Joining the OCF Student Leadership Board has undoubtedly been the greatest experience of my college career. I have found no greater joy in college than serving Christ and His Church through OCF. This year I have served as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Student Leader, and in June, I will have the opportunity to serve as the Chairman of the Student Leadership Board for the 2015-2016 academic year. I would like to share just a few of the amazing things I have learned and experienced while on the OCF Student Leadership Board.
Summer Leadership Institute (SLI)
SLI is the Student Leadership Board’s official training for the year. It occurs in mid-August (this year August 11-15) and always takes place in an awesome location. OCF pays for your travel, food, hotel room, and all expenses for the time you are training! During the day we have meetings and workshops, and are able to learn from distinguished Orthodox clergy and laymen from around the country. By offering their words and wisdom, they help us learn how we can prepare to live a life serving the Church. This past summer we went to Dallas! We were blessed to have His Grace Bishop Gregory of Nyssa there with us the whole time. After training each day, we had a fun activity planned that evening. One night we learned how to country two-step at this really cool saloon! In addition to the leadership skills we were taught that week, the highlight for me was meeting and getting to know the other SLB members. I left that weekend feeling as if I made 13 new best friends, and I still feel that way. Bonding with the SLB members was something that was so special to me. Even though we had just met, as the week went on our friendships were only strengthened and fortified in Christ, and we established an unbreakable bond through Him who is our Lord and Savior. (We even have a group chat that is constantly going off as we all stay in touch!)
Regional Retreats, College Conference, and Real Break
As a Regional Student Leader, we are encouraged to plan OCF regional retreats for our respective regions each semester. In September of 2014, over 100 college students gathered for the Mid-Atlantic regional retreat at Saint George Orthodox Church in Taylor, PA. The weekend was filled with fellowship, worship, discussions, prayer, a visit to a monastery, and even a 2 AM soccer game and bonfire. The event was truly incredible, and it was here that I fully realized the responsibility and privilege of serving as a member of the SLB. Planning an event like this was quite possibly the most rewarding experience of my life. As we worshiped Christ and asked for the supplications of His Holy Mother, I saw the fullness of the faith, I witnessed young people being brought together by Christ, I saw repentance and healing, crying and laughing, faith strengthened tenfold, and most of all I saw Christ’s infinite love manifested in every single person. One student described his experience after the retreat like this:
The past 24 hours have been paradise. Just seeing everyone’s eyes…It was truly incredible. I saw future mothers and fathers and priests and monks and nuns all around me. I wish everyone else in the world could experience this.
That weekend I saw the truth, I saw light, I saw goodness, and I could understand why Christ is called the Prince of Peace.
In addition to regional retreats, SLB members get to help plan College Conference and Real Break and other events throughout the year. We brainstorm on themes, new ideas, invite worship leaders and keynote speakers, and give our input on how we can improve. Outside of event planning, SLB members constantly work to help struggling OCF chapters, start new ones, design OCF promotional media, write blogs, and more!
As a member of the SLB, we are always trying to think of new ideas and projects to help OCF grow. Like this year, we developed the “OCF Connect” smartphone application!
Leadership Experience in the Church
The SLB offers an experience in leadership unlike any other. From a completely professional standpoint, we learn valuable life skills like how to write a budget, manage money, plan events, fundraise, participate in and lead conference calls, present proposals to a Board of Directors, speak to large audiences, work in a team, make tough decisions, and network with people all over the country. These experiences are great and have been very beneficial, but these alone are not what makes the SLB leadership experience so rich and full. The SLB gives you the opportunity to marry these skills with serving Christ and His Church as a servant leader.
As a young adult, it is easy to think that our parents, grandparents, elders, and clergy are the only ones who are capable leaders in the Orthodox Church. However, at SLI this past summer, Bishop Gregory taught us one of the most important lessons when he said that young adults like ourselves are not the “Future of the Church,” but rather the “Present of the Church.” We are just as much a part of the Holy Orthodox Church now as parish council members, organizational presidents, and even the bishops (and have been since baptism)! What an empowering statement and motivation for us to get out there! This lesson does not only apply to OCF, but is a lesson we can take back to our home parishes, future parishes, ministries, and our whole life in the church. You’re never too young to get involved in the leadership of the church in some way.
So Why Apply?
I could go on and on about the many things I have learned in my time on the SLB and how grateful for them I am, but then I would be the author of my first novel. So I would like to end with a short, honest, reflection on the past nine months serving on the SLB.
When I applied to join the board, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. The one thing I knew was that I wasn’t planning on putting a whole ton of time into the position. I was going into my junior year, which is supposed to be the hardest one, and I was just starting to get involved working as a research assistant in a cancer lab at school. I figured the SLB would be cool since I loved OCF, and maybe every once in a while I could help a struggling chapter or something like that (especially since at that time, my chapter was having some tough times). Nothing too big or life-altering.
So that’s what I expected; here’s what I didn’t expect. The moment I landed in Texas and met my peers on the SLB, I knew I was extremely blessed to be a part of something like this. I didn’t expect to stay up until 3 AM talking with students I had met eight hours before, engaging in deep, spiritual, and meaningful conversations. I didn’t expect be making multiple weekend trips per semester to visit friends I met at OCF retreats and College Conference. I didn’t think that this experience would help me take steps towards where I needed to go with my career. I didn’t expect to learn how to approach every situation in prayer. I didn’t expect to experience true pan-Orthodoxy and worship in so many different churches around my region while feeling at home at every single one. And lastly, I surely didn’t expect OCF to become the thing that every day, in some way, shape, or form, put a big smile on my face and warmed my heart.
YES, the SLB experience is as full and enriching as I make it sound. I promise. If you are interested in applying, feel free to email me, and I can help answer some of your questions. I’m looking forward to getting to know you and building a new team to prayerfully do the work of Christ’s ministry to college students!
About the Author
Yianni Gagianas is a Biomedical Engineering student at the University of Delaware. Yianni currently serves as the Mid-Atlantic Student Leader on the Student Leadership Board. He will continue to serve next year as the Chairman of the SLB. Yianni loves fishing, country music, and soccer.