices. Miracles exist all around us. We have to open our hearts and believe in the protection of the Panagia.”
–Jenna Ionnidis, junior, Millersville University
“Don’t follow your heart, lend your heart.”
–Christina Gregoraski, freshman, University of Delaware