The most valuable thing Romania gave me is the recognition of the importance of family. I embarked on this journey feeling pity for the orphans, anxious that the language barrier and privilege differences would be far too great to allow us to successfully work and communicate with the residents of the orphanage. I have never been so proven wrong. Upon our arrival, children were begging us to follow them to their homes, play with them, share their chocolates, sleep in their rooms. Our hosts fed us as soon as we arrived, the children and adults lined the one street of the village, peering through fences and out of windows to observe us – not as strangers, but as new members of the orphanage; new members of the family. By the end of the week it was so hard to bear the thought of leaving our new family, we woke at 5 AM to sit on the icy swing set and see our new brothers and sisters off to school; we waved goodbye to pieces of heart, rather than broken pieces of society–as people often consider orphans to be.
Nicole Farha not only spent her spring break in Romania, but also her 21st birthday – I would say what a martyr, but she definitely had more people celebrating her at Pro Vita than I did on my 21st. The orphans baked cakes, made cards and sang songs to celebrate their new sister, Nico.
I look forward to returning to the Pro Vita orphanage, and encourage anyone who has not been on a Real Break trip to sign up for this one! You will not only embrace humanity and Orthodoxy in a way that you’ve never before experienced, but also realize that warm showers, food other than fresh-baked bread and stews, and internet connection are mere luxuries in the grand scheme of things. They are completely unnecessary when you are surrounded by 150 of the brightest, most pure hearts. (Honestly, “Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me” takes on a whole new meaning).
If you love meeting a good, quirky, joke-box of a character, you have to go on this trip. From Pro Vita’s legendary Shakira constantly calling after you “Americaaaaaa, do your hips lie?” to the hoards of school children begging to play chase on the hillside after school, the laughs and jokes are absolutely endless. You’ll go to bed each night so thankful and exhausted–not from physical labor or mental stress, but rather from feeling so much love in your heart, laughing excessively with the orphans, and eating exorbitant amounts of carbs. From the endless amounts of children calling your name in the streets, to the voices of angels singing “O Pure Virgin” in Romanian just after you sing it in English, to the nightly reflections with your group and the final trip into Bucharest with royal treatment at the Patriarchate on the final day of the trip…this is the break from reality that you need. And lastly, you will make friends in your Real Break group that are truly a continuous blessing – no matter where you are in your life, Real Break gives you 10-15 instant friends who are always thinking of you and never fail to be there when you need a hand. I encourage everyone to participate in Real Break, it is truly a magical opportunity.
Mary Catherine Huneycutt is a recent graduate of the University of Houston – with degrees in Literature and Arabic. She currently lives in Beirut, Lebanon and is planning to attend law school in 2017. Hobbies include dancing at 90s night, cafe hopping (think bar hopping, but for introverts) and traveling.
Bumper to bumper traffic!? It’s starting to drizzle and we were supposed to be there two hours ago. But, here we are, stuck in traffic and I have to open registration in five minutes.
To say the least, trying to plan a regional retreat can be stressful. You plan and plan, but when the day comes it’s out of your control. … It’s in God’s hands and without fail, everything always works out better than ever imagined.
When you spend time with people who are brimming with Christ’s love, words are never enough to describe the time spent together. The Northeast Regional Retreat was centered around the idea of “Looking Beyond Appearances” and in doing so, learning more about who we are, who God is, and who our neighbors are. Each of us–consciously or unconsciously–did just that.
From the moment everyone came in and started to get to know one another, all “masks” were put away and time was spent together in prayer, in laughter, and in deep conversation, questioning and struggling to grow together in our spiritual lives.
During the three short days we were with one another, we grew together because Christ was at the center: He was in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts. I would even go as far to say that we became a little family, filled with unique and wonderful people who all clicked so well. We listened to each other, we teased each other, we prayed together, and we spent a couple of early morning hours snacking away in the kitchen looking at all the exotic animals we could purchase online. What more can you ask for in a weekend?
One of my favorite moments, out of the countless favorites, was when the large group of people playing cards all suddenly disappeared. We found them finishing up an Akathist in the chapel, about to begin a Paraklesis. As everyone joined in the chapel, time ceased to exist as we chanted with all our hearts, singing various hymns and songs in different languages from unique practices, the glow of the candlelight illuminating every person’s face.
Even though the time to depart always arrives too soon, it is a blessing to know that the Christ-filled people you spent the weekend with are still close to you through prayer and are just a phone call or message away if you need anything. What always amazes me is that each person is so willing to keep in touch and to help each other draw closer to Christ.
Ben’s post said it perfectly, register and go. God takes care of the rest.
Spyridoula Fotinis is a sophomore in International Studies at County College of Morris. She currently serves as the Northeast Student Leader on the 2016-2017 Student Leadership Board.
What comes to mind when you hear the word Alaska? If your answer is “cold, cold, snow… or cold,” then we’re on the same page. BUT, hear me out! When I first heard about OCF Real Break, I was extremely excited to participate in one of the trips. When I found out the one offered during my spring break was in Alaska, I was a little confused. Who lives in Alaska?! I wasn’t sure what exactly we’d be doing, and if it was even a good idea to go.
After some encouragement from my friend Alexandra (who also came on the trip!), we were signed up, paid in full, and trying to decide which of our Texas appropriate jackets would keep us warm enough in what is otherwise known as “the Arctic circle.”
From the second we touched down in Anchorage, it was go, go go! I had the opportunity to meet and spend the week with Father John, who was absolutely wonderful. Our small group quickly bonded over mini-hikes, nature visits, pizza, and the few clean-up projects we participated in.
Photo Credit: Victor Lutes
The thing that stood out most to me during this service trip was one particular event we were able to help with. Our group had the opportunity to cook and serve dinner at a local children’s house – where kids were able to come after school for a hot meal and some good old-fashioned bonding time (yes, we played Go Fish, and yes, I lost). I wasn’t sure what to expect at first; the kids were loud and didn’t seem to be interested in talking to us. When we finally sat down and pried our way into their conversations, I was surprised to realize: these kids were AMAZING!
Most of them had just started high school, but a few were about to graduate and already had plans for college. I remember talking to one teen whose dream it was to play college football for a big school. Another just aced his math test. A bubbly middle school girl beat us in every card game we played. Yet another offered to help clean up.
These kids had goals, aspirations, and talents, just like everyone else. I was so happy I could help give them a hot dinner and good conversation, and I am blessed to have known such talented kids with such potential. Our afternoon at that house was what I would call life-changing. Nothing crazy or dramatic happened, but the short few hours we got to spend with those kids was eye opening, and I keep them in my prayers each and every day.
Our afternoon at that house was what I would call life-changing.
I encourage everyone to take your spring break and participate in an OCF Real Break trip. Whether you go somewhere familiar (like Ohio), or somewhere you would have never thought of before (like Romania), GO! You will meet friends that last a lifetime, you will see things that will change you, and you will come home with a renewed interest in your faith. Going to Alaska through Real Break was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I hope you do the same!
Ana-Maria Frampton is a junior at the University of Texas at Dallas studying Global Business and Marketing. She’s the OCF North Texas District leader, and part of the South Region. She LOVES traveling and has a long bucket list of places she wants to see before she finishes college.
Every month, the OCF social media platforms will be featuring one of the nine regions of chapters. September is the month for the Mid-Atlantic Region, which encompasses Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC/Baltimore, Delaware, Virginia, and Eastern Ohio.
On the blog, I’ll be asking the Regional Student Leader–for Mid-Atlantic, the lovely Rachel Howanetz–for a few names of people in their region who are absolutely rockin’ it. It’s an opportunity for every region to showcase and share that which makes them unique and awesome, and hopefully all the regions can learn from and grow with each other.
So, without further ado, your Mid-Atlantic All-Stars!
Nicole Mansour — District Leader, DC/Baltimore
My name is Nicole Mansour, and I’m a junior at Georgetown University, majoring in Global Health and minoring in Economics. One fun fact is that I am the Interfaith Coordinator for Georgetown’s OCF, and the most important part of my position is to organize weekly Interfaith Sandwich-Making events, during which students from all faith groups come together, assemble about 100 sandwiches, and donate them to the nearest homeless shelter. It’s a great way to facilitate interfaith dialogue and service!
How did you get involved in OCF?
How did I get involved? I honestly don’t know where to begin. I could say college, or high school, or even middle school. I was known as “The Dictator” because I was the teen group Consul for so long…I promise that I was voted into the position every year. The community of Orthodox Christians has always been so valuable to me, both spiritually and emotionally, so when I came to college, it was one of the first things for which I looked. In a place so different from my hometown, I could still feel at home. I am a very active member of Georgetown’s OCF, and when I was told that I could get even more involved through the District Leader position, I felt that it was only natural to apply. And now I have the most wonderful opportunity to serve as the District Leader for the Washington D.C. to Baltimore area.
So you’ve had a lot of OCF experience–what’s one of your favorite memories?
Last year, our Georgetown OCF actually had the opportunity to travel to Boston to visit Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology for the weekend. The retreat was so refreshing, filled with theological discussions and tours of the majestic city. While retreats are typically hard to schedule (and harder to plan), the impact on each one of us (especially me) was not only enormous, but uplifting as well. It reminded me of the breadth and depth associated with Orthodoxy, and how the support network of Orthodox Christians expands far beyond the gates of Georgetown or any campus OCF. (sorry if that was too preachy…)
It wasn’t–I was a big fan. So, any advice you could give to District Leaders across the nation?
Advice? To be honest, I can typically use more advice than I can give. Perhaps I can share some of my goals with the hope that other District Leaders share similar goals. Firstly, as a District Leader, I want to be a support system for thriving, struggling, and potential OCF chapters. Secondly, I hope that our district retreats will be both spiritually enriching as well as applicable to our college lives. Thirdly, I wish to be a good representative through my actions as a person of the Faith and in leadership to non-Orthodox Christians, so that they might better understand what Orthodoxy is.
Stephen Yamalis — Chapter President, Pitt/CMU Chapter
Hi! My name is Stephen Yamalis and I am a Junior Information Systems major at Carnegie Mellon University. Some fun facts about me are that I’m an avid SnapChat user and in 2013 Selena Gomez posted pictures on her Instagram account that I am in.
Pics or it didn’t happen.
Respect. Alright, the Pitt/CMU chapter is notoriously dope. What are you guys doing that you’d like to share with us?
Our chapter does so many fun things that have almost become little traditions of ours that to us I believe is a staple of OCF. One of those is Bible Olympics, led by our very own, Stephanie McFarland. For one of our meetings we get together, split into teams, and have to complete different activities like putting a list of Books in the proper order or matching Feast Days with the correct date. It gets a bit competitive for a change and is a big hit! Another cool meeting we’ve done was an open discussion, lead by our treasurer, Abay Tadesse, to talk about anything on anyone’s minds, and it really encouraged some deeper topics and great opportunities to learn about and from each other.
Something very important to our chapter that is new this year is that we wanted to make sure we are creating more opportunities to get together as a group and have a social chair, Nicole Yanouzas, who has organized all sorts of awesome things like late-night pizza outings and a Pirates game.
Something fun we have planned for October, which is Orthodox Awareness Month, is that we will be doing a “Church Tour” on Sundays. We are blessed to be located in Pittsburgh where we are surrounded by so many beautiful and welcoming Orthodox parishes. Therefore, we will, as a group, be visiting a different parish each Sunday. We are very excited for that!
Okay, what’s the BEST thing you’ve ever done?
I’ve had the opportunity to do so many amazing things with the Pitt/CMU OCF, from College Conference to the awesome meetings and social events we’ve gotten to do. However, something that sticks out is something much simpler. Last year as an OCF chapter we read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and each week at the beginning of the meeting would discuss little chunks of the book.
One of my Sunday School teachers, Mr. Brian Elderkin is a big fan of C.S. Lewis and graciously offered to come discuss the book and other related topics at one of our meetings. We usually end our meetings with half of the Small Compline service, so we went into the church after a great discussion and the lights were off. I know where the light switch was so I really couldn’t tell you why I didn’t just turn the lights on, but our OCF Secretary, and now your very own Media Student Leader, Dan Bein came up to me with candles and said, “Hey, why don’t we try a candlelight service?” And that’s just what we did. We got in a semicircle around the altar, each holding candles and standing close together to share the books. It was a simple thing, but it was very special and really captured the tight bond of our chapter, despite being a relatively large one. Of course, the opportunity could not be missed for #ocfIsLit posts to accompany pictures on social media. Very good times!
What about your advice for a Chapter President?
The advice I’d give to anyone else in a chapter president or officer role within OCF in general would be definitely to work as a team and don’t expect to do it all alone. It’s definitely a group effort and I absolutely could not pull it off without the hard work and dedication of our executive board team, as well as all of our members who come to our meetings and make it all worth it.
The biggest piece of advice I have is also to take advantage of the opportunities to connect as a group. We are all going through similar stressful situations, pursuing further education, and OCF is truly an important source support to grow together. Therefore, creating opportunities for us to all bond and create long-lasting relationships is essential as we strive to grow in Christ. It’s the little things and the extra social events that have helped make these friends dome of the closest friends I’ve ever had in just 2 years at school.
Tim Daly — Chapter President, Penn State
Hi! My name is Tim Daly and I’m the president of the Penn State OCF. I’m a senior getting a Management B.S. (Human Capital concentration), a Labor & Employment Relations B.A. (Human Resources concentration), a minor in The Legal Environment of Business, and a M.S. in Human Resources and Employment Relations. I’m from Lancaster, PA and am a huge sports fan.
Alright, how did you get involved with the OCF?
Growing up, I attended the Annunciation Lancaster Greek Orthodox Church, went to Camp Nazareth every year, and am an alumnus of CrossRoad. Coming to college, I knew I wanted to join OCF as soon as I could and got in touch with them the first week of school when I went to Liturgy. Since then, OCF has been my second family. In addition to being President, I have also served as Treasurer and Vice President for our OCF.
Coolest thing you’ve ever done with the OCF? Tell us a good story!
This one is tough. Our OCF has an annual fall cabin trip and an annual spring beach house service trip that are my favorite parts of each semester, but I want to talk about Pascha last spring because I think some of you might want to steal this idea. Normally, our parish eats in the church hall after the midnight Pascha service and our OCF maybe has 4-5 students who stick around in that crowded room and eat some cold food together. Last year we made that different.
We somehow discovered and excavated a mini OCF grill that no one had ever seen before from the church shed and got an idea. Mike Mavrides, my VP and best friend, went with me to Walmart the day before Easter to spend an immoderate amount of money on meats and cheeses. We spread the word and got people to chip in a couple dollars each for our Pascha feast.
After the midnight service on Pascha, Mike and I fired up the grill and went to work. I’ll never forget that meal. While the rest of the parish was inside eating, we were outside on the porch of Trinity House, the building next door that the church had purchased, grilling and jamming out to Greek music and hanging out.
We had the most magnificent arrangement of artery-destroying food you could ever see. Burgers, sausages, ribs, bacon, burgers wrapped in bacon, sausage wrapped in bacon, bacon wrapped in bacon, along with drinks and other food that other OCF members brought with them.
Many of our OCF members went home for Easter, but we had about 20 who showed up that night and had a great time. I was most happy to see them having so much fun.
Unfortunately, Mike and I also had cleanup duty. We spent hours trying to clean out the grill and I had grease in my fingers for weeks. Despite this, I think it went really well and will be an OCF signature event for years to come. I’d suggest your OCFs try to provide similar events for members who stick around on campus during Pascha. It’ll be tons of fun, and who knows, you might just learn the legend of Snowball the Lamb.
And your advice for Chapter Presidents?
Be organized and surround yourself with the right people! It’s one thing to have elections be a popularity contest. It brings your OCF to a different level to have real leaders on that executive board who will make an impact. Combine that with excellent organization and communication and your OCF will provide the best experience possible for its members. But it really does take a team. There’s no way I would be able to execute the eight projects outlined in our 2016-17 OCF strategic plan the way my team of four has thus far. And if you need any tips, contact your District Student Leader or feel free to reach out to me and I’d love to help.
“Mystical Beauty: Exploring the Liturgical Arts & How They Point Us Toward Heaven”
Oct. 7 – Oct. 8
Last year at College Conference, I had the opportunity to be a small group leader. When I asked my group what they wanted most out of the conference, my group members all told me a similar story: they felt lonely and disconnected at their respective schools and wanted a couple days to feel in communion with other Orthodox Christians their age that also regard their faith as the most important aspect of their existence.
CC West 2015
I was surprised by this “wish”. It was a relatively quaint request, to feel like you belong somewhere. Yet, it was also a vital need for not only young people, but humans in general. Even though I barely knew my group members, I was immensely proud of them. I was proud that they turned to the Orthodox community to fill this void. I also became excited because I knew I would be learning a lot from these individuals over the course of the conference.
Last March, my boyfriend passed away. I stared at the wall for months. I avoided friends. I avoided activities I normally loved. I avoided sleep. The only time I would leave the house would be to go to church with my mother. But at church, I never talked with anyone, I never engaged with the community till months later. I came to escape from the wretched loneliness and from the irrational guilt by being in the presence of the Lord; I did not see any gain by building relationships with the young people of my church in Castro Valley.
I am so thankful now that I turned my heart to God while entrenched with grief. These young people in my group were doing the same thing: they were trusting in God to provide for all their needs. But my group members had realized something that I had failed to, that engaging with other young adults had value and was an essential part of our faith.
I am so thankful now that I turned to my heart to God while entrenched with grief.
All these years I never fully believed that I needed the community of the church for personal issues, triumphs, and failures. Thankfully, College Conference showed me a different reality: my student brothers and sisters in Christ are essential for my healing, whether it be mental, spiritual, emotional, or physical. How else would one be able to experience and appreciate all the beautiful layers of our services, biblical material, and hymns without discussion with other perceptive and hungry-for-spiritual-fruit young people? I made so many wonderful friends that quickly proved to be some of the most reliable, sweet and wholesome people in my life.
Go to College Conference, because like me, I am sure you do not realize how much you need it.
Andriana Malhi is a Senior at UC Davis and is majoring in Psychology and Religious studies. She hopes to get her Psy.D in Clinical Psychology after Davis. Fun Facts: Andriana is also is a bonafide cat lady and her favorite saint is Ayia Thekla.