Flashback to one year ago this spring: I was sitting in my dorm room when I got a call from my Regional Student Leader (RSL) telling me to apply for the OCF Student Leadership Board (SLB) and that I would make a great College Conference Student Leader. I wasn’t fully aware of what the SLB is, but I did know what College Conference was having attended myself in 2019. I had even thought about leading it before, but I was hesitant to apply since I was heading into the infamous junior year as both a music and mechanical engineering double major while also balancing many other extracurricular commitments. Despite my crazy schedule, and to the dismay of my mom who thought I was already overcommitted, I decided to apply anyway, trusting that it would all work out.
Fast forward to this past summer: I’m a counselor at the Antiochian Village (AV), I’m the new College Conference Midwest Student Leader, and I still have no idea how I’m going to balance my schoolwork, extracurriculars, and SLB work come the start of the semester. But, God has a way of helping us figure things out, and it just so happened that our theme as AV staff was Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Coincidence? I think not.
Now, we’ve all heard that verse before, but I’m here to remind you of it and let you know that it is 100% true. All of the things you are doing now, you can continue doing along with the SLB because Christ will give you the strength to do it. That is what I have found to be true this past year, and I know it would be true for you too.
So that’s how you can do the SLB, but now the current SLB and I want to tell you why you should. The Student Leadership Board is a group of devout and talented Orthodox Christian college students devoted to serving their peers and responsible for carrying out the work of OCF. From planning events, connecting people, to implementing programming, most everything that OCF does gets touched by the students on the board. Below are quotes from the current SLB which have been sorted into 3 different categories: Life-Giving Relationships, True Service, Spiritual Development – 3 reasons why you should apply!
True Service: Being on the SLB means you will be actively carrying out the ministry of OCF.
“As the regional leader, I advise and support chapter presidents at each university. They’re the ones who run the engine of the day-to-day OCF life – the ones who can foster a nurturing environment for Orthodox Christian college students to grow in their faith. I also really liked being in a position to run the retreats for my region. I saw the potential for regional retreats to be a truly transformational time to encourage Orthodox students to live a life in Christ.” – Nathan Liu, Mid-Atlantic Regional Student Leader
“I love the close connection and mentorship that the OCF staff gives the SLB. I feel much more acquainted with the beginning-to-end process of creating ministry efforts than I did before I began. OCF provides so much support and resources that I feel confident that I am maximizing my contribution to the ministry.” – Evan Roussey, Real Break Student Leader
“I think I’ve been a strong reference point for my community as they reach out to young adults, and I think that my involvement has been able to help me reach out to my Orthodox friends who feel less connected in their college communities.”- Catherine Thompson, Northwest Regional Student Leader
Life Giving Relationships: You’ll build some of the deepest and most life giving relationships with the other SLBers, OCF Staff, and the peers you serve.
“One of my favorite parts about being on the SLB includes the amazing community. After connecting in Dallas I now have a nation-wide support system of fellow Orthodox Christians. I feel comfortable talking with anyone on the SLB about anything, because they are all amazing people.” – Elyssa Koutrodimos, Great Lakes Regional Student Leader
“I like the connection and closeness of the leadership board and being able to meet new people via my district student leaders and others.”– Kiki Gormanos, Southeast Regional Student Leader
“ Since joining the SLB, I have felt of one spirit with everyone, and has been one of the most life-giving things I have ever experienced. I know that everyone on the SLB and on staff are committed to the same mission, the same God, and that I am one member in a greater effort. Yes, we work together, but we also have become close friends.” – Evan Roussey, Real Break Student Leader
“I love the strong community of friends that I have all over the country. Even though we are hundreds or even thousands of miles away from each other, everyone feels like family. I am extremely grateful this past year to have developed relationships that are fulfilling, both mentally and spiritually. We are all devoted to helping each other become better Orthodox Christians, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to surround myself with.” – Danielle Rallis, Podcast Student Leader
“It has changed my college experience because I have met so many people around the country both from the board and working to create events, and from those I now have a network of Orthodox Christians that I connect with on a very deep level. “-Thomas Retzios, Video Student Leader
“I have always been a very reflective person. I always wanted to have a place to have conversations and open discussions about young adults in the Orthodox Church. I hoped to get, as well as give, more insight about the reality of how Orthodox Christians use their faith, and how we can all grow in our spiritual journey. As podcast student leader, I have been put in a position to think about the faith on a more consistent basis. I hoped this would happen, as now it has become more habitual to not only think about my own spiritual life, but how we are young adults in the church are all trying to learn how to develop a stronger faith.” – Danielle Rallis, Podcast Student Leader
“Being part of the SLB has shown me how to take the gifts I have received from God and begin to put them to use. I integrate what I learn in school into the responsibilities that I have on the SLB; contributing to the SLB and OCF ministries has taught me how to participate more intentionally in the other parts of my life such as music and social life. I feel a sense of contribution and momentum; my efforts in academic, personal, and spiritual spheres all feel related. I thank God for that and know that the SLB was the key to integrating my experiences, equally for the tasks that it asked of me and the people that it gave me to share my life with.” – Evan Roussey, Real Break Student Leader
“It can be easy to feel inadequate, but remember you (especially in a leadership role on the SLB) have the potential to change someone’s life in an instant. If you ever feel deficient in any way, never forget that God has given everyone countless, daily opportunities to share His love with each other and to draw closer to Him together. Every moment has the potential to be transformed into something beautiful – whether it be holding a two hour conversation on the phone with someone you hardly know or a 15 minute, positive interaction you had on a zoom call. I have had many opportunities where someone changed my life in a matter of minutes. When you open your heart to this possibility, approach every relationship and pray, “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace…”– Magdalena Hudson, Publications Student Leader
After reading all of this, I’ll assume you’re thoroughly convinced that being on the SLB is a life-changing experience to do Christ’s work, so I cordially invite you to apply. Please do not hesitate to reach out to myself or any of the current SLBers with any and all questions you might have. Descriptions of each position are listed within the applications found below. So apply, just do it.
Elias is a Junior at Valparaiso University studying music and mechanical engineering. He loves to lead his OCF chapter and will be serving as next year’s SLB chairman. When he’s not working on schoolwork, he enjoys playing his trumpet or guitar, beating his friends in ping pong, and laughing unnecessarily hard at marginally funny things. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the months of November and December we are inundated with messages of ‘giving thanks’ and ‘spreading Christmas cheer.’ While nice sentiments on the surface, they all point towards one thing: consuming. To prepare for Christmas, we are told we need to start shopping as early as October 1st to get the perfect gift. We are encouraged to wait in line on black Friday for that one-time-only sale. On Thanksgiving, we are shown images of tables overflowing with food and the latest decorations to give the day ‘that holiday feel.’ These messages come through the medium of commercials, targeted Instagram advertisements, Hallmark movies, and signs on the side of the highway. It’s easy to get caught up in the consumerist mentality of the holiday season and feel like these are the markers we need to meet in order to participate in and prepare for the joy of Christmas. I have certainly been guilty of that at points in my life!
And yet, when I look to the Church for how to prepare for Christmas, the great Feast of the Incarnation of Christ, I hear very different messages. Instead of consuming and indulging, we are called to abstain through fasting, to empty ourselves so that we may increase our prayer life, and to give as we have received. And what have we received? LIFE and life abundantly! As we heard in the Epistle this past Sunday, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” Ephesians 2:4-5). It was out of love, that God created us and gave us His only begotten Son so that we may learn to love as He loved. As Orthodox Christians, the season of advent leads us to the humble beginnings of the birth of our Lord and Savior, whose mother gave up her own will to allow the will of God to be made manifest.
In contrast to the messages of consumerism, when we inundate our hearts with the messages the Church provides us during this season, the natural response becomes: how can I “praise the Lord, exalting him evermore” (1st Canon of the Nativity) and consider more deeply what I can do to offer that love back to God and my neighbor.
So what can we do to offer that love?
To me, it begins with cultivating a heart for service. And how do we do that? First and foremost, we immerse ourselves in the life of the Church, the word of the Lord, and become intimately familiar with the ways in which Christ served. Christ’s service on earth was radical acts of love where he broke societal norms and boundaries to heal the wounds of others and enter into the sufferings of those most ostracized. His life was a life of service and that is what we are called to cultivate–a life of service that is rooted in the love of Christ.
This is not something that happens overnight. It happens in the small ways in which we intentionally choose to switch our attention from ways we can consume to ways we can give out of our abundance for the sake of the other and out of love for God. This season, consider: what is one thing you could do, however small, to cultivate a heart for service?
If you are someone who is yearning to cultivate a heart for service and feels a desire to serve in a radical way, I invite you to consider looking into the newest ministry of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops—Orthodox Volunteer Corps (OVC). The mission of OVC is to ignite and equip Orthodox young adults to catalyze transformative service for the Church and world. Through an immersive 10-month experience, young adults will live in solidarity with the most vulnerable, learn to embody justice and mercy, and give of their head, hearts, and hands in service. Corps Members will work four days a week at a local nonprofit, live in community with other Orthodox young adults, participate in faith and leadership formation seminars, and immerse themselves in the life of the Church. If you are between the ages of 21-29 and you feel called to a life of service, we encourage you to begin that process by applying to OVC! Applications are due February 15, 2022 and you can apply online here: https://orthodoxvolunteercorps.org/
Director of Strategic Growth for CrossRoad Institute and Chair of the Orthodox Volunteer Corps Advisory Council
Kyra Limberakis received her bachelor’s degree from Villanova University and her Master of Theological Studies from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry where she focused her studies on youth and young adult ministry and the ministry of women in the church. Kyra’s experience in youth work spans 10+ years and includes serving as staff for her metropolis camp, Ionian Village, Orthodox Christian Fellowship, and CrossRoad—all programs that were part of her own faith formation. As a college student, she participated in OCF’s College Conference and Real Break programs and later on served as the Real Break Thessaloniki lay leader in 2018 and 2019. She will be a workshop speaker at this year’s College Conference East.
Around this time of year, I find myself buying fun decorations and lights. Perhaps I’ll put together a gingerbread house or find some other cute Christmas treats to bake. Let’s not forget the ugly Christmas sweaters, fuzzy socks, and Santa hats. In fact, while writing this blog entry, I’m sitting here in my Christmas themed pajama-pants complete with dogs in scarves skiing down a hill.
It is tradition to adorn our homes and even ourselves festively this season. In doing so, we are communicating a piece of the joy of the Nativity. But these adornments, even some silly pajamas, might point to something more profound. We feel the warmth, cheer, and joy of the holiday season when hearing Christmas music or seeing beautiful lights and we want to spread this cheer into the world.
This joy flows from the knowledge that Christ is Born! Glorify Him! Our Nativity feast reminds us that through the birth of Christ the image of God in us was restored. As the Canon of the Nativity of Our Lord says:
Man was made in the image of God, but he sinned and lost immortality. He fell from the divine and better life, enslaved completely by corruption. Now the wise Creator fashions him again, for He has been glorified!
Our adornments spread the feeling of joy of this wonderful season. These traditions are beautiful, fun, and are part of the awe-some experience of our lives on earth. Although they are associated with Christmas and connect us back to this holiday they may actually cause us to forget the harder work we must do to truly adorn ourselves to celebrate Nativity–to truly adorn ourselves and the world around us in response to the redemption of the image of God within us.
Christ is the true image of God. Christ is true humanity. In him, we find the kind of human life we were meant to live. As Christians we put on this life as a garment, “For all of you that have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27).
So instead of only dressing-up and decorating our world with physical reminders of Christmas, in following Christ, God prepares us for the true festivities: “See, I have taken your guilt away from you and will clothe you with festive robes” (Zach 3:4).
To adorn ourselves with these festive clothes is to become Christ-like –to serve the world with sacrificial love –to care for the poor, feed those who are hungry, seek those who are lost, care for the sick, and love our enemy.
There is much suffering at this time. It will be one of the hardest and loneliest Christmases for so many. Let us remember that we who are made in the image of God are called to put on Christ. We are called to clothe ourselves in the true garments of Christmas (this can be in addition to our ugly Christmas sweaters of course) and go into the world to serve with Christ’s sacrificial love. This is how we can truly adorn this holiday and spread the joy of the Christmas season.
Alethia Placencia (in collaboration with Nathan Placencia)
Publications Student Leader
I am a senior at the University of Kentucky studying philosophy and microbiology. I love hiking, staying active, and enjoying great books and food! Above all, I love the family OCF has given me. Whatever your story may be, there is a place for you in this community! Reach out to learn more about OCF or if you would like to contribute to the blog! email@example.com
In the Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare there is a quote that says, “How far that candle shines his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” Today’s post isn’t going to be, dare I say, typical. I want to talk about the opportunities we have to serve in OCF. Our theme this month, as has been reiterated over and over again, is John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Shakespeare got one thing right here, and maybe he wasn’t trying to use an Orthodox perspective, but we too believe that the world today has darkness, but the best way to keep the light shining, is to shine our own light. Now you may be thinking, “Um, I am in college, I don’t have the money/resources to do good deeds. Guess what!? OCF can give you everything you need in an easy two step process.
Second Step: Register! (Don’t forget to show up! I guess there are three steps…)
What does a YES Day or Retreat have to do with service and good deeds?
YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) Days are an amazing one-day program endorsed by OCF and the offered by FOCUS North America (https://focusnorthamerica.org/) where students gather at a church and complete a service project of some kind. For example, last year I attended the Chicago YES Day. We went to a fast food restaurant and bought a ton of food and handed it out to people on the street and talked with them. It was really cool to hear people’s stories, even if they were just wanting a snack waiting for the bus. To see people be affected by what we did, was an incredible experience. I know I tend to forget how fortunate I am. I have my own car, and a roof over my head, and some people didn’t even have a jacket on a cold October day. People asked us where we were from, and we were given the opportunity to share our faith. Some people had heard of Orthodoxy, and some said they would even try to go to the local church that was hosting us! This truly lifted our spirits, and warmed my heart in places I didn’t know were getting cold.
YES Day Chicago 2018
Last November at the Midwest Fall Retreat we made blankets. What does that have to do with good deeds? Well, we made tie blankets, with cute patterns, and sent them to a pregnancy resource center for babies. Blankets are important because babies being swaddled and wrapped in something gives them a sense of security. Pregnancy resource centers are organizations that help mothers who have difficult decisions to make when they become pregnant. Some mothers lose support from people they relied on and need help. They can go to the pregnancy resource center and receive assistance, baby food, diapers, and blankets. The blankets are important because for a mother that feels like they are losing control, the blanket isn’t just a sense of security for the baby anymore, but for the mom as well, who sees that her baby is being taken care of, and is comfortable.
Midwest Fall Retreat 2018
Last March at the Central Illinois District Retreat, the service event involved going to a place called Salt ‘n Light Ministry. This organization allows people to work and gain store credit to buy groceries, clothing, furniture, basically anything someone might need. We had students stocking fruits and vegetables, printing price tags, sorting clothes, and lots of other chores to help out. This ministry provides people with the dignity in knowing that they aren’t receiving handouts, but are reaping the fruits of their labor.
Central Illinois District Retreat 2019
So, with all those examples of things I did last year, I now am urging you to get involved, and to allow our light to shine as a “good deed shines in a weary world.” You never know when you could be the person to help someone learn to shine their own light. Sign up for an OCF event today! I promise you won’t regret it!
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! firstname.lastname@example.org
I couldn’t be more blessed with my parish here in Chicago.
There are tons of Orthodox churches all across the city. I know that different students from different OCFs way across the city go to different churches, but I’ve been fortunate enough to find the one in which I feel both comfortable and pushed to be better; welcomed, and supported.
Parish life can be something over which we gloss in OCF. Many of our pillars–fellowship, education, service–replicate exactly those that are utilized by the many healthy parishes across the nation. OCF organizes service trips; so do many churches. OCF organizes Scripture study and book readings; so do many churches.
Now, OCF serves these similar functions as the parish for a distinct reason: As a college student, it can be quite tricky to become engaged in these aspects of parish life. Church youth groups are often geared toward younger students, and rightfully so: once those youth leave for college, they can no longer be members of the group.
Meanwhile, the adults of the parish–even those on the younger side–have likely been members of the parish for a few years. Their concerns are perhaps starting a family, settling in to their profession, creating a state of permanence that a nomadic college student simply cannot. They’re at a different stage in their life.
And accordingly, OCF creates a community of the like-minded, similar-staged college students, that we may be buttressed by these pillars of education and fellowship and service in the Church.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Bill Colclough.
That being said, we must recognize a crucial point: Both college life, and by extension, OCF life are not meant to replicate the aforementioned permanence of a fledgling adult who has landed in a home, has a home parish, and has some real consistency to their lives. College and OCF life are, by their nature, transient.
We forget this because we spend years–long, hard, awful years–in high school being told that the end is college; that we must appropriately cite our sources, because we will have to do that in college; that we must do extracurricular activities, because colleges will like that. Our paradigm for decision-making and effort is solely based on college as an end goal. But it is not an end. It is a means to an end.
The end of all things is Christ. The end of all things is the second coming and eternal salvation in the Kingdom of Heaven. As Orthodox Christians, standing in the face of this truth, everything we do must be geared toward arriving at this end as prepared and humble servants; as guests wearing the wedding garments; as virgins with oil in our lamps.
As such, my encouragement to you today is to examine: what are your ends? Do you do what you do to get good grades? To get a good job? To make money? To have a family? To live a happy life? Perhaps, even, do you do what you do because it feels good in the moment? I cannot tell you how you should divide your efforts on a daily basis, but I do know that the Lord said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” If there’s something in your life that isn’t leading you to the kingdom, you have to sit and think about that.
It is in this mindset and in this spirit that I return to my original point: I am so blessed with the parish that I have. It is youthful, thriving, and joyous. If I wanted to show anyone what Orthodoxy looks like–not in a monastery on a hill or a village in the home country–but in the center of a city in America, I would take them here.
But I don’t participate in that parish nearly as much as I should. Don’t get me wrong: I go to church every week that I’m in Chicago. (Okay, I was really sick like two weeks ago, but you get the point.) But my involvement with OCF–good, valuable, important to me–fools me into believing that I needn’t involve myself with my parish.
However, I know that, as the future rolls ever toward me, parish involvement is on my horizon. I know that, to make it to the kingdom, I need a home parish. I need that stability, that consistent involvement, those people who know me well through my faith. I know that my opportunities to serve, to learn, and to commune will no longer come from OCF in the nearing future. And I have to start preparing for that.
My prayer is that the Lord helps me do this. It is difficult, to pull oneself far back, to such a wide-reaching perspective–but, it allows the self to make more level-headed, forward-thinking decisions. It is only by looking at the long-term can we gain the insight needed to change the short-term.