Ask yourself: what brings me peace?

Ask yourself: what brings me peace?

“Peace begins with a smile.” I still remember hearing that quote by Mother Teresa from a friend one summer at church camp. Honestly, I didn’t think it was true. It sounded too simple. This may have been because growing up I heard phrases like “world peace” or the Bible verse “a peace that surpasses all understanding.” Peace seemed so big, like an immense undertaking or something to accomplish.

However, I was wrong. Peace is right in front of us. It’s inside of us and it’s a gift from God. One way to seek peace, then, is to turn inward. Ask yourself: what brings me peace?

For me, stillness is often the answer. Psalm 46:10 tells us “Be still and know that I am God.” There is so much external noise and there always will be. Stillness provides a refuge from the noise and the distraction. Because we are all created uniquely, stillness can look different for each one of us. A priest once told me, “Do what brings you closer to God.” He didn’t give me a recipe with all the ingredients and measurements. Instead, he encouraged me to listen to my heart and to trust myself. I mentioned to him that I love journaling at the beach to which he replied, “Great! Do THAT!” Naturally, I listed off a whole bunch of other activities in which I feel close to God: surfing, baking, reading books, talking with friends. He smiled at me and nodded his head. As I was listing these things it occurred to me that I was drawing near to God during these activities because I felt at peace doing them. They are stress relievers and they calm my heart and my mind, allowing me to be still (even if I am not physically “still”), be at peace, and be with God.

Something I have to remind myself of, something I think is important to remember, is that we have an external environment–what others say and do, what’s going on in the world–that we cannot control. However, we have an internal environment–our soul, our relationship with Christ–that we can control.

When the internal environment is at peace, things happening in the external environment are easier to handle. Internal peace provides stability, a foundation for us to act from. That foundation is Christ, who is goodness and life. St. Philaret of Moscow prays, “Teach me to treat all that come to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Thy will governs all.” This prayer reflects the difficulty we can undergo in dealing with our external environment and encourages us to take care of our internal environment through Christ.

Another aspect of peace I like to remember is that peace is powerful. St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire a spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” Peace is contagious! Just looking at someone in church who is deep in prayer, or gazing at the icons, or smiling as they cross themselves I feel at peace. They aren’t doing anything crazy like finding a cure to world hunger. They’re doing simple acts that stem from a spirit of peace. Seeing them helps me refocus inwardly, to block out the noise and return to myself and Christ in me. And it gives me peace.

The Prodigal Son struggled with noise and the temptations of his external environment. In Luke 15:17 it reads that he eventually turns inward, “But when he came to himself…” realizing his need for his father, to be in relationship with him and to be in his house. Always return to yourself, to Christ. Surround yourself with people who refocus you when the noise grows louder and becomes distracting.

This week we enter into the Lenten season. I don’t know about you, but being a vegan for forty days doesn’t bring me immediate peace. In fact, it stresses me out. Yet, in the Prayer Before The Icon of Christ (found in our little red prayer book) it says, “We cry aloud unto thee: thou hast filled all things with joy, O our Savior, for thou didst come to save the world.” There is profound peace knowing Christ has filled all things with joy, even suffering. We can think about the martyrs who had peace and joy in their suffering, in their death. I know that if the martyrs experienced peace and joy in death, I can experience Christ’s peace and joy in ‘little deaths’ to meat and cheese. We are being called to partake in Christ’s suffering for these next 40 days, but we are also being called to partake in His peace and His joy. In dying to ourselves we will experience life, just as the martyrs’ death brought them to be in paradise with their holy King, and be in a place where there is only “a peace that surpasses all understanding.” Doesn’t sound as daunting anymore, does it?

Peace be with you, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Andrew Gluntz

Tatiana Speier

Hello everyone! I’m Tati. I was raised in the Orthodox Church with both my grandfathers being parish priests here at St. Athanasius in Santa Barbara, CA. I have been a camp counselor at Camp St. Nicholas and have served as a leader for Youth Equipped to Serve.

Some things I love to do in my free time are trying a new recipe, going to the beach (I just learned how to surf! I’m terrible, but I enjoy it), and spending time with my nieces and nephew.

In December I graduated from nursing school and I just got hired by the local hospital to work in the oncology unit. I recently learned the term “oncology” comes from the Greek word Onkos which means burden; the illness was imagined to be a burden carried by the body.

Our faith teaches us to carry our cross, our burdens, something we know we can’t do without our Savior and without each other. I feel blessed to serve those struggling with the weight of cancer.

4 Saints Who Demonstrated the Image of God and How to Get to Know Them

4 Saints Who Demonstrated the Image of God and How to Get to Know Them

In the very first book of the Old Testament, we are told that, “God created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27, NKJV.) Any detailed examination of the Orthodox faith will show that the largest calling we have received from God is to become like Christ. St. John explains this in the Gospel:

“He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (John 2:4-6)

In other words, if we say we’re Christians, we must walk the walk and strive to live our lives like Jesus lived His.

However, it’s easy to say that we must walk the walk. The more difficult question is, how do we walk the walk? Especially in today’s world, we hear so many different things about what’s right and what’s wrong, and what we’re “supposed” to do to love our neighbor. Especially on college campuses, we are constantly assailed with conflicting messages from different sources. It is so easy to become confused about which paths we should follow.

The good news is, we have as sources of wisdom and intercession those who have walked the walk before us! Truly, out of all people, the saints of our Church have most fully realized the image of God within themselves. When we read their lives, we can see how they have been set on fire with love for Christ, and we can see how that love looks different in each of their lives. Some saints, like St. Mary of Egypt, flees into the desert to wage war against their temptations. Others, like St. Luke, are surgeons—or midwives, like St. Olga. Some are artists, like St. Romanos the Melodist. Some are royalty, like St. Constantine and his sons. Some are martyrs, some are single, some are married, some are monastics. Regardless of your strengths, struggles, and callings, you can find a saint who shares them with you.

Notice that I am writing about the saints in present tense. The saints are not people who lived a very long time ago, then died, and that’s the end of that. They are people who lived earthly lives, and now in eternity intercede for us, constantly participating in our lives. And, importantly, there are people living their earthly lives today who will become saints, if they are not already! Every one of us is called to become a saint.

St. Nektarios of Pentapolis, after his death, said, “It’s as if we saints are in retirement…the people don’t pray to us, don’t entreat us, don’t ask us for anything, don’t give us any handiwork to do. They don’t give us the opportunity to pray to God for them.” The saints are looking for opportunities to help us! It’s up to us to become more aware of their presence.

It took me a long time to learn that the saints are still living and interacting with us, and my prime realizations of this fact occurred on OCF: Real Break trips. On my first real break trip, Thessaloniki 2018, I venerated the body of my patron saint, St. Demetrios, and saw the exact place where he was run through with lances. St. Demetrios is overwhelming for anyone to visit, because myrrh still streams from his body to this day—to the point that on his feast day, they open his reliquary and mop it up with towels! The Akathist to St. Demetrios reads, “Rejoice, you who ride throughout the world as one alive.” One can feel the power of his presence by how strong the smell of his myrrh is, even upon reaching the threshold of his cathedral.

Another example from my Thessaloniki trip is the relics of St. Gregory of Palamas. I visited him after St. Demetrios, but there is a little glass window in St. Gregory’s reliquary, through which you can see one of his bones. I watched a drop of myrrh materialize, seemingly out of thin air, and run down the length of the bone. It completely overwhelmed me. I had to step out of the room—but even though I had left that room and entered the nave of the church, I couldn’t get away from the smell of the myrrh! It was so strong, it almost hurt my nose. Even though, overcome with their holiness and their active presence, I had to turn away from them, the saints were still with me!

Finally, on my second Real Break trip—Romania 2020—we all became very stressed on the second-to-last day of our pilgrimage. It was at the height of COVID-related anxieties, since it had just been elevated to pandemic status. With travel bans instated and Europe suddenly spiking to high risk, we had to get home as soon as we could. We had just been informed we were leaving that night. We were fatigued, uncertain, and—speaking at least for myself—afraid. But our trip leader, Fr. Robert, took us to venerate the hand of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of travelers. The woman watching over his relics removed the glass in the reliquary so we could directly kiss his hand. I was brought such a sense of peace. I knew that St. Nicholas was watching over us and magnifying our prayers for safe travels, and that he would be present with us on our journey home.

Since the saints are powerhouses of intercession and full of wisdom, how can we get to know them better? There are practical steps you can take! I recommend learning more about your patron saint. Who are you named after? Is there an Akathist to them? Read their story and learn their Kontakion and Troparion.

Another step you could take is Googling Akathists to Orthodox Christian saints. You will be shocked at the number of saints you’ve never heard of, and you will truly feel their presence as you beseech them for their intercessions and learn their life story through prayer. You will start to see yourself in different saints and their walks of life, which will encourage you.

Finally, OCF has a resource as well, called There’s a Saint for That. It would also be a great idea for your chapter to have a meeting about saints, where people can share the lives of their patron saints or other beloved saints. In this time leading up to Christ’s birth, let’s all look to the saints together and, through their prayers and examples, learn how to emulate Christ.

Andrew Gluntz

Demetra Chiafos

OCF Alumna

My name is Demetra Chiafos! I was involved in OCF during my four years at The Ohio State University, serving on the student officer board for three years at OSU and participating in national events. I graduated in 2020 with a BFA in Dance and a BA in Japanese. I am currently teaching dance while completing my MA in Translation (Japanese) through SOAS University of London. I play piano and cello, and sing in church choir whenever I can!

Prisoner #18376: God Will Not Abandon His People

Prisoner #18376: God Will Not Abandon His People

Hi everyone! Quick disclaimer, this blog post is a bit longer than normal, but there was so much that I wanted to put in that I couldn’t tell myself to stop. Below you will read an inspiring story of one of my favorite church heroes. So, sit back, relax, and I hope you enjoy this blog post!

 

By Evyenia Pyle

When I think of superheroes, I tend to think of super strength. While thinking about superheroes of the church I thought of what it meant to have super strength in the church. Sure, we could look at Sampson in the Old Testament and read about his hair, but that was a long time ago. What if I told you that a church superhero lived in the 20th century with super strength? To open things up I have a question: How much does it take to survive the harshest conditions? I can tell you plainly that in my walks to class last winter, although they were at most 15 minutes, felt like if I didn’t get inside right then and there, I would surely die. On average it was probably 20 degrees Fahrenheit. While I admit I am a bit of a wimp, it was brutal. Today I am going to tell you the story of a man who survived unimaginable conditions in -27 degree Fahrenheit weather, a man who must have had the kind of strength only God can give you, a man who is a superhero of the church, and someone who I keep very close to my heart. This man is Father Arseny.

To give some background information before I go into the story, I should probably tell you about the prison camps. These camps were spread across Russia in its period of communism under Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. They were labor camps where “enemies of the government” were sent to die/be worked to death. You aren’t supposed to survive these camps. The conditions were terrible. Hygiene was nonexistent, no heat, barely any food, and one pair of clothes. This is where most of our story will be taking place, as Fr. Arseny was in one of these prison camps.

In the book Father Arseny 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father, it opens the scene portraying a dark morning, with gusty winds, around -27 degrees Fahrenheit. We see the people in the prison camps get out of bed for role call. Those who didn’t make it out were either dead (due to the cold, sickness, and exhaustion) or on the verge of being dead. Fr. Arseny wasn’t old, but he certainly wasn’t young, but he was always on duty. He was sent to the camps with many other priests and religious figures at the time. Most priests had to be priests in secret because of the fact that they would most likely be arrested. A middle-aged man was out in negative 27-degree weather chopping wood. Now, axes weren’t allowed on the grounds of the camp, so Fr. Arseny split the half frozen and damp wood with a wooden wedge, and another log to function as a hammer. If he failed to do this, they would have no firewood and would surely die, but Fr. Arseny was vigilant. He said the Jesus prayer has he worked, he knew that if the wood wasn’t done on time he would be punished and beaten by not only the guards, but the prisoners too. So, this was Father Arseny’s daily life, I could write so many pages on how the conditions should have killed him, but I will spare you for now. Now that you have a feel for the daily routine, I’m going to tell you about Father Arseny made it out of the place he was brought to die.

So, for starters I talked about super strength. In the book it reads, “‘Have mercy on me a sinner. Help me. I place my trust in Thee, O Lord, and in you, O Mother of God. Do not abandon me, give me strength,’ prayed Father Arseny, almost falling from exhaustion as he carried bundle after bundle of logs to the stoves.” Imagine being so close to falling down but knowing that God has a hold of you. Father Arseny trusted God to keep him upright, but the story doesn’t end there. How could he get damp frozen wood to light, he did not want to be beaten, so he prayed the Jesus prayer and at the end he added, “Thy will be done!” hoping to find dry wood. He searched and searched but found nothing. An infamous criminal saw him and asked what he was doing. This criminal reportedly committed so many crimes he could not remember them all. He evoked fear from all of the other prisoners. Fr. Arseny was afraid but told him he needed some dry wood. The criminal told Father to go with him, Fr. Arseny thought it was a trick, but went to see what would happen. The criminal had a large pile of dry wood he kept for himself, but he offered it to Father Arseny, who was a bit reluctant thinking that he might have been set up for stealing. Father finally accepted and started taking some. The criminal told him to take more and more, and then he himself picked up the dry logs and they carried it back to the stoves together. A criminal, who brought fear and despair among people and prisoners, gave Fr. Arseny what he needed so he would not be beaten. This is one beautiful example of how God never left Fr. Arseny’s side in the camp.

Another thing Fr. Arseny was known for was giving parts of his daily bread ration to the sick. Imagine working in such cruel conditions, but with only a small amount of food to help other people. I am not sure I would have the strength to do that.

Every night, even when Father Arseny didn’t get any food, he would pray the Akathist to the Theotokos, St. Nicholas, and St. Arsenios and pray for his spiritual children. When he awoke the next morning he would feel rested and full of new strength almost as if he had eaten the night before.

Some nights Fr. Arseny would stay up late and take care of the sick. He would feed them and make them hot water. This meant he would usually not get any sleep. One of the sick patients Fr. Arseny knew well. In fact it was the exact man that sentenced him to the death camp (when the government was tired of an official they too went to the death camps). Not only did Fr. Arseny forgive him, but he thanked him for sentencing him to the camp instead of sentencing him to be shot. The man was amazed by how genuine Father Arseny was and became a friend to Father Arseny. How much strength would it take to forgive someone who sentenced you to a long terrible death? Super strength.

One day Fr. Arseny was watching the prisoners fight and kill one another, he went and pleaded with a criminal who respected him, to ask him to stop the fighting, to prevent more from dying. All the criminals would listen to this man because he was one of the worst, but the criminal laughed and told Fr. Arseny that “his God” would do it if he really cared about his people. Fr. Arseny frustrated with these words cried aloud in prayer, “In the name of God, I order you. Stop this!” and immediately Fr. Arseny retreated inside himself so deeply into to prayer that he did not see the fight stop, and the living fighters caring for one another’s wounds. The criminal told Father Arseny that he doubted his God, but he wouldn’t any longer, for he had witnessed a miracle. How amazingly strong Father Arseny had to be in Christ to stop people from killing each other with words! This is yet another example of the super strength he received from God.

Now, let’s talk about how Father Arseny got the flu, with a 104-degree fever, and was expected to die in two days. Everyone was sad and tried to help, until the dreadful day came. According to the witnesses Father Arseny was physically dead. Father Arseny later reported that it was God showing him that the people in the camp were twice the ascetic he was and that he had more work to do within himself. Then the mother of God spoke to him and sent him back, and Fr. Arseny woke up and arose as if nothing had happened.

Another account of Father Arseny’s super strength is from a prisoner who was certain he would die. He couldn’t keep his boots dry for fear of them being stolen or worse, being beaten for warming his boots with the criminals. He eventually got frostbite in his feet and could not get out of bed and work. One night, Father Arseny took the man’s boots, and the prisoner assumed they were being stolen, but he had no strength to fight back. When he awoke the next morning, he was greeted by Fr. Arseny with dry boots. Every night Father Arseny would take the boots and put them by the stove and stayed and kept watch over them so that they would not be stolen. Imagine the super strength it must have taken for him to barely sleep and still be able to function enough the next morning to do the hardest work anyone has ever had to do! That is super strength.

I could go on about Father Arseny all day, I love him, but I need to make sure this blog is readable. So, again, I want to highlight the amount of strength Father Arseny had to survive the prison camp. Not only did he survive the most brutal conditions that almost no one else survived, but he lived many years after being released. Through his prayers to God, his faith, and his unwavering trust Fr. Arseny was able to bear the intolerable. It is superheroes of our church like this that cause me to yearn for this spiritual strength that is indescribable by those who witness it. I pray that one day I will have the super strength Father Arseny had in the camp, and I pray that all of you will find Fr. Arseny’s story an inspiration, a remembrance that God will always help us.

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student Leader

Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net 

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? Names are powerful way that we humans distill the lives and identities of people into a linguistic expression. Names are powerful. We are lucky because our Lord became human, and even the evocation of His name, Jesus, holds power (think about the Jesus Prayer). In the Jewish tradition, the name for Lord is YHWH, an unpronounceable and incomprehensible name for God. In Christianity, we know our God and His name.

My name, Demetri (or legally, Demetrios), comes from my grandfather, and our patron saint is St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki. He guides his namesakes, and the city of Thessaloniki of which he was charged to protect during his earthly life as a Roman. Patron saints are important because they are our guides and hopes to follow in their holy lives. Today (10/26), marks the feast day for St. Demetrios, so many years to all those celebrating!

Here is some information about his life, borrowed from a writing by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese daily readings:

“Saint Demetrius was a Thessalonian, a most pious son of pious and noble parents, and a teacher of the Faith of Christ. When Maximian first came to Thessalonica in 290, he raised the Saint to the rank of Duke of Thessaly. But when it was discovered that the Saint was a Christian, he was arrested and kept bound in a bath-house. While the games were under way in the city, Maximian was a spectator there. A certain friend of his, a barbarian who was a notable wrestler, Lyaeus by name, waxing haughty because of the height and strength of his body, boasted in the stadium and challenged the citizens to a contest with him. All that fought with him were defeated. Seeing this, a certain youth named Nestor, aquaintance of Demetrius’, came to the Saint in the bath-house and asked his blessing to fight Lyaeus single-handed. Receiving this blessing and sealing himself with the sign of the precious Cross, he presented himself in the stadium, and said, “O God of Demetrius, help me!” and straightway he engaged Lyaeus in combat and smote him with a mortal blow to the heart, leaving the former boaster lifeless upon the earth. Maximian was sorely grieved over this, and when he learned who was the cause of this defeat, he commanded straightway and Demetrius was pierced with lances while he was yet in the bath-house, As for Nestor, Maximian commanded that he be slain with his own sword.”

St. Demetrios was a young adult during the time of his martyrdom. He stayed true to his faith, despite the danger that it entailed. He was a high-ranking officer in the Roman military and was a very successful and educated man. He humbly accepted his legal punishment but offered his boldness and devotion in prayer to God on behalf of his friend, Nestor. St. Demetrios provided answers and prayer in times of fear and anxiety. His relics still stream myrrh to this day and are located in Thessaloniki.

For me, St. Demetrios is a guide and an example for me to follow in his footsteps. Just as parents genetically pass down traits and qualities, so do spiritual namesakes. I mean, many of our parents name us after specific people and saints, and we name them after them in hopes that they emulate the life of that saint, and that the saint guards them in life. My name is a way for me to honor my grandfather, and continue his memory. St. Demetrios is the patron saint of the organization that arose from the repatriation of the people of my village to the United States. When I think of St. Demetrios I also can understand my personal history and the guidance he gave to the people coming from my father’s village. I particularly turn to my saint when I feel stressed about my direction in life. Knowing that we share a name, my connection with him is a lot deeper.

A relationship with the saints is important as an Orthodox Christian. They are our examples, guides and protectors throughout our lives. Luckily, their stories come to us and you can accumulate different relationships throughout different times in your life. For example, St. Joseph becomes an awfully important saint as soon as a man becomes a father. They are the living example of gospels and they want to love and support us. Building a relationship with them now is important because they stand a lot closer to God as of now than we do, ask them to pray for you. And if you don’t have a good particular relationship with a saint, the best place to start is with the Theotokos. She is our church’s greatest saint and she also has a motherly relationship with our lord. Another good place to start is with your patron saint, whether it be the saint you were named after, or the saint of your family (in terms of slava). Reach out to them!

St. Demetrios was charged with protecting Thessaloniki during his earthly life as a roman general. As he was stripped of his authority and job, his true path in the spiritual protection of the city was revealed.

St. Demetrios is a powerful saint, and I am grateful for his spiritual guidance in my life. I hope that we all can embody is courage, faith and strength in our own lives. St. Demetrios was known to intercede in an earthquake in Thessaloniki, when your life may seem like its falling apart, ask for his help. Or, if there is a real natural disaster, ask for his help. May he intercede for us all!