Making Room for Christ

Making Room for Christ

Do you know the story of Wally? He was a nine year old second grade. He should have been in fourth grade but everyone knew that Wally had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd in the Christmas pageant one year but the play’s director knew that there were too many lines for Wally to memorize. Instead, she assigned him the role of the Innkeeper who only had a few lines. For weeks he practiced his part and his lines. The biggest concern for the play that year was that Wally didn’t mess his part up and embarrass himself.

Church was packed the day of the pageant. No one was more caught up in the magic of the event than little Wally. Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop.
Wally the Innkeeper was there, waiting.

“What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open with a gruff gesture.

“We seek lodging.” Joseph responded.
“Seek it elsewhere.” Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously. “The inn is filled.”

“Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary.”

“There is no room in the inn for you.” Wally looked properly stern.

“Please, good innkeeper, my wife is pregnant and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”

Now, for the first time, Wally relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.

“No! Begone!” the prompter whispered from behind the curtain.

“No!” Wally repeated automatically. “Begone!”

Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper did not return inside his inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the desperate couple. His mouth was open, his brow
creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears. It was right then that Wally realized exactly what had happened that night. And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all the others.

“Wait! Joseph, don’t go!” Wally cried out. “Bring Mary back.” And Wally’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room.”

YOU CAN HAVE MY ROOM!

What an unexpected twist to a very familiar story. And yet, Wally’s actions leave us much to think about. What would WE have done 2000 years ago in Bethlehem? We can even ask, what do we do today when we are placed in a similar situation?

In today’s world, not too many people would fault with the innkeepers. They didn’t know that Mary would give birth to the Savior of the world. For all they knew, it was just another peasant woman giving birth to another child in this world. They were preoccupied with their own cares
and lives!

Does that sound a little familiar?

How many of us don’t have time for Christ to enter into our lives at school? During our
recreation? Among our friends? How many of us don’t make room for Christ to interfere with our busy schedules?

In the midst of our busy lives, will we have the eyes to see Christ when he comes unexpectedly.

I’m not only talking about making time for Jesus as a part of our schedule. We need to begin there and set aside time each day to pray and have a quiet time, as well as each Sunday to meet Christ in the Divine Liturgy.

Yet, what about during the unexpected times when Jesus surprises us? The Christmas story, from the perspective of the innkeepers, is more about having the eyes to see the Christ even when we are extremely busy and He comes at an inconvenient time. Will we see Jesus in each and every person whom we meet day by day. Our Lord said, “Whatever you have done to the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done to me.”

Wally may have mixed up his lines in the Christmas pageant, but he surely revealed the true spirit of Christmas to all those who were watching.

“Wait! Joseph, don’t go!” Wally cried out. “Bring Mary back.” Wally’s face grew into a bright smile as he proudly proclaimed, “You can have my room.”

This Christmas may each of us reflect upon how we can make room for Christ to be born anew, in our lives.

Here’s a prayer we can offer daily during this holy season:

Lord Jesus Christ, you have come so many times to us and found no resting place. Forgive us for
our overcrowded lives, our vain haste and our preoccupation with self. Come again, O Lord, and
though our hearts are a jumble of voices, and our minds overlaid with many fears, find a place
however humble, where You can begin to work Your wonder as you create peace and joy within
us. If in some hidden corner, in some out-of-the-way spot, we can clear away the clutter, and
shut out the noise and darkness, come be born again in us, and we shall kneel in perfect peace
with the wisest and humblest of people. Help us enter into this Christmas season with humility, with joy, and most of all with a desire to discover you anew! Yes Lord, give us a Christmas from
within, that we may share it from without, on all sides, all around us, wherever there is a need.
God help us, every one, to share the blessings of Jesus Christ with others, in whose name we
keep Christmas holy.

Fr. Luke A Veronis

Fr. Luke A Veronis

Fr. Luke Veronis is a priest of Saints Constantine and Helen Church in Webster, MA (www.schwebster.org) and the director of the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity at Hellenic College Holy Cross (www.missionsinstitute.org). He and his wife, Presbytera Faith, are the parents of four, including two college students, a college graduate, and a soon to be college student! His most recent book is “Sharing the Light: Meditations on the Good News of Jesus Christ” which can be found on Amazon.

7 Questions to Reflect on before the Feast of Our Lord’s Nativity

7 Questions to Reflect on before the Feast of Our Lord’s Nativity

Chances are the feeling, meaning, and practices of Christmas have changed for you over time. From childhood to adulthood the way we prepare and understand the Blessed feast of the Nativity has grown. Whatever way we ourselves interpret the season does not change what is at the heart of it! I want to share a portion of St. John Chrysostom’s sermon on the Nativity of Christ:

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness. 

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit that He may save me. 

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels. 

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. 

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.

St. John Chrysostom shows us what the birth of Christ means for the world. It is the redemption of the flesh through God becoming man. By becoming man he “wroughts a clear path out of confusion.” Christ came to be ‘with us’ in a way which was incomprehensible — Our God who surpasses the heavens was humbled to lie in a manger, and became the very flesh He created. 

Emmanuel means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). In the incarnation, God is now “commingled” with us. Our relationship with him as humans forever changes after this moment, and even after the Ascension, when his physical body no longer remains on earth, this relationship remains.

This is overwhelmingly amazing but where do we go from here? How do we continue to realize this in our lives? Through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, receiving communion, and confession first and foremost of course! The Church has given us ways to participate simply and receive the overwhelmingly amazing meaning of this Feast in these constant practices. 

This year I have also put together a list of 7 questions which I am reflecting on this week (I want to stress that this is just a list of questions that I have heard or asked myself and have been helpful for me personally). These questions have been a great help in recalling this truth that St. John Chrysostom expresses in his sermon. There are many opportunities for lengthy reflections in each of these, so it may be helpful to choose just a few to tackle in one sitting! I heard a few of these come up in an Advent Series program with YES North America as well as a spiritual discussion with Fr. Panagiotis Boznos. 

1. How do we see or talk about ourselves?

Christ’s image has been redeemed in us. Does this understanding guide our perception of ourselves? Are we quick to talk ourselves up or be too harsh on ourselves?

2. How do we see or talk about the people around us?

Every single person who has ever lived or will ever live is made in the image of God. How do we treat the people around us currently? How do we talk about those we are close to and those we don’t know as well, too? 

3. When do we feel God with us?

What is a time when you have been aware that God is with you? Where were you? What was happening? Were you with other people…maybe you were in prayer? What other factors were playing a role in your life at that point in time?

4. When is it hard to feel God with us?

What is a time where it was difficult to feel God was with you? What is one word which you would use to describe how that moment felt? What factors were playing a role in your life at this point? Where was your focus? Christ promised that He would always be with us. Even though it felt as if God was absent, looking back, are you now able to see any ways in which He was with you?

5. When we struggle, what do we focus on?

The place we give our energy and thoughts determines a lot of our experience and takeaways from difficult times. When going through a struggle what do you see yourself focusing on the most?

6. When we succeed what are we focusing on?

Are we using a success to raise ourselves up or to benefit those around us and raise up Christ? 

7. In this very moment where do you see Christ?

Take 2 minutes to sit in silence. Screens out of sight, music paused. Maybe go outside! Ask yourself where you see Christ here at the beginning of the two minutes? What did you find? Did you focus on your surroundings, thinking of the people in your life currently, a personal struggle, turn to prayer? 

Our understanding of this upcoming Holiday grows with us, the meaning is always constant. From the first Christmas (the Nativity of Christ) until that one year when you were 7 (and thought the world would end if you didn’t get Heelys for Christmas), until Christmas 2020 (undergoing the stresses of navigating togetherness in an isolated world), God has become man and will be with us always. 

As we come to the end of 2020, I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and congratulate all my fellow struggle bus college students for making it through. I love you all! I pray that St. John Chrysostom’s sermon on the Nativity was useful in better understanding the Feast of the Nativity, and that these questions for reflection were helpful!

Andrew Gluntz

Alethia Placencia

Publications Student Leader

I am a senior at the University of Kentucky studying philosophy and microbiology. I love hiking, staying active, and enjoying great books and food! Above all, I love the family OCF has given me. Whatever your story may be, there is a place for you in this community! Reach out to learn more about OCF or if you would like to contribute to the blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net

Dressing up for Christmas as Christians

Dressing up for Christmas as Christians

Around this time of year, I find myself buying fun decorations and lights. Perhaps I’ll put together a gingerbread house or find some other cute Christmas treats to bake. Let’s not forget the ugly Christmas sweaters, fuzzy socks, and Santa hats. In fact, while writing this blog entry, I’m sitting here in my Christmas themed pajama-pants complete with dogs in scarves skiing down a hill. 

It is tradition to adorn our homes and even ourselves festively this season. In doing so, we are communicating a piece of the joy of the Nativity. But these adornments, even some silly pajamas, might point to something more profound. We feel the warmth, cheer, and joy of the holiday season when hearing Christmas music or seeing beautiful lights and we want to spread this cheer into the world. 

This joy flows from the knowledge that Christ is Born! Glorify Him! Our Nativity feast reminds us that through the birth of Christ the image of God in us was restored. As the Canon of the Nativity of Our Lord says:

Man was made in the image of God, but he sinned and lost immortality. He fell from the divine and better life, enslaved completely by corruption. Now the wise Creator fashions him again, for He has been glorified!

Our adornments spread the feeling of joy of this wonderful season. These traditions are beautiful, fun, and are part of the awe-some experience of our lives on earth. Although they are associated with Christmas and connect us back to this holiday they may actually cause us to forget the harder work we must do to truly adorn ourselves to celebrate Nativity–to truly adorn ourselves and the world around us in response to the redemption of the image of God within us.

 Christ is the true image of God. Christ is true humanity. In him, we find the kind of human life we were meant to live. As Christians we put on this life as a garment, “For all of you that have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27).

So instead of only dressing-up and decorating our world with physical reminders of Christmas, in following Christ, God prepares us for the true festivities: “See, I have taken your guilt away from you and will clothe you with festive robes” (Zach 3:4).

To adorn ourselves with these festive clothes is to become Christ-like –to serve the world with sacrificial love –to care for the poor, feed those who are hungry, seek those who are lost, care for the sick, and love our enemy.

There is much suffering at this time. It will be one of the hardest and loneliest Christmases for so many. Let us remember that we who are made in the image of God are called to put on Christ. We are called to clothe ourselves in the true garments of Christmas (this can be in addition to our ugly Christmas sweaters of course) and go into the world to serve with Christ’s sacrificial love. This is how we can truly adorn this holiday and spread the joy of the Christmas season. 

Andrew Gluntz

Alethia Placencia (in collaboration with Nathan Placencia)

Publications Student Leader

I am a senior at the University of Kentucky studying philosophy and microbiology. I love hiking, staying active, and enjoying great books and food! Above all, I love the family OCF has given me. Whatever your story may be, there is a place for you in this community! Reach out to learn more about OCF or if you would like to contribute to the blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net

10 Signs You Celebrate Christmas the Orthodox Way

10 Signs You Celebrate Christmas the Orthodox Way

Christmas, for most Orthodox Christians, is a time of fasting, prayer, worship, sacraments, spiritual renewal, and philanthropy. It is a more religious celebration that is not as commercial as in some cultures. It is a time where we also have many traditions that help make it the beautiful holiday it is.

#1 Fasting before Christmas is harder than fasting for Lent

All those Christmas cookies really do you in on the days leading up to Christmas, also why does everything Christmas have to be made with MILK? Also fair warning—whilst eating Greek kourambiedes do not inhale because you WILL choke on the powdered sugar, nothing like a little danger in a cookie I suppose.

#2 If your name is Chris/Christina you feel a little petty for having your namesday be on Christmas day 

Yes, you get to celebrate being named after Christ but unfortunately the presents are usually grouped together, nothing like a 2 for 1 deal, am I right?

 

 

 

#3 You get to watch your friends exchange gifts on December 25th but you have to wait until January 7th.

Some jurisdictions are still on the Old ‘Julian’ Calendar and have to wait an extra 13 days for Christmas to happen… patience is a virtue!

 

 

 

#4 Part of decorating the Christmas tree (Badnjak) includes burning it in on Christmas Eve and then baking it into bread.

Look up this cool Serbian Tradition! Just don’t stand too close to the fire because you might lose an eyebrow or two. 

 

 

 

 

#5 You kind of know where the 12 days of Christmas really comes from.

It’s the amount of days between His birth and Epiphany! A lot of people even keep their decorations up until then. Why do you need 11 pipers piping for that?

 

 

 

 

#6 You’re really confused about who Santa really is.

Is he St. Nicholas of Myra? Is he St. Basil? And when are you going to exchange gifts? Greek Orthodox Christians in Greece traditionally exchange presents on New Year’s Day, the feast day of St. Basil the Great

 

 

 

 

 

#7 Christmas Eve ham? Try a 12-part vegetarian extravaganza including perogies, cabbage rolls, beets, borscht, and potatoes that symbolize the 12 Apostles. 

This particular tradition is called Sochevnik in Russian. Good thing we’ve been fasting for so long because that dinner sounds delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

#8 Your family is a Christmas Eve church family or a Christmas Day one, either way you celebrate the Nativity in a prayerful way and with communion of course!

A picture from the church of the nativity. According to Holy Tradition, that spot is where the star indicated the place of Christ’s birth!

 

 

 

 

#9 Your Christmas music has been playing on repeat since November.

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear” –Elf

The hymns of the church for the Nativity are filled with so much beauty and joy! My church has had the tradition where our youth group would go and sing carols to sick and elderly parishioners, and the joy they experienced when we would come sing makes your entire week .

#10 You’re genuinely excited for the coming of the Christ. You have been praying, and you keep the true meaning of Christmas, the Nativity of our Savior, close to your heart. 

He came to save us! Let us rejoice!

“‘She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” -Matthew 1:21-23

 

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Ultimately Christmas is a time for families and friends to get together. There is so much beauty that we all share in our ‘traditions’ that everyone celebrates Christmas in their own special way. Orthodoxy, being a part of history for centuries, has molded some beautiful festivities that bring us together because of our mutual love for Christ. 

Merry Christmas!

The Fast

The Fast

In this space, I speak a lot about the limits and constraints that college life puts on our participation of the faith.

I’ve written about prayer, confession, service, almsgiving–all through the lens of our limits as poor, busy, terrified-for-our-future college students.

The intention there is clear–and, I believe, justified. As a ministry oriented towards college students and the Orthodox faith, it is appropriate that we would create resources to help college students address the obstacles between them and the ideal practice of their faith. It is also appropriate that we would share stories of success, of the aspects of our collegiate life that help us grow in our faith (see: reflections on OCF retreats/programs).

Of all of the sacraments and practices of the Church, however, I don’t think any one is as clearly helped by our college life than fasting.

Those are my two cents–they’re worth exactly two pennies. If your experience is different, which is entirely possible, then you may disagree. Furthermore, I am in no way saying that fasting is easy. It is not. I will struggle with it, whine (waaay too much) about it, and fail at it inevitable this season.

But my experience of fasting at college has always boiled down to pure, undiluted, individual choice.

Of course, most everything boils down to choice. Pray before you go to sleep? That’s a choice. Get up for church on Sunday mornings? That’s a choice. But in so many of these life choices, we can feel constrained and steered by many other external factors. We feel that these motivations and limitations rob us of our choice.

But fasting–the exclusion of meat and/or dairy from the diet–more easily distances itself from these limiting factors. Why? Because, at college, you have significant control over what you eat.

Let’s say you’re on a meal plan. Well, you typically walk into a large cafeteria that has many food options–and there’s going to inevitably be at least a vegetarian option, if not two or three. In that moment in which you hold the empty tray in your hands, there is nothing impeding your path to the pepperoni pizza, and there is nothing impeding your path to the salads. The call is yours.

Let’s say you aren’t on a meal plan–then you buy your own food. Yeah, if you have roommates who cook for the whole apartment, now you’re in a bit of a bind. You have to strike a balance between asking them to keep your dietary restrictions in mind for 40 days (less, because you won’t even be at college for some of them) and cooking your own food. But I believe that’s possible.

Especially because OCF has a fasting cookbook for you!

New OCF College Lenten Cookbook

Boom-shakalaka!

As I said at the beginning of this post, OCF helps address the obstacles between the college student and the full realization of their faith. Despite the extent to which I personally find fasting to boil down to a choice, you may not. That’s where the cookbook comes in. It’s full of recipes to help you make it through the fast, recipes that are so simple you can make many of them with nothing but a plate and a microwave.

Often, we leapfrog choice with willful ignorance. Because choice is hard–it forces us to evaluate what we truly value–and often leads to less instantly gratifying decisions, we attempt to circumvent it by denying its existence. We ignore the information that gives us the power to choose. We don’t learn the strategies, listen to the sermons, read the books, so we can pretend we did the best we could–because that was all we knew.

If you’ve arrived here–at the end of the post–then your choice in fasting has hopefully been exposed. If your mind, instinctively seeking an out, whispered an insistence that you didn’t have the means to cook fasting food for yourself, hopefully the cookbook proves a counter-punching resource for you.

It’s my favorite Bible quote–it seems to always apply–so let’s drop it right here to end this post. In the 13th chapter of John, Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet, reminded them that they view him as the Teacher, reminded them of all of the examples he has given them. He’s preparing to be Crucified. He then says:

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. – John 13:17

Note: If you have any cool fasting recipes/easy fasting treats or anything in between, the 2018 Lenten Cookbook is currently being compiled. Go here for a recipe submission form!