Happy New Year! September marks the start of both the Ecclesiastical new year of the church and the new school year for colleges and universities across the country. For students, going back to school can be full of many emotions: excitement to see friends, nervousness about new classes, or maybe even fear of falling ill to the darkness surrounding college life. If we are not afraid of this, we should be — if not for ourselves then for our friends and peers. The statistics are out: young people are leaving the church when they get to college. I won’t delve into the why, but I do want to focus on the how. How do we prevent our brothers and sisters from cutting themselves off from Christ and His Church? The answer can be found in this year’s OCF theme which is to, “be a light in the darkness.” From the Gospel of John we know that, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). In order to defeat the darkness that surrounds college life, we must become a light like Christ who is the Light.
I’ll continue with a little anecdote from my school’s activity fair. I was standing at our OCF booth and a kid stopped noticing our banner, and said, “Is that Orthodoxy? Like Orthodox Orthodoxy? I had no idea that existed in the Western Hemisphere!” This might make you chuckle a little, but it should also make us all realize how few people know about Orthodoxy in America. As a campus ministry, we should do our best to minister to the whole campus, not just the Orthodox kids, by inviting them to our events so that they too can learn about the Faith. By doing this, we are cultivating the light within us.
On a more individual note, it can oftentimes be harder to stand firm in the faith when we are the only Orthodox person in the room. These times, however, are the most important, as they happen constantly. What does this look like? When someone asks you about the icons on your wall or the prayer rope around your wrist or cross around your neck — give them the real answer. Tell them what it is and who you are. Not every instance needs to develop into a long, deep, conversation, but every instance does need to reveal some truth rather than result in a quick cop out. Furthermore, many times when someone asks about your prayer rope, maybe they are just breaking the ice to talk about the faith.
Just as bringing two wavering candles together creates a bigger flame, so too, when we gather with other Orthodox Christians, will our spiritual light be bolstered. We have an opportunity every Sunday to restore and strengthen our faith so that we can continue to strengthen others’. Getting yourself to Divine Liturgy every Sunday is great, but making it as easy as possible for others to join you is even greater. Whether that be organizing a carpool or reaching out to friends you haven’t seen at church in awhile, doing everything in your power to physically keep them attending church will, in the long run, keep them in the Church.
So as the year goes on I encourage us all to keep cultivating the light within ourselves, so that it may emanate onto others, making them lights, too.
Hi I’m Elias Anderson. I’m from Libertyville Illinois and grew up at Saints Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview, Illinois. I’m currently a freshman at Valparaiso University majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in music. I attended the CrossRoad summer institute in 2018 and this past summer I was a CIT at the Antiochian Village and participant at Project Mexico. When I’m not in class or doing homework you can find me playing my trumpet in the jazz or concert band or guitar in my dorm room. I love everything Pan-Orthodox and am always down to converse about anything religion.
I know this sounds like a daunting task to complete in one year, but this PDF gives you a guide to reading the entire Orthodox Study Bible in one year. The PDF starts on September 1st (for the Ecclesiastical New Year), but you can still start the guide and finish reading the whole bible in one year. By reading less than five chapters a day, you can feel extremely accomplished and become more knowledgeable at the end of one year.
In our very busy lives, we usually forget to just take a few minutes to reflect on our day. Learning how to sit in silence for a few minutes a day will help you to wind down and be peaceful. And when I say sitting in silence, I don’t mean sitting on your phone in silence. Remove all distractions and take a few minutes each day to reflect and give praise to God for the blessed day.
A good rule of thumb when deciding when to go to confession is to try and go during the major fasting periods of the church. The three main fasting periods are Advent (Christmas Fast), Great and Holy Lent (Pascha Fast), and the Fast for the Dormition of the Theotokos (First 15 days in August). By going to confession during these time periods, you would be going to confession every four months. This gives you time to reflect and take a lot of the burdens from your soul away throughout the year.
6. Listen to a Podcast that Interests and Inspires You
Ancient Faith Radio has so many cool podcasts you can choose from. You can download the Ancient Faith Radio app on your phone and have hundreds of podcasts at the tip of your finger! Some of them are even led by college students! Check out this blog post from November to learn about some of the great podcasts you can find on their app.
7. Learn More about a Saint that Interests You
There’s a Saint for That is a great way to learn about saints that can help you in your everyday life. There are saints who intercede for traveling, for education, for health, for finding things that have been lost, and for many other reasons. You can also check out stories of the saints of the day on the OCA Website. OCA’s website gives you the story of multiple saints daily so you can learn about a new one everyday!
8. Connect with an Orthodox Community
One of the best ways to grow in your faith is to surround yourself with others who are immersed in the same faith as you. You can meet some of your life-long friends at your campus OCF meetings, OCF regional retreats, and at College Conference. Check out the current listing of OCF events to register! Also look into your parish to see opportunities for you to meet and hang out with young adults in your area.
9. Talk to a Priest about Questions You Have
Make a list of a few questions to ask your spiritual father or parish priest. Talking through your questions with them will strengthen your knowledge about the faith and also your relationship with your spiritual father.
10. Go to a Service or an Orthodox Church that You Have Never Attended Before
Step out of your comfort zone and check out other parishes in your area. Visit Greek Churches, Russian Churches, Romanian Churches, etc. Go and experience Orthodoxy in every language you can. Also try and attend services you don’t attend regularly. There are services offered weekly like Saturday Vespers or services offered only a few times a year like the Salutations, Paraklesis, and Presanctified Divine Liturgy.
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!
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 2017! I’d like to start off by saying that many of us (myself included) will turn twenty this year, and that is the silliest thing I have ever heard. My number is gonna start with a two. Two is an adult number. You could do ridiculous things when you were nineteen and people would be like, “It’s fine, guys: his number starts with a one…you know, he’s still young, he makes mistakes, it’s okay.” But if you do ridiculous things now people are like, “Hey! Your number starts with a two now. You can’t be a doofus anymore. Time to shape up.” Scary, man.
Re-centering our focus, it’s 2017, and if you’re not back at school already, you’ll be heading there shortly. After breaks, we always return to school rejuvenated–at least, that’s the hope and intention. In our revitalization, we have the opportunity to make and adhere to new resolutions, more austere resolutions, that we may have failed to achieve later in the semester, browbeaten by the rigors of college life.
Of course, this return has the added brunt of the new year–the opportunity to demonstrate the tangible individual change from the person you were in 2016 to the person you will become in 2017. Some of you may have resolved to accomplish certain things; others may have foregone the opportunity. Regardless of which year it is, from where you are returning, and where you are heading, I want to give you some resolutions you can pursue, some reasons to pursue them, and how to get started. Here we go:
1. Read a book
I don’t know a better way to get smarter faster than by reading. The people who teach you things learned those things from a person who read a book, or they learned it from reading the book that someone wrote. Think about all the learning you do on an average day. The majority comes from reading articles or reading books for class or listening to someone speak on a topic they understand–they are well-read, as it were.
Eric Thomas is a pastor and motivational speaker who likes to say that “knowledge is the new money.” I don’t really know what this means, besides the fact that knowledge has value. The speakers you listen to might be limited to the people you know, but the books to which you have access–unfathomable depths of knowledge, man.
Concrete things to try:
Ask your priest/spiritual father for a good spiritual book to read–and recommend to your OCF chapter president that the entire chapter read it together, occasionally meeting for discussion.
No OCF chapter? Hit up a friend, show them this blog, and read with them.
Do you regularly watch Netflix before you go to sleep? While you eat meals? Replace your dead show time with a book for one week straight and see how you feel.
Start small (less than 250/300 pages) and only commit small chunks of time per day (30 minutes).
Find a topic in which you’re really interested
A lot of comedians write hysterical books, fyi.
2. Read the Book
If you were fortunate enough to attend College Conference East, Fr. Bogdan Bucir gave an incredible talk about reading the Bible as Orthodox Christians. Daily scriptural reading supplements and informs our faith. It contextualizes many familiar prayers and hymns. It purifies our mind and infuses our day with life, especially when we do it in the morning.
It’s tough to fully experience the Church without attending divine services regularly, participating in the sacramental life, praying, fasting, and reading Scripture daily. Quite simply, daily Scripture reading is part of the prescription given to Orthodox Christians by the church fathers–when we neglect it, we neglect caring for the roots of our faith. It’s a dangerous proposition.
A lot of students don’t read the Bible every day–or, you know, ever. That’s okay. Don’t be like a lot of students. Be like Christ.
Concrete things to try:
Download the DailyReadings app from the Play Store or App Store. It tells you the fasting prescriptions of the day, the saints and feasts of the day, and the daily Epistle and Gospel readings. Nice.
Download a Bible app that either has the Revised Standard Version (RSV) or New King James Version (NKSV). These are the two accepted translations of the Orthodox Church. This is the app I use (for Android). I can bookmark and favorite and stuff. Still nice.
Check out the website My Bible Plans. It lets you create a custom Bible reading plan with which books you want to read, and over how many days you’d like to read those books. It gives you an iCal feed that you can easily hook up to your Google Calendar, or will send you an email every morning with your chapters for that day (in English Standard Version, so use your app from #2 to read the right version)
Set a time every day to read the Bible. Don’t just add it to the to-do list. It’ll fall off as the world overwhelms you. My time is every morning, after I wake up. Chose a time and stick to it.
I still remember the talk my junior high received from a man whose teenage son had unexpectedly committed suicide. Incredibly heavy stuff. He told a story of a man who killed himself by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and in his apartment, they found his suicide note, and it read: “I’m walking to the bridge today. If one person smiles at me on my way there, I will not jump.”
I hope the stakes of your smile aren’t that high. If so, that’s a lot of pressure, and I don’t do well smiling under pressure–I look terrible in pictures. But we forget blessings so much quicker than curses; bemoan struggles far before giving thanks. What a pleasure it is to be attending a university, to have unimaginable opportunity buzzing in through our every action, every moment cracking with the electricity that is our potential. I own cool sunglasses and bright red pants; I have amazing friends and a family that teases me as much as I do them; I watch football on Sundays and eat hot dogs sometimes; I believe in a merciful God and His ultimate sacrifice for my salvation.
How dare I be anything less than joyful?
P.S. Sometimes things stink. Yep. Smile anyway. It makes things better.
Concrete things to try:
Watch this Ted Talk by Shawn Achor, who (IS THE MAN!) works at Yale (I think?) studying happiness and positivity. Then, do literally everything he says
tl;dr: take time, every night, and write three things for which you’re grateful. Describe them in detail; put them in a memo in your phone if you don’t have a journal.
Pick a person every morning that’s valuable to you and find a way, that day, to adequately express to them why and how they’re valuable to you.
Not always with words.
Empathize with others. In every interaction, ask yourself what it’d be like to be in the other pair of shoes, and how you’d hope other people treated you.
You’ll find yourself saying ‘Thank you’ and ‘Please’ roughly, I dunno, 7 bajillion times more than you do now.
I honestly believe everyone should read, and read as much as they can, and a big part of that reading should be the Bible, and they should smile a lot more too. I think everyone can be reading more and smiling more than they currently are.
I can think of plenty more things that fall under this category, but you know you a lot better than I do. I’m gonna throw out a bunch of things that I think are awesome, and a few of those concrete tips that might help you out. You do you, and pick a good one.
Pray daily for 30 days
Scientifically, the prevailing belief is that it takes roughly seven weeks to fully ingrain a new habit. That’s 49 days. But just for 30 days, pray daily. See if it’s ingrained by then
Set the alarm five minutes earlier and pray in bed if need be.
Place an icon on your pillow every day, so you can’t lay your head down without hitting it
Copy prayers from oca.org and put them in a note on your phone, so you don’t have to worry about a book
“Swing that collection plate this way!”
Beginning the habit of giving to the church now–yes, now, as a poor college student–empowers you to do it later. You might not have the monetary means to make a big impact now–because of the whole poor college student thing–but you may later.
When going out to eat/for coffee, buy a cheaper option than you’d usually purchase, and donate the difference to the church
Ask your priest about the ability to give online. Some church have those now #innovation
When you come across something you really want to buy, but don’t need, and find yourself using the “it’s really not that much” rationalization, donate that money to the church.
Find a service opportunity
Yes, you, poor and busy college student. Begin building a habit now that you’d like to have later. If you ask yourself the question, “Do I want to be doing this in ten years?” and can answer ,”Yes,” start doing that thing today.
There are student organizations on your campus that are built for charity. I’m almost positive. Find them and see how you can get involved.
If the homeless are around your area, grab an extra fruit from the dining hall, make a sandwich, and have it in a Ziploc bag for when you’re walking around.