Category: Ministries (page 1 of 15)

How Do I Lent?

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Update: Lent started. Today is just a few days before the Sunday of St. John Climacus (aka the fourth Sunday of Lent), which means we’re more than halfway to Pascha. Some of us may have had the foresight to figure out specific goals for Lent going into it, while others may not have changed anything in their lives. Regardless of what boat we’re in, what do we do now?

In order to answer that question, we need to back up and figure out what Lent is. To fully understand that, we need to have some grasp on the state of humanity (my thought process tends to get really general really quickly, so stay with me). We are all spiritually sick. Whether or not we feel it, our souls experience sickness from disconnection with God. so how do we get healthy? Luckily, God provides us with a spiritual hospital: the Church.

The sickness that afflicts us prevents God from entering into our hearts. Our hearts are simply too hard to allow God to enter in, so we need to go to our mother, the Church, to chip away at it. Lent is a time for chipping away at that hardness of our hearts so that we can receive Christ to our fullest potential on the feast of His Resurrection.

So before we get to Paul’s monthly list, we need to remember why we do all of the things we do during Lent. Again, this is absolutely critical for two interconnected reasons: (1) if we go through the motions without realizing why we are doing it, the tasks become an end in themselves; in other words, we aren’t keeping ourselves from eating to grow closer to God, but because we feel like it’s this weird homework assignment we have to do; and (2) when we make the commandments of God an end in themselves, we become like the Pharisees, who outwardly did everything correctly but whose hearts were in the wrong places. And you can check out Matthew 23 to see how Jesus felt about them.

(Editor’s note: not a fan)

So back to the title: how do I Lent? Here are the things you can try:

1. Fast: Do something

As my spiritual father says, the amazing thing about fasting is that you can always do more or less depending on where you are. You can’t do the entire fast prescribed by the Church? That’s fine, do some part of it, like not eating meat. The fast isn’t challenging enough or spiritually beneficial to you? You can do more: skip a meal, don’t eat snacks, avoid adding salt or other flavor enhancers to your food, or avoid non-water beverages. The important thing is that you change what you normally do with food.

2. Cut something out

If you’re like me, chances are you’re doing a lot. The few seconds a day when you’re not either at a class or activity or have something to take care of, you spend figuring out how you’re going to get everything done that you need to do. There’s so much noise.

Find something in there taking you away from God, and get rid of it. I’ve done various things different years depending on what habits of mind are most destructive at the moment. This year it was deleting the Facebook app from my phone. Other years it has been not playing games on my phone during Lent. Find something that you are doing that is holding you back in some way from union with God, and get rid of it, at least until Pascha (hopefully beyond).

3. Go to church

Lenten services are where I discovered my love for the Orthodox faith. Many parishes have church on most nights of the week, so check your church’s calendar and try to make it to one, maybe two, or even all of them (that’s the recommended option). Part of Lent is adding prayer, and the church is supplying it for you. All you need to do is show up and participate.

4. Don’t worry if you slip

One of my past articles was about how you’re probably going to fail. Chances are, you are going to fall short of at least one of your goals (if you don’t, you may want to check to see if you’re pushing yourself hard enough). As someone who loves sports and is filled with useless sports stats, I have to ask you to do something that is very hard for me to do: don’t worry about your own Lenten statistics.

Read Paul’s article here!

I have wanted to be standing in the church on Pascha night, knowing that I attended every service in Lent, had not touched meat or dairy since Clean Monday, and had reached every goal perfectly. The problem with that mindset is that your whole motivation crumbles before you the second you make one mistake.

I offer this mindset as a replacement: starting right now, at this moment (be that as you’re reading this or when you think about it later), let’s strive to love God and do his holy will (citation: St. Herman of Alaska, see one of my past articles on that).

5. Talk to your spiritual father

I often think that I’m a bad judge of what is the right level to push myself in all of these categories, and I’m probably right. I have good judgment about how poor my judgment is. Don’t think about that too hard.

The good thing is, I have someone to talk all of this stuff out with, to say, “I want to do A, B, and C during Lent,” and he can say, “A and B sounds good, but you might want to consider tweaking C in this way to make it better for you.” And I have confidence that he’s right because he knows everything about my spiritual life, so he’s like a doctor giving me a specific prescription for my specific disease. What an incredible resource that we have in our spiritual fathers!

I pray that God will help us to keep all of these things in mind as we continue through our Lenten journey. May we fight our own battles while leaning on and strengthening one another. One of the beautiful things about the collective nature of Orthodox fasts is that we have our church communities and Orthodox friends all around us who are going through the same thing, and who can offer us strength and motivation to make that push to Pascha. It’s impossible for us on our own, but with God’s help and the help of the people around us, we can do what’s been laid before us this Lent.

Paul Murray is a senior psychology major and Spanish minor at Franklin & Marshall College, and he attends Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster, PA. His home parish is St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in New Kensington, PA, and he has spent the past three summers serving as a counselor at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh Summer Camp and the Antiochian Village. In his free time, Paul ties prayer ropes and writes descriptions of himself in the third person for blog articles.

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Real Break New Orleans | Quotes from the Workers

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It’s Thursday, Day 3 here in St. Tammany West. In the middle of our trip, I wanted to take the opportunity to ask the workers about their experience on the trip so far. So, this is Real Break New Orleans, as told by Eyvonnka Rizkallah, Maria Nasser, Meredith Ashton, Rose Ansara, James Jabbour, and Ben Solak.

“It’s a really good mix. You get to do service but you also get to learn about an area I feel like a lot of people Know about but not the extent that people should. I know I’ve learned a lot about Katrina and the people here and how it affected them even though it was so long ago.”

“You’re not going internationally. You’re helping people who are in your country who may have been hidden in the dark.”

“Seeing as though I don’t have an OCF at my local university, this was my opportunity to get involved.”

“It’s a nice time to reevaluate where you are in your semester, by serving someone besides yourself. You also have the opportunity to enhance friendships and create new ones through the dioceses. Meeting new people through our faith can be difficult—we only have a few events throughout the year. But this is a unique, intimate setting. The group is small and you’re serving where you are. It makes it different.”

“It’s really like eye-opening, because I had no idea. Like seeing pictures and hearing things are one thing, but if you come down and you see all the damage in person that’s still here…it’s ridiculous.”

“I really liked using the electric screwdriver. No, wait. That’s not what it’s called. I don’t know what it’s called. The screw thing.” (drill)

“It’s an intimate way to get to know a community that isn’t yours, and to be an Orthodox presence in that community is really cool, to share your faith. It’s much different than just going to New Orleans and going to restaurants and going to a party. You get to be directly in the neighborhood, be with the people who live here, get to know them and what matters to them. And that’s a really different experience than you’d get on a more traditional spring break trip.”

“The culture is so much different here from where I lived.”

“I thought it would take the mission trip aspect of things I’ve done in other places around the world and put it in my own country, so I could help people where I live, and I really liked that.”

“I was really excited about building homes for people who really need them. Putting our blood, sweat, and tears into everything we do. It’s a great way to bond with people who are from New Orleans. At the end of the day, you know that your hard work was going to contribute to something even bigger.”

“I’ve really loved eating the food. I’ve probably gained like ten pounds. But overall, great experience. I’d definitely do it again.”

“I wanted to go to Real Break New Orleans. It’s more fulfilling than going to Miami and partying. This is definitely real stuff. That’s why it’s called Real Break.”

If you want to follow Real Break NOLA, or any OCF event, be sure to follow OCF’s Snapchat @OCFMinistry. My caption game is fire.

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FOCUS serving others in “The Liturgy After the Liturgy” Featured in The Word Magazine

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FOCUS’ own YES leader Kamal Hourani was featured in The Word Magazine’s March issue. Click on the image blow to read the story!

An Orthodox House of Rejuvenation

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“I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, And He

answered me.”
—Jonah 2:2

“There simply aren’t enough places for sober living in our community,” said Nathan Smith, the co-founder and director of FOCUS Columbus’ Jonah House. Columbus, Ohio is an epicenter of heroin abuse and addiction in the Midwest. This heroin epidemic has become increasingly visible as community after community has seen sharp increases in deaths caused by this dangerous drug.

Many people are battling every day to free themselves from their addictions, which result in situations such as homelessness, poor health, and financial instability. Nathan recognized that Columbus has one of the best shelter systems in the country. However, shelters can be horrible places for anyone recovering from addiction. FOCUS Columbus’ Jonah House will fill the gap that currently exists in the homeless service system for addicts.

Opportunity Meets Desire

The Jonah House, which is slated to open in the fall of 2017, will provide a critical transitional step for former heroin addicts to move from dependency to self-sufficiency. The house will be a safe, caring living space and will also arrange meaningful, daily work for residents. In-house professional partners will help residents with their mental and physical health, and provide guidance for everyday tasks.

Nicholas Chakos, Executive Director of FOCUS North America said, “The Jonah House will be bringing a credible solution to a dire need in Columbus. While FOCUS provides infrastructure and organization to centers around the country, the local folks in Columbus have done all of the groundwork and are stepping up to meaningfully impact their community.”

The goal is for Jonah House residents to be able to focus entirely on themselves and their recovery for six months or a year.  “There will be professional, volunteer, and spiritual help,” said Peter Gardikes, who is a Jonah House ministry team member and Parish Council Member at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Columbus. “Ultimately, we’d like to see people who have gone through Jonah House mentor those who come after them. We’re creating a community of people supporting one another.” Jonah House is successfully leveraging churches in central Ohio to create a network of support and opportunity to those who successfully complete the transition once leaving the Jonah House.

Jonah as a metaphor and method

In the Old Testament story, Jonah experiences incredible turbulence on a boat as he attempts to flee God’s command. Jonah’s knows it is his fault that the other passengers are in danger– and he also knows that a change has to take place. Jonah admits to those onboard that he has disobeyed God. Like Jonah, those who are addicted unintentionally cause pain to those they love. Similarly, these individuals must come to realize this, and take steps to come back into unity with those around them.

After being cast into the sea, Jonah enters into the belly of the whale. In our case, this time is likened to a period of rehabilitation. When an addict is taken away from his or her storm and entered into a period of distance from the cause of pain, they prevent themselves from causing damage to themselves and others. Just as Jonah emerged to deliver a saving message to the people of Nineveh, when the addict emerges, they are resurrected with the desire to contribute to a community and purpose greater than themselves. The parallels are unmistakable.

Just as Jonah’s three days in the belly of the sea monster transformed the way Jonah functioned as a messenger of God, FOCUS Columbus’s Jonah House will become a vehicle through which recovered addicts in the Columbus community discover their importance as individuals— and their ability transform others around them.

Please say a prayer for the Jonah House. If you wish to learn more and support the sustainability of this ministry, please contact FOCUS North America.

From The Desk Of The Chairwoman: Graduating

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On this blog, we do a superb job talking about and giving advice for the daunting transition from high school to college. It’s a big change, most likely unlike anything you’ve experienced in your young life so far. OCF welcomes you with open arms to college life, providing a safe haven of friends, faith, and Jesus. I don’t need to tell you more — you can read about it here, here, and here.

Photo by BlueField Photos via flickr

What we don’t talk about too much on this blog is transitioning out of college and into the “real” world. As I prepare to graduate in five short weeks, I’m beginning this new phase of transition. I feel ready to move on after I receive my diploma because of OCF.

OCF taught me how to go to church on my own. It connected me with priests and friends at my college that made the task much less daunting. If you’re like me, the church you grew up in became like your second home; the parish your second family. To enter such a close knit environment as a foreigner is awkward and little scary. Through OCF, I’ve church hopped in the best possible way, both at school and various retreats and events. I’ve been exposed to various jurisdictions, chanting and singing styles, different ethnic traditions. OCF has made me more comfortable with Orthodoxy holistically, not just my isolated parish or jurisdiction.

OCF gave me friends. We have a running joke on the SLB that “OCF gives you friends,” but it really is true! I have friends from my chapter whom I’m blessed to see on an almost daily basis, friends from OCF events I joyfully reunite with at College Conference or Real Break, friends from the SLB I drive or fly long distances to see. I’m moving to Mobile, Alabama (you know, the Ortho-hub of America) after graduation. My spiritual advisor for OCF knows the priest at the only Orthodox church there, and one of my friends from my chapter and the SLB has a cousin who goes to that church. The Orthodox world is already tiny, and OCF just extends your reach even more.

OCF helped me grow as a person. Through my various roles in OCF, I’ve become a more self-confident person. I use to be cripplingly self-conscious and care much too much about what other people thought of me. Through the people I’ve met, the relationships I’ve formed, and the immense pouring of God’s love upon me, I am more comfortable with myself than I’ve ever been. I feel well-established in my faith, confident to go out in the world beyond the edges of college, to turn from Orthodox college student to Orthodox young professional.

I could go on and on about how OCF has been exceptionally transformative in my life; the heart of my college experience. But I leave you with just these three in the hopes that you, too, will reap the benefits of OCF. Join your local chapter, go to a retreat, apply to the SLB. OCF has so much to offer if you just give of yourself and trust in God.

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High School to College | Pro Tips with Maria Conte

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Transitions are THRILLING! The transition to college from high school is like sitting on top of a roller coaster, waiting for the carts to drop. That stomach lurch can either be exciting or terrifying, but knowing what to expect makes that drop easier, and the ride more enjoyable. So here are my top tips of how to prepare for college, and a little of what to expect.

What Are You Getting Yourself Into?

Those SATs are finally over and all of your college letters are back. Whew! When deciding between schools to go to, check out to see if they have an OCF and a church close to campus. Having an Orthodox community of students, and getting involved witha church, will set a solid foundation for your time in college, and help establish a lifestyle to take with you for the rest of your life. College is the first time many of us are on our own. We have to freedom to make our own habits. It’s much easier to go to church on Sunday morning if we have some OCF friends to keep us accountable and go get brunch with afterwards. OCF friends are a support system. We are all there to be there for one another.

Plus, OCF is an instant friend group in a new school!

Get to know when your OCF meets, join the Facebook page, and get in the habit of being plugged in right off the bat.

P.T.L. (Praise/Prioritize The Lord)

I’m a runner. If I don’t jog first thing in the morning, I end up sitting around the house and procrastinating other things I have to do. Anyone who’s a runner, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

My point is, that if we prioritize to get our mornings or weeks off on the right foot, most other things will follow. On mornings when I wake up early and run, I usually am more productive with my work. Likewise, prioritizing going to church on Sunday morning sets my week up on a good start. You have the freedom to prioritize what you want in college. 🙂

Find out where the Orthodox churches are close to campus. Don’t have a car? Find a carpool buddy (these often turn into brunch buddies–yum) from OCF. If you can’t find an OCF friend to carpool with, reach out to the church–parishioners love to help give rides to college students.

Sidenote: have fun and make post-liturgical traditions with your OCF friends!! My current tradition is getting iced coffees and donuts at Dunkin’ Donuts with my friends after church. (#teamdunkin)

Do Stuff.

Be a double-stuffed Oreo. In other words, make the most of what resources ya got in college. Why be a single stuff if you can be a double stuff? OCF has so many opportunities outside of your campus. Over winter break, you can attend College Conference, and over spring break you can do Real Break! These are fun ways to meet friends cross-country and to travel.

I’ll say it again, but having Orthodox friends is such a blessing and a strong support system that will be with you way past your days of English 101.

Oh yeah, do other stuff too! Enjoy college. Go to basketball game for free. Join clubs. That stuff is more good double stuff, too.

I Got Into One College So…

I got into only one college too guys! It’s somewhat refreshing, having that decision made for you (even though I ended up transferring, it was still okay). If you were like me, your college might not have an OCF. This could be your calling to take action and make an OCF for yourself and students to come! Thankfully the OCF website has AMAZING resources of how to set up an OCF. Reach out to the OCF team, they are great resources. You could build the foundation for generations to come.

Maybe there’s an OCF, but it’s inactive. I have also experienced this when I transferred schools. A tip I give to anyone getting OCF active is to make a schedule. Pick a weeknight and hold consistent meetings at that time each week. Reach out to the nearby parish priests or youth directors to help lead and facilitate meetings. Slow starts can be discouraging, but the key to this is being consistent in meeting. OCF will grow gradually. And keep getting the word out. 🙂 You are not alone if you are waiting to make your OCF stronger, and many people here at OCF who can help out.

Call home.

When I was little I thought my parents were the wisest folks in the world. And then I turned 17 and suddenly they knew NOTHING and I knew EVERYTHING.

It wasn’t until college when I started thinking my parents were smart again.

Maybe you have always had a strong relationship with you parents, but if you were anything like me, high school years could be a bit of duel between us. Something happens in college when you’re buddies again. I think college can humble us, and we suddenly realize we don’t know everything. Call your parents, they most likely have experienced many of the things you will go through in college, and talking to them when you need help is a great way of growing your relationship with your parents.

Parents are our number one fans. Keep close to them. Let them support you.

Find quiet time, and learn to say no (no mo FOMO).

There’s a geology study group on Wednesday! And then all your friends are going out for Chinese food. And Friday after class your friends are grabbing coffee and then hitting the basketball game.

There are SO many things going on in college: social and academic stuff. Let me tell you something, you won’t miss anything if you say no.

Definitely get involved, meet friends, and go to class–BUT! You have the power to say no sometimes. No mo FOMO. There will be plenty of opportunities to hang with friends. You need your time too. Some of the most rewarding moments in college that I had were walks all by myself, eating lunch outside in peace and quiet on a nice day, etc… It’s good slow down, and just have some quiet time.

It’s ok. Your paper will get done. And your friends will go out for Chinese food again. You’re not missing out.

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Nine Reasons to Apply to the SLB

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I’d like to take a moment to thank my sister, Emma Solak. She’s the current Chairwoman of the Student Leadership Board, and she has done such a job, one adjective could not possibly describe her wild success. Stellar and monumental come to mind. Ground-breaking, earth-shattering, awe-inspiring, and other hyphenated things.

But that’s just a biased brother’s opinion. More concretely, she held this position before me and really encouraged me to apply for it. Glory be to God for that. This position and this experience have been incredibly valuable for me, and without her, this opportunity may have passed me by.

That, I suppose, is my encouragement to you, OCF student. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by. Apply just in case. Apply if you’re unsure. Apply if you have even the slightest inkling that you may enjoy it. The last thing you want is to look back with regret.

In honor of the outgoing chairwoman, I’d like to compose a post in the spirit of her hallmark: really funny GIFs, all in a row. She could do a better job, most definitely. But here we go nonetheless.

9 Reasons To Apply To The SLB

1. You’ll be a great help to others

2. It will further your relationship with God

3. You’ll grow that ‘dox network

4. Christina, one of our directors, has really cute and funny kids that will occasionally pop into video calls

5. You may or may not get to hang out with me

6. Let’s be real: it won’t look bad on a resume

7. You’ll get to explain even more Orthodox stuff to your non-Orthodox friends

8. You’ll be (part of) the National (Student) Leader(ship Board) of a thing!

9. You’ll get to write this post next year

At the end of the day, there is no fence on which you should be. If you think there’s the tiniest chance you might want to, do it. Apply. It’s rad-tastic.


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Regional Retreat Reflection | From The Heart

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Have you ever met someone and just felt at home? Yes? Well, have you ever met a group of people and felt the same way within 48 hours? Most people don’t. And yet, at all the OCF retreats that I’ve been to, I have found this to be a common theme.

These retreats are great because you get to learn more about your faith and, at the same time, connect with people who have the same core values as you. At the past Northeast Regional Retreat, which I attended from March 3rd-5th, I learned more about “Breathing Underwater: Yearning for Stillness and Communion.” Living as a college student on a college campus, it can definitely feel as if you are underwater. Many of the things that surround you do not revolve around Christ, or the Church, and much even defies the Church’s teachings. It can be hard to practice your faith while constantly being in this environment. Furthermore, it can be difficult to find other Orthodox students on campus who share your beliefs.

By being in an Orthodox setting, surrounded by Orthodox students my age for about three days straight, I was truly able to get to the surface. As I listened to Deacon Tishel’s talks and had amazing fellowship with the other students, I was finally able to gulp in the fresh air after having to hold my breath for so long. I cherish these retreats very much, as they are a way to re-energize my soul before having to re-enter the cold water.

When I go back to campus after the retreats and feel my head becoming enclosed by water again, I know that I will have the strength to breath underwater. I know that I can rely on my faith and the Church to help guide me through the currents, and the people that I’ve met at the retreats to lend me some oxygen when I think I am starting to run out.

I am very thankful for Orthodox Christian Fellowship and the retreats that they offer. A big thank you to Spyridoula Fotinis and Elias Pappas for organizing this last retreat. You guys did an amazing job! I can’t wait for the next one!

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March Regional Feature: South Region

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Every month, the OCF social media platforms will be featuring one of the nine regions of chapters. March is the month for my birthday the South Region, which includes the great states of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Yee-haw!

On the blog, I’ll be asking the Regional Student Leader–for South, the striking Kathrine Sackllah–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 South All-Stars!

Anna Sobchak, Chapter President, SMU

Hi! My name is Anna Sobchak, a junior at Southern Methodist University (SMU), majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Math and currently chapter president.

How did you get involved in OCF?

Haha. It’s not a very exciting story, I’m afraid. I always knew SMU had a chapter at OCF; it was something I made sure of at all the schools I applied to. I had a friend who got me in contact with the coordinator and just went to the first meeting.

What are some of your greatest memories/experiences from OCF?

Growing up in Houston, I love every time we have a regional retreat and I get to see all the friends I grew up with. However, I would have to say my greatest experience so far was when I went to Jerusalem last spring for Real Break. It was beautiful and exciting and…honestly, I don’t even know how to describe it. Seeing all of the holy sites and just walking around the Sea of Galilee or through the Old City…it made the biblical stories seem so much more real and relatable. 10/10 would recommend.

Any advice you could give to someone else in your position?

Somehow I ended up as chapter president, but whether you just go to weekly meetings or are involved in the national level, my advice is to make sure you get involved. Different chapters do different things, but at the end of the day, it’s comforting to know that while you are at college in a new city, maybe even a new country, you have at least one brother or sister in Christ there with you. And the more you get involved, the more you’ll find out just how interconnected the Orthodox communities are all across the US.

Valerie Hanna, Central Texas District Student Leader, Texas A&M

Valerie Hanna is from Houston, Texas and a junior at Texas A&M University (Whoop!), studying Telecomm. Media Studies with a minor in Art. She is secretary of her OCF chapter and District Student Leader of Central Texas. She loves teaching Sunday School at St. Silouan Antiochian Orthodox Church, reading books instead of studying (uh-oh), practically living at her local coffee shop, sketching Disney characters, being at camp, and attending concerts.

And how did you get involved in OCF?

I knew I wanted to be in OCF before my freshman year even began. Having grown up involved in Teen SOYO, getting involved in OCF just felt like the natural “next step” in my church involvement when I left home. When applying to schools, I made sure there was a church with an OCF chapter in the general area because I knew I was going to need them. Fast forward three years, and I am both an officer in my chapter as well as District Student Leader for Central Texas and it’s been pretty great.

What are some of your greatest memories/experiences from OCF?

Last year we had a meeting right after the last Pre-Sanctified Liturgy during Lent where we got together and had some of the students teach others how to make crosses out of palms for Palm Sunday which led to us staying at the church for quite a while consisting of so much singing and so much fun. 10/10 would recommend as a fun & stress-free meeting before Holy Week! Despite the social events we have had in the past, this one felt like a really strong bonding experience for our entire group.

Any advice you could give to someone else in your position (Chapter Pres., District Leader, etc…) across the nation?

Embrace it and let it teach you things you didn’t even know you needed to learn. This goes beyond being a leadership position. You’re going to learn things that are beyond yourself. God works in each of us very differently, I feel this goes without saying, but you will be surprised as to how He is going to work through you. The feeling of being able to help nourish other OCF chapters beyond your own is incredible. I’ve put together events and done things I never in a thousand years pictured myself doing before this school year started. OCF isn’t just a temporary thing throughout my four years of college. OCF has given me my best friends, strengthened my relationships with others, and been the backbone of my entire college experience. It is what has helped keep me sane in the moments I felt so overwhelmed all I wanted to do was cry. OCF has been one of the constant reminders of the love that God has for me, for all of us. Being a leader in an organization He has allowed us to establish as a stepping stone in our journey toward salvation is more than I have ever been worthy of, but something to be so incredibly thankful for.

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Attending Church | The Lenten Effort

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Boy oh boy it’s Wednesday, and in Lent that means Presanctified (AKA: the greatest church service of all time).

In my opinion, Presanctified is one of the most powerful and moving services we have in the Orthodox Church. If you’ve never been, your church likely has it on either Wednesday or Friday throughout the Lenten season. If you check their website/calendar, call your priest, or ask him next time you’re there on Sunday, it’s usually far enough in the evening that it can fit within college schedules.

Part of the Lenten effort is fasting–that’s the most well-known. But it isn’t the whole kit and caboodle–there’s more to it than just that. We can’t spend Lent sinning the same way we’ve been sinning, saying the same prayers with the same frequency, attending the same services at the same times, but just eat less meat and then expect to be different. It isn’t as simple as that, as easy as that.

The Lenten effort is a frontal assault, a full-bodied push. We’re preparing for the Resurrection, for our Salvation. We can’t leave a stone unturned, a stop unpulled. This is go time.

Part of that effort is church attendance, and more than just church attendance, but sacrifice for church attendance. We miss that sometimes: when we want to attend church, we say, “Okay, when I can go to church, I’ll go.” That’s good, but that’s only half the battle.

The next step is to say, “When there is church, I will go.” One of the best ways you can communicate value is through making sacrifices: when you stop doing homework to help a friend, you’re demonstrating that you value their well-being over finishing your workload; when you sleep, go out for dinner, or do homework over attending church, you’re demonstrating that you value those things over church attendance.

Now, there are services almost every day at my parish, and I don’t nearly make it to all of them. It’s infeasible. I wouldn’t be able to get all of my schoolwork done/get enough sleep. I couldn’t live that way eternally. Eventually I would have to drop out or die.

That’s a life out of balance, and I’d never recommend that. But I would recommend gaining awareness and assuming responsibility for our choices, and thereby our sacrifices. Undoubtedly, it is difficult to say, “I am currently totally overwhelmed with schoolwork and finals and other, worthy responsibilities, but I’m just going to shirk all of that and go to church.” But it is far easier to say, “The sacrifices I make communicate my values. Because I know this, I chose to go to church this week, on this day, at this time, no matter how stressed out I feel.” By preemptively making the decision, we can base it on the immutable values we know to be true over time, not the fickle feelings of the moment.

We can never step away from being ourselves. It is an incredible onus to bear. Never can we say, “Yes, I made that choice, but that’s not representative of me.” We can say, “I made that choice, and it was a representation of me at that time, but I have changed, I have repented since then.” But we can’t check out from who we are. If we are an Orthodox Christian, we attend church, we value church. We show up to the plate.

We can never step away from being ourselves.

 – Tweet this!

And don’t get me wrong, that can be a very difficult plate up to which we can show. Church can unsettle us, throw us out of balance, make us feel guilty about what we’re doing, the sacrifices we’re making and the sacrifices we aren’t.

But it should. That’s a good thing. That’s our litmus check, our stock count. It gives us the opportunity to reflect on what we’ve done through a clear, unwavering, Orthodox Christian lens.

And on top of that, that incredible onus of always being ourselves, always being responsible for ourselves, always being a representation of ourselves? That’s a good thing, too! It means we are the owner of our actions, the former of our future. We have the power to choose and define. We have free will, and that is an inherently Christian thing.

Part of the Lenten effort is fasting, and every meal we are presented with a choice, an opportunity to make a sacrifice and communicate value. But the Lenten effort doesn’t end there: it asks us for entirely ourselves. Give what you can; to each his own. But understand that when you give and when you keep, when you sacrifice for this and when you sacrifice for that, you are representing yourself: you are a representative of the parents who raised you, the company you keep, the university you attend, and the church to which you belong, and the God who created you.

You are an exemplar, a model. Of what you are a model, the choice is yours.

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