Category: Ministries (page 1 of 12)

Blog Contributor Saturday | Maria Conte

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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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The Liturgy After the Liturgy

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By: Kamal Hourani

For Orthodox Christians, the Divine Liturgy is the center of our life in Christ. We must be convinced that there is no greater beauty, no greater joy, no greater privilege than to enter God’s house, sing His praises, listen to His words, and to be united to Him in the very Body and Blood of His Christ. There is no higher state for man than to sit at the table with the Lord and to simply be with Him, in Him, and have Him in us.

The sublimity of the Liturgy, however, does not mean that there is no other place on earth worth spending time. As Saint Maria Skobtsova writes, “Christ, in ascending to heaven, did not take the Church with Him…Christ left the Church in the world. It was left as a small bit of leavening.”

We Christians long for the age to come, when there will be no sickness, sorrow, or sighing. Our hearts ache to be with Christ. Sometimes we are so fed up with the suffering and horrors of this world and we wonder why Christ would ascend and leave us here in the first place. Saint Maria’s writing suggests one answer. We need a shift in perspective, not location.  We cannot yet ascend to be in Christ’s Kingdom because His plan is to use us to bring His Kingdom down into the earth. He works with us to transfigure this world as a baker transforms a heap of flour with a little yeast. There is no need to wait for the end of this age. The end of the age is now, when we work with God to overcome the world’s fallenness.

If we are going to truly be part of this Church, part of the leaven of the earth, we need to know how to express God’s Kingdom on earth. Christ gives us the necessary instructions, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5:3). Saint Maria compares this beatitude to the monastic vow of non-possession. Just as a monk must renounce all earthly possessions, every Christian must sell away the barriers we put up to cut ourselves off from God and the pride we cling to in order to avoid serving others. Saint Maria compares these to dirty rags that we must sell away in favor of the incorruptible richness of the “laying down of our soul for our friends.”

In the Divine Liturgy, in return for our offering bread and wine, Christ gives His very self to us in the Eucharist. This mutual relationship of eucharistic offering becomes the icon for all of our relationships in this world. As Christ gave his life for us on the Cross, so we must give our lives for the sake of our neighbors. Just as Christ overlooks all of our imperfections, so also must we overlook the shortcomings of our neighbors and serve them all the more. This work of serving others is the only way that the work of the Divine Liturgy becomes complete.

Each of us are constantly given opportunities to serve others. In our interactions with our families, coworkers, and friends we can choose to be servants. We are also called to go out and actively serve the poor. While this sometimes takes a little more initiative, the spiritual benefits are unending. By giving our time, talent, and treasure to ministries like FOCUS North America, we are not only having important community with the poor, but also training ourselves to be ready to serve whenever the Lord sends an opportunity our way.

In this fallen world, we are hungry, thirsty, beaten, and stripped naked by tragedy and suffering. Ultimately, only Christ can satisfy the needs of the world and overcome our poverty with His riches. But it is through human beings, even us, that Chris is manifest. In our own life of love, we offer our neighbors Christ himself, who heals the wounds of this world.

Christian charity, though FOCUS and other ministries alike, must not only address the physical needs of the poor but also the internal poverty that comes from separation from God. When we hand a man a piece of bread, we also hope that he will be nourished by our love for him. When we give clothing to the naked, we hope that they will be wrapped in dignity as well. This art of loving the world takes a lifetime to master, but we must begin each day with a new resolve to build on this universal Christian ministry of service. Approaching the chalice on Sunday cannot be a mundane chore that we check off each week. It has to be the fountainhead of the torrent of our love for the world. We must translate the liturgy in our parish churches into the liturgy after the liturgy that takes place in the entirety of God’s creation.

Kamal Hourani is a student at Hellenic College in Brookline, MA. He is a graduate of FOCUS North America’s YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) Program and has also become a leader in that program. To learn about how YES is shaping the leaders of our church visit

To All High School Seniors…And, You Know, Everyone Else | How To Transition

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There are a few major transitions in life that you know will change your life forever. Going to college is one of them. For anyone who commutes to college, perhaps the transition is not as stark (I wouldn’t know because I’ve only lived at school), but if you’re going from living at home your whole life to suddenly living in a dorm room with one or more strangers and taking care of yourself, there is absolutely no way to be fully prepared for it.

How could you be? You’ve never experienced anything like this before. You can’t go into it expecting to know every detail of how it will be.

Despite all this, I think I handled my transition pretty well. I figured out some of the things I did that worked, and others that didn’t. And here’s the thing: now that I’m a senior in college, I will be undergoing another one of these major changes, so I’m really writing this article to myself. All that being said, here’s Paul’s Guide to Major Life Transitions (Editor’s note: trademark pending), written specifically for transitioning into college.

1) Find a church

If you haven’t done so yet, do it right now.

Look up the school you’re going to (or the ones that you might go to if you haven’t committed yet), the city you’ll live it, etc., and find a church there. Doing that is way more important than anything I have to say in the coming paragraphs, so just stop reading this and go do that, it’s a better use of your time.

Then figure out how you’ll get there. Is the church close enough to walk to? You may want to give that a go. Will you have a car? If not, get in touch with your campus’ OCF advisor, president (talk to your regional leader if you can’t figure out who that is), or the parish priest of the church to see if someone could get you to church.

I am blessed with a parish here filled with people who were constantly offering to drive me to church, which was only a mile from my school. I got rides to every service I wanted to go to for three years until I finally got a car here.

I stress to you: do this now. Before you get to school. Once you get there you will be so overwhelmed with everything else going on that church can slip away way too easily. Do your research beforehand so that you can get in the habit of going to church early.

2) Be prepared, yet adaptable

This one is more my personal philosophy that may not work for you, but I’m thinking it might. You need just the right level of mental and physical preparation transitioning to college or elsewhere. Saying, “I’ll figure it out when I get there,” is probably not the best preparation method, yet if your planning is too detailed, you will be completely thrown off the first time something contradicts your plans.

You will want some ideas of how you will approach your classes, your social life, your church life, etc., but don’t write anything in stone in your head. There are so many factors that you can’t control, so write all of your plans in pencil with a great big eraser waiting to rewrite things as necessary.

(Side note: I strongly recommend taking this same approach with your major. Go into college knowing what you like and what you might want to do if you can, but keep an open mind and be willing to make adjustments to your plan.)

3) Do stuff

College is amazing. You get to be in an environment where your job in life is just to learn as much as you can, taking it all in from the experts, so that you can go out into the world and be the best you can be at whatever you do. So go take advantage of it. For example, my school brings in a guest speaker every week and gives pizza to anyone who goes and listens to the talk. I go as often as I can regardless of the topic because that’s what college is about.

Outside of academics, keep doing what you love. In my case, I had the opportunity to keep playing trombone after I got into college, so I joined the band and the orchestra. But even more importantly, try new stuff. One of the best decisions I made in college was joining the ultimate frisbee team. I knew nothing about the sport besides the rules when I went to my first practice, and I instantly fell in love with it.

(Editor’s note: We will neither confirm nor deny if this is Paul.

It is.)

College is about learning as much as you can and developing as a person, but that can happen outside of the classroom, lab, or lecture hall. My opinion is that if you live at school and the only commitments you have are class-related, you’re not doing college right.

4) Every once in awhile, remember you enjoy what you do.

Most college students would tell you college is overwhelming, and in my experience, they’re right. If you’ve been adding up all the things that I tell you I do, you may conclude that I’m a busy person, and sometimes I get stressed and collapse into a state of wanting to ignore my responsibilities.

But I found a trick to avoid reaching that state: it’s to remember that I actually do enjoy what I’m doing. My classes this semester are in psychology (my major), Spanish (my minor), and philosophy (I’m a nerd, so that’s my ‘fun class’).

(Editor’s note: this is also Paul.)

I chose to study that stuff because I enjoy it. I do music stuff and ultimate frisbee stuff because I enjoy those things, and the truth is that when I’m home too long for a break, I’m begging in my head for the opportunity to do all of them again. So basically what I’m saying is, have fun every step of the way.

5) Talk to adults

I didn’t do this intentionally, but a few times it came up. I’m guessing that many of the adults in your life have been to college: ask them about it. What did they enjoy? What weren’t they prepared for? What do they regret? What advice do they have? You’re allowed to learn from other people’s experiences, not just your own.

As with all my lists, these are the things that help me that I think would help you. What would you add? What would your friends in college/older siblings/parents add? I pray that your transition goes well, and that those of us currently in college can still take what we can from these lessons and apply it.

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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February Regional Feature: Northeast Region

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Every month, the OCF social media platforms will be featuring one of the nine regions of chapters. January is the month for the Northeast Region, which includes the wonderful states of Vermont, Massachusetts (congrats Pats fans), Rhode Island, Maine, the provinces of western Ontario and Quebec, and the brand spankin’ New Hampshire, York, and Jersey.

On the blog, I’ll be asking the Regional Student Leader–for Northeast, the indomitable Spyridoula Fotinis–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 Northeast All-Stars!

Stephanie Katartzis, Chapter President, University of Rhode Island

My name is Stephanie Katartzis. I grew up in Bethpage, New York and am currently a sophomore in a six-year pharmacy program at the University of Rhode Island. I am the president of the OCF for my chapter– one that was just freshly formed (yay!). However, this semester you can catch me studying abroad in Rhodes, Greece!

How did you get involved in OCF?

Entering college as a freshman, I was disappointed to find out that my school did not have an OCF chapter, nor an Orthodox Christian Church that was easily accessible without a car. I was determined to find other students on the same boat, and I also reached out to the parish members from the nearest Orthodox Church, St. Spyridon. Through God’s works, I found several other students motivated to start an organization on campus, and I was blessed to meet families that were more than willing to give me and the other students rides to church. Now, coming into my sophomore year, we have close to ten active members and a dedicated, amazing advisor, Fr. John.

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

College Conference East 2015 played a big part in inspiring me to start an OCF chapter on my campus. There is nothing more satisfying than being immersed in tons of fun events and enlightening workshops with close to 300 other students of the same faith. Chartering a chapter at my school was my way of bringing a piece of CCEast back with me.

Nick Cizin, Chapter Member/Treasurer, Seton Hall University

I’m a freshman accounting major at Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business. In my free time, I enjoy playing on Seton Hall’s Men’s Club Ice Hockey team, watching sports, and fishing. I intend on being the treasurer at Seton Hall’s OCF chapter.

Tell us about your OCF story.

I got involved in OCF after I joined a Coptic Orthodox group at Seton Hall, called Seton Hall Orthodox Fellowship, thinking it was OCF. I then proceeded to find the Seton Hall’s OCF chapter, only to find out the club’s creation had been halted last year. Because Seton Hall is a Catholic university, all religious clubs must be approved by campus ministry, and campus ministry did not see a need for two Orthodox clubs, as the Coptic Orthodox club had already been formed. I met with the students that tried to form the chapter last year, and still we had no solution to this problem. Fortunately, about halfway through the first semester luck turned our way as we discovered there was a new director of campus ministry. We are in the process meeting with the new director, and can only pray he is more open to the idea of having two Orthodox clubs on campus.

As of now, Seton Hall is without a chapter, but graciously enough, president of New Jersey’s County College of Morris chapter, Spyridoula Fotinis, has invited Seton Hall students to join in their chapter’s activities. I would like to thank her, on behalf of all Seton Hall OCF students, for this.

Since our OCF chapter is in the process of forming, I would actually appreciate any tips from treasurers in other OCF chapter treasurers. You can contact me at

What positive experience have you had with OCF?

My favorite OCF experience thus far was College Conference, hands down. I enjoyed College Conference so much because of the people I was able to meet. I met Orthodox students from all different ethnic backgrounds, and got a taste of their cultures, like I never had before. I also surprisingly met students from Seton Hall that I had never met before. Finally, I met lots of wonderful people that were willing to lend advice and support in regard to the issues we are having with campus ministry. Other students, whose OCF chapters share their school with similar Coptic Orthodox clubs, offered advice on keeping a positive relationship with them. I even got a chance to speak to His Grace, Bishop Gregory, who was more than happy to assist in our OCF chapter’s creation, should we encounter problems with the new director of campus ministry.

Eleni Florakis, OCF President, Binghamton University

Hi! I’m Eleni Florakis and I’m a pre-med senior, majoring in Integrative Neuroscience and minoring in Global Studies. I’m originally from New Rochelle, NY but currently attend Binghamton University, where I am President of the OCF there. In my free time I enjoy playing piano and flute (which I also play in the Binghamton University Orchestra), running, hiking, playing intramural volleyball, reading, and travelling.

OCF story! Go!

I first heard of OCF from my older brother and was super excited to join in my freshman year. However, when I got to Binghamton University, I was disappointed to find out that OCF did not exist on Binghamton’s campus. That is when it became my mission to start a chapter. Starting out was definitely rough, and it was hard to find the time to devote to this worthy cause. Because of this, it took a couple of tries, but the persistence was definitely worth it. I am very excited to say that Binghamton University’s OCF is now in the process of getting officially chartered by the school!

Anything cool going on in Binghamton you’d like to share?

Something cool that goes on throughout the semester that our OCF helps out with is a Community Meal Service at St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Downtown Binghamton. This occurs every Monday of the week, where over 100 community members come to enjoy a hot, three-course meal. Our OCF students help with setting up, serving food, cleaning up, and conversing with the community members. It’s a very humbling experience and a great way to serve our community!

Would you like to share any advice with someone else striving to start an OCF chapter?

My advice is to never give up! I know it can be disheartening at first to try and find enough members to become an active club, but don’t worry. With some prayer and determination, it will all eventually work out and more members will join!

Justine Younes, Chapter President, Queen’s University

Hi, my name is Justine Younes and I am a fourth year Engineering Chemistry student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario Canada. I am also the Chapter President/Co-Founder of Queen’s OCF, which we started just two-and-a-half years ago, and our chapter has already grown to twelve regular members. Glory be to God! Something cool about our chapter is that we only became an official school club THIS year (WOO!), so you can say we’ve been like the “underground Queen’s OCF” for two years, and had to get our OCF faculty member, a professor at our school, to book our rooms for us! Shoutout to Dr. Ana Siljak <3

Yes! Canada! We love Canada! Tell us about your OCF story.

After my first year in University, I remember feeling like something was missing from my life. Growing up I was always involved in Teen SOYO and loved being super involved in the church, but once I moved away for school, I never thought I would miss it that much. Well, one “hitchhike to church because I didn’t think 5km was a long walk and I didn’t want to miss Liturgy” later, I quickly realized how much I needed the church in my life. I had heard of OCF from my church community, so I knew that’s what was I wanted at Queen’s, I just didn’t know how to do it. So when the first Sunday of my second year rolled around, and I noticed a kid my age in the small St. Gregory of Nyssa mission church, I knew exactly that it was meant to be. He (Victor) was a first year at Queen’s University, and when I mentioned OCF to him, he immediately expressed his interest and enthusiasm to the idea! How God works! There was also a new priest, Fr. Mathew, who came that year to do his PhD at Queen’s, and he was very willing to be the spiritual adviser of our group! How God works again! And then our lovely faculty member (Ana, who was mentioned earlier) booked a room for us every week! So, by the will of God and through His many blessings, our underground OCF chapter began.

Awesome. Anything cool you’d like to share?

Every year, the OCF chapters in our area take a trip to a monastery in Montreal for a chance to visit and meet other students in OCF at other schools. It is something our chapter always looks forward to, and it is so special and important for people our age to visit monasteries and to explore the other path that God has laid down for us. It is also just the most beautiful place to find peace and refuge from the world, which is ideal for retreat settings and meeting and connecting to other students that are struggling in the faith and in the same situation as yourself.

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New Podcast! “The Art of Prayer” with Fr. Antony Hughes

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Listen in to hear College Conference East 2016 workshop speaker Fr. Antony Hughes share our understanding of prayer and some practical advice on how to pray.

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OCF Summer Leadership Institute | Open to ALL OCFers

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My name is Emma and I’m a conference junkie.

Marathoning from workshop to workshop sustained only by mediocre conference center coffee, equipped with legal pads and a really nice pen, surrounded by people nerding out over the same thing you love so much – there’s no bigger rush.

The only way conferences are better are when they’re grounded in Christ. When you take the conference atmosphere of education on topics that are cool and interesting to you and fellowship with people who also think those topics are cool and interesting and add in that extra level of faith and service, that is my ideal world.

The Orthodox Christian Fellowship Summer Leadership Institute is the Christmas of conferences. During SLI, you grow as an Orthodox Christian not only by learning about your faith in the theological or doctrinal sense, but by harnessing essential life skills like public speaking, servant leadership, organization and planning, and conflict resolution – and giving them back to the Church. This comes with the added bonus surrounding yourself in prayer and fellowship with quality OCFers from across the US and Canada who are guaranteed to inspire and encourage you in ways that you won’t be able to repay.

Even if you’re not a conference junkie like I am, SLI is the only place which provides you with the tools and training you need to develop as an Orthodox Christian leader. One day (if not right now), we will be the priests, deacons, clergy wives, parish council presidents, church school teachers, youth department ministers, and parish members of the Church and together we all play our part to make up the body of Christ. As it says in the book of Romans:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.  —Romans 12:4 – 8

Come to SLI to gird yourself with your God-given strengths and weaknesses and become a warrior of Christ. Come to SLI to find your unique calling of God’s will. Come to SLI to pray, to learn, to grow, and to lead.

Even if you’re not a conference junkie like myself, you’re sure to come away from SLI a changed person. I leave you with another verse from Pauls’ letter to the Romans:

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. –Romans 1:11-12



WHEN: AUGUST 16 – 19

WHO: OCFers (age 18 – 25)

COST: $300.00

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Blog Contributor Saturday | Mark Ghannam (2/11)

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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​ ​the​ ​good​ ​news​ ​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.

via Eric Golub on flickr

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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High School to College | Crossroads

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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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New Podcast! “The Journey of Salvation” with Fr. Nicholas Belcher

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Listen in to hear College Conference East 2016 workshop speaker Fr. Nicholas Belcher describe the Orthodox understanding of what it means to be saved and who Jesus Christ really is.

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Real Break New Orleans | Jazz, Joy, and Jesus

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As a junior in college, I knew firsthand what it meant to be a stressed student. My classes were getting harder, the future was up in the air, and I felt further from my faith than ever. With the typical college distractions of friends, relationships, social outings, and overall societal pressure, it is often easy to feel sidetracked from keeping God the main reason for everything.

As I embarked on my first Real Break trip, I was not too sure what my expectations should be. I just knew I wanted to come back with a re-focus on God, and for that trip, I will be forever grateful to OCF for Real Break because it more than exceeded my expectations.

The Real Break New Orleans trip is a partnership with International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) to help re-build houses lost during Hurricane Katrina. I thought I knew how tragic Hurricane Katrina was from the media, but I did not expect the chills sent down my spine when we saw it all firsthand. Almost twelve years later, houses are still dilapidated and families are still displaced.

The amount of pain that this city endured is apparent on almost every corner of the neighborhoods that were hit the hardest. It’s been so long, yet my heart was still breaking for this catastrophe. I never want to know what it means to have your entire livelihood and loved ones taken from you in a matter of hours, yet too many residents of New Orleans in 2005 knew this feeling.

For almost an entire week, we worked with Habitat for Humanity to re-build two houses for families with children. It was perhaps some of the most fulfilling days of my college experience. The stories behind the families that were about to live in these houses were absolutely heart-wrenching, and to know that our manual labor could help them even just a little bit, put smiles on our faces. Along with working on the houses, we had cultural immersion experiences in which we visited an exhibit that broke down every minute of the days of torture on the city during the hurricane.

Perhaps the most defining moment of our trip was a night of visiting a local Orthodox parish. The hurricane caused the entire church to flood almost up to four feet. When the priest finally opened the doors days later, an icon of the Virgin Mary floated towards the doors first, the front completely unstained. It was inexplicable, and close to impossible. It is miracles like this that make us realize the glory of God is so much greater than we will ever begin to comprehend.

That night, on the van ride back to where we were staying, we all were quiet and speechless trying to understand the story we had just heard. We began to sing “Down to the River to Pray,” and the camaraderie of that environment was a moment I’ll never forget. There is something so glorious about having your best friends surrounding you as the night comes to a close, forgetting about all else, that makes you feel like Jesus is sitting right next to you. The smile on my face was so big in that moment, and I’ll never forget what it felt like to have all I needed right next to me.

After our trip and our return to reality, I learned that no one else in my life mattered as much as God does. He is my reason for everything, and His plans are so much greater than I will ever know. So all we can do is treat others with respect and kindness, because moments like Hurricane Katrina really put into perspective how precious every minute is. If you have the opportunity for a Real Break trip–do it. Go with all your heart, and the biggest smile, and treat others during your experience the way God would want. I promise you, you will be changed and your heart will thank you.

A dog lover and wanderlust traveler, Isabella is currently a senior Levine Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She started her university’s OCF chapter three years ago, and now has 50 OCF members who are as close as family. When she’s not behind her Nikon, or volunteering at Ryan Seacrest Studios at Levine Children’s Hospital, she’s working as the Public Relations Student Leader for the OCF national Student Leadership Board.

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