“Peace begins with a smile.” I still remember hearing that quote by Mother Teresa from a friend one summer at church camp. Honestly, I didn’t think it was true. It sounded too simple. This may have been because growing up I heard phrases like “world peace” or the Bible verse “a peace that surpasses all understanding.” Peace seemed so big, like an immense undertaking or something to accomplish.
However, I was wrong. Peace is right in front of us. It’s inside of us and it’s a gift from God. One way to seek peace, then, is to turn inward. Ask yourself: what brings me peace?
For me, stillness is often the answer. Psalm 46:10 tells us “Be still and know that I am God.” There is so much external noise and there always will be. Stillness provides a refuge from the noise and the distraction. Because we are all created uniquely, stillness can look different for each one of us. A priest once told me, “Do what brings you closer to God.” He didn’t give me a recipe with all the ingredients and measurements. Instead, he encouraged me to listen to my heart and to trust myself. I mentioned to him that I love journaling at the beach to which he replied, “Great! Do THAT!” Naturally, I listed off a whole bunch of other activities in which I feel close to God: surfing, baking, reading books, talking with friends. He smiled at me and nodded his head. As I was listing these things it occurred to me that I was drawing near to God during these activities because I felt at peace doing them. They are stress relievers and they calm my heart and my mind, allowing me to be still (even if I am not physically “still”), be at peace, and be with God.
Something I have to remind myself of, something I think is important to remember, is that we have an external environment–what others say and do, what’s going on in the world–that we cannot control. However, we have an internal environment–our soul, our relationship with Christ–that we can control.
When the internal environment is at peace, things happening in the external environment are easier to handle. Internal peace provides stability, a foundation for us to act from. That foundation is Christ, who is goodness and life. St. Philaret of Moscow prays, “Teach me to treat all that come to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Thy will governs all.” This prayer reflects the difficulty we can undergo in dealing with our external environment and encourages us to take care of our internal environment through Christ.
Another aspect of peace I like to remember is that peace is powerful. St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire a spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” Peace is contagious! Just looking at someone in church who is deep in prayer, or gazing at the icons, or smiling as they cross themselves I feel at peace. They aren’t doing anything crazy like finding a cure to world hunger. They’re doing simple acts that stem from a spirit of peace. Seeing them helps me refocus inwardly, to block out the noise and return to myself and Christ in me. And it gives me peace.
The Prodigal Son struggled with noise and the temptations of his external environment. In Luke 15:17 it reads that he eventually turns inward, “But when he came to himself…” realizing his need for his father, to be in relationship with him and to be in his house. Always return to yourself, to Christ. Surround yourself with people who refocus you when the noise grows louder and becomes distracting.
This week we enter into the Lenten season. I don’t know about you, but being a vegan for forty days doesn’t bring me immediate peace. In fact, it stresses me out. Yet, in the Prayer Before The Icon of Christ (found in our little red prayer book) it says, “We cry aloud unto thee: thou hast filled all things with joy, O our Savior, for thou didst come to save the world.” There is profound peace knowing Christ has filled all things with joy, even suffering. We can think about the martyrs who had peace and joy in their suffering, in their death. I know that if the martyrs experienced peace and joy in death, I can experience Christ’s peace and joy in ‘little deaths’ to meat and cheese. We are being called to partake in Christ’s suffering for these next 40 days, but we are also being called to partake in His peace and His joy. In dying to ourselves we will experience life, just as the martyrs’ death brought them to be in paradise with their holy King, and be in a place where there is only “a peace that surpasses all understanding.” Doesn’t sound as daunting anymore, does it?
Peace be with you, brothers and sisters in Christ.
Hello everyone! I’m Tati. I was raised in the Orthodox Church with both my grandfathers being parish priests here at St. Athanasius in Santa Barbara, CA. I have been a camp counselor at Camp St. Nicholas and have served as a leader for Youth Equipped to Serve.
Some things I love to do in my free time are trying a new recipe, going to the beach (I just learned how to surf! I’m terrible, but I enjoy it), and spending time with my nieces and nephew.
In December I graduated from nursing school and I just got hired by the local hospital to work in the oncology unit. I recently learned the term “oncology” comes from the Greek word Onkos which means burden; the illness was imagined to be a burden carried by the body.
Our faith teaches us to carry our cross, our burdens, something we know we can’t do without our Savior and without each other. I feel blessed to serve those struggling with the weight of cancer.
There is an inherent relationship between growing closer to Christ in our personal lives and growing closer to Christ in relationships. I’d like to explore this topic with the help of a Psalm and some writers I encountered this last semester in class. These last few months have undoubtedly been hectic and difficult for everyone, but in this Nativity season, calling to mind our inner heart and learning how to offer it to those around us in love and thanksgiving is one of the greatest ways to participate in Christ.
We hear these words in Psalm 50: “My inner and secret heart that Thou hast made manifest unto me.” We cannot find this place on our own power because God alone can unveil this inner, hidden place to us through prayer, fasting, and a life in the Church. God is always calling us to this place. It is a place we can only strive to be in moment by moment; we will never be able to permanently inhabit it. I think this is the case because in my own prayer life, I often feel like I cannot express what I want to express. In a way, my loss for words in prayer teaches me that I pray in order to learn how to pray. As a matter of fact, praying when we know how bad we are at praying helps remind us why we are praying in the first place: humility, mercy, and peace. Knowing that we are not the origin of these things and approaching God in that spirit of seeming helpless can in fact be the most honest kind of prayer.
In the words of French philosopher Jean-Louis Chrétien, prayer helps us see “reality of our fallenness, and it points us…to the possibility of our restoration, by the grace of God.” Chrétien’s reasoning behind saying this is that we must first see the reality of our fallenness for our restoration to begin. Our restoration begins to unfold when we accept that we cannot, on our own power or agency, take ourselves out of that fallenness into community with others. In this Nativity season, this restoration is on its fullest display, for Christ has come into the world and provided the way for man to be restored to his original communion with God. Interestingly, on the Nativity, St. Gregory of Nazianzus says that “we are coming to celebrate today the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God.”
Take the prayer to the Holy Spirit for example. Said at the beginning of practically all services in the home or in the church, begins with an invocation of who we are addressing: “O Heavenly King.” The next line is the appositive phrase “the Comforter.” Recognizing the Holy Spirit, and by extension, God, as a comforter does not remove our sufferings, but a comforting hug, a comforting smile, or even a comforting cup of coffee can change our attitude towards our struggles. The things before us are cast into a different light when we look outside of ourselves for help. When we begin our prayers with “O Heavenly King, the Comforter,”we are calling to mind our struggles and asking to be granted the proper disposition we need to deal with them. It begins to restore us, but this restoration has already happened because Christ is born, now and always.
Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras (who is still alive today) says that “knowledge of God begins when we live our faith.” At this juncture between us and God in the act of prayer, our restoration has already begun. Not only that, but because we need mercy and grace of God in order to say anything, this restoration has always been happening because we are made in the image and likeness of Christ. This moves us outside of ourselves and into communion with others, and with God. As we continue to maneuver through this pandemic and these physically distant times, let us remember the spiritual communion that we continue to participate in as we live and breathe every moment of every day. This moment, this very moment, is all we are given, so let us love one another to the extent that we can, and let us also take comfort in the knowledge that approaching God in silent humility is better than not approaching Him at all.
Podcast Student Leader
I am a senior English major at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. When not leading my small but mighty OCF, hosting dinner parties, studying in the library, making playlists, running, or spending time in church, I am busy creating the worst dad jokes you can possibly imagine. As a senior, I spend plenty of time reminiscing and thinking about the many ways OCF has shaped my college experience. The only piece of advice I feel fully qualified to give is to cherish the OCF friends you have made or will make. You’ll definitely hear me say that a lot on my podcast The Fourth Antiphon, to be found on Ancient Faith Radio as well as Spotify, Apple Music, and wherever you find your podcasts!
Fr. Jonathan Bannon–a priest, an OCF advocate (he was the spiritual father at the last College Conference Midwest!), and a talented graphic designer–drew up a Lenten infographic that’s perfect for college students.
Here are 7 tips for getting into the spiritual gym and getting yourself ready for Pascha!
The best way to start Lent is on a clean slate. Confession is a good way to grow closer to the Lord and learn from your spiritual father. Your OCF chapter chaplain is very qualified to hear your confession. Confession helps you understand your flaws even deeper and is a good place to know where to start. With confession, you can take all your sorrows to the Lord and start anew. A good resource for guiding yourself in Holy Confession can be found here. Ask yourself the questions and humble yourself so you can be resurrected in Christ!
Communion is the pathway to Life. John 6:53-54:
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
Lent is impossible without the help of our Lord. Learn to depend more and more on our Lord so you can become closer to Him. Many parishes also hold Presanctified Liturgies where you can get some extra strength from our Lord throughout the week.
Be a little more generous and more lenient with people. Hold your tongue. Monetary donations are not necessary (but if you are moved to give, OCF is a wonderful place to donate that money). You could also donate your time to perform any of the charitable acts described in the beatitudes.
Pray the St. Ephraim Prayer Daily
O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
The prayer of St. Ephraim just puts you into the Lenten mood. Each of the sentences is usually followed by a prostration. HERE is some of the spiritual gymnastics that Lent can call for. Get your blood flowing in the morning and night in devotion. Many prayer books have the St. Ephraim prayer built into them, so you may just need to look for it.
Be in Church (and OCF) More
Being in the home of Christ will help you stay in the Lenten mood. Your spiritual battery might need some more juice during these stricter times. Another great reason to be in church more is that there is camaraderie with the people who are undergoing the same struggle. Share your triumphs, ask for advice, and swap recipes–you’re not alone in this struggle. Your OCF is another great resource for finding this camaraderie.
Hide Your Fasting
Fasting is an important part of Lent because it helps us focus on what really matters–relying on God in all things. However, it is important that you try to let your fasting be between you and God (and your spiritual father). Fasting is a tool for self-control, not an ends in and of itself. Fasting is a way for you to train your spiritual muscles, so get to the gym! Please also do not try to make others feel bad about their commitment to fasting, although do not be afraid to encourage others! Sometimes people just need a little push, but do not let prideful thoughts take over because that defeats the whole purpose of fasting. Here is a great guide for some Lenten recipes curated by your OCF board!
When You Fall, Get Back Up!
This is the most important part of Lent. If you break the fast, it’s not the end of the world. We are human, we will fall. The important thing is not to let yourself keep falling, but instead stand up and keep trying. No one can run a marathon without training; use Lent as a training period to come closer to the Lord!
Lenten season! Oh yes! Who’s excited? This guy’s excited!
There’s just a different feeling when Lent comes around. If you got to attend Forgiveness Vespers on Sunday evening, you know what I’m talking about. The music changes, the color changes, the hymnography is different. The transition to Lent, for which we have been preparing for so long, has final finished. We have arrived.
The moment it hit me was Saint Ephraim’s prayer. It’s an incredibly powerful prayer that is characteristic of Lent. If you’re not familiar with it, it goes as such:
Oh Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yeah oh Lord and King, grant me to see my own sings, and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed, unto ages of ages. Amen.
Oof. Like, c’mon. Let’s break that down, bit by bit.
Oh Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth–
Let’s go. It’s game time. This is Lent, this is our salvation, this is our life. We don’t have time for slothful. Let’s get it movin’.
And we’re going to need to be brave about it, too.
–lust of power–
Lent isn’t about proving what we can do. It isn’t about fasting as hard as possible just so we can say we did, sending Snapchats of our vegan meals to our friends and family members so that they can see our effort. Lent is about the discipline of the self, not the aggrandizing of it. Publican, not Pharisee.
–and idle talk.
This one is twofold, I’d say. Firstly, we want to abstain from gossip, from foul language. Lent is a good time for silence, so if we’re going to speak, let’s make it count. Secondly, let’s make it count. If we said we were going to fast, if we said we were going to make a Lenten effort, let’s not take that idly. Horton Hears A Who, man. Mean what you say, and say what you mean.
But give rather the spirit of chastity–
There’s gotta be purity. Lent is about removing the worldly distractions between us and the Lord. Food can be one of those worldly distractions, but there are others, and we should be aware of and prepared for that.
Oof. The toughest of the tough. Humility. Remember, being humble isn’t about being low, it isn’t feeling poorly about ourselves. Humility comes from the same root word as hummus–it means being of the earth, being earth level, being exactly where and who we are. Lent is an opportunity for self-realization, for introspection, and we can capitalize on that.
Oof. The second toughest. That’s the thing about Lent, it’s a forty-day process for a reason. Growth occurs over time, and that’s really frustrating when you want to grow. It’d be ideal if it occurred, you know, now. But it doesn’t, and it won’t. So if the Lenten effort doesn’t have a marked change in your life in the first week; the second week; the third week; that’s okay. Keep on that grind. It’s comin’.
–and love to Thy servant.
And love. I’m not going to presume to have words for love.
But I like ‘Thy servant’ a lot. That’s an important reminder for us. We need to go into Lent with role definition, an understanding of who we are: servants of Christ. It validates our obedience during the Lenten season.
Yeah oh Lord and King–
–grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother–
The Publican and the Pharisee. The Prodigal Son. Zacchaeus Sunday. If there’s anything these preparatory Sundays tell us, it’s that our own sin is the focus. The Pharisee was stuck on his successes; the elder son, on his brother’s sins; the people, on Zacchaeus’ natural limitations. The focus is on the scariest thing: our own sins, our own failures, and what we can do to address them.
–for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
When praying Saint Ephraim’s prayer, the prescription is to do a full prostration after each stanza, for three total. My hope is that this prayer hits you as hard as it hits me, that we can both make it part of our daily prayer rule this Lenten season.
Well, it’s certainly that time of year! If you aren’t already embroiled in your first finals of the 2016-2017 academic year, then they’re right around the corner.
Finals can be (read: are) a stressful time for students, and that stress manifests itself in different ways for different people. For Orthodox Christians particularly, our academic life can start to eat into our spiritual life. Long nights bent over the books can supersede evening prayers and preclude the morning ones as well; the urgency and time-consumption of impeding tests and due dates can supplant services over the weekend.
That’s okay, that’s a reality: the world has to be balanced, and all balancing requires sacrifice. Now, most people around you will advocate the sacrifice of the spiritual for the sake of studies–as they rightly should. They’re not Orthodox Christians (probably), so they don’t share your perspective, and if they are students, they understand the stress of finals. They will encourage you to empty yourself into your academic life. My goal, here, is to politely disagree.
Human beings were made for the glorification of God, and as such, there is no life outside of God. C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity:
God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
This, frankly, is pretty nuts. I mean, it’s something we all believe and accept, but if you apply it to your everyday life, it throws quite the wrench in things.
What do you do, when you’re sad and want to be happy? I watch Netflix, and if that doesn’t work, I keep watching Netflix anyway. I might talk to one of my close friends or loved ones. I’ll also get on Twitter and argue with someone about the Philadelphia Eagles.
What do you do, when you think about your long-term happiness? I think about my grades, definitely–they are the benchmark of success in my main occupation of life: college. I think about my friends and family, when I’ll get to see them next, how they’ll be with me throughout the years of my life. I think my job, at school and at camp, and the impact I’m making in my work.
What do you do, when you think about your even longer-term happiness? I think about the family I want to raise and the job I want to have. I think about how I’m going to impact the world and how awesome it will be. I also think about raising my family in the church.
Just there, for me, was the first time God got involved in the happiness quest. Not in the short-term, of today’s emotions; not in the long-term, of my yearly plans; but in the longer-term, of my five-year plan.
Fr. Paul Lazor always told me that happiness had the same root word as happenstance–and as such, it was just as coincidental. Happiness happens to you, it’s a feeling, and feelings are fleeting. They come and go with the wind, and are defined by many factors outside of our control.
Joy, on the other hand, is something far greater. It is a state of being that is rigid, that weathers the storm of circumstances and the fallen world. It is something we can only achieve in our relationship with God.
I make this distinction to say that, perhaps, like me, you might be happy if you did well on your finals–but, if the Divine Liturgy and daily prayers were sacrificed in this effort, you would feel no joy. That happiness would eventually dissipate–at the very least, by next semester, when the cycle repeats. Maybe you could sustain that happiness over your entire college career, graduate with that killer GPA, which will help you get that incredible job you’ve always wanted–maybe you can keep feeding the happiness, helping it endure. But eventually, the world might catch up with you, and the happiness will evaporate. And, if you’ve followed this successful path without God, you will be left without joy.
My encouragement to both you and to myself, my friend, is quite simple: do not forget God this finals season, this Christmas season, as the weight of the world and its temporal happiness would have you do. Do not sacrifice the rush of happiness for the enduring warmth of joy in the Lord.
P.S.: This is all quite well and good, but without concrete ideas on how to accomplish this, we may find ourselves stranded on a sea of ideals, without the paddle of actual practices. As such, here are a few things we can do to help achieve this remembrance of the Lord.