Why Real Break Is Better Than Camp

Why Real Break Is Better Than Camp

I know…a bunch of you are ready to fight me for such a bold and biased title.  I would say they paid me to write this, but being part of the SLB is entirely voluntary. Just hear me out, and afterward you are welcome to write Ben a counter-argument.  

1) You finally get to spend a week focused on your spiritual growth.

Most campers don’t know how to take ownership of their spiritual journey…they’re still trying to figure out if their skirts are long enough or if the counselors think they’re “cool”. Then, the counselors themselves are more focused on their campers’ experience at camp, or at least they should be.

Real Break is a chance to turn the focus back on you and your faith. While you are on your trip, whether it is a service project or a pilgrimage, you will have a moment, or ten, when this sense of peace fills you and you are simply reminded that “this came about from the Lord, and it is wonderful in our eyes.” Psalm 117(118):23

2) It’s like camp, but in March, with better food, and for adults-in-training

Confession time: I still miss camp, even after four years of adulting. Post Camp Depression (PCD) never truly goes away. But, to spend a week, away from the pressures of work and school and social media, surrounded by your brothers and sisters in Christ…I don’t know about you, but that was my favorite part about camp and is my favorite part about Real Break. You’re with 10 to 20 other college kids…adults…adults-in-training, and nobody knows anybody, yet within the first day, you will find that you have become a family.

Note: If you’re that person that decided to spend your Real Break maintaining your snap streaks…don’t. I promise you’ll get more out of it if you go off the grid. I recommend journaling (with pen and paper) instead.

3) Real Break is a once-in-a-lifetime experience

The trips and retreats organized by OCF are truly unique. First, they are pan-Orthodox. Unlike most church camps, your Real Break trip will have students from a variety of jurisdictions and from all over North America. The group itself is about as diverse as it gets.

Second, the trip’s mission presents a unique opportunity. The places you go and the things you’ll do will allow you to grow as an Orthodox Christian and simultaneously interact with a community that is not your own, yet welcomes you with open arms. Each Real Break trip has a different mission, but all have the same objective: to provide college students with a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I genuinely believe we accomplish that year after year.


Hi y’all! My name is Anna Sobchak, and I am so excited to be the Real Break Student Leader for this coming year. My OCF story has been filled with amazing brothers and sisters in Christ, some that I see at church every Sunday, and others that I’ve met through our National Programs, such as Real Break. Whether it’s dancing through the streets of Thessaloniki, praying on the coast of the Sea of Galilee, or hiking up to the monasteries of Meteora, these are the moments that have defined my college experience, and I can’t wait to share that with all of you.

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.

Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) Announces 2018 Real Break Trip to Albania in Partnership with Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC)

Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) Announces 2018 Real Break Trip to Albania in Partnership with Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC)

BROOKLINE, MA — Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF), the official collegiate campus ministry program under the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, is partnering with the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), the official missions agency of the Assembly, to offer students an opportunity to serve in Albania on a new Real Break initiative.

Trip participants will partake in a conference for young adults from throughout Albania, hosted and planned by OCMC missionaries and Albanian youth leaders. They will experience the transformation that Christ brings to the lives of young people who are hungry for a relationship with Him through His Church.

The 2018 Real Break trip to Albania will take part in an event that draws college students and young adults together from throughout Albania to engage them and connect them with the Orthodox Church of Albania and its Youth Office. The Team will also offer outreach at the University of Tirana to bring an awareness of Christianity and the programs of the Church in Albania. Members will visit various ministries of the Church and witness the Orthodox Faith as part of the annual evangelistic outreach sponsored by OCMC and the Church in Albania. OCMC long-term missionaries Dn. Stephanos Ritsi and Dkn. Alexandria Ritsi will lead the Team. The goal of the OCMC/OCF Real Break trip is to foster a love for outreach and develop a lifelong thirst for missions among college students.

Registration is now open and space is limited. To secure a spot, an interested participant must register online at www.ocf.net/real-break-2018 with a $200.00 deposit.

OCF transforms the lives of college students in the United States and Canada by guiding them along the path to Jesus Christ through His Church, cultivating a campus community of worship, witness, service, fellowship and education. OCMC’s mission is to make disciples of all nations by bringing people to Christ and His Church so that all people may come to know the saving love of our Lord: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

You can learn more about the ongoing work of these vital ministries by visiting ocf.net or ocmc.org, or emailing info@ocf.net or missions@ocmc.org.

Giving in a Time of Crisis

Giving in a Time of Crisis

It’s really, really tough to be a college student in a time of crisis.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently–how could you not? In the football-related work that I do, I interact with a really large network of people around the country–which is awesome, but also quite eye-opening. As such, I worked directly with a few people who had to evacuate and experienced flooding during Hurricane Irma; because it’s football work, I was exposed a ton to Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt’s national campaign to raise money for Houston following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey; a lot of media folks live in California, where fires have been burning homes and polluting the air; and that doesn’t even touch those in Puerto Rico, many of whom are currently without clean water.

Things are not good on the natural disaster front.

As a college student, this can be incredibly frustrating. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have the funds with which you can make a monetary impact on these events as each arrives–if so, count your blessings. I would venture to say that many of us aren’t there.

The question becomes, of course, what can we do? I don’t have a comprehensive list, nor am I well-versed in all of the various opportunities/outlets that exist (please comment below and on social media with cool stuff you do), but I can tell you about what I think and what I’ve done.

I think it’s very easy to forget that our greatest agency, whether we can give $1 or $1,000, isn’t in the money we give, but rather our prayers. And we really have to be careful of muddling that priority list: reducing prayer to “well, at least I’m doing this” or “well, I can’t really give that much, so I’ll pray instead.” Because donations are more publicly visible, more empirically tangible, they feel more impactful.

When you give money online to relief funds, bright little graphics pop up, and you’re thanked by the program and so on. Why? To make you feel that initial jolt, that rush of altruism. When you pray for the suffering, when you pray for the first responders, when you pray for the safety of the world, you’re usually rewarded by the same stillness and silence of the room in which you are. Little emoji prayer hands don’t start popping up, as if you’re gaining experience points in some video game.

The hope is, of course, that your prayer is so fervent and heartfelt that you might truly experience, viscerally, that interaction you just had with God’s grace and mercy. The reality–at least for me–is that I’m not nearly a good enough supplicant to regularly have that experience. And, as such, it is easy to feel effete and irresponsible–like we are not doing enough. But there is nothing we can do–mankind, in all of our combined efforts–that holds a candle to what the Lord can do, through his long-suffering and compassion. It is important to remember this.

via Wikimedia Commons

It is also important, however, to do what we can in the world with our resources. Remember the tale of the man on the roof in the flood who denied the boat and the helicopter and the rescuers, because he was so faithful God would save him. When he died and saw God, he asked why God had not rewarded his faith: God said that He had…with a boat and a helicopter and rescuers.

So, what can we do, in the face of our limited resources? The first, easiest answer is to give what we can. Sure, one college student may not offer much–but there’s quite a good deal of us in OCF, you know. Through our community, our efforts are multiplied.

We can also recognize that immediate aid to places in dire need, while primary and necessary and invaluable, isn’t the only aid. On Real Break New Orleans this past March, a few of my fellow students and I toured through the Lower Ninth Ward, beholding destruction you wouldn’t believe happened twelve years ago. OCF offers many activities that are service-based–primarily a giving of time, rather than a giving of money–throughout the year, including YES College Days and Real Break trips.

Finally, I think it’s important to do little things–no matter how small. Not simply for the sake of it–just to say you did–but because, as an Orthodox Christian, giving to those in need should become a fixture of your life. Remember, the values and habits you construct now follow you into adulthood–without a dedication to helping those in need now, you’ll struggle to develop the habit when you have the resources. Using small, convenient outlets like freerice.com or Charity Miles help you have a consistent impact, without putting you in a financial bind.

Welcome to college: with an increase in choice comes an increase in responsibility. One of my favorite Bible quotes comes from Jesus (shocker), when He was hyping the disciples up in the upper room before His Crucifixion–I’ve probably told this to every camper I ever had:

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

 – John 13:17

You know things. But that isn’t enough. That just gets you to the battlefield–now, you’ve gotta do stuff, too. It’s time for action.

Real Break Reflection | Say Yes To The Thess

Real Break Reflection | Say Yes To The Thess

Racing the setting sun, we scurried down Thessaloniki’s veins in search of the perfect souvenirs. Convenience stores were swarmed, pharmacies flooded, cafes crowded. In the heat of this serendipitous rush, I looked for some sort of affirmation in the reflections of the city’s snow globes and edges of its fancy fridge magnets. I craved some sense of accomplishment, the kind one usually gets when buying ornate souvenirs, the kind that gives you a “wow what a trip” sort of smile. But whatever I was searching for, it was already there, more than it had ever been in any nick knack store across the world.

Who knows, maybe it was because I finally got to use my plethora of My Big Fat Greek Wedding quotes in one week. But when I thought back on this trip in that moment, and still now, all I could think of was not the impressive sights but rather the overflowing waves of love.

Real Break Thessaloniki was incredible to say the least. Saying it was the best way I could’ve spent my spring break is still under-selling it. Words can’t describe what it’s like to walk in the footsteps of great saints, seeing the marketplace where St. Paul spoke to the Thessalonians, the river bend where he baptized the first European, and the cave where St. Gregory Palamas spent five years of his life praying to God to light up the darkness in his spiritual life. Seeing the struggles our faith has endured come to life in these 1500-year-old churches and monasteries once transformed into mosques now standing as strong as ever was so deeply inspiring, and talking to living icons of Christ was even more so.

From Nobel peace prize nominees saving the souls of prisoners to priests turned robotics coaches giving Greece’s most underprivileged community and children a chance at a better life, Christ’s love was manifest everywhere. Having returned from this magical place, where churches filled every other block and love saturated the air, I can definitely say I came back with something I didn’t have enough of before.

Taking in this “real break” from the stress of senior biochem electives, the medical school application process and just the daily race we’re so immersed in here in America, I’ve definitely been able to refocus on what’s important in this life and have made some amazing friends in my fellow Real Breakers who came all this way looking for the same thing.

I’m so glad I said yes to the Thess and can’t wait to see next year’s Real Breakers fall deeper in love with His love on this trip, too.


Naim Mekdessi is a third-year Biochemistry major minoring in Chinese and Medicine & Society at the University of Houston and is proud to call himself a member of Houston’s huge OCF chapter. In his free time, Naim likes to learn new languages. With six already under his belt along with a couple of Chinese tongue twister awards, he can’t wait to go explore the world some more and maybe learn a new tongue or two in the process.