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Holy week is finally here amigos. This Holy Week, I want to urge you to take the time that you need to fully immerse yourself and partake even a little bit into the splendor of Christ’s Resurrection. There’s always time to start getting ready and to engage! The spiritual father of the Champaign OCF, Fr. Michael Condos, challenged us to “find ourselves in Holy Week,” and this challenge is a wonderful way to be in the mindset to grow in Christ.

What do I mean by find yourself? Holy Week has so many Gospel readings and services that talk about so many people from whom we can learn. When I say find yourself, I mean that you need to find who you identify with this Holy Week–where you are spiritually, the story sticks that sticks out to you.

Maybe you’re Lazarus and you’re feeling spiritually dead or exhausted, and you need Christ to call for you and raise you up.

Maybe you’re running out of steam from Lent, and you’re so excited that Christ is coming like the people of Palm Sunday.

Maybe you feel like Christ has been absent in your heart. Now He’s here coming on a donkey to come receive you.

Maybe you have been slacking spiritually, and you’re not ready for Holy Week. Maybe you’re scared that you don’t have oil in your lamp.

Maybe you feel like you are being hypocritical like the Pharisees, maybe you’re holding others to standards you don’t even uphold yourself.

Maybe something is plaguing you spiritually like Simon the Leper.

Maybe you are thirsty for the mercy of God like Kassiani.

Maybe you feel like Judas at the table of Christ. This is why we fast on Wednesdays. If you don’t think you could ever be like Judas, ask a priest and reevaluate.

Maybe you feel like are trying to carry your cross, and you can empathize with St. Simeon.

Maybe you feel like the Romans at Christ’s cross, skeptical about who Jesus is.

Maybe you feel like either of the thieves who were crucified next to Christ.

Maybe you feel like your faith is wavering like the disciples who hid after Christ’s crucifixion.

Maybe you feel like St. Peter and have denied Christ.

This Pascha, try and find yourself, and see yourself in true humility. In anything, know now that Christ underwent His passion for our sake. You may feel like any of the people described during Holy Week, but most importantly be like the apostles who saw Christ and proclaimed He is Risen. BE LIKE THE DEAD WHO HAVE RISEN WITH CHRIST.

Get PUMPED!! Here is a part from St. John Crysostom’s paschal homily that reiterates the point I’m trying to make.

If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward.

If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast.

If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss.

If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation.

If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness.

For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first.

I hope you all have a blessed Resurrection!

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Every Holy Thursday we are faced with a task that isn’t as easy as the other Holy Week services. The task that I am talking about is the reading of the twelve Gospels. That’s right, there are twelve. But on top of that you also have twelve epistles and twelve prayers before the Gospel. Many people talk about the stages of grief like denial, anger, etc. Well I have the eight stages of the Holy Thursday service.

Stage one: “This isn’t that bad. This first Gospel is one of the longest and that means we are basically done!” Stage two: “How many different ways can someone talk about the same event! The answer is four.” Stage three: “My feet are going to fall off.” Stage four: “Is it just me or is the church getting hotter?” Stage five: “Who is going to pass out first?” Stage six: “We are almost done we can do this!” Stage seven: “How fast can someone read the epistle? Let’s find out!” and finally stage eight: “That wasn’t so bad. Next year is going to be a breeze.” So, Holy Thursday can be crazy and make your feet hurt but here are some suggestions and things you may not have noticed to spice it up this year.

  • Tip #1: Wear sensible shoes. Heels are NOT recommended. Flats can be good (ladies) and comfortable dress shoes (boys). I also recommend some inserts to make the shoe a bit more comfortable.
  • Tip #2: Holy Thursday is literally a God given “I Spy” game. When I was about 14, I made a game for myself so that I would pay attention to the Gospel readings and not drift off into space. Before the service, look up Old Testament passages (like the psalms) with foreshadowing or predictions about the Crucifixion. For example, Psalm 22 (or Psalm 21 depending on the Bible you are looking at). So, I am not going to give too much away because you guys need a bit of a challenge but in verse 18 it reads, “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garments.” In Matthew 27:35, we see in an account of Jesus’s crucifixion almost identical wording. “And when He was crucified, they divided His garments among them by casting lots.” So, use psalm 22, other psalms, and Old Testament passages to find parallels. Play the version of “Liturgical I Spy” to keep your attention on the Gospels during the service.
  • Tip #3: Follow along in your service book, or look up the verses before hand and mark them in your Bible so that you can read along with your priest. This helps you focus more during the Gospel readings and helps you follow along in the service. It won’t seem as bad if you are reading them, too.
  • Tip #4: Pay attention. Holy Thursday is one of the most powerful services. When watching Jesus being nailed to the cross and seeing Him up there, I always tear up a little bit. Remember that He endured suffering for us.
  • Tip #5: Find passages that stick out to you, get your OCF (or youth group) in on it too. After the service, you guys can share something that was really hitting home for you in the readings.
  • Tip #6: Watch a Bible-themed movie. Sometimes seeing the events in a film version can help you better visualize what was happening back then. Netflix recently released a film narrated version of the Gospels. There are also the classics like Jesus of Nazareth, The Bible, and The Passion of the Christ.
  • Tip #7: Coffee. Black or with soy milk. Almond milk is great too.

Holy Thursday is a tough service emotionally, physically, and spiritually, and it is okay to space out or feel miserable. But when you catch yourself feeling like this, look at the cross, and remember there is a reason for this.

In one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes he says,

Christ died for men precisely because men are not worth dying for; but to make them worth it.

I wish you all a great and blessed rest of your Holy Week and a Blessed Resurrection. If you guys have any other tricks make sure to share them with your Orthodox friends!

I am Evyenia Pyle. I am freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I am majoring in Speech and Hearing Sciences with double concentrations in neuroscience of communication and speech-language pathology. This year I am the Central Illinois District Student Leader! I love to sing, especially byzantine chant. I play a lot of instruments including guitar, bass, piano, and more. I have two amazing dogs, they are my pride and joy. I am so excited to be contributing to the OCF blog this year!

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I know…a bunch of you are ready to fight me for such a bold and biased title.  I would say they paid me to write this, but being part of the SLB is entirely voluntary. Just hear me out, and afterward you are welcome to write Ben a counter-argument.  

1) You finally get to spend a week focused on your spiritual growth.

Most campers don’t know how to take ownership of their spiritual journey…they’re still trying to figure out if their skirts are long enough or if the counselors think they’re “cool”. Then, the counselors themselves are more focused on their campers’ experience at camp, or at least they should be.

Real Break is a chance to turn the focus back on you and your faith. While you are on your trip, whether it is a service project or a pilgrimage, you will have a moment, or ten, when this sense of peace fills you and you are simply reminded that “this came about from the Lord, and it is wonderful in our eyes.” Psalm 117(118):23

2) It’s like camp, but in March, with better food, and for adults-in-training

Confession time: I still miss camp, even after four years of adulting. Post Camp Depression (PCD) never truly goes away. But, to spend a week, away from the pressures of work and school and social media, surrounded by your brothers and sisters in Christ…I don’t know about you, but that was my favorite part about camp and is my favorite part about Real Break. You’re with 10 to 20 other college kids…adults…adults-in-training, and nobody knows anybody, yet within the first day, you will find that you have become a family.

Note: If you’re that person that decided to spend your Real Break maintaining your snap streaks…don’t. I promise you’ll get more out of it if you go off the grid. I recommend journaling (with pen and paper) instead.

3) Real Break is a once-in-a-lifetime experience

The trips and retreats organized by OCF are truly unique. First, they are pan-Orthodox. Unlike most church camps, your Real Break trip will have students from a variety of jurisdictions and from all over North America. The group itself is about as diverse as it gets.

Second, the trip’s mission presents a unique opportunity. The places you go and the things you’ll do will allow you to grow as an Orthodox Christian and simultaneously interact with a community that is not your own, yet welcomes you with open arms. Each Real Break trip has a different mission, but all have the same objective: to provide college students with a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I genuinely believe we accomplish that year after year.

Hi y’all! My name is Anna Sobchak, and I am so excited to be the Real Break Student Leader for this coming year. My OCF story has been filled with amazing brothers and sisters in Christ, some that I see at church every Sunday, and others that I’ve met through our National Programs, such as Real Break. Whether it’s dancing through the streets of Thessaloniki, praying on the coast of the Sea of Galilee, or hiking up to the monasteries of Meteora, these are the moments that have defined my college experience, and I can’t wait to share that with all of you.

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I couldn’t be more blessed with my parish here in Chicago.

There are tons of Orthodox churches all across the city. I know that different students from different OCFs way across the city go to different churches, but I’ve been fortunate enough to find the one in which I feel both comfortable and pushed to be better; welcomed, and supported.

Parish life can be something over which we gloss in OCF. Many of our pillars–fellowship, education, service–replicate exactly those that are utilized by the many healthy parishes across the nation. OCF organizes service trips; so do many churches. OCF organizes Scripture study and book readings; so do many churches.

Now, OCF serves these similar functions as the parish for a distinct reason: As a college student, it can be quite tricky to become engaged in these aspects of parish life. Church youth groups are often geared toward younger students, and rightfully so: once those youth leave for college, they can no longer be members of the group.

Meanwhile, the adults of the parish–even those on the younger side–have likely been members of the parish for a few years. Their concerns are perhaps starting a family, settling in to their profession, creating a state of permanence that a nomadic college student simply cannot. They’re at a different stage in their life.

And accordingly, OCF creates a community of the like-minded, similar-staged college students, that we may be buttressed by these pillars of education and fellowship and service in the Church.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Bill Colclough.

That being said, we must recognize a crucial point: Both college life, and by extension, OCF life are not meant to replicate the aforementioned permanence of a fledgling adult who has landed in a home, has a home parish, and has some real consistency to their lives. College and OCF life are, by their nature, transient.

We forget this because we spend years–long, hard, awful years–in high school being told that the end is college; that we must appropriately cite our sources, because we will have to do that in college; that we must do extracurricular activities, because colleges will like that. Our paradigm for decision-making and effort is solely based on college as an end goal. But it is not an end. It is a means to an end.

The end of all things is Christ. The end of all things is the second coming and eternal salvation in the Kingdom of Heaven. As Orthodox Christians, standing in the face of this truth, everything we do must be geared toward arriving at this end as prepared and humble servants; as guests wearing the wedding garments; as virgins with oil in our lamps.

As such, my encouragement to you today is to examine: what are your ends? Do you do what you do to get good grades? To get a good job? To make money? To have a family? To live a happy life? Perhaps, even, do you do what you do because it feels good in the moment? I cannot tell you how you should divide your efforts on a daily basis, but I do know that the Lord said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” If there’s something in your life that isn’t leading you to the kingdom, you have to sit and think about that.

It is in this mindset and in this spirit that I return to my original point: I am so blessed with the parish that I have. It is youthful, thriving, and joyous. If I wanted to show anyone what Orthodoxy looks like–not in a monastery on a hill or a village in the home country–but in the center of a city in America, I would take them here.

But I don’t participate in that parish nearly as much as I should. Don’t get me wrong: I go to church every week that I’m in Chicago. (Okay, I was really sick like two weeks ago, but you get the point.) But my involvement with OCF–good, valuable, important to me–fools me into believing that I needn’t involve myself with my parish.

However, I know that, as the future rolls ever toward me, parish involvement is on my horizon. I know that, to make it to the kingdom, I need a home parish. I need that stability, that consistent involvement, those people who know me well through my faith. I know that my opportunities to serve, to learn, and to commune will no longer come from OCF in the nearing future. And I have to start preparing for that.

My prayer is that the Lord helps me do this. It is difficult, to pull oneself far back, to such a wide-reaching perspective–but, it allows the self to make more level-headed, forward-thinking decisions. It is only by looking at the long-term can we gain the insight needed to change the short-term.

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I remember when I was going on college visits with my dad, we would be sitting in info sessions, and no matter where we were, he would look on his phone to see where the nearest Greek Orthodox Church was. I always rolled my eyes at him.

The Orthodox Church played a big role in my life growing up, but I never realized how much of an impact it could have on my life going into the future. While I was at the University of Tulsa, there weren’t many Orthodox kids my age, and I didn’t really connect to the Orthodox Church there. My dad would get on to me for not getting more involved, and I would roll my eyes at him again.

It wasn’t until my senior year that I really connected to the Tulsa church.  I went on my first Real Break trip to Alaska, and after that incredible experience, I knew I had to do another trip. So this year I packed my bags and headed off to Romania.

If I could sum up three things that I’ve learned from Real Break Romania, these would be them:

1. If you allow it, God can use you do to some incredible things

We had the privilege to speak to Father Tenase, the priest who started Pro Vita Orphanage. It all started when they received one baby and went knocking on doors to see if anyone would take him, and now they provide a home for more than 400 people.

During our daily debriefs with our group at the end of each night, we repeatedly referred to Father Tenase as a “firecracker” because his heart is so on fire to serve God and the community there. Whatever he feels called to do, he finds a way to get done and doesn’t ask questions. To sum it up, we all need to be like Father Tenase and go wholeheartedly towards what we are called to do. Be a firecracker.

2. The friendships you make are unlike any other.

There’s something about the relationships you build with someone who shares your faith that creates a special bond. At the end of the trip we weren’t just friends, but family. And I do mean that quite literally, because one of the girls I met for the first time before getting on the plane to Romania and I share the same extended relatives. So quite literally, you meet your family.

Last year I went on Real Break Alaska, and since that trip, we have been fortunate enough to have multiple reunions with most of the participants from all over the states. This year in Romania, I immediately became close to the participants I didn’t already know, and it was truly a blessing to both be reunited with old friends and make new friends so quickly, creating a new family. I fully expect our group to get together for reunions as well. I knew when we were going our separate ways in the airport it wasn’t “goodbye”; it was “see you later.”

3. God answers prayers and shows his love in unexpected ways.

Before going on this trip, I had asked God to teach me how to show love towards the kids and make a positive impact on their lives. Turns out, the exact opposite ended up happening. These kids poured out their love to me, and I learned so much just from being around them a short amount of time.

One child in particular stood out to me: Rares. He is so energetic and such a joy to be around. He’s an avid chanter at church and you could tell he was a leader in the community. Pro Vita puts an emphasis on family, so Rares would often say to me, “I love you, my sister,” out of the blue while walking around or just hanging out. I was truly touched that the kids considered us family when we had only been there a few days.

On our last night in Romania, Rares changed my phone background to a picture of us together and then told me to wait where I was because he had to get something from his room for me. When he returned, he gave me a heart shaped pillow so I would always remember him. You better believe I didn’t just cry, I ugly cried when I had to say goodbye to him.

I learned so much – not only from Rares, but from all of the kids we met – about how to love other people and be a positive light even in the darkness.

Kerri is originally from Little Rock, AR and is a recent graduate from the University of Tulsa. She attends Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Tulsa, OK, and when she’s not teaching Sunday school you can find her traveling, running, dancing, or eating ice cream.

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This month, Ben asked us to write about why you (as a future first year college student or maybe a transfer to a new school) should make the presence of an on-campus OCF a priority as you choose the place you’ll spend the next four or so years. Now, I can already hear you thinking (because it’s what I thought when I was in your shoes), “Why the sam hill should that matter? I don’t need an OCF; sure it’d be nice, but I’m not going to let it influence my school choice that much.”

Au contraire, my friend.

Maybe Orthodoxy has just been something you take part in because your parents want you to, or “it’s just what we do on Sundays”, or maybe it was something you did as a kid and kinda grew away from as you got older and started to make more decisions on your own. Maybe you’re already incredibly invested in Orthodoxy, already know you’re picking a school with an OCF, and this post is redundant for you. No matter what boat you’re in, if you take nothing else from this post, take the idea of giving OCF a chance, cause it might just surprise you.

At least for me, one of the most simultaneously thrilling and terrifying things about moving to college was the fact that I knew absolutely no one. Conveniently, OCF is a marvelous place to meet people and make new friends! Whoo friendship!

From time to just hang out and enjoy your newfound freedom, to late-night talks that shape the way you see the world and open your eyes to truths you never imagined, the friends you make in OCF bring with them lifelong connections and endless possibilities.

Now, if you fall into the category of people who aren’t really that invested in Orthodoxy or haven’t really gone to church in a while, fear not. At least to my mind, OCF is a lot less intimidating than going to a service. No tetas or yiayiás or babushkas eyeing you down, no priest or khouria asking where you’re from and if you’ll be coming regularly. It’s just a bunch of other college students looking to learn and find fellowship.

Plus, if you really start looking into the theology and academic side of Orthodoxy, mother of pearl, there an insane amount of information to sink your teeth into! When I wasn’t so sure about Orthodoxy and really questioning whether or not I could in good faith (all puns intended) commit myself, I found that delving into the foundations and core tenets of the faith helped me find resolution and direction.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that OCF has a pretty wide range of facets. Whether you’re looking for people to hang with, information about Orthodoxy, a place to come home to, or down time from the insanity of classes, OCF has it. Give it a chance, and it might just surprise you. OCF is to college as cayenne is to Mexican hot chocolate. The final product might be A-OK, but without it, you can just tell something is missing.

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.

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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.

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Hey y’all! I’m Maria Conte, your newest member in the band of bloggers (along with my other friends Mark and Kiara, eyyyy!) A little about me–I’m a SUPER senior (aka fifth year) at Virginia Commonwealth University studying Creative Advertising and Creative Writing just for fun. I’m an avid ice cream eater, runner, driver of country roads, and newly rekindling my love for playing field hockey (#clublife, #aintaboutthatD1life). I love going to the Blue Ridge Mountains when I can, and I bake brownies e’rry week for my OCF chapter. I like brownie batter so it’s a win-win situation.

My first memory of OCF was being a camper at Antiochian Village. I was eleven years old and my counselor must have gotten some free OCF garb in her staff meeting and gave it to me back in the cabin. It was a blue and red bball cap and one of those Livestrong bands we all know and love, but it was blue and said Orthodox Christian Fellowship.

And that was my intro. Fast forward eight years later, and I’m at my first college, Mary Washington (yes I’m a transfer student!!). It is a small college and I was one of five Orthodox kids there. Our group wasn’t even big enough to form an OCF, so we made a makeshift tradition called Sunday Snackin’ where instead of napping after Liturgy we would snack like kings, and I literally gained my freshman fifteen via eating a box of off-brand Honey Bunches of Oats and Nutella with pretzels every Sunday. 10 out of 10 would not recommend.

Eating healthy is hard

Even though my first college did not have an official OCF presence, I was still able to get involved with OCF events. My freshmen and sophomore year of college, I did Real Break in Guatemala and Honduras. This was such a great way to meet other Orthodox friends from across the country and have a week together working and having fun. It’s amazing how small the Orthodox world is, and it starts with making friends though OCF events. Just a few weeks ago, I bumped into a Real Break friend at a wedding that I hadn’t seen for four years! God is good.

I began attending College Conference East over winter breaks, and through that, I met and connected with people who would be my future co-staffers and friends at the Antiochian Village. OCF events really helped me and others learn about summer camp opportunities.

Now that I’m reaching the tail end of my college life, I can really looks back and see that OCF events and working at an Orthodox summer camp with fellow OCFers was the most influential part of my life. Being around people my age whom I looked up to made me strive to be closer to my faith because I saw all these amazing people shining their light and smiles everywhere they went. And it was a bright light!

For the bright light, you know?

OCF is such a blessing. The friends you meet through OCF make your world smaller, and it’s so nice having a support system of Orthodox friends, even when they are states away. And who knows, maybe one day twenty years from now you’ll be vacationing with your family in Boston, doing the Freedom Trail and all that (and maybe the Patriots won’t be an NFL dynasty at that point, who knows… not tryin’ to make my Boston friends salty here), and MAYBE you’ll just walk into a church there on Sunday morning and at coffee hour you bump into an old OCF friend you went on Real Break with years ago. I’m just saying. The Orthodox world is small and happy.

Anyway, I’m super excited about joining the OCF blogging team. God bless and have a wonderful day! I’ll catch ya on the flippy floppy.

Maria Conte is a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University studying creative advertising.  She is the VP and official brownie baker of her OCF.  Maria attends Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Richmond, VA.  In her free time, you can find Maria driving the back roads, jammin’ out to 70’s and 80’s music.

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As​ ​I​ ​was​ ​getting​ ​ready​ ​to​ ​make​ ​a​ ​decision​ ​about​ ​where​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​attend​ ​college,​ ​a​ ​priest whom​ ​I​ ​love​ ​and respect​ ​told​ ​me​ ​to​ ​make​ ​sure​ ​I​ ​was​ ​only​ ​considering​ ​schools​ ​with​ ​an​ ​Orthodox Church​ ​nearby,​ ​and​ ​a​ ​strong OCF​ ​on​ ​campus.​ ​As​ ​I​ ​do​ ​more​ ​than​ ​I​ ​care​ ​to​ ​admit,​ ​I​ ​did​ ​not​ ​take the​ ​advice​ ​of​ ​the​ ​priest.

OCF​ ​played​ ​no​ ​role​ ​in​ ​my​ ​decision​ ​to​ ​come​ ​to​ ​the​ ​University​ ​of​ ​Michigan.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​the​ ​only​ ​school​ ​I wanted​ ​to​ ​go​ ​to,​ ​and​ ​once​ ​I​ ​was​ ​admitted,​ ​I​ ​accepted​ ​immediately.​ ​With​ ​so​ ​many​ ​other​ ​things​ ​to consider​ ​when​ ​choosing​ ​a​ ​college,​ ​OCF​ ​landed​ ​nowhere​ ​even​ ​near​ ​my​ ​radar.

I​ ​got​ ​lucky.

The​ ​University​ ​of​ ​Michigan​ ​has​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most​ ​active​ ​OCF​ ​chapters​ ​in​ ​the​ ​country,​ ​and​ ​a thriving​ ​Orthodox​ ​community​ ​that​ ​makes​ ​a​ ​special​ ​effort​ ​to​ ​tend​ ​to​ ​the​ ​needs​ ​of​ ​college students.​ ​A community without​ ​which​ ​I​ ​would​ ​have​ ​absolutely​ ​lost​ ​my​ ​mind​ ​by​ ​now.

In​ ​some​ ​ways,​ ​college​ ​is​ ​a​ ​very​ ​difficult​ ​time​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​our​ ​minds​ ​centered​ ​around​ ​the​ ​joy​ ​and​ ​the victory​ ​of​ ​Christ.​ ​We​ ​are​ ​surrounded​ ​by​ ​so​ ​great​ ​a​ ​cloud​ ​of​ ​anxiety​ ​and​ ​sorrow;​ ​so​ ​much​ ​fear​ ​of the​ ​unknown​ ​future.​ ​What​ ​am​ ​I​ ​going​ ​to​ ​study?​ ​Which​ ​internship​ ​can​ ​I​ ​get​ ​this​ ​summer?​ ​Am​ ​I going​ ​to​ ​have​ ​a​ ​job​ ​when​ ​I​ ​graduate?

On​ ​top​ ​of​ ​that,​ ​we​ ​have​ ​so​ ​many​ ​people​ ​proclaiming​ ​their own​ “​good​ ​news”​ ​that​ ​we’re told that the​ ​only​ ​sure-fire​ ​way to​ ​alleviate​ ​all​ ​of​ ​this​ ​is​ ​to​ ​drink​ ​until​ ​you​ ​forget​ ​it​ ​exists.

I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​start​ ​writing​ ​for​ ​the​ ​OCF​ ​blog​ ​​NOT​​ ​because​ ​I​ ​have​ ​a​ ​spiritual​ ​life​ ​worthy​ ​of​ ​sharing, nor​ ​because​ ​I​ ​have​ ​perfectly​ ​adapted​ ​the​ ​spirituality​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Orthodox​ ​Church​ ​to​ ​a​ ​life​ ​in​ ​college.

I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​start​ ​writing​ ​for​ ​the​ ​OCF​ ​blog​ ​precisely​ ​because​ ​I​ ​battle​ ​with​ ​the​ ​same​ ​things​ ​that every​ ​other​ ​Orthodox​ ​college​ ​student​ ​does.​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​be​ ​“the​ ​voice​ ​of​ ​one​ ​crying​ ​out​ ​[from]​ ​the [college​ ​campus]”​ ​challenging​ ​myself​ ​publicly,​ ​and​ ​others,​ ​to​ ​take​ ​a​ ​harder​ ​look​ ​at​ ​the​ ​way​ ​we live​ ​out​ ​our​ ​faith​ ​while​ ​we​ ​are​ ​in​ ​school.

Around​ ​us​ ​is​ ​chaos.​ ​Walk​ ​around​ ​the​ ​average​ ​college​ ​campus​ ​on​ ​Saturday​ ​night,​ ​merely​ ​hours before​ ​we​ ​partake​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Eucharist,​ ​and​ ​see​ ​for​ ​yourself.​ ​St.​ ​Gregory​ ​the​ ​Great​ ​reminds​ ​us​ ​in​ ​his commentary​ ​on​ ​the​ ​book​ ​of​ ​Job​ ​that​ ​“amid​ ​the​ ​tumult​ ​of​ ​outward​ ​cares,​ ​inwardly​ ​a​ ​great​ ​peace and​ ​calm​ ​is​ ​reigning,​ ​in​ ​love.”

To​ ​that​ ​place​ ​of​ ​interior​ ​peace​ ​and​ ​calm,​ ​we​ ​must​ ​go.

College​ ​is​ ​plentiful​ ​in​ ​excuses​ ​for​ ​not​ ​doing​ ​what​ ​we​ ​should​ ​be​ ​doing.​ ​For​ ​most​ ​of​ ​us,​ ​our​ ​camp experiences​ ​come​ ​to​ ​a​ ​close​ ​during​ ​our​ ​college​ ​years,​ ​Sunday​ ​School​ ​is​ ​over,​ ​and​ ​many​ ​of​ ​us​ ​do not​ ​have​ ​anyone​ ​that​ ​will​ ​drag​ ​us​ ​to​ ​church​ ​on​ ​Sunday​ ​or​ ​make​ ​sure​ ​that​ ​we​ ​pray​ ​before​ ​meals.

We​ ​need​ ​to​ ​start​ ​trimming​ ​the​ ​fat​ ​and​ ​seeing​ ​that​ ​there​ ​is​ ​work​ ​appointed​ ​for​ ​us.

I​ ​will​ ​be​ ​writing​ ​more​ ​in​ ​the​ ​coming​ ​days.​ ​I​ ​hope​ ​you​ ​look​ ​for​ ​my​ ​next​ ​posts.

Mark Ghannam is a Junior at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor pursing a degree in economics, and serves as the Vice-President and Head of Clergy Relations for his OCF chapter. In his free time, Mark enjoys reading, rock climbing, and long walks on the beach while discussing Liturgical theology.

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It​ ​would​ ​be​ ​wrong​ ​of​ ​me​ ​to​ ​write​ ​this​ ​post​ ​pretending​ ​like​ ​the​ ​spiritual​ ​transition​ ​from​ ​high school​ ​to​ ​college​ ​is​ mostly​ ​seamless​ ​with​ ​a few​ ​slip-ups​ ​on​ ​the​ ​way. In​ ​fact,​ ​I​ ​really​ ​think​ ​I​ ​would​ ​be​ ​flat​ ​out​ ​lying​ ​to​ ​you​ ​and​ ​that​ ​is​ ​a​ ​sin,​ ​so​ ​I​ ​must​ ​keep​ ​to​ ​the​ ​rule of​ ​honesty.

Currently,​ ​I​ ​am​ ​in​ ​my​ ​second​ ​year​ ​in​ ​school.​ ​My​ ​first​ ​year​ ​was​ ​spent​ ​attending​ ​almost​ ​every OCF​ ​meeting​ ​and​ ​every​ ​Sunday​ ​Liturgy​ ​possible.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​responsible.​ ​I​ ​found​ ​rides​ ​to​ ​church, ways​ ​to​ ​attend​ ​Thursday​ ​Bible​ ​study.​ ​I​ ​did​ ​everything​ ​I​ ​was​ ​“supposed”​ ​to​ ​do​ ​to​ ​set​ ​myself​ ​up for​ ​success​ ​in​ ​my​ ​spiritual​ ​realm.​ ​However,​ ​here​ ​I​ ​am,​ ​halfway​ ​through​ ​my​ ​second​ ​year,​ ​and my​ ​spiritual​ ​life​ ​has​ ​waned​.

I​ ​have​ ​rehearsals​ ​on​ ​Tuesday​ ​nights​ ​so​ ​I​ ​miss​ ​our​ ​OCF​ ​meetings​ ​and​ ​on​ ​Sundays​ ​when​ ​I should​ ​be​ ​going​ ​to​ ​church​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mornings.​ I have to be honest with you, while I know this lifestyle is not necessarily conducive to growing a faith, I do not regret the choices I have made when planning my weekly schedule as I know they contribute to my education. However, while I never intended to impede my spiritual growth, I have made a choice that does, and must face the effects of that choice.

During​ ​Christmas​ ​Break,​ ​my​ ​freshman​ ​year​ ​of​ ​college,​ ​I​ ​took​ ​confession​ ​with​ ​my​ ​parish​ ​priest, and​ ​he​ ​gave​ ​me​ ​this​ ​advice​ ​when​ ​I​ ​told​ ​him​ ​I​ ​felt​ ​like​ ​I​ ​had​ ​not​ ​been​ ​doing​ ​enough​ ​for​ ​my faith​ ​while​ ​in​ ​school.​ ​His​ ​advice:​ ​​Claire,​ ​you​ ​are​ ​in​ ​college.​ ​You​ ​are​ ​there​ ​to​ ​learn​ ​and​ ​to receive​ ​a​ ​degree.​ ​While​ ​God​ ​should​ ​always​ ​stay​ ​at​ ​the​ ​center​ ​of​ ​your​ ​life,​ ​do​ ​not​ ​punish yourself​ ​if​ ​you​ ​cannot​ ​always​ ​attend​ ​liturgy​ ​or​ ​OCF.​ ​That​ ​is​ ​not​ ​why​ ​you​ ​are​ ​in​ ​school.

via barnzy on flickr

It​ ​is​ ​from​ ​this​ ​advice​ ​I​ ​offer​ ​you​ ​my​ ​own:​ ​When​ ​you​ ​come​ ​to​ ​college,​ ​you​ ​have​ ​the​ ​opportunity to​ ​essentially​ ​design​ ​your​ ​own​ ​life.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​a​ ​massive​ ​responsibility​ ​for​ ​so​ ​young​ ​and inexperienced​ ​a​ ​person.​ You will make choices that you will not know whether to consider morally right or wrong. You will go through periods of time where nothing seems quite right with any aspect of your life.

​If​ ​you​ ​cannot​ ​get​ ​yourself​ ​to​ ​OCF,​ ​or liturgy,​ ​or​ ​any​ ​other​ ​type​ ​of​ ​service​ ​being​ ​offered​ ​at​ ​your​ ​school​ ​all​ ​I​ ​ask​ ​is​ ​that​ ​you​ ​take​ ​a moment,​ ​when​ ​you​ ​can,​ ​to​ ​appreciate​ ​what​ ​you​ ​see​ ​around​ ​you.

Look​ ​around​ ​at​ ​creation,​ ​appreciate​ ​the​ ​specific​ ​things​ ​in​ ​life​ ​that​ ​give​ ​you​ ​joy.​ ​For​ ​me,​ ​it​ ​is when​ ​I​ ​walk​ ​towards​ ​my​ ​first​ ​class​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mornings​ ​in​ ​the​ ​sprinkling​ ​rain,​ ​umbrella-less, looking​ ​at​ ​the​ ​blooming​ ​flowers​ ​in​ ​the​ ​trees.​ ​That​ ​is​ ​all​ ​part​ ​of​ ​creation​ ​and​ ​we​ ​have​ ​the blessed​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​experience​ ​it.

We​ ​live​ ​in​ ​a​ ​turbulent​ ​world​ ​that​ ​asks​ ​quite​ ​a​ ​bit​ ​of​ ​its​ ​young​ ​people.​ ​Take​ ​advantage​ ​of​ ​this education​ ​God​ ​has​ ​given​ ​you​ ​and​ ​use​ ​it​ ​to​ ​increase​ ​the​ ​goodness​ ​and​ ​kindness​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world. And​ ​like​ ​the​ ​tenth​ ​leper,​ ​come​ ​back​ ​and​ ​tell​ ​Him​ ​thank​ ​you​ ​when​ ​you​ ​have​ ​received​ ​your​ ​gift.

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.
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