As college students, we have a lot to be thankful for. We are thankful for our family, our friends, our home. A lot of times, we are thankful for simple things like the free food on campus or the email from our professor canceling our 8 a.m. class. I don’t know about everyone else, but every time one of those small things occur to me, I think to myself, “Thank God” and then continue on eating my free pizza or roll back into bed.
But let me tell you something I never do.
I don’t wake up for my 8 a.m. classes and say, “Thank God.” I also don’t utter those words when I use the money that I have to pay for my meal. I usually don’t remember to thank Him at all. Why is that?
Well, as a society, we have a small problem. We love to express our thankfulness to God when things are going well in our lives. But, when everything is just average or going poorly, we forget about God and even question his intentions. Instead of thanking God constantly for what He has given us, we question why He has given us struggles in our lives.
As the Thanksgiving season has come and gone, we have to ask ourselves, how can we work towards being thankful to God every day, no matter what is occurring in our lives? Even if we do not realize it, we do give thanks to God in many ways throughout our daily and spiritual lives.
Did you know that we can give thanks to God by receiving Holy Communion? The word “thanksgiving” translates to Eucharistia in Greek. In turn, the word Eucharist is used in the Orthodox Church to describe the act of the Orthodox faithful receiving the consecrated body and blood of Christ, otherwise known as the sacrament of Holy Communion.
St. John Chrysostom teaches us that one way to be thankful to God is to participate in the Eucharist consistently. He states that “the dread Mysteries, full of such great salvation, which are celebrated at every Liturgy, are also called a Thanksgiving [Eucharistia] because they are the remembrance of many benefits…and in every way cause us to be thankful to Him.” By receiving Holy Communion, we are not only bringing Christ into our lives, we are thanking Christ for giving us life and the hope for the resurrection by remembering what He sacrificed for us all.
St. John Chrysostom also states:
Whenever we are either in poverty, or in sickness, or are being insulted, then let us intensify our thanksgiving; thanksgiving, I mean, not in words, nor with the tongue, but in deeds and works, in mind and in heart; let us give thanks to Him with all our souls.
Here, he gives us new meaning to how we as Orthodox Christians can practice thanksgiving in our lives. He encourages all of us to give thanks to God with our entire soul. According to him, to achieve this we must focus on not only offering our thanksgiving to God with our prayers, but with our acts towards others.
One of my favorite verses from the Bible comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I never really thought about how I could incorporate the message of this verse in my everyday life until about a year ago.
In the summer of 2017, I was given an opportunity to travel to Rosarito, Mexico and spend a week working on building a home for the Ramirez family with Project Mexico. While building the home for the Ramirez family, we all saw how much they rejoiced with us every minute of the day with their radiant smiles and loving hospitality towards us.
We saw their love for Christ when they welcomed us into their home and made a group of thirty missionaries homemade meals every day, even though they barely had money to make ends meet. They were thankful for everything that they had, even though they had very little.
My greatest takeaway from this trip was not that I built a home for a family in need, but that I was able to learn from the Ramirez family what it means to rejoice always and give thanks for everything every single day.
This is why, I believe, St. John Chrysostom states that by helping others, we can and will be able to open our hearts and be able to learn how to be thankful to God with all our souls. Christ gives us many opportunities to give thanks to Him daily in different forms, either through Holy Communion or through good acts towards others. We just have to work on acting on those opportunities given to us by Christ so we can remember to give thanks to him daily and not just one month of the year.
Hi everyone! My name is Joanna Psyhogios. I am from Wilmette, Illinois and I am a member at St. John the Baptist Church in Des Plaines Illinois. My first experience with OCF was during College Conference East and I have been active in participating in College Conference and OCF Retreats ever since. In my free time, I love to play and watch every sport, coach basketball to youth teams, watch movies and TV Shows, and play Jungle Speed (Shoutout to CC Midwest!). I am really excited to share what I have learned about the Orthodox faith through the OCF blogs!
A new school year means a new theme for OCF!
We’re centering this year all around these three words, “Come and see.” It’s a challenge to all of us both to follow these three words and to share them with others. We have a few ideas of how you can do that this month and all year round in our Orthodox Awareness Month manual. We hope you check it out and participate.
But what does it really mean to come and see? Toward what are we coming and what will we see? Well, for the next four Wednesdays for Orthodox Awareness Month, we’ll reflect on just that!
The first time the phrase “come and see” appears in the Gospel of John is right after John the Baptist calls Jesus twice “the Lamb of God” and says that he saw the Spirit descend from heaven and rest upon Him. A few of John’s disciples must have been intrigued by their master’s deference to his newly-arrived cousin because they decide to follow Him to see where He’s going.
I’m not sure they knew what they were in for when Jesus turned and asked them, “What do you seek?” But by some moment of inspiration, they asked Him where He was staying.
In his homily on this passage, St. John Chrysostom notices
They did not say, “Teach us of Thy doctrines, or some other thing that we need to know”; but what? “Where dwellest Thou?”
It’s an interesting question. Why not ask, “What do you teach?” or “Why does John call you the Lamb of God?” There’s something significant about knowing the place where the Lord lives and then coming to stay with Him in His own home. To come and see where the Teacher dwells is experiential.
This, I think, is why we prefer the invitation “come and see” over long-winded philosophical arguments about the validity of our Orthodox Christian beliefs. We know that Truth is beyond words–it must be experienced before it can be expressed, and no expression will ever do justice to the experience itself. The place to experience God, to simply come and see where He lives, is in the Church. The Church is the place where God’s Heavenly Kingdom is most clearly breaking through into the created realm.
Take the account of the pagan Slavs sent by St. Vladimir to Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, for example. Upon returning to their king, the delegates declared
We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We only know that God dwells there.
And it is not just the beauty of the Liturgy and the music and the icons that make known the place where the Lord dwells, but the beauty of the Body of Christ, the beauty of Christian hearts being purified by God’s love.
So the first calling of come and see is simply to enter into the place where the Teacher lives, to follow Him and earnestly desire to experience the life of His Kingdom. This is the first step in the making of a disciple of Christ, to seek out where the Lord dwells and then stay with Him a while.
One thing is education, that you learn to love God. – Mother Gavrilia
As promised, today I’d love to introduce you some of the saints most beloved by students, saints whose prayers have been requested before countless exams and before many a presentation. I’d like to encourage you to not only read their stories, but invite them into your life. I’ve included a troparion for each saint that you could pray as you sit down to your books, when you start off a study group, before you go into class, and before those nasty final exams. Print out their icons with the words to the hymn, and use them as bookmarks in your textbooks so that you are reminded to sanctify your schoolwork with prayer. Create opportunities to converse with the saints, ask their advice, and plead for their prayers!
So here goes, the patron saints of education:
We LOVE St. Katherine (November 24). She’s the patron saint of OCF, and we’ve written about her example for us before. St. Katherine is loved for so many reasons and is known to intercede on our behalf for many things. For students, she is an example of Mother Gavrilia’s words: she used her first-rate education, eloquence, and wisdom to come to know God and share His Gospel with those around her. She was also young, zealous, and fearless (like many of you, I’m sure)! She wasn’t afraid to stand up to the (male) authorities of her day who not only renounced the Christian message but who sacrificed Christians to their pagan gods. In an age when students are often explicitly asked to keep Christ out of the classroom, St. Katherine’s prayers are even more needed.
Troparion in the Fourth Mode
By your virtues as by rays of the sun you enlightened the unbelieving philosophers, and like the most bright moon you drove away the darkness of disbelief from those walking in the night; you convinced the queen, and also chastised the tyrant, God-summoned bride, blessed Catherine. You hastened with desire to the heavenly bridal chamber of the fairest Bride-groom Christ, and you were crowned by Him with a royal crown; standing before Him with the angels, pray for us who keep your most sacred memory.
St. Justin Martyr
St. Justin Martyr (June 1) is another saint we’ve written about before. Like St. Katherine, he received a great education and used his education to share the gospel with others. What’s special about St. Justin is his unwavering certainty of Christ’s truth combined with his ability to see that truth scattered throughout the world in every person, no matter their beliefs or religion. He saw the seeds of the Word even in the pagan philosophy of his day and used what was known to the unbelievers to draw them to belief in Christ. May St. Justin pray for us as we strive to share Christ with fidelity to His truth and real understanding for those who do not yet know Him.
Troparion in the Fourth Mode
O Justin, teacher of divine knowledge, you shone with the radiance of true philosophy. You were wisely armed against the enemy. Confessing the truth you contended alongside the martyrs, with them, ever entreat Christ our God to save our souls!
The Three Hierarchs
The Three Hierarchs (January 30), St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, and St. Gregory the Theologian are seen as the greatest of the Church Fathers whose teachings shaped the Orthodox expression of theology as perhaps no others had before them and no others have since. As teachers of the whole Church, we can ask that they become our personal instructors, teaching us through their writings the content of our faith and offering us by their prayers a chance to encounter Christ in our hearts.
Troparion in the First Mode
Let us who love their words gather together and honor with hymns the three great torch-bearers of the triune Godhead: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom. These men have enlightened the world with the rays of their divine doctrines. They are sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdom filling all creation with springs of heavenly knowledge. Ceaselessly they intercede for us before the Holy Trinity!
St. John of Kronstadt
One of the most beloved saints of the modern era, St. John of Kronstadt (December 20) has blessed so many people both in his lifetime and today, especially through his memoir, My Life in Christ. And even though he is now a well-known teacher, pastor, and writer, when he started out, St. John struggled to just get through his studies. You have to read his own words about his anxiety over his studies, his inability to commit his lectures to memory, and his desperate cry to God for help. It’s an amazing confirmation that God listens to our prayers, even prayers for small things like studying and test taking. Ask for St. John’s help especially when you are working on memorization, be it biology terms, history dates, or poetry lines.
Troparion in the First Mode
As a zealous advocate of the Orthodox faith, as a caring Solicitor for the land of Russia, faithful to the rules and image of a pastor, preaching repentance and life in Christ, an awesome servant and administer of God’s sacraments, a daring intercessor for people’s sake, O good and righteous Father John, healer and wonderful miracle-worker, the praise of the town of Kronstadt and decoration of our Church, beseech the All-Merciful God to reconcile the world and to save our souls!
St. Sergius of Radonezh
St. Sergius of Radonezh (September 25) provides another incredible example of God’s grace in our studies. Though offered an excellent education as a boy, St. Sergius was unable even to learn to read, despite his best efforts. Desiring desperately to be educated, most especially in the words of Scripture, St. Sergius asked the intercessions of a visiting monk to help him learn to read the Scriptures. By trusting God earnestly and asking for illumination with humility, St. Sergius was granted the ability to read perfectly. St. Sergius went on to live a life of extreme asceticism and was granted the grace to work miracles for the sake and salvation of many. Invite St. Sergius to be near you especially when you are struggling in a course or when you feel like you’re falling behind.
Troparion in the Fourth Mode
A zealot of good deeds and a true warrior of Christ warrior of Christ our God, you struggled greatly against the passions in this passing life; in songs and vigils and fasting you were an image and example to your disciples, thus the most Holy Spirit lived within you, and you were made beautiful by His working. Since you have great boldness before the Holy Trinity, remember the flock which you have wisely gathered, and do not forget to visit your children as you promised, venerable Sergius our father!
(All troparia are from www.oca.org)
Today, we’re spending time with the Fathers’ Father: St. John Chrysostom.
St. Paul whispering in the ear of St. John Chrysostom as the future fathers of the Church gather to drink from St. John’s wisdom.
CC image from Ted on Flickr.
There is no way I can possibly do proper homage to this saint in one short blog post–the Church can’t even do it in one feast day! We celebrate St. John three times every year: November 13 for his own commemoration, January 27 for the translation of his relics, and January 30 along with St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian on the the Synaxis of the Three Hierarchs. And that’s not counting the hundreds of times a year the Church commemorates him in the services as part of the dismissal prayers. I mean, he’s kind of a big deal.
St. John was raised by his Christian mother who was a widow and received a high-class “secular” education from the greatest scholars of his day (who were, by the way, pagans). Although it seemed that John would have a career in rhetoric ahead of him, he decided instead to dedicate himself to God as a monk. Extreme asceticism was not the path God had in store for him, however, and due to illnesses brought on by his ascetic lifestyle, he returned home to Antioch where he was ordained a deacon and later a presbyter in Antioch. It was as a priest in Antioch that he became chrysostom or “golden-mouthed,” known for his convicting sermons and thorough commentaries. Today we still have 1,447 of St. John’s sermons and 240 of his letters! I get a writer’s cramp just thinking about it.
Eventually, St. John was made the Patriarch of Constantinople, but it was not to be an easy road for him. Preaching against the moral laxity of the Empress Eudoxia, St. John got himself exiled twice, ultimately dying in exile. His famous last words were, “Glory to God for all things.”
The lasting impact St. John has had on our faith and our Church can hardly be measured. In addition to his homilies and letters, we have from this giant of a man a number of treatises on everything from heresy to monasticism to the priesthood. Oh, and then there’s that little service we do just about every day somewhere in the Orthodox world–the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
Countless later Church Fathers, bishops, priests, preachers, and scholars have looked to St. John for advice on Scripture, ethics, marriage, ordination, raising children, guiding parishes, writing sermons…the list just keeps going. If you ever have a question about our Faith or are confused when reading the Bible, there’s a pretty good chance St. John can help you out, too.
Check out his complete works, or, if that’s just a little too much all at once, you can try these volumes which are collections by topic:
On Living Simply
On Wealth and Poverty
On the Priesthood
On Marriage and Family Life
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen. -St. John’s Paschal Homily, read at every Paschal service
Wanting to upgrade your chapter Bible study? Here are some resources we suggest for helping you prayerfully study the Scriptures.
Public Domain image from dustytoes on Pixabay.
- The Orthodox Study Bible: If you’re not already using it, the OSB has some helpful, basic articles and footnotes throughout the text.
- An Interlinear or Side-by-Side Bible or New Testament: Using both the Greek and/or Hebrew text alongside the English text can really help when you get stumped on a passage or everyone has really different translations. Plus, it brings up other interesting questions as you go along. There are a few online sources like BibleHub or BibleStudyTools or you can find them on Amazon (here’s one suggestion). For this and other books, I suggest purchasing one or two OCF copies that can be passed down rather than having everyone in the chapter get one.
- A Concordance: This nifty little book is basically a fancy index for the Bible, letting you find passages by topic. Again, there are some online tools on BibleStudyTools or you can go for Strong’s Concordance in print.
- A Bible Dictionary: Ever come across a word and wonder the history of that word, idea, or object? A Bible Dictionary is a step up from Wikipedia. Try Vine’s.
- Commentaries: There are about a million of these you could try, but the best, of course, are the Orthodox patristic commentaries, but certainly modern Orthodox (and non-Orthodox) authors have some things to add, too. Probably your local parish has a few of these you can borrow or might be willing to purchase them for the parish. Here are just a few:
- Ancient Christian Commentary Series: This gives you just little snippits from a number of Fathers, East and West, on each passage. This is great for hearing from the cloud of witnesses and getting to know which Fathers you connect with the best.
- The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox: Similar to Ancient Christian Commentaries in that it gives brief patristic passages, but compiled by an Orthodox author to be used with an Orthodox daily lectionary.
- St. Theophylact: St. Theophylact’s commentaries on Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Ephesians, Galatians are available on Amazon.
- St. John Chrysostom: Of course, St. John’s homilies are incredibly useful! You can find many of them for free in somewhat archaic English from Christian Classics Ethereal Library or you can order a volume such as this one. St. John has homilies on Genesis, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Matthew, John, Acts, Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I Thessalonians, II Thessalonians, I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews. Whew. I think that’s it.
- The Orthodox Bible Study Companion Series: Written by Fr. Lawrence Farley, these offer some simple and helpful reflections on the entire New Testament and are meant to be especially helpful if you are reading in the OSB.
- Fr. Paul Tarazi: A biblical scholar from St. Vlad’s, Fr. Paul has written on Genesis, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John (including his letters), Paul’s letters (with full volumes on Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Romans, I Thessalonians, and Galatians.
- ExeGenius: Have you seen this really cool tool put out by the GOA’s Y2AM team? Go through the Sunday Gospel readings word by word with this interactive commentary which pulls together interesting portions of Bible dictionaries, concordances, and commentaries as well as adds a few thoughts geared specifically toward youth and young adults.
- OrthodoxYouth: These resources from the Antiochian Archdiocese include study guides, quizzes, and mp3s on the books of the New Testament for youth and young adults.
- Orthodox Scripture Study: Thanks to the ACROD seminary Christ the Saviour, you can tune in to live lectures on the Gospel of John or the Gospel of Matthew. They also archive video and audio versions of the lectures.
- Your Spiritual Advisor: You can never go wrong with having a priest helping you walk through the words of the Bible.
Illumine our hearts, O Master Who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.