Real Break Now: How it came to be. How it’s going. How to be the church in the world.

Real Break Now: How it came to be. How it’s going. How to be the church in the world.

After serving in Romania on Real Break 2020, I applied to be Real Break Student Leader for Orthodox Christian Fellowship. I wanted to help create other service opportunities for students. What a whirlwind of a year! Back in early Fall 2020, we did not know how long the pandemic would last, and we kept running into barriers in planning. We did our best trying to navigate traveling precautions and eventually saw most schools cancelling their spring breaks. As the year progressed, it became obvious that a traditional Real Break would not happen. To be completely honest, this was frustrating and disappointing. I found myself nervous I would not be able to do the work of my position on the Student Leadership Board. This time was trying, but it was still fruitful!

With a desire to empower students to serve their communities, especially with increased need due to COVID-19, a new program was created! A dedicated team of OCF staff and friends listened to me as I brainstormed ideas, and thus, a flexible 16-week course with nine incredible instructors called Real Break Now: How To Be The Church in The World was formed. Students living in 22 different states and 5 different countries have come together to prepare for the opportunity to apply for two $1000 grants towards a project serving their community this summer.

I am incredibly grateful for each person who helped to make this happen. The students have put so much thought into the material. Here is just a glimpse of the topics we have discussed during the first three modules:

 

Module 1: How Orthodoxy is a Way of Life, Not Just a Religion, led by Fr. Nicholas Belcher

We discussed questions on how to avoid “Phariseeism,” stories of people who have impacted us spiritually, the interaction between church rituals and service, and actions we can take to make our faith more of a way of life. Here is what a few of our wonderful students have to say:

 

”I really like how Fr. Nick addressed the alleged dichotomy between church rituals and good deeds/service. Growing up Orthodox, I have always believed the Sacraments are important. In society, I feel like some say that the church is useless without service and living out the Gospel and act as if the two are mutually exclusive. I like how Fr. Nick simply points out that if you think about it, there is no reason for them to be mutually exclusive and that, in fact, they support one another and are both essential to follow The Way.” -Chase

”I’ve always admired the way that Orthodoxy encompasses all five senses – from the iconography (seeing), to incense (smelling), to Holy Communion (tasting), to the choir and chanters (hearing), to crossing and performing prostrations (feeling). Growing up in a protestant church, I always felt God was at arm’s length, that reverence was an old-fashioned notion. Once I stumbled across the Orthodox faith, (admittedly at first I was skeptical of my first Liturgy due to it being such a different service than I was used to), I could sense that Liturgy was/is so much more than a penciled-in Sunday appointment. Orthodoxy is a faith that brings together – even, as Fr. Belcher described – the seemingly opposing “works” and “spirituality” – We need both! And his talk was a needful, convicting reminder of this.” -Anna-Sophia

”I definitely struggle with living in the Way without making a checklist (lol), but I find I get closer to my spiritual best when I decelerate. Most of the best moments in my spiritual life happen when I slow down, reflect, and truly focus on God and the moment. My faith becomes a checklist when life speeds up, I let myself get too busy, and I start to rush through prayer, my interactions with others, etc. I try to avoid falling into “Phariseeism” by countering moments of pride with thoughts of thankfulness and humility. Galatians 2:20 has really helped me center myself in my spiritual journey; it is the only Bible verse I’ve ever memorized: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” -Peggy

“When he was talking about orthodoxy being a way of life, I got reminded of struggles that I used to have and that I may slightly struggle with to this day – putting God into every aspect of your life. Throughout high school and especially my first two years of college, I was very focused on my academics and career but I never put God into it. I never asked God to lead me, instead, I took things into my own hands. I felt like I was a part-time Christian because I was only asking Him for guidance concerning certain matters. But the thing is God should be put everywhere. He should be the light to your career, your friendships and bonds. Instead of telling God, “Please help me to get into this company I really want to intern with them,” maybe we ought to say, “Lord if it is Your will for me to work with this company then so be it, and if not, then may I be deterred from it.” When I started saying this prayer, I saw that was paving the way for me and it was very much clear.” -Kermena

  

Module 2: How to Have A Hospitable Heart, led by Georgia Mamalakis

We discussed how we have been affected by being given hospitality, the importance of being present, how to cultivate a welcoming spirit, and shared practical suggestions with each other.

 

“I think too often I don’t approach people or am not hospitable because of my own pride- I think do I want to add one more person who could potentially judge me to this moment, or would I rather stay in a safe shell? As soon as we are hospitable to someone and invite them in, we have the potential to get hurt by them, too. And I think that’s where the second point is so important- being hospitable to Christ and having Him dwell in you and giving you that God-esteem, which helps us to be hospitable to ourselves by knowing Christ is in us. Allowing ourselves to give and serve out of pure philanthropia and philoxenia means overflowing with love that we just give in abundance to everyone we meet, not thinking about how they might perceive/judge us in return. Unconditional love is giving without expecting any love back, but it’s also giving without worrying about/expecting certain reactions or approval for self-assurance.” -Nicole 

“One of the things Mrs. Mamalakis mentioned that stuck with me was that we should “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” I think that’s something I struggle with. I might do something nice for someone, but there are times when I’m thinking about how I don’t want to be doing it or what better things I have to do. This is something I need to work on, so that’s what I’m going to try in order to better cultivate hospitality.” -Jane

I had a realization the other day that absolutely blew my mind- maybe y’all have already mentioned or thought about this. The whole topic of hospitality has had such an impact on me in that I think it’s really the basis of the faith- you can’t trust, grow, or cultivate love without being hospitable to at least someone- Christ, your neighbor, or yourself. And I realized the absolute epitome of this is the Theotokos!!! She LITERALLY allowed the Holy Spirit inside of her and allowed Christ to dwell and be born in her, and then continued to give Him a place to lay his head, like Mrs. Mamalakis talked about. We are all called to be “God-bearers”, and since the Theotokos literally bore God, she is the perfect example of hospitality. -Nicole

 

Module 3: Cultivating A Spirit of Service, led by Katrina Bitar

We discussed barriers to serving, how service is about people instead of projects, and decompartmentalizing service. One of the questions covered was, “What are your thoughts on this quote from John Chrysostom: ‘Need alone is a poor man’s worthiness’?”

“This quote boils down all of the societal dynamics around service and giving to its key component: meet a need. No other factor should matter. We should not appoint ourselves judge over a poor man to try and determine whether or not his needs meet our standards. There is only one judge, God, and He is the only one who should judge. If a beggar is lying or deceitful about his need, then God will judge him, but if we don’t show him love and service, God will judge us. We must multiply the mercy God gives us constantly.” -Chase

“This quote perfectly anticipates the response of a hardened heart. Living in a big city, it is easy to become numb or even blind to the poverty and suffering around you. I could easily pass the same homeless man under the same bridge every day and think nothing of it. I love how, in the video and this quote, there is a focus on the softening of the heart and coming to realize our mutual humanity and share in the responsibility of clothing and feeding the poor. I also struggle with making excuses like “there are shelters for that” or “maybe it’s not safe.” But this is indicative of a hardened heart-this shrugs responsibility and places blame on others, caring only for oneself. This quote is humbling in just the right way.” – Cassidy

“Need alone is a poor man’s worthiness” A-MEN. It has taken me a while to truly understand this concept. The houseless in Louisville are often viewed with scorn and are often passed by. It is if not living up to the American Dream of Prosperity, with a house and happy family and a steady job, is a secular sin.” -Elijah

 

Thank you to everyone who has helped to create this beautiful community! Our course still has a few more weeks, and I look forward to learning more in our discussions and zoom calls.

Also, apply for the Student Leadership Board!! Engaging in fulfilling work and gaining friends who have become family has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. You could be a part of this community, too! Learn more about how to apply HERE.

Anna Spencer

is a senior at Kansas State University studying Nutrition & Health. She loves getting to know people, reading, traveling, eating good food, and anything outdoors (if it is not cold). She is Real Break Student Leader this year and is so grateful for the course she has been able to create and the people she has met through OCF programming!

My OCF Story | Vanessa Constantinidis

My OCF Story | Vanessa Constantinidis

In this series, “My OCF Story,” alumni share their experiences from their time in OCF and its impact on their transition and life in the post-grad real world.

Hello OCF community! My name is Vanessa Constantinidis and I am a former OCF Student Leadership Board member. I received both my undergraduate degree, in English & Italian, and my graduate degree, in Writing Studies, from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA. I currently work as the Associate Director of Admissions at Hellenic College Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, MA.

Perhaps my most memorable OCF experience was Real Break. My Real Break trip was not only a remarkable memory from OCF, but in life in general! In March 2014, I embarked on my Real Break journey to Romania where I had the opportunity to form relationships with other Real Break students, as well as, orphans, disabled children, elderly, and abused mothers of the Pro-Vita community. I recognized that this trip would impact me, however, I did not realize how my life would forever be changed due to the experiences I was given and the people I had the opportunity to meet.

Throughout our time with the Pro-Vita community, our group grew very close to one of the mothers. She had told us that she had not received communion in years because she was very scared of going to confession. The next day, after many of the Real Break students partook in the sacrament of confession—I saw her walk up to do the same. She later told us that we gave her the strength to go to confession and receive communion, and it was such a remarkable moment that I’ll never forget.

There are two places in the world where I’ve seen my Orthodox faith come to life in the purest form: my metropolis summer camp and in a remote little town in Romania called Valea Screzii. What do they have in common? In both environments, life is simple and Christ is in the center. Valea Screzii is a little piece of Heaven on Earth and all the love and faith in the community can truly move mountains.

I knew participating in OCF would enhance my spiritual life in college and give me the opportunity to connect with other Orthodox Christians—but I didn’t expect it to have as much of an impact as it has on my post-grad life. My involvement in Real Break and the Student Leadership Board, in particular, opened my eyes, not only to the spiritual and social benefits of OCF—but also the professional gains.

Fundraising for my Real Break trip just seemed like a means to an end at the time, but it equipped me with invaluable skills for my career in the non-profit world and in graduate school. Raising funds for my trip involved many speaking engagements, writing personalized letters to communities and donors, and building long-lasting relationships with people who believed in the mission of what I was doing. These skills allowed me to excel in grant writing courses in graduate school, and continue to assist within my role in admissions where I am regularly public speaking and building relationships with students. Additionally, serving as a member of the Student Leadership Board instilled team-building and leadership skills in me, and showed me that a group of young college students can come together and change the world.

It’s so important to join OCF in college because you never know where it may lead you! It’s crazy looking back at my first OCF meeting, where I joined simply because I wanted to have in-depth conversations with other Orthodox Christian students. Jumping forward to now—where my involvement with OCF has led me to working for the Church. I know that wherever my career leads me, I will always have OCF to thank for showing me how to live a balanced life with Christ in the center.

Get involved with OCF in any way you can and whatever way you feel comfortable (I would obviously suggest a Real Break trip or applying to be on the SLB). OCF has the power to shape your spiritual, personal, and professional growth—if you let it. Also, never stop praying.


Vanessa Constantinidis, a Philadelphia native, holds an undergraduate degree in English and Italian and a graduate degree in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA. After several years of working in international education, and in admissions for her alma mater—her love for counseling students and her Greek Orthodox faith led her to Hellenic College Holy Cross in Brookline, MA, where she currently serves as the Associate Director of Admissions. When she has free time, she loves reading, writing, exploring different cities in the U.S., or planning her next international trip.

Real Break Romania | Where You Meet Your Family

Real Break Romania | Where You Meet Your Family

I remember when I was going on college visits with my dad, we would be sitting in info sessions, and no matter where we were, he would look on his phone to see where the nearest Greek Orthodox Church was. I always rolled my eyes at him.

The Orthodox Church played a big role in my life growing up, but I never realized how much of an impact it could have on my life going into the future. While I was at the University of Tulsa, there weren’t many Orthodox kids my age, and I didn’t really connect to the Orthodox Church there. My dad would get on to me for not getting more involved, and I would roll my eyes at him again.

It wasn’t until my senior year that I really connected to the Tulsa church.  I went on my first Real Break trip to Alaska, and after that incredible experience, I knew I had to do another trip. So this year I packed my bags and headed off to Romania.

If I could sum up three things that I’ve learned from Real Break Romania, these would be them:

1. If you allow it, God can use you do to some incredible things

We had the privilege to speak to Father Tenase, the priest who started Pro Vita Orphanage. It all started when they received one baby and went knocking on doors to see if anyone would take him, and now they provide a home for more than 400 people.

During our daily debriefs with our group at the end of each night, we repeatedly referred to Father Tenase as a “firecracker” because his heart is so on fire to serve God and the community there. Whatever he feels called to do, he finds a way to get done and doesn’t ask questions. To sum it up, we all need to be like Father Tenase and go wholeheartedly towards what we are called to do. Be a firecracker.

2. The friendships you make are unlike any other.

There’s something about the relationships you build with someone who shares your faith that creates a special bond. At the end of the trip we weren’t just friends, but family. And I do mean that quite literally, because one of the girls I met for the first time before getting on the plane to Romania and I share the same extended relatives. So quite literally, you meet your family.

Last year I went on Real Break Alaska, and since that trip, we have been fortunate enough to have multiple reunions with most of the participants from all over the states. This year in Romania, I immediately became close to the participants I didn’t already know, and it was truly a blessing to both be reunited with old friends and make new friends so quickly, creating a new family. I fully expect our group to get together for reunions as well. I knew when we were going our separate ways in the airport it wasn’t “goodbye”; it was “see you later.”

3. God answers prayers and shows his love in unexpected ways.

Before going on this trip, I had asked God to teach me how to show love towards the kids and make a positive impact on their lives. Turns out, the exact opposite ended up happening. These kids poured out their love to me, and I learned so much just from being around them a short amount of time.

One child in particular stood out to me: Rares. He is so energetic and such a joy to be around. He’s an avid chanter at church and you could tell he was a leader in the community. Pro Vita puts an emphasis on family, so Rares would often say to me, “I love you, my sister,” out of the blue while walking around or just hanging out. I was truly touched that the kids considered us family when we had only been there a few days.

On our last night in Romania, Rares changed my phone background to a picture of us together and then told me to wait where I was because he had to get something from his room for me. When he returned, he gave me a heart shaped pillow so I would always remember him. You better believe I didn’t just cry, I ugly cried when I had to say goodbye to him.

I learned so much – not only from Rares, but from all of the kids we met – about how to love other people and be a positive light even in the darkness.


Kerri is originally from Little Rock, AR and is a recent graduate from the University of Tulsa. She attends Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Tulsa, OK, and when she’s not teaching Sunday school you can find her traveling, running, dancing, or eating ice cream.