Time to Hit the Gym

Time to Hit the Gym

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!

  1. Confess

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!

  1. Commune

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. 

  1. Become Charitable

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. 

  1. 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. 

  1. 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. 

  1. 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!

  1. 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! 

Saint Ephraim’s Prayer

Saint Ephraim’s Prayer

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–

Yeah. Servant.

–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.

Whoo! Lenten season! Yes!


How to Prepare for Finals? | Happiness and Joy

How to Prepare for Finals? | Happiness and Joy

Photo via flickr by Pedro Szekely

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.

  1. Check out the Orthodox Prayer website for prayers before and after studying, among many other prayers.
  2. Organize a study session with OCF friends after Liturgy on Sunday
    1. Try to select a really cool spot on campus/in the city that’s near the church.
  3. As you’re about to write your name on your final exam, make the sign of the Cross.
  4. Share this article with someone else and promise one another you’ll remember God throughout your finals.
The Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer

“Pray the Jesus Prayer!” my friend shouts.

It’s a warm August day; I’m about eleven years old at the time. A number of my church friends and I are in a rowboat—probably too many of us in one boat, maybe a little too young to be out unsupervised.

“I’ve never had to row in wind this strong before,” a friend calls over the chaos of panicking kids.

“Um, okay, I guess let’s all try praying, guys,” I say quietly.

O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Three short years later, I am sitting in a dark hospital waiting room for what seems like the thousandth time. In my hands, I am holding the back brace that will turn me from a confident tomboy to a self-conscious teenager.


Credit to Art4TheGloryOfGod via flickr

“Walk up to the X-ray machine and stand straight,” I heard the familiar voice of the technician.

O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Fast forward another six years, and now I am teaching Sunday School. “Okay, everyone, today we are going to learn about the Jesus Prayer. Do you all know it? It goes like this: O Lord Jesus Christ…” “Have mercy on me a sinner!” I hear the group of six- and seven-year-olds say. I look up and smile, knowing that the Jesus Prayer is one of the first things we teach kids when they start Sunday School at age three.

You might be wondering why, at my church, children learn this prayer at such a young age, when they are probably too young to understand its meaning. Yes, it is in part because the prayer is short, but there is so much to it than that.

Earlier I mentioned two stories that have happened in my life where, momentarily, I genuinely felt afraid and alone. Remember the rowboat story? My friend’s older brother swam over and helped us row to shore, and moments later it seemed as though nothing had happened. And the hospital story? The X-ray clinic is a fading memory.

Likely some of you reading this right now are enduring trials much worse than the ones I have mentioned. Maybe, right now, you are living through some of the worst years of your life. I don’t know. Everyone faces different struggles in their lives.

The Jesus Prayer is so important to me because I associate it with God’s enduring work in my life over the years—the work of a God who was present somewhere even during the darkest moments, a God who will never abandon us. The words are so simple but so profound at the same time: O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. When I pray these words, I am also reminded of these words from the book of Deuteronomy: God will never leave you nor forsake you. If your heart is open to Him, of course God will have mercy on you! I hope this prayer can be a constant reminder to us of God’s enduring love for humankind.

Of course, praying is not magic, as several of my fellow Blog Contributors have dutifully reminded us over the past few weeks. I don’t pretend to understand how God works, and I don’t pretend to understand why it might sometimes seem as though our prayers go unanswered. But, all the experiences that I have associated with the Jesus Prayer over the past few years remind me that, despite moments of genuine fear and pain, we have a loving and merciful God, and that all our trials shall some day pass.

13161708_1015307835213376_5072390570379906980_oAnastasia Lysack in her third year of her Music degree at the University of Ottawa. She attends Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Ottawa, where she teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, volunteering, and visiting just about any coffee shop in the city of Ottawa.

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

“O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who art in all places and fillest all things, Treasury of blessings and giver of life: come and dwell in us, cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord.”

You may have heard this prayer before, but have you ever taken a second to think about who it is to? We have prayers to God (as a Trinity and in His various Persons), the Theotokos, and various saints: which one is this? As it turns out, this is the only prayer in Orthodoxy (as far as I know) to the Holy Spirit. Let’s break it down.

Of course, I am not an expert on this prayer. I have done no additional research on it for the sake of this article.

From the hand of Deacon Matthew Garrett

From the hand of Deacon Matthew Garrett

Everything I am about to say is stuff that I have learned or thought through, so I strongly encourage you to enhance your knowledge of this prayer by discussing it with a priest and thinking about it on your own.

There are two halves to this prayer. The first half outlines who the prayer is to, the second outlines the request (before adding more about who the prayer is to). The opening line are all phrases that Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit. He tells his disciples multiple times that He will send them “the Comforter,” instructing them to remain in Jerusalem until He does. In fact, one time He goes as far as to tell them that it was good that He was leaving them, because if He had remained on earth, the Comforter would not have come. He also refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth in the Gospels.



We go on to say that this Comforter and Spirit of Truth is in all places and fills all things. This is critical in the Orthodox understanding of the Kingdom of God and salvation, and it influences Orthodox architecture.

Let’s suppose for a moment that the purpose of life is to be where God is, and let us suppose that God is in heaven. Therefore, the purpose of life must be to get to heaven so that we can be with God. If we believe that God is in all places, this is problematic because God is already here. God is already present with us, wherever we are, whatever we are doing. We don’t need to get to some other place to be with Him. What does that mean about heaven? Well, it means that we get to live out the Kingdom of God here on earth by connecting ourselves to the God who surrounds us, filling all things. This is why Orthodox churches have domes, showing the encompassing presence of God, rather than steeples pointing to some place where we presume He is.

I know there is still more to unpack in the first half, but I don’t know enough to talk about it, so let’s move on to the second half. What are we asking this omnipresent Comforter, this Spirit of Truth? It looks to me like an invitation. We are simply saying: come, be with us. Whatever we are doing right now, come be a part of it so that what we do may become sanctified. Come live in me, that I may learn to live in you.

We get to live out the Kingdom of God here on earth by connecting ourselves to the God who surrounds us, filling all things.

 – Click here to tweet this quote!

One last thought about this prayer: remember it when Pascha comes around, because you will notice that we don’t say it any more. Once Christ is risen, He is with us. Like He said, the Comforter need not come while He’s here. After His ascension, we stop singing Christ is Risen, but we still don’t add this prayer back in. We wait 10 more days until the day of Pentecost, when the Comforter comes. On that day, that prayer is more powerful than ever, as for the first time in 50 days, we as a Church come together and ask the Holy Spirit to “come and dwell in us, cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Gracious Lord.”

May this prayer have new meaning to us whenever we say it, and may we remember it whenever we are doing anything for which we could use the Spirit’s guidance. May the Holy Spirit guide us all in this effort.