Back in October, I attended an Orthodox Christian Fellowship meeting where I asked a priest for some advice on a relationship I was pursuing. I explained to him my worries and he told me this: “In any relationship, if the tree bears no fruit, it will die.” My following question was a query as to how I would know whether or not this “tree” was dead and he answered me with the one exceedingly complex word an impatient person never wants to hear: time.
Well, what the heck, priest.
Yet, I took his advice and here is my working conclusion:
Within my own spiritual growth, my unwillingness to let go of time has been my downfall. With this unwillingness comes anxiety, stress, and frustration as to when the ultimate moment of By George, I think I’ve got it! appears. I am coming to realize that one may never “get it” because then what is the point of the journey? Orthodoxy, and moreover religion for that matter, is not something to be “gotten”; it is something to be pursued. Like growing a relationship, it takes time, care, and effort, and because the world is so diverse, all of these nurturing tactics differ depending on the person. If only it was all so easy: go to church every Sunday with the same homogeneous group of people who all believe the homogeneous thing you do, and you virtually have no issues with anyone because we are all homogeneous and believe in the homogeneity. But this is not what God intends.
He desires that you are challenged, because how then is it possible to make genuine attempts to discover His grace more fully and openly through the other icons of Christ He has created?
After spending a week at College Conference West, I am seeing why He has placed certain people in my life, whether they are Orthodox or not. They are part of the journey. Some are permanent and some are temporary, but regardless of their status they all play a role in how I grow in Christ and better yet, how Christ grows in me; and as time passes, the fruit the tree bears continues to grow as the people who love me nurture and water my soul.
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.
I have a major test next Friday over a knot of material that I still haven’t untangled, I need to pack so that I can move out of my apartment in three weeks, and I haven’t finished the project that I am supposed to present to an audience on Thursday. I am far too busy; yet, I still find myself crunching down the gravel drive to Camp Nazareth on a sunny afternoon for the OCF Pittsburgh District Event. As soon as we drive past the cross-bearing domes, I know that I have made the right decision. Where it stands at the heart of camp, the chapel forces me to reexamine what it is that I hold at the heart of my life. It is an indisputable reminder that my every thought should not be centered on myself.
It always surprises me that this camp, two hours away from my actual house, feels so much like home. That night, I look around the campfire and realize that the students here may not know each other’s names—but we talk about our lives and our favorite movies and our plans for the future like we have been at this camp together for weeks instead of hours. OCF has always been that way in my mind. It is impossible to call someone a stranger when you both know, from the moment you meet, that you are family in Christ.
After services and breakfast the next morning, we circle up and Father Loposky leads a discussion about living our faith. He asks us about the time we spend in school working towards a diploma— as well as the time we spend in our busy days working towards a different, far more important sort of qualification. The key to sharing our faith is taking the time to see God in our own lives, he tells us. I know by the stories that are then volunteered in the circle that we will all leave this weekend with that lesson firmly imprinted in our minds and hearts. For our service project, we tackle the hiking trails armed with rakes and enthusiasm, but it isn’t long before we learn the difference between “fit” and “camp-fit;” in summary, only one involves the stamina to rake trails through the woods for a full morning. When we reach the waterfalls, we take a break to climb rocky ledges and to take turns skipping flat stones across pools of sparkling, clear water.
When I leave later today, I will return to an evening of sleep-deprived studying and stress. Right now though, that world is far away, and the undeniable evidence of something far more beautiful surrounds me. In this place, with these brothers and sisters surrounding me, I can feel the presence of God. Where I stand now, I feel like I have all the time in the world.
Ileana Horattas is a second-year student at the Northeast Ohio Medical University. She is a proud adoptive member of the Akron OCF chapter, as well as a member of the Akron Annunciation Greek Orthodox parish.
When we think of stewardship and giving back to the Church, our mind naturally goes to money. It’s really no secret that as college students we have no money. That’s why we love going home so much: free food and free laundry (and to see dear old Mom and Dad, of course). When I put my sole crumpled dollar bill into the tray on Sunday mornings, I joke that we actually are following the Church’s suggestion donation to tithe 10% of your income. Just because I don’t have a lot of money to donate to the Church doesn’t mean I can’t be an Orthodox steward. I give back to the church in two other ways – with time and talents.
In college, time is almost as precious as money. But it is one thing we can give freely. Being on the SLB is a lot of work – and requires a lot of time. Time spent organizing retreats, writing blogs, recording podcasts, scheduling speakers for College Conference or planning Real Break trips, and calling parishes and youth directors to talk to about OCF. And conference calls, we spend a lot of time on conference calls. But working on my OCF stuff never feels like work. I usually do whatever I have to do for OCF before any other homework, because I can still tell myself I’m being productive.
My schedule is busy; every college student’s schedule is busy. Dedicate some time to give back to the church through working for this awesome ministry. In my time as Publications Student Leader, I’ve written blogs that have reached thousands of people, worked with and met leaders of the Church, and even been interviewed on Ancient Faith Radio. His Grace Bishop Gregory of Nyssa always tells us that we are not the future of the Church, we are the Church. Never have I felt more a part of the Church than I have while serving on the SLB.
As an English major, the Publications Student Leader position made the most sense for me. Publications gave me the chance to take my God-given abilities and strengths and use them to serve Him. Serving on the SLB isn’t just for people with concrete skills like writing, but for people who have a passion for OCF, a drive to improve, new ideas, leadership qualities, and most importantly a love for Christ. And being on the on the Board has helped me harness all of those skills.
As Orthodox Christians, we are called to serve God and our neighbor. Apply to the Student Leadership Board not only to give of your time and talents to God and His Church but to your fellow Orthodox Christian college students. Use what God has blessed you with to strengthen this ministry, to grow as a young leader of the Orthodox Church, and to make incredible lasting friendships. OCF gave me a place of comfort during my first year of college and some of my very best friends (both at my school’s chapter and on this year’s SLB). It’s taught me so much about the faith and myself as person, all while helping me become a better Christian. I can’t wait to spend another year on the SLB working for OCF, the Church, Christ, and young Orthodox Christians everywhere.
I’ve noticed a pattern in my own life. In times of transition, like the start of a semester or the start of summer, it takes time to adjust to being in that new situation and to remember how to live on that particular schedule and in that environment. But once I complete that adjustment and establish a routine, it becomes very hard to change some habits. For example, early in the semester I may need to stay up late to do homework since I’m trying to remember how to manage my time. Then a few weeks later, when I set myself up to go to bed early, I feel like I can afford to waste time on Facebook or playing games on my phone, and I end up going to bed no earlier than normal.
I feel like this struggle was best exemplified last semester. Normally, I am involved in several organizations on campus and have very little free time that I do not have to allot to studies. However, last semester I was studying abroad, temporarily freeing me from all those commitments. I had more free time than I knew what to do with. I got in the habit of spending a lot of my time on YouTube or Netflix. So later in the semester, when I had to do a school project, make travel plans, or complete some task, I could not get myself to do it, despite my abundance of time. My habits of just doing whatever I wanted with my time were too deeply ingrained in me.
Often, at this point in the semester, there is at least one bad habit that we’ve established that we would like to change. For this, I believe Lent comes at a perfect time for us (and note that the Nativity Fast comes at a similar time in the fall semester). We have an invitation from the Church to focus on our habits, on the routine that we have established for ourselves, and really analyze it. What are we doing that works towards our salvation? What are we doing that takes us away from God? How are we succeeding or failing in our relationships? How well are we fulfilling our various roles as students, friends, employees, relatives, teammates, and Christians?
Painting by Viktor Kudrin
The reality is that we can conduct this analysis any time. But the beauty of this time in particular is that we are not alone. Perhaps we find encouragement from our friends that we see at OCF meetings, perhaps we find it from our friends’ Facebook posts that we know only the Orthodox truly understand. But the idea of Lent is not that I grow closer to God by myself, but that we do so as a community.
So will we continue to let our bad habits rule our lives, or will we allow God to become “Lord and Master of my life,” as the Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim states? I challenge all of us to fight against our bad habits through growth in the Church. To me this feels impossible, but I gain comfort from knowing that I am not alone in this struggle. I have the support of the Church and my friends, as well as the choir of the saints and God Himself, who holds the whole world in the palm of his hand.
May God bless the arrival of Lent and the struggles that we will engage in during this time. Amen.
Paul Murray is a junior psychology major and Spanish minor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He is a member of Saint George Antiochian Orthodox Church in New Kensington, PA where he chants and helps direct the choir. He has served as a counselor and the music coordinator for the Greek Metropolis of Pittsburgh Summer Camp for the past two years and will be a counselor at the Antiochian Village this coming summer.
Do you ever go to bed at the end of the day and wonder, “What happened to my day? This morning, I was committed to finishing this project and that book and making time for my friend who’s having a rough week and doing a little laundry and…about a hundred other things…and now, I’m at the end of the day, and I feel lost. What did I do with my time?”
Time is perhaps the most undervalued gift of God—at least while it’s being given to us. As soon as we’ve lost it, of course, we suddenly realize how valuable it was. Well, good stewards, it’s time to turn this pattern on its head!
In case you didn’t know, you are a created being, and one of the things that defines creation in contrast to the Uncreated is that we exist in time. It measures out our lives and moves us from our birth to our death. Like our bodies, we all have time—some more, some less, each according to God’s plan—and yet, we somehow let so much of our time fly by without doing anything with it.
Remember how we said in the beginning that everything God has put us in charge of must be offered back to Him better than He gave it to us? That we should turn a profit on each of the investments He’s entrusted to us while He’s away? Well, every minute is one of those investments we’re in charge of as stewards. We are responsible for making something out of the time we have.
It’s sort of like this. Minus the glowing arm…and the creepy economic system.
Now, I’m not talking about becoming a busybody, simply filling up our time with activity so that we feel accomplished at the end of the day. That’s like stacking and restacking your coins without ever taking them to the bank (not recommended by investment managers).
Instead, what I’m talking about is making the most of every moment that we pass through, investing in what will bring us the most spiritual profit. Sometimes this means motivating ourselves to take care of our responsibilities with joy and without resentment—you know, just doing our homework or chores without procrastination and whining. Sometimes it means stopping all the activity around us to make space for prayer and meditation. What it always means is living in the present moment without worry for the future or stress about the past.
In this way, we are able to allow God to enter into each of our moments, and when the King enters in, our fleeting, passing moments become tastes of eternity. Minutes and hours are most valuable because they are opportunities: opportunities to repent, to live, to love. Don’t waste even one more! Become a steward of time so that you can enter into eternity.
O Lord make me to know my end and what is the measure of my days, so as to know what I lack. Behold, You made my days as a handbreadth, and my existence is as nothing before You; But all things are vanity, and every man living. Psalm 38:5-6 (LXX)
This week’s challenge: Reevaluate how you’re using up your precious time. Before you let another hour pass, make sure you aren’t missing out on better investments.