I went to the Midwest Regional Retreat this weekend, and before it was even halfway over, I couldn’t wait to tell you about it. Here goes.
Let’s start with where I was, where my mindset was, before the retreat.
I went in knowing just one person, and I expected to leave only knowing a few more. I’m definitely not the most social person on the face of the planet–I like to stick to myself. I didn’t have a cadre of compatriots from my local OCF chapter in tow with me. I hadn’t been a two- or three- or four-year attendee of this retreat. I was new, and being new is scary, and being new and not the most social person on the face of the planet is even scarier.
That’s where I was, this past Friday, the day before the retreat–but more importantly, that’s where I was, three weeks ago, when I registered for the retreat. Even in all of that scariness, I still registered.
Now, you probably won’t be exactly where I was, but you might be close to where I was. And despite where I was–unsure, hesitant, afraid–I still registered. That, my friends, is my first recommendation to you: register.
This is us. We’re pretty cool.
Most Regional Retreats are free. There’s neither harm nor foul in registering and being unable to attend. There is, however, both harm and foul in failing to register, then being able and willing and wishing to attend. The harm and foul being, of course, you miss out on the fantastic retreat.
Register. Register and get the drum-roll updates, register and get added to the Facebook group to start meeting your fellow retreat-mates. Register, and if you can’t make it, that’s okay. But don’t deprive yourself of the opportunity by failing to register. Don’t find yourself wishing you made a different decision three weeks ago.
Register, so that you can get to where I am now.
I feel so blessed. I only knew one guy headed to the retreat, and he had a spot in his car for me. The retreat was scheduled for my first weekend at college! One weekend earlier, and I wouldn’t have been able to make it. The schoolwork of the first week was not-so-overwhelming–not enough to prevent my attendance, at least. I’d even been to the retreat center before, which made me all the more comfortable.
Thank God that all of these factors came together as they did. I told you I expected to leave only knowing a few more people–I stand before you, proudly proclaiming that I know and love several. I laughed, almost to the point of tears, with a day-old friend over a poorly drawn picture of invisible guitars; I listened, awestruck, as yesterday’s strangers spoke about their pilgrimages to Greece and their life-long dream to live in the mountains; I sung, rather poorly, the Paraklesis service with twenty other Orthodox Christian college students, and our off-key stumblings were some of the most beautiful notes I have ever heard.
This serves my second point. If the first was register, the second is this: then go.
Yes, it is laughably simple, for my two recommendations for Regional Retreats to be register, then go. However, I cannot honestly give you more earnest advice. I cannot tell you how to handle your shaky expectations, your nervousness, for I had no solution myself! I simply registered nonetheless. Nor can I tell you how to handle yourself while you are there, for that belongs to you and to God, not to me. I simply arrived and was myself.
And it could not have possibly gone better.
How could you say no to free bagels? I certainly didn’t.
Last week, I encouraged you to check yourself: to look at who you were, who you wanted to become, and if you were trending in that direction. This was an examination of your growth, but on a macroscopic scale. I find myself taking the same check-in, but on a microscopic scale: comparing the individual I was before this weekend to the individual I am afterward.
The difference is both striking in magnitude and encouraging in effect. I am better than I was, trending upward, growing stronger. And all I did was register, then go.
So, the only advice I can give you is simply as such: register, then go.
If you want to learn more about your Regional Retreat, click here!
What a time to be alive! College Conference registration is OPEN! Real Break registration is OPEN! And finally, Regional Retreat registration is–you guessed it–OPEN!
The comprehensive list of Regional Retreats currently scheduled and open for registration (did you hear? Registration is OPEN!) can be found on the OCF Events page right here.
To tell you a little more about what Regional Retreats are and why you should go, I’d like to introduce to you your very own Regional Student Leader! If you’re unsure in which region you live, check out this handy-dandy map right here!
Red – Northwest
Dark Blue – Southwest
Yellow – Mountain
Light Blue – Midwest
Dark Green – South
Pink – Great Lakes
Orange – Southeast
Light Green – Mid-Atlantic
Purple – Northeast
Please get in contact with your RSL–they’re here for you and built to make your life awesome.
If you’ve attended a Regional Retreat and have a story you’d like to share, I’d LOVE to feature it on the blog. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll set you up.
Without further ado–here are your RSLs, and their thoughts on Regional Retreats!
1. So, what exactly is a Regional Retreat? Like, what happens?
A Regional Retreat is an event that brings Orthodox college students (and those inquiring about the Faith) together for a wholesome weekend of discussion, fellowship, service, and worship. Students of all jurisdictions come from around the entire region to meet friends, offer work for the Glory of God through a service project, and most importantly worship together as the body of Christ.
– Niko Wilk, Southeast Regional Student Leader
2. So why should I go?
You should go because it is such a NEEDED break from your school work. Also, it is a good way to be spiritually renewed and regain your energy for the rest of the semester. Another bonus is that you get to meet some incredible people who are going through similar life experiences as you, and I mean, who doesn’t like more Orthodox Christian friends?
– Rachel Howanetz, Mid-Atlantic Regional Student Leader
3. What makes regional retreats special, unique? Why are they different from my regular OCF chapter meeting?
So you can find an Orthodox spouse!!!!!! HAHA jk Ben don’t put that in the blog.
(Yeah, okay Nicole.)
If there’s one piece of advice I have to offer, it is not to let your college OCF chapter become your only experience with Orthodoxy in college. Retreats such as this one can introduce you to the wide world of OCF that exists outside of your comfort zone at school. Boris Pasternak once wrote that unshared happiness is not happiness – and I think to a certain extent the same can be said for one’s faith life. Come to the Midwest regional retreat to take a breather from school, meet new friends, and rejuvenate your faith life.
– Nicole Petrow, Midwest Regional Student Leader
4. What was the best regional retreat you’ve ever attended? What made it so good?
The best retreat I ever attended was in Syracuse, NY. The speakers were really great, but what made it meaningful for me was the priest’s advice of how to deal with a very difficult professor who tested my own faith. I came back equipped with the right tools of patience and prayer, plus all the ethnic dances were quite a workout and a lot of fun!
– Sypridoula Fotinis, Northeast Regional Student Leader
5. Okay, in 1-6 words, why will your regional retreat be the best in the country?
Incredible retreat center and awesome speakers! LITURGICAL. ARTS. Need I say more? We have a nature walk! Because Christ is at the center! It’s in the mountains of Colorado. Faith, Friends, and Fun! Abbot Tryphon will be speaking! It brings us love at home. TEXAS.
6. How has a regional retreat changed your life?
Even as a Regional Student Leader, I haven’t been to one yet. This will be the first retreat in the Northwest Region. Planning it has been a blessing to realize that I can do things that scare me when I’m with Christ.
– David Munkres, Northwest Regional Student Leader
7. Funniest story ever from a regional retreat–go!
[This one time at the OCF retreat, (please omit this section) NOPE!] Our group sat around a table and a waitress asks us if we would like desert. Then the priest says, “Orange whip? Orange whip?” quoting the Blues Brothers. I immediately began cracking up, then we look around and realize that no one understood the reference but us.
– Spiro Morris, Great Lakes Regional Student Leader
8. Why did you want to become a Regional Student Leader and start organizing these retreats?
I wanted to become a Regional Student Leader because when I started college, I didn’t have any Orthodox friends on campus, there was no OCF chapter on campus, and the closest church was 45 minutes away and a lot of the time, the road was closed so I couldn’t make it over in the winter. I decided to start a chapter at my university and it is finally almost in place!
I didn’t know about the Mountain Regional Retreat until two months after it had taken place. I knew that I really could have benefited from attending this retreat and that is a very large reason why I because a regional leader…to help get the word out about the regional retreat and let other OCF students know the benefits from attending.
– Quinn Marquadt, Mountain Regional Student Leader
9. Okay, what if I can’t make it on the weekend it’s scheduled? Are there other things for me to do?
On this particular weekend the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco is also having their annual fall young adult retreat. That will be held at the Monastery in Dunlap, CA. Otherwise, definitely contact me to see how you can get involved, whether it be at a local chapter, or remotely! There are always opportunities for you to grow in Christ– and I encourage you to take these opportunities. You will be so happy you did.
– Markayla Stroubakis, Southwest Regional Student Leader
10. Any other advice/info?
GET INVOLVED! YOU’RE NEVER TOO COOL FOR JESUS AND FREE PIZZA.
– Kathrine Sackllah, South Regional Student Leader
Throughout the weekend of February 5th to the 7th, I had the blessing of participating in the OCF South Region Retreat which took place at Sts. Constantine & Helen Church in Dallas, TX. This retreat was spiritually uplifting and reassuring. As college students, we get put in many situations that have tested our faith constantly, and to be surrounded by friends-old and new- sharing our experiences, I spent the weekend learning how to approach these situations through prayer, gospel reading, love and understanding toward others.
Our retreat began on Friday evening with ice breakers and getting to know each other, followed by our first discussion with our speaker, Christina Andresen, who opened up the talk with two thought provoking questions, “What is faith?” and “What are the biggest challenges to my faith?” One of the beautiful quotes from the topic was “Faith is remembering God is with you for all the times that He is not.” It is very easy as a college student to let fear of the struggle get to you–as a human beings in general–but one of the most important things from this weekend was learning that we don’t have to fear the challenges God presents us with. We should accept them and be thankful for them for they are like a fire that purifies us to help us grow more in Him. Throughout these challenges God is not testing our faith, He is calling us to Him.
We learned humility is the antidote to inner struggle as we accept where we are and who we are in that moment. We then tackled the topic of outer struggle where, just as said in 1 Peter, “No matter what happens, if you want to follow Christ there will be struggles from the outside.” The antidote for the outer struggle is to be steadfast in love and obedient. Don’t let the outer struggle take you off the path, you should always focus on the path and keep your eyes on Heaven. God calls us in moments of doubt and we should remember to always ask, “How are You drawing me closer to You?” through the times where He presents us with our challenges. The night then ended with evening prayers and enjoyment of being in each other’s company.
Discussion with the whole group
On Saturday morning, we had our second discussion with Christina which surrounded the topic of prayer. How do we pray? How do we learn to mean our prayers? Do we have to pray a certain way? As more and more stories were told, great advice was given on how to approach prayer. We learned how to grow in prayer, how your prayer life can also change when you form a relationship with your patron saint or a saint you relate with that has been through what you are personally going through and has already reached the finish line. Prayer exists in many little things, from our words to our actions, especially when they are done from the heart. Take small steps in growing in prayer, have sincerity and set aside quiet time; whether it be in the car, your bedroom, on a run, or wherever it is you can find peace to be with God. Small meaningful prayer can take you a long way.
After our discussion, we were blessed with having too many people so we split up for two separate service projects at Promise House, a home for kids who are struggling at home or don’t have a home, and Austin Street Shelter, which is a homeless shelter and a place that collects clothes for those in need. I had the opportunity to go to Promise House and hang out with some of the coolest kids I have ever met while playing board games and eating pizza. The children living at the home have been through a lot, some there because they had no other place to go, others because their families struggled with having them at home for the time being–and even then, these kids had some of the biggest and brightest smiles on their faces. The innocence of God working through His children was so prominent and was a reminder that whatever God decides to put you through, there is always something to smile about. These children had a beautiful hope in them and carried a strong love in their hearts, hanging out with them was so fun and such a blessing.
Saturday evening, we had Great Vespers, and as always, hearing the voices of all the OCFers singing and chanting along was so beautiful, my heart was so elated and the blessings just kept growing, God is SO GOOD. Later in the evening we had evening prayers which then were followed by chanting in the church with dim lighting until about 2:00 AM.
Our retreat came to a close after Liturgy on Sunday morning where we all finally came together and said our very temporary goodbyes. By the time I got back to my little apartment in College Station, Texas, preparing for the following school day, all I could think about was Glory be to God for all good things.
Students at Promise House
“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” –Romans 5:3-5
Valerie Hanna is a sophomore at Blinn Junior College and will be transferring to Texas A&M University this fall as a Telecommunication Media Studies Major. She loves to read, write, sing, attend concerts, sketch, go on adventures, learn new things and be all around goofy. Her home parish is St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, TX but she attends St. Silouan Orthodox Church in College Station, TX where she teaches Sunday School, sings with the choir and is an OCF officer for their TAMU/Blinn chapter.
Students at the Fall 2015 Northeast Retreat
My name is Basil Vergados, and I participated in the 2015 Northeast OCF Retreat! As a college freshman and Orthodox Christian, I have found that maintaining a relationship with Christ is of the utmost importance in college. It gives one a sense of peace in a new environment, and setting aside even five minutes for prayer or Gospel reading can actually yield more focus than that seventh cup of coffee the day before exams. Yet in college, it is easy to forget that a relationship with other Orthodox Christians can be just as important as our relationship with Christ. OCF is one such way to forge this spiritual fellowship, and at the Northeast OCF conference I was able to see firsthand the fruits of this holy program.
I got to meet new friends, as well as reconnect with my old friends from other parishes of our Metropolis. We sat down for a discussion lead by Fr. Patrick of the Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Allston MA, and together we shared our perspectives on different issues that are so important to Christians in today’s society. This was followed by a beautiful Vespers service, and then some icebreaker games. One of my favorite parts of the night actually took place afterward, right before we went to bed. Some of us went back into the church and held a small Akathist service, illumined by the physical light of a few candles and the spiritual light of Christ.
The next morning we brought breakfast to some of the homeless people in Boston and sat down to spoke with them. Personally, this was very edifying because it helped me learn how to see Christ’s divine image in every person, no matter what life they lived. One of the people we had breakfast with even told us that God was the only strength he had in life, and he thanked God for leading us to him and keeping him company. I was astounded by the man’s faith, and when we went back to the church we were able to reflect and share in each other’s experiences.
The 2015 NorthEast conference was a wonderful way for me to grow as a Christian, nurture my relationship with others, and frankly, it was so much fun. I encourage any college student reading this to search for their local OCF chapter and join me in anticipation for the Fall 2016 Northeast OCF Retreat. God bless!
Basil Vergados is a first year at University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He hails from the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston where he participated in the MBC summer camp and is a Hellenic American Academy alumni.
Students at Agia Skepi Monastery
Last month, students from the Mid-Atlantic Region gathered in Taylor, PA for an evening with at St. George with Fr. Mark Leasure and the myrrh-streaming Kardiotissa icon. They also enjoyed a talk on martyrdom by Fr. Andrew Damick and a visit to Agia Skepi monastery. Here are some thoughts from the students reflecting on the retreat:
“You are never alone when you have your faith.”
–Maria Kirifdes, sophomore, University of Delaware
“I love the retreats OCF hosts. Experiencing the beauty and peace of the nus and their home was quite moving. [I took away] a sense of renewal in a hectic semester and peace. Also, a stronger growing in my faith.”
–Ethan Comfort, junior, Kent State Univeristy
“I feel like I’m on a spiritual high.”
–Kyriakos Theophanous, senior, University of Pittsburgh
“I was in awe being the presence of the icon. I loved that we all chanted together with such love in our voices. Miracles exist all around us. We have to open our hearts and believe in the protection of the Panagia.”
–Jenna Ionnidis, junior, Millersville University
“Don’t follow your heart, lend your heart.”
–Christina Gregoraski, freshman, University of Delaware