Our theme for OCF this year is “Who do you say that I am” (Matthew 16:15). My favorite part of this verse is how Simon Peter responds. Simon says, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). When Jesus heard this, He calls Simon Peter his rock, and declares that on that rock He will build His church.
How cool would it be to have the Lord tell you that we were the rock He wants to build His church on, and yet we are all called to be that rock. So, thinking of Simon, I would like to share who Christ is to me.
I was once told that our hearts were a puzzle with a missing piece, and the only way that piece could be filled was with Christ. He is our missing puzzle piece. In my day to day life I tend to forget this. I try to find different things that fill the space a little bit but are inevitably the wrong puzzle pieces.
I have had a few roadblocks in my life, as I’m sure we all have. People would always tell me to use coping skills. We tried so many things like writing, playing music, writing music, running, and taking my dogs on walks (my personal favorite). These “coping skills” would work for a period of time, and to an extent, but they never made me feel truly better.
A few years ago, I learned how to make prayer ropes. It is still to this day one of my favorite things to do. One thing I found, was that my knots wouldn’t turn out unless I was praying while making them. So, I started praying, honestly just talking to God. I didn’t know what to say all the time, so a lot of it was the Jesus prayer. I got into the habit of praying when I did things that, when times of struggle came I would immediately pray. When I prayed, it wasn’t necessarily like all my problems were solved, but there was a sense of relief. I knew that the Lord heard me, being able to tell Him my thoughts and feelings was so comforting. Praying became my coping skill. I came to realize that the Lord is my best friend. Being able to talk to Him and knowing how much He cares for me is such a comforting thing. He will never turn His back on us because He loves us.
The coolest thing about Christ is that He always knows what we are going through.
“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). During Holy Week it is hard not to be moved by how much abuse Christ endured. To be spat on, lashed, to wear a crown of thorns, to have people telling you to save yourself, and to be betrayed by the one you love is not what I call the best day ever. Christ is also in each and every one of us. When we hurt, He hurts. When we suffer, He suffers. Our loving God will never turn His back on us.
I love the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy is talking to Mr. Tumnus about Aslan. Lucy is in awe of him and exclaims that she can’t believe he is a tame lion. The line that always gets me is Mr. Tumnus’s response. He tells Lucy that Aslan is not tame, but he is good. This was an eye opener for me. He is God, and “his mercy endures forever” (Psalm 135), and He is the One “who struck Egypt with their first born…who divided the Red Sea in two parts…who struck down great kings…it is He that remembered us in our low estate” (Psalm 135). Psalm 135 has to be one of the coolest passages, going back and forth as to how the Lord has shown mercy but isn’t “tame”. He walked on water! Parted the Red Sea! He is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
I challenge you all to think of who Christ is to you. Always remember our heavenly Father is ever present with us. When school gets hard or we hit a road block. The Lord was there, is there, and always will be there.
I am Evyenia Pyle. I am freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I am majoring in Speech and Hearing Sciences with double concentrations in neuroscience of communication and speech-language pathology. This year I am the Central Illinois District Student Leader! I love to sing, especially byzantine chant. I play a lot of instruments including guitar, bass, piano, and more. I have two amazing dogs, they are my pride and joy. I am so excited to be contributing to the OCF blogs this year!
Virtue is bold and goodness never fearful. –Measure for Measure, William Shakespeare
No one ever said being a Christian would be easy.
Jesus sets some pretty bold expectations of us in the gospel. He asks us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. He tells us whoever loves his father or mother or sister or brother more than Him is not worthy of the Kingdom. He tells us to lose our life for the sake of finding True Life. He asks Peter to put his trust so fully in Him that Peter is willing to step out of a moving boat and onto the waves of the sea. He tells His disciples (and us) to prepare ourselves, not for an easy life, but for rejection, persecution, humiliation, mockery, and ultimately death.
But sometimes I think we don’t really believe Him.
Image from Ted on Flickr
Sometimes I think we want the bold demands of the gospel to be for somebody else. As if only Abraham is called to leave the comfort of his home or only Elijah has to remain faithful in a faithless generation or only Peter has to trust God and step out of the boat. For the rest of us, rolling out of bed and muddling through five minutes of rote prayer is sufficient, right?
I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. -Revelation 3:15-16
And sometimes I feel like we’re perfectly fine being lukewarm about God’s expectations. We’re not losing any sleep at night over whether or not we’re giving ourselves to God like Abraham and Elijah and Peter. Of course, we’d like to be seen by others as pretty ok people, and we’d like to tell ourselves that probably God is fine with us since we’re not doing anything terrible. Or we’re content with where we are spiritually since we’re at least busy–we go to liturgy, help out with a ministry, do service projects–all sorts of tasks that make it so we have no time to pray, read Scripture, speak to the saints, or examine our hearts (I think Jesus had a comment on this once…what was it…these you ought to have done without neglecting the others…yep, that’s it). We tell ourselves we’re giving it all we’ve got even when we know our efforts are rather half-hearted.
I know I spend an awful lot of time trying to convince myself that I really am giving God my everything, but in reality, it’s so obvious how little I am actually offering Him–how unwilling I am to repent, to be vulnerable, to make sacrifices, to take criticism, to stand up for what is good and holy, to bear the burdens of others. It’s very apparent whenever you scratch just the very surface of my life that I’ve made an offering a lot more like Cain than Abel, and I’m just as eager as Cain to get indignant when God demands more from me.
Now, I’m not going to try to guess what Christ is asking of you specifically–whether He’s calling you to sell everything you have to follow Him or to lay down your life for your friends or to drink from the cup He from which He drank–but I will venture to say that He wants so much more of your heart than you have yet given Him. Please, bother to find out. Listen for His voice by reading the Scriptures and being silent before Him in prayer. Take Him seriously when you are given a good thought. Be bold in virtue and fearless in goodness. Like the widow who put in her whole livelihood or the martyrs who were willing to die for the sake of the kingdom, don’t settle with lukewarm.
If you will, you can become all flame. -St. Seraphim of Sarov
Come and see. (Editor’s note: #OCFComeAndSee)
That is the message that 320 college students got attending OCF College Conference at three different locations across the US. If you were not one of those students, let me get you caught up. Having attended College Conference East, I can’t speak for what happened in the West or Midwest, but I’m going to guess that many of the messages were similar. Keynote speaker Fr. Timothy Hojnicki and five workshop speakers spoke to us about how to make this phrase, “Come and See,” relevant in our lives, and there was one message that really stood out to me: the best way to spread Orthodoxy is to live Orthodoxy.
You know the man Victor Lutes took all the pictures! Props to Victor.
So let’s talk about that. It’s a new year, and whether or not you’re into New Year Resolutions, we as college students are going back for another semester, which is a beautiful opportunity to make changes that will lead to spiritual growth. As someone who frequently failed to implement the goals that he makes for himself, I want to spend the five minutes of your attention that I get per month to talk about the attitude with which we should approach these changes. I am going to share with you some thoughts from an under-qualified mind, so all I’m asking is that you take some time to think about what I have to say. Talk to your friends, see if it make sense, get their ideas. We are all working towards spiritual growth, let’s work together to make it happen.
All right, here we go.
1. Have checkpoints, but make sure they’re not the end goal.
This is one of my biggest problems. I make small goals (e.g., read the Bible every day), but I approach it with the mindset that once I reach that goal, I’m done, or that somehow spiritual growth becomes automatic once I do that.
From what I’ve experienced and read, I’m inclined to think that this is not at all how it works.
Once I start reading the Bible every day, not only will it be a struggle to maintain that goal, but I also need to put in my own effort to use that as a step-stool to reach a higher goal. As a musician, I will use a musical metaphor. I might want to play a certain scale at a certain tempo, which is a great goal. However, most recital audiences could not care less how quickly I can play that scale unless I can use that skill to make something musical happen. So not only do I need to practice to make sure I can keep playing that scale well, but I need to use that scale (and whatever else I have grown in) to push me down the path of becoming a great trombone player.
2. You’re going to fail, probably. Especially if you rely on your own strength.
I hate this one. I would get this advice all the time, and it would just make no sense to me. I should just approach my goal of reading the Bible every day assuming that I will fail? Isn’t that setting me up to fail? Now, 1,687 failed goals later, I realize why this advice is given. I would approach my goals with the assumption that my strong work ethic and determination would get me through.
One problem with that: five days later, when I’m really tired, thrown off my routine, and really just want to watch Netflix instead, my end goal flies out of my head and my human will is crushed. Then once that happens, I have no plan to get back into it. I thought I would succeed, so what do I do now that I failed? If I cited Netflix as my reason for not reading the Bible today, why can’t it be my reason tomorrow? Will my work ethic and determination fail me again?
Now let’s stop here and come up with a better approach. Let’s start with prayer, just taking a quick moment asking God to help us do this. Then we will game plan. We know that we at least have a shot whenever we remember the end goal–becoming like God–and how our goal will get us there: in my case of reading the Bible, giving me both direct information on how to become like God and a structural foundation that will help me use other tools such as readings from saints and divine services to work towards my aforementioned goal.
If you have a short attention span like me, you will forget that end goal (and how your task gets you there), and the task you are working on becomes much harder. You probably will fail to complete it once or twice (or much more than that). Here is the most important lesson from this section of my essay: don’t freak out about it (like I always would). You fail, you are ashamed for having failed, and you don’t want to think about your goal anymore. Remember: you are not relying on your own strength, you are relying on God to help you. Your own strength failed you this time, but tomorrow, with God’s help, you got this.
These are Paul’s strategies for goal-setting that Paul can use to carry out his goals better. Are they applicable in your life? Maybe. I’m no goal expert (like Sidney Crosby is, let’s go Pens!), but perhaps these are either directly applicable, or you can take bits and pieces from them. Talk with friends, see how they approach their goals. If we talk about these things, we can learn from others’ mistakes instead of having to make them ourselves. And if we don’t take their advice and do end up making the same mistake, we acknowledge that our stubborn head needed that, and we get up and try again. May God give us the strength to keep getting up, no matter how many times we get knocked down, so that we can keep making spiritual progress on the path towards Him.
Paul Murray is a senior psychology major and Spanish minor at Franklin & Marshall College, and he attends Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster, PA. His home parish is St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in New Kensington, PA, and he has spent the past three summers serving as a counselor at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh Summer Camp and the Antiochian Village. In his free time, Paul ties prayer ropes and writes descriptions of himself in the third person for blog articles.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 2017! I’d like to start off by saying that many of us (myself included) will turn twenty this year, and that is the silliest thing I have ever heard. My number is gonna start with a two. Two is an adult number. You could do ridiculous things when you were nineteen and people would be like, “It’s fine, guys: his number starts with a one…you know, he’s still young, he makes mistakes, it’s okay.” But if you do ridiculous things now people are like, “Hey! Your number starts with a two now. You can’t be a doofus anymore. Time to shape up.” Scary, man.
Re-centering our focus, it’s 2017, and if you’re not back at school already, you’ll be heading there shortly. After breaks, we always return to school rejuvenated–at least, that’s the hope and intention. In our revitalization, we have the opportunity to make and adhere to new resolutions, more austere resolutions, that we may have failed to achieve later in the semester, browbeaten by the rigors of college life.
Of course, this return has the added brunt of the new year–the opportunity to demonstrate the tangible individual change from the person you were in 2016 to the person you will become in 2017. Some of you may have resolved to accomplish certain things; others may have foregone the opportunity. Regardless of which year it is, from where you are returning, and where you are heading, I want to give you some resolutions you can pursue, some reasons to pursue them, and how to get started. Here we go:
1. Read a book
I don’t know a better way to get smarter faster than by reading. The people who teach you things learned those things from a person who read a book, or they learned it from reading the book that someone wrote. Think about all the learning you do on an average day. The majority comes from reading articles or reading books for class or listening to someone speak on a topic they understand–they are well-read, as it were.
Eric Thomas is a pastor and motivational speaker who likes to say that “knowledge is the new money.” I don’t really know what this means, besides the fact that knowledge has value. The speakers you listen to might be limited to the people you know, but the books to which you have access–unfathomable depths of knowledge, man.
Concrete things to try:
- Ask your priest/spiritual father for a good spiritual book to read–and recommend to your OCF chapter president that the entire chapter read it together, occasionally meeting for discussion.
- No OCF chapter? Hit up a friend, show them this blog, and read with them.
- No friends? Oh, c’mon. Hit me up at email@example.com
- Do you regularly watch Netflix before you go to sleep? While you eat meals? Replace your dead show time with a book for one week straight and see how you feel.
- Start small (less than 250/300 pages) and only commit small chunks of time per day (30 minutes).
- Find a topic in which you’re really interested
- A lot of comedians write hysterical books, fyi.
2. Read the Book
If you were fortunate enough to attend College Conference East, Fr. Bogdan Bucir gave an incredible talk about reading the Bible as Orthodox Christians. Daily scriptural reading supplements and informs our faith. It contextualizes many familiar prayers and hymns. It purifies our mind and infuses our day with life, especially when we do it in the morning.
It’s tough to fully experience the Church without attending divine services regularly, participating in the sacramental life, praying, fasting, and reading Scripture daily. Quite simply, daily Scripture reading is part of the prescription given to Orthodox Christians by the church fathers–when we neglect it, we neglect caring for the roots of our faith. It’s a dangerous proposition.
A lot of students don’t read the Bible every day–or, you know, ever. That’s okay. Don’t be like a lot of students. Be like Christ.
Concrete things to try:
- Download the DailyReadings app from the Play Store or App Store. It tells you the fasting prescriptions of the day, the saints and feasts of the day, and the daily Epistle and Gospel readings. Nice.
- Download a Bible app that either has the Revised Standard Version (RSV) or New King James Version (NKSV). These are the two accepted translations of the Orthodox Church. This is the app I use (for Android). I can bookmark and favorite and stuff. Still nice.
- Check out the website My Bible Plans. It lets you create a custom Bible reading plan with which books you want to read, and over how many days you’d like to read those books. It gives you an iCal feed that you can easily hook up to your Google Calendar, or will send you an email every morning with your chapters for that day (in English Standard Version, so use your app from #2 to read the right version)
- Set a time every day to read the Bible. Don’t just add it to the to-do list. It’ll fall off as the world overwhelms you. My time is every morning, after I wake up. Chose a time and stick to it.
I still remember the talk my junior high received from a man whose teenage son had unexpectedly committed suicide. Incredibly heavy stuff. He told a story of a man who killed himself by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and in his apartment, they found his suicide note, and it read: “I’m walking to the bridge today. If one person smiles at me on my way there, I will not jump.”
I hope the stakes of your smile aren’t that high. If so, that’s a lot of pressure, and I don’t do well smiling under pressure–I look terrible in pictures. But we forget blessings so much quicker than curses; bemoan struggles far before giving thanks. What a pleasure it is to be attending a university, to have unimaginable opportunity buzzing in through our every action, every moment cracking with the electricity that is our potential. I own cool sunglasses and bright red pants; I have amazing friends and a family that teases me as much as I do them; I watch football on Sundays and eat hot dogs sometimes; I believe in a merciful God and His ultimate sacrifice for my salvation.
How dare I be anything less than joyful?
P.S. Sometimes things stink. Yep. Smile anyway. It makes things better.
Concrete things to try:
- Watch this Ted Talk by Shawn Achor, who (IS THE MAN!) works at Yale (I think?) studying happiness and positivity. Then, do literally everything he says
- tl;dr: take time, every night, and write three things for which you’re grateful. Describe them in detail; put them in a memo in your phone if you don’t have a journal.
- Pick a person every morning that’s valuable to you and find a way, that day, to adequately express to them why and how they’re valuable to you.
- Not always with words.
- Empathize with others. In every interaction, ask yourself what it’d be like to be in the other pair of shoes, and how you’d hope other people treated you.
- You’ll find yourself saying ‘Thank you’ and ‘Please’ roughly, I dunno, 7 bajillion times more than you do now.
I honestly believe everyone should read, and read as much as they can, and a big part of that reading should be the Bible, and they should smile a lot more too. I think everyone can be reading more and smiling more than they currently are.
I can think of plenty more things that fall under this category, but you know you a lot better than I do. I’m gonna throw out a bunch of things that I think are awesome, and a few of those concrete tips that might help you out. You do you, and pick a good one.
- Pray daily for 30 days
- Scientifically, the prevailing belief is that it takes roughly seven weeks to fully ingrain a new habit. That’s 49 days. But just for 30 days, pray daily. See if it’s ingrained by then
- Set the alarm five minutes earlier and pray in bed if need be.
- Place an icon on your pillow every day, so you can’t lay your head down without hitting it
- Copy prayers from oca.org and put them in a note on your phone, so you don’t have to worry about a book
- “Swing that collection plate this way!”
- Beginning the habit of giving to the church now–yes, now, as a poor college student–empowers you to do it later. You might not have the monetary means to make a big impact now–because of the whole poor college student thing–but you may later.
- When going out to eat/for coffee, buy a cheaper option than you’d usually purchase, and donate the difference to the church
- Ask your priest about the ability to give online. Some church have those now #innovation
- When you come across something you really want to buy, but don’t need, and find yourself using the “it’s really not that much” rationalization, donate that money to the church.
- Find a service opportunity
- Yes, you, poor and busy college student. Begin building a habit now that you’d like to have later. If you ask yourself the question, “Do I want to be doing this in ten years?” and can answer ,”Yes,” start doing that thing today.
- There are student organizations on your campus that are built for charity. I’m almost positive. Find them and see how you can get involved.
- If the homeless are around your area, grab an extra fruit from the dining hall, make a sandwich, and have it in a Ziploc bag for when you’re walking around.
- Cough Real Break OCF Cough
Good luck to you, my friends. Comment below with your struggles or stories, and feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org with any cool or interesting results!
Happy New Year!
Dear Psalm 50,
To be honest, I do not pray enough in college. I guess that comes from being so busy, but I really think that is an excuse I keep telling myself. In high school, I read you every night before I went to sleep sort of as a challenge to myself to see if I was capable of being that pious person who prayed “enough” and was a “good” Christian, practicing her faith even before she went to sleep.
by Daniel Go via flickr
When I went away for school, I lost the habit. I think because, of course, moving to a new place, I had trouble adjusting, but more than that, I do not think you were ever living inside me. I had not established a personal relationship with your words, and I did not know when I would.
Ironically, God answered my unspoken prayer: Spring Semester of 2016 I took a Shakespeare Acting Class. In this class, I was essentially taught how to properly read his texts. Our professor expressed that we have to listen to what the text is telling us and put aside all our preconceived notions about what we think Shakespeare is saying. It is not about us, rather the importance of clarity in relationship between the performer and the author.
With this knowledge, sections of your thoughts were illuminated for me, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love, according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions…”
It is because of poetry in other places, I was able to relate to the poetry I am given in your words. Moreover, I see the beauty in the language in which you are written that I was not able to appreciate before. It is easy to pray passively, but Psalm 50, you made it personal, and I thank God for that.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right[b] spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Claire is a sophomore at UC Berkeley studying Theater and Performance Studies and English. She currently attends Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in San Francisco. Her favorite Saint is Saint Pelagia the actress and when not in church or the theater, she likes to spend her time exploring San Francisco, reading plays, and eating sushi.