Growing up participating in extracurricular activities, you learn a lot of life lessons that stick with you forever. One of the biggest lessons everyone learns at a young age is about the importance of teamwork.
Everyone knows the go to phrase that every coach or teacher would say constantly: “There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team.’” Whether you played sports, an instrument, performed in plays, or anything else, you were taught early on that teamwork makes the dream work. You learned that teamwork was one of the biggest keys in being successful.
Just like being a team player is essential to being successful in activities or careers, being a team player is also essential to growing our relationship with Christ and the Church. So how can we become team players in the Orthodox Church? Go to Church on a regular basis.
Why does going to Church make you a team player?
You are present with people who share your faith and you are worshiping together, as a family, as a team, leading each other into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The word “Church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia which in ancient Athens signified the citizens assembly. The Church is not meant to just be a place for individuals, it was created and designed to be a place for a multitudes of people to assemble and be immersed in their common faith. Think about the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is full of prayers that specifically focus on a group of people. After each petition, are the words “…let US pray to the Lord.” Not let ME pray to the Lord, but let US pray to the Lord. These prayers are meant for all of us, together as God’s faithful servants to come together and pray to the Lord.
In Matthew 18:20, Christ says “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” How cool is it to think about that? Christ said it to us Himself. He is in our midst when we all come together to pray in His name.
Coming together and praying as a team helps us to build a stronger connection not just to Christ, but to each other. When we worship Christ with others, we feel that we are part of the same team. We feel that we are struggling and getting through life together. The more people with whom we are praying, the stronger our prayers become, bringing us all closer to Christ and to each other.
So why can’t you pray on your own? You can, and you definitely should. Just like a professional athlete takes care of himself outside of practices and games, we should be taking care of our spiritual life when we are not present in the Church. But just like the professional athlete, it is required of us as Orthodox Christians to come together, as a team, and support each other in growing in our spiritual lives.
No one can struggle through life alone. We need our spiritual team to support us with our struggles in life. We need to be present at Church for our prayers to be united with the prayers of our teammates. We need to be present at Church and allow Christ to be in our midst.
So let’s work together to become closer to each other and Christ. Let’s gather in His Church and worship together as one team. Together we can pray with our team in order to live our dream in the Kingdom of God.
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!
This is the first year of my college career that I won’t be applying for the Student Leadership Board–it feels weird. I’ve loved my position here, made some amazing friends and ridiculous memories alike, and hopefully done some good for the parents, students, and chapter advisers that swing by the blog.
In a perfect world, I’m back for year 3. But the world ain’t perfect–it’s incredibly busy, sometimes super stressful, and full of sacrifices. I’m incredibly blessed to attend a great college–but it’s very rigorous; incredibly blessed to have rewarding jobs in my prospective field for the future–but they demand the bulk of my time.
It would be cowardly and dishonest to not stand before you today and tell you I didn’t do nearly as good of a job this year in my position as the Publications Student Leader as I should have. I didn’t do nearly as good of a job on schoolwork, actual job work, going to the gym, reading for leisure, whatever. Life overwhelmed me.
I tell you this to offer a cautionary tale: if you’re going to do something, do it right. When you apply to the Student Leadership Board, it shouldn’t be primarily that you may throw it on your resume (though it certainly doesn’t hurt). It shouldn’t be because your friends are also applying for the Board (though they should and that’d be nice). It should be because you want to help Orthodox college students get through the briar patch–you want to, and you can as well.
Being on the OCF board is mission work. We forget that sometimes: it is mission work for the Church. We are spreading Christianity, not only to those in our communities who may be interested, but also to those who were raised in the Church. Whether we grew up in the Church or only recently joined it, we are always growing into the Church, growing through the Church. As we develop, so much our relationship with the Church–we encounter new things, experience and overcome new struggles by breaching new, previously undiscovered corners of our faith.
In short, college changes us: but the Church accompanies and even guides us through that change. OCF helps the Church do just that.
Being on the Student Leadership Board places the onus of helping the Church guide students through the college change squarely on your shoulders. This is your mission. When you work as a Regional Student Leader, you organize events for, reach out to, and coordinate with all of the OCFers in your area. When you work on the Programs side of things–Real Break, College Conferences–you spend all year forming the incredible, nationwide opportunities that only places like OCF can provide. When you work on my side of things–Media, Podcast, PR, Publications–you have a daily grind of linking OCF chapters from across the nation, and unifying us all through our common struggles and successes.
But you aren’t only the agent of the mission; you are also the subject. You are in college; you change. It is, I think, a fallacy to say “I am not strong in my faith, I’m struggling so much, I can’t be on the OCF board.” Rather, joining the board only gets you closer to the process, deeper into the restorative and strengthening powers of the Church and the faith. It is work, yes–but it is also respite, joy, and salvation. That is, inherently, what I think we all experience in our faith: work, trial, tribulation, struggle–but through these fires, we grow and experience Christ.
This month, our Blog Contributors were asked to submit reflections on the Akathist of Thanksgiving, from which comes OCF’s 2018 theme, #GloryToGod. To kick off our series, here’s Mark Ghannam.
Winter is coming. As the winter days approach those of us who live in places where the weather takes a cold turn, perhaps the award for the timeliest spiritual metaphor should be given to “the whirlwind, the terror and howling of the storm…” which is taken from the Akathist service of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Let us use this metaphor to reflect on what the storm clouds are in our spiritual lives.
Through every season of our lives, the storm clouds of doubt, fear, jealousy, pride, and so on will always be around us. These storm clouds inhibit our ability to perceive, and delight in, the eternal light and hope of the Son.
Some of us may think we are impervious to the storms of life, or we mistakenly think that if we manipulate our external circumstances enough, we can completely defend ourselves against them. If I only had this material good, I would be happy. If I can just pull my grades up. If I can just land that internship.
This is simply not how it works.
“For He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Scripture tells us explicitly that the storms of life, spoken of in the Akathist, are an inevitable part of human existence.
What are we to do?
Unfortunately, umbrellas, Hunter rain boots, and Canada Goose jackets are not enough for these kinds of storms. We cannot hide, or pretend they do not exist, as many of us try to do. The Akathist has a much better answer.
“The storm clouds of life bringeth no terror to those in whose hearts Thy fire is burning brightly. Outside is the darkness of the whirlwind, the terror and howling of the storm; but in the heart, in the presence of Christ, there is light, peace, and silence”
– Akathist of Thanksgiving, Kontakion 5
So many people will tell you that being a Christian is about being a good person, and that the Church exists so that it might spread good values. This is an understatement that is more egregious than saying “in college, you might have to do some work outside of class once in a while.”
Of course we are to be good people, and of course, as the Church, we must spread good values. However, there is a much higher calling to which we are called. The good news of Jesus Christ is about more than morality. It is about a total transformation, a radical repentance, that allows us to warm our hands by the fire of truth and beauty that lives inside of us.
We must dig deep within us to access, and live in, that place where our hearts our aflame with the love of Jesus Christ. The storm clouds can cover that place up, and make us believe it is not there. Fear and desire stand guard to keep us from paradise. If we can learn to set aside fear and desire through our spiritual practice, the gates of paradise will appear as they truly are: open.
In the external world, there is chaos. Deep within us is a place of silence and peace; a calm that is unmarred by the storms of life. We must go there. There is no other way.
St. Isaac the Syrian tells us that “the highest form of prayer, is to stand silently in awe before God.” If we want to learn to brave the storms that will inevitably come, we must learn, and practice, finding the peace that resides deep inside of us.
Where to start?
Take a deep breath. Sit for a moment.
School keeps us busy. Emails, texts, social media, etc, are brilliant distractions that tear our minds away from our peace.
Start with five minutes. Take five minutes out of your day to set your phone aside (screen facing down), and sit silently. Make the sign of the cross, and just sit in silence and stillness. It is no mistake that the spiritual life is often called “practice”. Acquiring the spirit of peace, takes practice. We must practice being still, being silent, and waking up to the reality of the presence of God in our lives.
That’s a sad reality, a tough reality, but let’s call it what it is: a lot of the experiences offered and knowledge presented to us create some degree of friction with the practices and teachings of the Church. Not all of it, of course!–but a good deal.
And this isn’t exclusive to college–that’s important to note. A lot of the experiences and knowledge of the world itself, fallen and broken, create some degree of friction with the Church. College is just our current context for that friction. It is the environment in which we are.
I want to tell you a story. It’s an amazing story, but in order for it to be amazing, we’ve gotta start with a bad story.
In my first year at the University of Chicago, I was put in a temporary dorm–Broadview Hall, almost a mile away from campus. It was a retired hotel in which us lucky first-years were holed up as Campus North Residential Commons (audience: oooh!) were constructed. Some griped, but I loved it. I had a single dorm with my own bathroom, there was always breakfast in the fridge downstairs and a rickety elevator that broke every other day.
I was in Room 527. Across the hall, in Room 524, was a young woman who we will call…Hannah. Hannah and I were both first years, so we went through the glorious rigmarole of orientation week together. Obviously, there were a ton of first-years with us, but Hannah was aggressively outgoing and friendly. For those of you who know me, I’m also socially…exuberant. So we chilled and had a good time.
via Wikimedia Commons
Hannah was obsessed with trains. Every time we rode Chicago’s L into the city, she was over the moon. Her room, across the hall from mine, faced east–you could only see buildings. My room faced the Metra line.
When Hannah discovered this, she immediately asked if she could come study in my room so she could also watch the trains. I mean, I was down. Hannah was super entertaining and was struggling to make any solid friendships early on, so I figured it was a good thing to do.
And then one day, Hannah asked me about the ‘pictures’ on top of my fridge. They were my icons.
I don’t know if I thought we could have avoided the topic entirely, somehow–or maybe, naive as a first-year, I imagined the conversation going far easier in my head. You see, Hannah had made it very clear from the first day of orientation that she had strong views on a ton of tough contemporary issues–and I knew those views would put her at odds with a lot of the Church’s teachings.
So she asked me about the pictures; I told her they were icons and that I was an Orthodox Christian. So, she asked me what that meant, what I believed, and so on. As best as I could at the time, I tried to communicate the Orthodox views in a sympathetic and non-confrontational manner, also asserting that I wasn’t nearly the ideal source for some of these difficult questions.
Hannah left my dorm room and never spoke to me again. She would up and leave tables if I sat down at them for a while, though she stopped with that eventually. Still, she hasn’t said a word.
Now, obviously, Hannah is an extreme case. As I said, she was a little socially awkward, so I don’t think she was adequately equipped to handle such a situation. But that experience soured me–hard–on how college and the Church interfaced. Reading through Genesis and St. Augustine and Dante across my first year of school, and hearing all of the…different interpretations thereof, didn’t help either.
But fast-forward to the amazing part of the story: right now, in my third-year at college. I’m taking a Russian Civics class, and the second week has been all about the varying religious and cultural beliefs of the Slavic regions, and the eventual onset of Christianity and precipitation into one giant big ole Russia.
via Wikimedia Commons
I mentioned during a comment in class that I’m Russian Orthodox. Since then, my professor–who won’t stop calling me Sam incidentally–has turned to me multiple times for my input on comments he makes or to help answer questions from students. I passed my cross around class so folks could look at it–I modeled what the three-bar cross looks like, because it was on the frocket of my AV Male Staff 2017 shirt (shoutout AV Male Staff 2017).
I had this awesome experience of Christianity in college. Just rad and a half. I got to stand there and explain what I believe, field questions, and make clarifications to a group of people that–for the most part–seemed interested in and respectful of what I was saying. And it was so dope.
Maybe to them I was just a peculiar echo of a long-passed novelty; someone clinging to silly beliefs. If that’s their judgment, that’s okay. College has always been a place for me where my faith isn’t treated with respect or as legitimate. But last week, that changed a little bit–I got a taste of the greener grass on the other side.
We always hear about the persecuted fathers of the Church–of St. Paul getting scorned and stoned and chased out of town for trying to live, unashamedly, a good and holy and just life.
And we remember St. Paul and the church fathers, not only because they went through this, but because they weren’t embittered, jaded, worn down, or defeated. They remained thankful (#GloryToGod), resilient, faithful, and humble.
I had written off college, I think. I’d encourage you to avoid a similar trap. The world has beauty if we don’t dull our eyes and relinquish our efforts in finding it, and every once in awhile, someone out there has ears to hear.
Hi friends! My name is Kiara Stewart, and I’m the third member of the Saturday Blog Contributor Team! This is my senior year (I’m not sure how or when this happened, but here we are) at Alfred University in Alfred, New York as an art major. When I’m not covered in clay, you can usually find me wandering in the woods, writing poetry, or knitting (sometimes all three), and I ADORE all things fuzzy.
Anyway, my quirky self aside, my introduction to OCF came the first Sunday of my freshman year at coffee hour. Another college student invited me to a meeting and I said, “Sure! . . . What’s OCF?” Obviously, I was pretty clueless, but over the years, OCF became quite the city on a hill for me. There is no OCF at my university, and to be frank, it’s pretty secular. That said, the church I attend (joy of joys!) is home to an OCF that’s a mash-up of students from about seven different schools. Without that OCF (and soul-shaking things like College Conference), I’m honestly not quite sure how I would have made it this far.
So fast forward to this year, and I hear that Ben is looking for regular guest contributors on the OCF blog. (I may or may not have scared the ever-living daylights out of my roommate when I leapt out of bed yelling, “I GOTTA TEXT BEN ABOUT THIS CONTRIBUTOR THINGY.” Oops.) I knew immediately that if there was room, I wanted to be a contributor. Not because I have any kind of special wisdom or knowledge or spiritual know-how (believe me, not my strong suit) that sets me apart but because like Mark said, I want to be a voice crying in the wilderness.
I love Alfred dearly, and I would never want to go anywhere else, but I have to admit that on the spiritual front, it’s been a rather lonely three-and-a-half years. No OCF, the nearest church is an hour and a half away, no other practicing students (or at least, none that my searching and scouring has turned up). Without OCF, my other Orthodox friends, and my AV family, I really don’t know how I would have weathered my time here. It’s far too possible that I would have fallen away from the faith.
One of my favorite songs is by an artist called Citizen Cope (painfully hipster, I know, I know), and there’s a line that says, “Until the spirit and the mind ain’t fighting/Until the scenes of tomorrow and today finally play/I will carry you through the hurricane waters”. Whenever I listen to that song, it makes me think of this incredible network of Orthodox people I have the chance to be a part of, the eternity we are all trying to reach, the opportunities we have to aid each other in that struggle.
To me, being a Blog Contributor is a chance to be that voice crying in the wilderness, to be the person who eases another’s loneliness, to offer the back that will carry you through the hurricane waters of this tempestuous life. I can bring only myself, a love of our God and our faith, an open heart, and a slightly silly sense of wonder. But if you’ll have me, I’d love to walk a ways with you.
Kiara (like the Lion King II) Stewart is a senior art major at Alfred University, is a member/organizer of the Rochester OCF, and is trying to start a new chapter in Alfred! When she’s not covered in clay in the studio, Kiara likes to spend her free time reading, hiking, and hanging out with the Amish.