Spring 2016 South Regional Retreat Reflection

Spring 2016 South Regional Retreat Reflection

Throughout the weekend of February 5th to the 7th, I had the blessing of participating in the OCF South Region Retreat which took place at Sts. Constantine & Helen Church in Dallas, TX. This retreat was spiritually uplifting and reassuring. As college students, we get put in many situations that have tested our faith constantly, and to be surrounded by friends-old and new- sharing our experiences, I spent the weekend learning how to approach these situations through prayer, gospel reading, love and understanding toward others.

Our retreat began on Friday evening with ice breakers and getting to know each other, followed by our first discussion with our speaker, Christina Andresen, who opened up the talk with two thought provoking questions, “What is faith?” and “What are the biggest challenges to my faith?” One of the beautiful quotes from the topic was “Faith is remembering God is with you for all the times that He is not.” It is very easy as a college student to let fear of the struggle get to you–as a human beings in general–but one of the most important things from this weekend was learning that we don’t have to fear the challenges God presents us with. We should accept them and be thankful for them for they are like a fire that purifies us to help us grow more in Him. Throughout these challenges God is not testing our faith, He is calling us to Him.

We learned humility is the antidote to inner struggle as we accept where we are and who we are in that moment. We then tackled the topic of outer struggle where, just as said in 1 Peter, “No matter what happens, if you want to follow Christ there will be struggles from the outside.” The antidote for the outer struggle is to be steadfast in love and obedient. Don’t let the outer struggle take you off the path, you should always focus on the path and keep your eyes on Heaven. God calls us in moments of doubt and we should remember to always ask, “How are You drawing me closer to You?” through the times where He presents us with our challenges. The night then ended with evening prayers and enjoyment of being in each other’s company.


Discussion with the whole group

On Saturday morning, we had our second discussion with Christina which surrounded the topic of prayer. How do we pray? How do we learn to mean our prayers? Do we have to pray a certain way? As more and more stories were told, great advice was given on how to approach prayer. We learned how to grow in prayer, how your prayer life can also change when you form a relationship with your patron saint or a saint you relate with that has been through what you are personally going through and has already reached the finish line. Prayer exists in many little things, from our words to our actions, especially when they are done from the heart. Take small steps in growing in prayer, have sincerity and set aside quiet time; whether it be in the car, your bedroom, on a run, or wherever it is you can find peace to be with God. Small meaningful prayer can take you a long way.

After our discussion, we were blessed with having too many people so we split up for two separate service projects at Promise House, a home for kids who are struggling at home or don’t have a home, and Austin Street Shelter, which is a homeless shelter and a place that collects clothes for those in need. I had the opportunity to go to Promise House and hang out with some of the coolest kids I have ever met while playing board games and eating pizza. The children living at the home have been through a lot, some there because they had no other place to go, others because their families struggled with having them at home for the time being–and even then, these kids had some of the biggest and brightest smiles on their faces. The innocence of God working through His children was so prominent and was a reminder that whatever God decides to put you through, there is always something to smile about. These children had a beautiful hope in them and carried a strong love in their hearts, hanging out with them was so fun and such a blessing.

Saturday evening, we had Great Vespers, and as always, hearing the voices of all the OCFers singing and chanting along was so beautiful, my heart was so elated and the blessings just kept growing, God is SO GOOD. Later in the evening we had evening prayers which then were followed by chanting in the church with dim lighting until about 2:00 AM.

Our retreat came to a close after Liturgy on Sunday morning where we all finally came together and said our very temporary goodbyes. By the time I got back to my little apartment in College Station, Texas, preparing for the following school day, all I could think about was Glory be to God for all good things.


Students at Promise House

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” –Romans 5:3-5

IMG_6247 (2)Valerie Hanna is a sophomore at Blinn Junior College and will be transferring to Texas A&M University this fall as a Telecommunication Media Studies Major. She loves to read, write, sing, attend concerts, sketch, go on adventures, learn new things and be all around goofy.  Her home parish is St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, TX but she attends St. Silouan Orthodox Church in College Station, TX where she teaches Sunday School, sings with the choir and is an OCF officer for their TAMU/Blinn chapter.


Orthodox Music: The Carpatho-Russian Prostopinije

Orthodox Music: The Carpatho-Russian Prostopinije

We in the Orthodox Church are blessed to be surrounded by music during our worship. It is a real shame, in my opinion, that a number of our Western brethren ignore music as an essential part of worship. My violin professor once told me, “We as musicians have a direct line of communication to God, and so many churches ignore it!” We as Orthodox utilize this line to God so often that sometimes we take it for granted. We take it for granted that each of our different jurisdictions has its own unique music that they use to sing praises to the Holy Trinity. Each different style of Liturgical chant expresses the culture of the people who sing it, but the words, the prayer, across each jurisdiction is the same. The style of chant used in my diocese, the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese (ACROD), is called prostopinije. Prostopinije is a Slavonic word which simply means “plain chant.”


Source: WikiMedia Commons

The plain chant is sung today not only in the ACROD, but also in many of the Byzantine Catholic Churches in the United States. This is because Byzantine Catholic Christians and Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Christians come from the same area of Europe, the southern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains in Central Europe. For all intents and purposes, both the Byzantine Catholics, who are also known as Greek Catholics, and the Orthodox serve exactly the same way. The only difference is that instead of commemorating an Orthodox Patriarch during services, Byzantine Catholics commemorate the Pope of Rome. The history of the people is extremely fascinating, but you could spend pages and pages discussing it. The important thing to know for our purposes is that both the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches from the Carpathian area sing prostopinije.

The oldest layers of the prostopinije have their roots in the Byzantine Chant which was brought to them by evangelizers from the Byzantine Empire. The people fell in love with this new religion and the chant that came with it. In the hands, or rather mouths, of the Slavic people, Byzantine Chant eventually evolved into the Znamenny Chant around the 11th Century. The Znamenny Chant then split into two main branches–the Northern branch of Moscow and the Southern branch of Kiev. It was the Southern branch of the Znamenny Chant that the Carpatho-Russian people used in their worship. After centuries of a number of influences, most notably folk music, the present day prostopinije took shape.


Source: WikiMedia Commons

The Znamenny Chant and the early chant of the Carpatho-Russians prior to the 17th Century used a type of notation known as neumatic notation. It is similar in style to the Byzantine notation in that it does not use the five-lined staff that is used in modern Western music. The Carpatho-Russians abandoned neumatic notation completely by the 17th Century in favor of Kievan square notation. This notation looked very much like modern music notation; it was on a five-lined staff and it had distinct note shapes. The major differences were that the notes are square shaped and the rhythmic values of the notes are different. The prostopinije was not written in modern notation until 1906 when a Byzantine Catholic priest by the name of John Boksaj compiled an anthology of the plain chant. Fr. Boksaj transcribed the melodies as they were sung by Joseph Malinich, the cantor of the Cathedral Church in Uzhorod, Ukraine. The book that was published was called Tserkovnoje Prostopinije, the Plain Chant of the Church. It was a groundbreaking work which brought this chant, which has its roots in the ancient Byzantine Chant, into the modern era.

The Carpatho-Russian plain chant is sung by the entire congregation. While it is led by a cantor, or sometimes a small number of cantors, the entire congregation sings. Congregational singing allows the involvement of every person in the worship. It is really an incredible thing to experience hundreds of people singing and praying together; each voice being heard as an individual and yet those voices combining as one prayer to God. The prostopinije, like its Byzantine predecessor, has eight tones. It follows the Octoechos cycle like the majority of other Orthodox Chants. It is written as monophonic music, music with a single melodic line, but in liturgical practice, people sing natural and unwritten harmonies which only add to its beauty and magnificence.

Personally, I have been singing the prostopinije for as long as I can remember. I started cantoring, as most other cantors, simply by singing the music over and over and over again. Singing the plain chant, not just as a cantor, gave me something to do during the services. Singing allowed me to participate in the work of worship in a way that I would not have been able to otherwise. It was the congregational nature of the plain chant which helped me grow in my faith and in my knowledge of the Church and her theology, because the hymns are nothing more than expositions on the Faith. Each Orthodox jurisdiction in America has its own beautiful chant, its own unique line to God. The line that the Carpatho-Russians use is prostopinije, a chant with echoes of the rustic Carpathian villages and the haunting melodies of Constantinople.

If you would like to listen to the prostopinije, please visit: http://www.acrod.org/multimedia/audio/liturgicalmusic/

OCFBlogPicture2Fr. Nicholas grew up in Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Danbury, CT where he graduated with his BS in Music Education from Western Connecticut State University. He recently completed his studies at Christ the Saviour Seminary in Johnstown, PA where he lives with his wife, Pani Stacey, and son, Cyril. He is a priest of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese.

8 Things I’m Going to Change Now That I’ve Gone to College Conference

8 Things I’m Going to Change Now That I’ve Gone to College Conference

When I arrived home from College Conference East, I felt, as Bishop Gregory put it to us in one of his sermons, “on fire for Orthodoxy.” I came home excited about the Orthodox Church, and I kept thinking about different ways that I could share my experiences with others. While I don’t think that there’s anything wrong about this, it was not until much later that I realized that I have another much more challenging task ahead of me: changing myself.

Over the past month, I have come to realize the impact that College Conference has had on my life, and I believe that it will continue to make a difference in my life over the coming months. However, I don’t think that this experience will change me unless I keep my heart open. In the month since College Conference, I have noticed several things that I’ve realized I need to change, and I am going to share eight of them here. I hope that this might benefit others in some way.

  1. Appreciate my Orthodox community more
    At College Conference, I was touched by the way my peers treated each other with love and respect. Even though this was my first year in attendance, I felt very welcomed by those I met and immediately felt like I was among friends. And for those with whom I was travelling from my hometown, I was reminded how blessed I am to live in a city in which there is such a strong bond between the Orthodox youth.
  1. Be honest on social media
    Steven Christoforou, one of the workshop leaders, gave an presentation called “Media Martyrs” in which he highlighted a great problem that faces 21st-century youth: the separation between a person’s true character and their online presentation of themselves, which he refers to as “the analog and the digital selves.” He suggested that social media can create conflict between the analog and the digital selves, or even that the digital self can overtake and destroy the analog self. This really struck me as I wondered how I “brand” myself online.
  1. Stop “brushing off” questions about my faith
    The speakers at College Conference reminded me that these moments are gifts.
  1. Actively participate in the church services
    Something about seeing 325 other youth lift up their voices during the liturgy, singing in the choir at Vespers, and chanting hymns in the chapel until a ridiculous hour in the morning made me appreciate the beauty of our Orthodox hymns and services more. Already since returning home, I find my mind wandering less often during the Divine Liturgy, and church hymns have been playing on my phone on repeat.

Students chanting during Liturgy

  1. Work on my Greek dance and dabke skills
    I don’t even want to talk about this.
  1. Remind myself that it is okay not to have all the answers
    I don’t think I’ll ever forget venerating the weeping icon at College Conference for the rest of my life. I can be a perfectionist at times, and I really think that I need “all the answers.” However, this experience taught me that, because we don’t have all the answers and cannot explain this miracle, we believe in the existence of God.
  1. Read up on my Orthodox faith
    Probably the greatest disappointment about College Conference for me (other than the fact that it went by so quickly) was that it made me realize how much I just do not know about Orthodoxy. Now I definitely want to begin reading books about the faith or listen to podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio.
  1. Appreciate the beauty of our saints
    The speakers at College Conference had a continuous hold on my attention, but for some reason, whenever they would share stories about our saints of the Orthodox Church I was in awe. I remember in one of the workshops, the speaker, Fr. Timothy Hojnicki, said something like, “The saints are like the sun and moon. Like the moon reflects the light of the sun, the saints reflect the light of Christ.” I kept thinking about this throughout the Conference as we heard the stories of Saints Maximos the Confessor, Raphael of Brooklyn, and so many more, and came to realize how blessed we are as Orthodox to have these saints as role models and intercessors.

Supplication to St. Raphael of Brooklyn

When I heard Bishop Gregory first speak about “being on fire for Orthodoxy,” I believe I had the wrong images in mind. I think what College Conference was trying to teach us all along was that “being on fire for Orthodoxy” is not always running through the streets with blazing torches. Sometimes, it’s trudging through the forest with a humble flame.


AnastDSC02722asia Lysack is a second-year Music major at the University of Ottawa. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, learning how to say the Our Father in different languages, and finishing all her sentences with the word “eh.” She attends Christ the Saviour Church in
Ottawa, Canada, where she teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir.


Orthodox Music: Byzantine Chant

Orthodox Music: Byzantine Chant

Learn to chant, so that you may experience the sweetness of the work,  for those who chant are filled with the Holy Spirit. – St. John Chrysostom

The history of the Greek Orthodox Church can be described as a history of prayer through song. Following the ancient Greek philosophers, the Fathers of the Church recognized the profound impact music has on souls and adopted it as a tool of instruction and edification. The music of the Church came to be known as the Psaltic Art and later as Byzantine music. The latter term is indicative of the paramount significance of Byzantium-Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, in the genesis, growth, and development of this tradition.

Technical Aspects of Byzantine Music

Byzantine music is a strictly vocal, monophonic, a cappella tradition. In its fullest expression, it is performed antiphonally by two choirs standing at opposite sides of the solea. Each choir is comprised of a director (called Protopsaltis and Lampadarios for the right and left choirs respectively), a number of melodists who chant in unison, a number of isokratae who hold the ison, i.e. the fundamental note in a given melodic context, one or more soloists, a canonarch who intones the verses of the hymns, and a reader who recites or intones biblical pericopes and certain liturgical texts.


Holy Cross St. Romanos the Melodist Byzantine Choir chanting at St. Spyridon Cathedral, Worcester, MA

The musical settings are composed in the four authentic and four plagal Byzantine modes, each of which has its own scale, tonic, structural notes, melodic contour, range, melodic formulae, etc. These characteristics lend each mode a particular feeling or expression. For example, the first mode is associated with joy in Christ’s Resurrection, the second mode with mild sorrow as well as fervent prayer, etc.

History of the Psaltic Art


St. Ioannis Koukouzelis (c. 1270 – c. 1340)

The history of the Psaltic Art can be traced through the elaborate and majestic ceremonies in Hagia Sophia and other cathedrals and monasteries of the Eastern Roman Empire to the simple, unadorned hymns of the early Church. Initially, hymns were composed along with their own music, but after the emergence of Byzantine musical notation in the 10th century, composers started setting pre-existent texts to new music. Out of the approximately 1,000 known composers, two figures stand out for their remarkable proliferation and overall contribution to the development of psaltic compositional technique: St. Ioannis Papadopoulos Koukouzelis (13th-14th c.) and Petros the Peloponnesian (18th c.).

Becoming a Cantor

To become a cantor, one needs to study Byzantine notation, which is made up of neumes and other signs that are primarily derived from the Greek letters and diacritics. Being a cantor also presupposes intimate familiarity with the contents and usage of liturgical books and service rubrics. Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology offers a comprehensive training program that culminates in the awarding of a Certificate in Byzantine Music to students who have developed a mastery of the art. Additionally, formal instruction is offered at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, in schools of Byzantine music at several Metropolises of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and in numerous parishes throughout the United States.


Setting of Pasapnoarion in the plagal first mode by Nicholas Roumas

The Liturgical Function of Chanting

While it is certainly meant to provide aesthetic pleasure to the listeners, the primary function of chanting is to make manifest the grace that resides in the sacred hymnology. Rather than being an art for the sake of art, Byzantine music is the ‘liturgical garment’ with which the poetic text of a hymn is vested. This liturgical aspect of music has a threefold purpose: first, to penetrate the soul of the faithful in a way that mere speech can’t and, by extension, to make the doctrines of the Church easier to instill in the hearts of the people; second, to expand and transform the words from means of exchange of information between humans to vehicles of communication between God and man; and third, to facilitate the sanctification of the praying community. According to Elder Timotheos Tzanis of Crete (1928-1991),

The cantor who chants with the grace of God is captured by the Holy Spirit, he does not live in this world, he ascends to the heavens! And he imparts this grace to the entire congregation! If only we had eyes to see the rays of light that come out of the cantor’s mouth and fall on the heads of the faithful!

Untitled4Dr. Grammenos Karanos is Assistant Professor of Byzantine Liturgical Music at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA and Director of the St. John of Damascus School of Byzantine Music of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston.

My OCF Story: University of Pittsburgh

My OCF Story: University of Pittsburgh

I love being a Pitt Panther. I go to football games, proudly wear blue and gold, and even buy my goddaughters, both age one, matching Pitt gear, with hopes that they will be Panthers one day too. The hype is collective, exciting, and gives most people a sense of community . . .

Fortunately for me, I had this “sense of community” before I set foot on campus—thanks to my OCF in Pittsburgh.

I learned about OCF through word of mouth at first, and then officially at the activities fair at the Petersen Events Center during Orientation Week. When I went to my first meeting, I was thrilled to see some familiar faces from previous church-related functions, and also some new faces (which meant new friends). Everyone was so friendly—the upperclassmen, especially, were encouraging, always smiling, and created a genuinely welcoming atmosphere. At the end of the first meeting, I had dinner plans and a movie night set up for the following week with the new friends I had made. A few months later, we had an OCF milkshake party at an OCF member’s home. It had only been a few weeks, but I felt like I knew these new friends for a lifetime.


Pitt/CMU OCF out for pizza

In addition to the all of the social outings newly added to my calendar, OCF helped me keep my faith central, especially when my schoolwork seemed to never cease. The themes and lessons I had learned in OCF during my busiest times are the lessons that have stayed with me to date. In all the times I felt like I was in overdrive, OCF brought me peace of mind and peace of heart. Sometimes, the best remedy for my stress was to attend the Small Paraklesis on Thursday evening and sing to the Panagia for a little while. Singing “O Pure Virgin” all together with my new OCF friends was, is, and always will be more comforting than grabbing that extra cup of coffee and attempting to study with a distracted mind.

There is also something about having Orthodox friends that I have tried to explain for my whole life—perhaps this is what I mean when I say “I felt like I knew these new friends for a lifetime.” Faith certainly brings people together, but we all know that we do not live by faith alone. Our actions—our lifestyle, our personality, our mindset—are also an important part of living an Orthodox Christian life. Perhaps this is why OCF is so comforting—we all share the same values. Finding people who share the same values in a sea of diversity on campus is very special and very comforting for me.

I am thankful for and feel privileged to be a part of my OCF here at Pitt. Although “Hail to OCF” doesn’t quite fit, I am an OCF-loving Panther, and I couldn’t be happier!

IMG_7995Georgia Vasilakis is a sophomore Neuroscience major at the University of Pittsburgh and is an active member of the Pitt/CMU OCF chapter. Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Ambridge, PA is her home parish; however, while in school, she attends liturgy at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland and sings in the choir. Georgia enjoys coffee, Disney movies, and color-coordinating her notebooks each semester.