I think October may be my favorite month of the OCF season. Obviously, it’s Orthodox Awareness Month, so a ton of chapters across the nation are completing challenges and racking up points as they grow the influence and awareness of their OCF chapter. That’s unquestionably dope.
October is also awesome because there’s so many things for which to register–College Conference and Real Break are the first two, big programs that come to mind. The majority of the registrants for these programs come in this month, as students start planning how they’ll stay involved with OCF over their breaks.
But my favorite part of October is the massive swell of Regional Retreats (and other regional/district events, such as YES College Days). Though those big national programs have great merit, the power of OCF will always be the chapter life, and from the chapter life effortlessly blossoms the district and regional community.
Which brings us to the best thing ever: Regional Retreats.
Peter Savas, ladies and gentlemen
If you’re in the Midwest (what’s good fam?) then I have great news and terrible news: you have a Regional Retreat coming up!…and it’s already full. But hey: Northeast and Northwest–get a move on!
Mid-Atlantic? Yinz..Y’inz’s?…y’all’s already happened. Hope you didn’t slack.
I like to tout district and regional events as that natural extension of chapter life, but even for folks like me without a chapter, regional life becomes all the more crucial. It is the closest replacement for chapter life that can be achieved. I still remember my first Regional Retreat fondly: organized by current SLB chairwoman Nicole Petrow (but not really, shouts to Amelia Barron and Alexandra Mamalakis), it finally gave me a taste of that which I always imagined OCF provided.
I rolled up to Kenosha, Wisconsin in Peter Savas’s car, having endured the 1.5 hour trip through the Red Line and the Blue Line to make it to some church in northwest Chicago I didn’t even know. I sat in the back seat with Deanna Kolas and learned things about Minnesohta, like how to correctly pronounce Minnesohta.
We arrived late (100% Peter’s fault) and slid in to Fr. Patrick Reardon’s keynote session. Fr. Patrick’s mind-blowing, gang. He’s one of these priests that’s been everywhere and interfaced with every faith you can imagine and he just sat at a table with a Bible in front of him, quoting Scripture at least 200 times.
And he didn’t even open the Bible once. It was just there for show. The whole thing was up in his head.
He talked about the Stoics and Epicureans, the roles of women in the church, stupid stuff that Paul did when he was evangelizing. I just sat there and thought to myself how he could probably take any one of my professors to town and back four times over. I’m pretty sure Peter and I also ended up busting out in silent laughter for some reason–you know, that pinch-your-nose-and-grab-your-sides-cause-you’re-trying-not-to-make-noise laughter? Can’t for the life of me remember why. I feel like Welch’s fruit snacks were involved, but that’s all I’ve got.
Fr. Pat, with Bible.
I had cool camp connections with a bunch of people I didn’t think I would–I knew Elias Pagones’ sister and somebody’s else’s friend or cousin or something. Maria Pavlos and I talked bands (Glass Animals is Top-5 and alt-J is Top-3 don’t @ me) for like, two hours around the bonfire, and then proceeded to have a random Facebook Messenger conversation about it a few weeks post-retreat. Alexandra Mamalakis and I talked half-marathons and all the smart people in her family at 1 in the morning.
And we served a Paraklesis by candlelight. That was a fantastic Paraklesis.
Everything I ever wanted to get out of OCF, I got in little bite-sized pieces over that weekend. I miss St. Iakovos Retreat Center and the hanging icons in the tiny chapel and the unique icon of Christ in the welcome lodge. I miss that written telephone game and the huge monastery where I went to communion at the wrong time.
And that Midwest Retreat that’s all filled up? Yeah, I’m one of the names on the outside looking in.
I’ve got work that weekend–and don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I write about football. It’s the ideal situation for me, given that my usual outlet for work avoidance was, uh, football-watching. But I want to get back to that retreat more than just about anything, and I can’t.
Try a Regional Retreat. Not for me, but for yourself–unless “for me” really motivates you, in which case, try a Regional Retreat for me. If you’ve already gone, go again, because we should but I can’t so you must.
And be sure to remember what fruit snack-related humor puts you in stitches when you’re there.
Have you ever met someone and just felt at home? Yes? Well, have you ever met a group of people and felt the same way within 48 hours? Most people don’t. And yet, at all the OCF retreats that I’ve been to, I have found this to be a common theme.
These retreats are great because you get to learn more about your faith and, at the same time, connect with people who have the same core values as you. At the past Northeast Regional Retreat, which I attended from March 3rd-5th, I learned more about “Breathing Underwater: Yearning for Stillness and Communion.” Living as a college student on a college campus, it can definitely feel as if you are underwater. Many of the things that surround you do not revolve around Christ, or the Church, and much even defies the Church’s teachings. It can be hard to practice your faith while constantly being in this environment. Furthermore, it can be difficult to find other Orthodox students on campus who share your beliefs.
By being in an Orthodox setting, surrounded by Orthodox students my age for about three days straight, I was truly able to get to the surface. As I listened to Deacon Tishel’s talks and had amazing fellowship with the other students, I was finally able to gulp in the fresh air after having to hold my breath for so long. I cherish these retreats very much, as they are a way to re-energize my soul before having to re-enter the cold water.
When I go back to campus after the retreats and feel my head becoming enclosed by water again, I know that I will have the strength to breath underwater. I know that I can rely on my faith and the Church to help guide me through the currents, and the people that I’ve met at the retreats to lend me some oxygen when I think I am starting to run out.
I am very thankful for Orthodox Christian Fellowship and the retreats that they offer. A big thank you to Spyridoula Fotinis and Elias Pappas for organizing this last retreat. You guys did an amazing job! I can’t wait for the next one!
Happy November everybody! As you all very well know by now, we feature an OCF region every month–this month, the Northwest Region wears the crown. But instead of doing our usually Regional all-star format, we decided to shake things up a bit, because the Northwest Region recently did something so psychedelic that we just had to share. With that, I turn things over to the Northwest Regional Student Leader, David Munkres:
This year, OCF history was made! You’re probably wondering what hadn’t been done in OCF yet: an annual Northwest Regional Retreat! Shocking, I know. It was the first one in recent memory and a great success. It left everyone speechless and renewed, ready to go back to the spiritual trenches of a college campus.
We went to St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery in Goldendale, Wa. It was about five hours away from Seattle, four hours from Portland, four hours from Spokane and seven hours from Boise. A great location to equally inconvenience everyone who traveled. The theme was “Incarnating Christ in the Midst of the Modern World,” and the keynote speaker was THE Abbot Tryphon. Fr. Tryphon is the Abbot of All Merciful Savior Monastery on Vashon Island in Washington. He bought with him Bishop Athanasios from Kenya. The two of them gave a series of talks on Friday night and Saturday morning that left everyone in awe. It was like watching two theological giants waging war and we benefited. Look for the talks to be uploaded to the OCF podcast series (shameless plug for Dan).
We arrived at the Monastery on Friday and got to know one another for a few hours. The bookstore at the Monastery got a lot of money as we bought icons, prayer ropes and books. The Sisters were gracious and let us tour the Monastery and see everything it had to offer. After Vespers, we got to hear His Grace talk about Orthodoxy in Kenya and how he feels inspired by seeing young people engaged in their faith. After hearing his hour long talk, Fr. Tryphon dismissed the adults and Bishop and gave us a small talk about the importance of fellowship. He talked about his experience setting up an OCF at a college in Seattle and how he loved seeing us get along. He lead some icebreakers and left us to play games and get to know one another/look for an Orthodox spouse.
Saturday was amazing! We got to witness a Bishop celebrating Liturgy at a Monastery. His singing voice gave everyone chills as it echoed throughout the walls of the Church. It was a blessing to see such an amazing service. After coffee hour, we got to hear from Fr. Tryphon again. His nearly two-hour talk left everyone inspired. It was so quiet you could hear a prayer rope drop. Everyone spent the next few hours just walking around the Monastery and talking as we digested the Abbot’s words. Everyone felt as if they had received a second wind and could be a vessel of Christ’s love to others.
It is as St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire the spirit of peace, and a thousand
souls around you will be saved.” This really became clear after hearing this talk, which will be available on AFR in the near future. Later, we did a service project by helping to renovate the area where the goats lived. We moved heavy food containers and dug trenches to re-direct water. After Vespers, a Sister came by the guest houses and read stories of miracles worked by the Theotokos. This is a hand-written book that is only at the Monastery. Everyone left with a sense of awe and a desire to know the Mother of God better. We then socialized more and went to bed very late. We departed after coffee hour on Sunday.
You can find out more about retreats going on in your region–or, even closer to you, in your district–right here!
Stop. Reflect how OCF has impacted you. This was what I was asked to do. So many joys have come to the forefront of my mind while contemplating this. Here are some notes regarding my experiences with OCF:
It’s safe to invite my friends.
One of my favorite moments from a retreat was when a girl I had just met, who wasn’t Orthodox, told me how loved and accepted she felt by everyone. “No one makes me feel weird for not being Orthodox. Everyone is so loving and accepting here.” Where else can you go where you can experience such a saturation of Christ’s love? Church, definitely, but OCF is always an incredible encouragement and consistent reminder that Christ is among His people. He is so living, relevant, and more than able to heal our deepest wounds.
All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. –1 Cor 16:20
It has reminded me of how I can serve.
Having grown up attending small OCA churches, sometimes I felt like I had no voice as a youth. This often frustrated me because it made me feel underestimated. I knew I had abilities, and I wanted to serve God and have my ideas heard. Maybe that was just the inward teenager saying, “I MATTER TOO! Don’t I?” Yet, to this day I have never attended a church meeting. (I’m working on it.) I’m sure I’m not alone.
OCF really does provide youth with an opportunity to turn ideas into action, by providing leadership opportunities and putting together some incredible service projects at College Conference East and on the more local level, like the Southeast Regional Retreat WorkDaze. Through these opportunities, I have been re-enlightened with the vision of what the Church should be and, in return, can bring it back to my parish. (The youth from my parish are now making prayer ropes and cookies to help with an upcoming outreach in my hometown! Even some OCFers offered to help!)
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. –1 Tim 4:12
It has sustained my confidence in the spiritual health of the Church.
Being exposed to so few Orthodox youth my age, I was convinced that the Church was going to die out, and I was pretty depressed about it, rightfully so. Seeing so many youth my age for the first time at the Southeast WorkDaze Retreat made my heart swell up with so much joy! I can’t even put it into words. I remember some of the first encounters I had and, looking back, I realize they are now some of my absolute closest friends. God will never let His Church be shaken!
Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. –Psalm 62:2
It has made me bolder about sharing my faith.
I know I was one of two Orthodox on my college campus. Dang. Talk about rough. However, OCF gave me a huge platform to talk about my faith, invite friends, and share what I had been learning with those I knew at school. So, even though my campus never had an official OCF, the ministry was still impacting my campus! I am so thankful for all of the encouragement my OCF friends have given me. It helps not feeling like an island when you are surrounded by thousands of people. I could always point to OCF and say, “Look! I’m not crazy! Other people believe this too! They even know how to Greek and Arabic dance!”
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. –2 Cor 3:12
It makes the Church accessible and assists in the great commission.
OCF enables us as college students to make an incredible impact for the Gospel of Christ on our campuses and in the world! (Yes, the world. Think about it. Most campuses have international students. Don’t they?) Think… College students are often solidifying their beliefs during this time of their life. We may be the only Bible they ever read! Thus, I urge you, live a life worthy of the calling of Christ and invite others to partake in the beauty of the Kingdom! It doesn’t matter if your classmate looks at you funny for inviting them to a small get-together, a meeting, or a retreat. Many are walking around waiting for someone to invite them in and accept them. Be of good courage! Christ is faithful.
God is faithful, by whom you were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. –1 Cor. 1:9
It has shown me how to live in one accord.
I LOVE praying with everyone. Besides praying in community, we live life together. We celebrate weddings and namesdays, weep with those who weep, and overall lift one another up with prayer and encouragement. I love getting to do phone call Bible studies or hearing a simple, “Hey, can you help me stay awake while driving?” phone call. We sometimes even do mini road trips to volunteer at festivals or attend in-state or out-of-state retreats and families open their homes graciously.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. –Phil 2:1-2
Final question: Is it worth taking time to cram in the projects to go on the next OCF retreat?
But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. –Jude 1:20-21
Glory to God!
Nicole Homyk (Jackie), 22, is a recent Winthrop University graduate as of May 2016 with degrees in Special Education and Elementary Education. She is currently living in a retirement community by the South Carolina coast and will gladly host visitors! In her spare time, you may find her paddle boarding, speaking with international strangers, applying to graduate schools/missions opportunities, or babysitting for families that might have too many children.
Bumper to bumper traffic!? It’s starting to drizzle and we were supposed to be there two hours ago. But, here we are, stuck in traffic and I have to open registration in five minutes.
To say the least, trying to plan a regional retreat can be stressful. You plan and plan, but when the day comes it’s out of your control. … It’s in God’s hands and without fail, everything always works out better than ever imagined.
When you spend time with people who are brimming with Christ’s love, words are never enough to describe the time spent together. The Northeast Regional Retreat was centered around the idea of “Looking Beyond Appearances” and in doing so, learning more about who we are, who God is, and who our neighbors are. Each of us–consciously or unconsciously–did just that.
From the moment everyone came in and started to get to know one another, all “masks” were put away and time was spent together in prayer, in laughter, and in deep conversation, questioning and struggling to grow together in our spiritual lives.
During the three short days we were with one another, we grew together because Christ was at the center: He was in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts. I would even go as far to say that we became a little family, filled with unique and wonderful people who all clicked so well. We listened to each other, we teased each other, we prayed together, and we spent a couple of early morning hours snacking away in the kitchen looking at all the exotic animals we could purchase online. What more can you ask for in a weekend?
One of my favorite moments, out of the countless favorites, was when the large group of people playing cards all suddenly disappeared. We found them finishing up an Akathist in the chapel, about to begin a Paraklesis. As everyone joined in the chapel, time ceased to exist as we chanted with all our hearts, singing various hymns and songs in different languages from unique practices, the glow of the candlelight illuminating every person’s face.
Even though the time to depart always arrives too soon, it is a blessing to know that the Christ-filled people you spent the weekend with are still close to you through prayer and are just a phone call or message away if you need anything. What always amazes me is that each person is so willing to keep in touch and to help each other draw closer to Christ.
Ben’s post said it perfectly, register and go. God takes care of the rest.
Spyridoula Fotinis is a sophomore in International Studies at County College of Morris. She currently serves as the Northeast Student Leader on the 2016-2017 Student Leadership Board.