Category: Ministries (page 1 of 17)

Faces of the Nameless

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He put a simple ad on a photography website that stated: “I had an idea for a socially orientated photography project, and I’m looking for someone who might have an interest in joining me.” Wooldridge replied to the ad, and the duo agreed to put the project into action.

St. Herman was the first homeless shelters they approached, and the reception was very positive.

Paul Finley, the local director of St. Herman House in Cleveland, welcomed the project. He had been approached in the past by numerous photographers who asked to take pictures of the homeless, but this request was unique. It would be a way to allow homeless people in his Focus North America, Orthodox Christian House of Hospitality, to speak for themselves.

Click HERE to read the full Cleveland Magazine article from April about FOCUS Cleveland- St. Herman House photography project.

2017-2018 District Student Leader Applications Are Open

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Applications for 2017-2018 District Student Leaders are now available. District Student Leaders work closely under our Regional Student Leaders to connect chapters in their area, plan events, and help students get connected to the OCF network. Applications are due May 17, 2017. For questions, email us at studentleadership@ocf.net.

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Panic! at the Disco…and Youth Work

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You probably assumed this title was clickbait…don’t worry, I would have, too. Panic! at the Disco and Youth Work are not usually used in the same sentence, but I promise I do have an explanation.

Here it is:

A few weeks ago I woke up on a Saturday morning to a text from my boss asking if I could chaperone a teenager to a Panic! at the Disco concert. Mind you, I, being the complete theater nerd that I am, had never been to a concert and did not know what I was in for. So I decided to go and to treat it like a mini-adventure.

After agreeing to attend, the child’s parent called me to confirm details. I listed my credentials as a Youth Worker for the Metropolis of San Francisco and explained that I had been background checked and gone through Youth Protection Training in preparation for my experience as a camp counselor. This seemed to put their mind at ease.

The night went really well, the teen had a wonderful time. As the concert neared its end, I ushered them out quickly to avoid the large line at the merchandise stand so they could buy the shirts they had expressed to me they wanted before the start of the concert.

As we stood in line, the parent began to call, telling the child that they needed to come immediately to the car so we could pick them up as it was too late for them to be out. I watched the kid’s face start to crumble. Luckily, we moved up in the line quickly, they picked out the shirts they wanted, and we ran to the car.

So how does Youth Work play a role in this situation?

Last summer I served as a Youth Worker for the Metropolis of San Francisco. I worked at Saint Nicholas Ranch for two weeks co-counseling a cabin and making arts and crafts with various age groups. Before this experience, I was not confident working with children, let alone teaching children about a faith that I was and am still understanding myself.

What I learned in my short two weeks is that Youth Workers are there for the kids. We are there to ensure that their time spent at camp or at a concert is an experience they can remember and look back on as a memory that was part of their growth and maturation as a person. The positive experiences we give them can be building blocks for more fulfilling and impactful interactions in the future.

I encourage young adults to take one summer of their lives and go and serve these youth. They need you just as much as you need them.

(Editor’s note: hey it’s Ben. So, I’ve worked as a camp counselor for the past two years and am going back for a third summer this year, and I wanted to take a moment to say that, no matter your archdiocese, geographic location, and camping history, you can work at camps. You don’t have to, but it’s pretty stinking fun.

Some folks may tell you that OCF is like camp, just not during the summer–I don’t necessarily agree. I think they’re two radically different experiences that are unified through their mission and through Christ. You should go to your archdiocese’s website (or be like me and go cross-archdiocese shocked face) and see what camping opportunities there are for you this summer! We out.)

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Panic! at the Disco…and Youth Work

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You probably assumed this title was clickbait…don’t worry, I would have, too. Panic! at the Disco and Youth Work are not usually used in the same sentence, but I promise I do have an explanation.

Here it is:

A few weeks ago I woke up on a Saturday morning to a text from my boss asking if I could chaperone a teenager to a Panic! at the Disco concert. Mind you, I, being the complete theater nerd that I am, had never been to a concert and did not know what I was in for. So I decided to go and to treat it like a mini-adventure.

After agreeing to attend, the child’s parent called me to confirm details. I listed my credentials as a Youth Worker for the Metropolis of San Francisco and explained that I had been background checked and gone through Youth Protection Training in preparation for my experience as a camp counselor. This seemed to put their mind at ease.

The night went really well, the teen had a wonderful time. As the concert neared its end, I ushered them out quickly to avoid the large line at the merchandise stand so they could buy the shirts they had expressed to me they wanted before the start of the concert.

As we stood in line, the parent began to call, telling the child that they needed to come immediately to the car so we could pick them up as it was too late for them to be out. I watched the kid’s face start to crumble. Luckily, we moved up in the line quickly, they picked out the shirts they wanted, and we ran to the car.

So how does Youth Work play a role in this situation?

Last summer I served as a Youth Worker for the Metropolis of San Francisco. I worked at Saint Nicholas Ranch for two weeks co-counseling a cabin and making arts and crafts with various age groups. Before this experience, I was not confident working with children, let alone teaching children about a faith that I was and am still understanding myself.

What I learned in my short two weeks is that Youth Workers are there for the kids. We are there to ensure that their time spent at camp or at a concert is an experience they can remember and look back on as a memory that was part of their growth and maturation as a person. The positive experiences we give them can be building blocks for more fulfilling and impactful interactions in the future.

I encourage young adults to take one summer of their lives and go and serve these youth. They need you just as much as you need them.

(Editor’s note: hey it’s Ben. So, I’ve worked as a camp counselor for the past two years and am going back for a third summer this year, and I wanted to take a moment to say that, no matter your archdiocese, geographic location, and camping history, you can work at camps. You don’t have to, but it’s pretty stinking fun.

Some folks may tell you that OCF is like camp, just not during the summer–I don’t necessarily agree. I think they’re two radically different experiences that are unified through their mission and through Christ. You should go to your archdiocese’s website (or be like me and go cross-archdiocese shocked face) and see what camping opportunities there are for you this summer! We out.)

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New Podcast! “Come and See the Liturgy” with Fr. Panagiotis Boznos

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Listen in to hear College Conference Midwest 2016 keynote Fr. Panagiotis Boznos talk about how the liturgy itself is the primary place where we “Come and See.”

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Lenten Reflection | Spring Cleaning

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Each household has its own set of routine chores that needs to get done. Vacuuming, sweeping, making the beds, doing the laundry, and so on. However, many families will set aside a time for a deeper and more thorough cleaning of the home. Spring cleaning. Spring cleaning is a time to undertake the chores that we don’t make time for on a day-to-day basis.

Great and Holy Lent is the Spring cleaning of our interior lives.

In its eternal wisdom, the Church calendar gives us a yearly preparatory time to take a richer and more holistic examination of the entire universe that is within us.

Each of us has wounds that stretch down deep inside of us; painful experiences, insecurities, fears, jealousies, and many other things that keep us from the eternal Joy of God’s Kingdom. These things can debilitate us, rendering us unable to be as joyful, as loving, and as compassionate as the Lord calls us to be. We make poor decisions, we find it harder to love those that hate us, we stress out and have anxiety, and we miss out on the glory of the Kingdom.

Image from Eikonografos. Used with permission.

St. Andrew of Crete puts it better than anyone:

I fell beneath the weight of the passions and the corruption of my flesh, and from that moment has the enemy had power over me. Instead of seeking poverty of spirit, I prefer a life of greed and self-gratification. Therefore, O Savior, a heavy weight hangs from my neck.

And this is where it gets really good…

I persist in caring only for my outer garment, while neglecting the temple within me, one made in the image of God.

How much time do we spend worrying about the external world? How much do we care about nurturing social images and external appearances? Unfortunately, our obsession, and I daresay addiction to these things, never strikes us as being abnormal because all around us people are doing the exact same thing.

While we keep busy trying to manipulate everything going on around us, and spend so much energy on our “outer garments”, we completely neglect the temple made in God’s image, that is divinely placed within us.

“The Kingdom of God is within,” the Lord tells us in Luke 17:21. Ask almost any Christian what the goal of the Christian life is, and they will almost certainly say, “heaven.” If Christ, our Lord and our God, says that the Kingdom is within us, why don’t we go there?

We are scared.

We keep our headphones plugged into our ears, we spend hours mindlessly scrolling through pictures and videos of other peoples lives, and we avoid our inner life at all costs because we are uncomfortable with what goes on inside of us. There are thoughts we don’t understand, feelings we cannot articulate, and an entire universe that we do not know how to navigate.

When those things are brought to the surface, we mistakenly think that our problems are outside of us. We blame other people and lash out at them, we spread gossip, and we try to change everything outside of us without ever considering that maybe the problem lies within.

Lent is our time to reorient ourselves and to remember that there is quite possibly more work to be done inside of us than there is to be done outside of us. Maybe a better way to say this would be say that without the internal work of Lent, our external work will be meaningless. St. Paul says it like this:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  –1 Cor 13:1-2

Without the internal work of Lent, we will be unable to love perfectly. If we are unable to love perfectly, then nothing else matters. So we must dig deep, and begin the journey within.

How do we do this? 2,000 years worth of spiritual literature covers this topic. Some of my personal favorites are The Kingdom Within by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, The Roots of Christian Mysticism by Olivier Clement, and Into The Silent Land by Martin Laird. Read up!

Also, making time for silent prayer and reflection is an integral part of our spiritual practice. St. Basil the Great calls silence “the beginning of the purification of the soul.” Turn off the TV, close Snapchat and Instagram, and simply take time to be still. The Psalms tell us to “be still, and know that I am God.”

Just as a family takes the time to clean their home more thoroughly, we as Orthodox Christians take Lent as a time to be more intentional in our spiritual practice, so that we might find deeper healing for our infirmities.

May this Lent be to our spiritual edification and enlightenment. May we answer the Church’s call to dig deeper within ourselves. May we seek the everlasting Kingdom of God within ourselves.


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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April Regional Feature: Southeast Region

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Every month, the OCF social media platforms will be featuring one of the nine regions of chapters. April is the month for the Southeast Region, which includes the wonderful states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and not one but two Carolinas.

On the blog, I’ll be asking the Regional Student Leader–for Southeast, the charming Niko Wilk–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 Southeast All-Stars!

Andrew Mamangakis, District Leader/Chapter President

How did you get involved in OCF?

I got involved with OCF because before I was president of the OCF chapter at UF, my brother Paul Mamangakis was the president. I saw the potential for those who wanted to follow Christ in college, but were deterred by the worldly society that surrounds us. Joining a community of fellow Orthodox Christians helps surround us with people that uphold similar values, encouraging students to stay within the Church.

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

My greatest memories from OCF have to be the road trips to and from South Carolina where the regional retreat is held at the Diakonia Center. Car rides listening to music, playing car games, and just talking about how excited we were to see our friends are some of the reasons I look forward to 7+ hours in a cramped car. The retreat itself is something I will never forget, which I why I’ve gone back every semester since I was a freshman. Building a fence for the animals, clearing out the woods, and painting the center are a few of the jobs that helped build relationships with people I’ll never forget.

What’s something cool going on in your chapter/district/region that you’d like to share?

Currently our OCF chapter is privileged to have Dr. Florin Curta, an amazing Romanian Orthodox history professor and author at UF, give a lecture series on the early centuries of Christianity up to the present day. It’s fascinating to learn about how Orthodoxy has been maintained throughout 2000 years while the world around us is ever-changing.

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

My advice to other chapter presidents or district leaders in OCF is to not be afraid of reaching out to fellow students, priests, parishioners, and any members in your community about OCF. More often than not, people are extremely helpful and interested in what our young adults are up to in college. Seeing students care about our Church encourages people of all ages to become closer to God.

John Shelton, District Leader

How did you get involved in OCF?

A former youth director had mentioned that the OCF chapter at my school had fallen apart…so I felt the need to resurrect it for my sake and to engage the community.

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

Some of my greatest memories from OCF have to be worshiping at our Southeast regional retreats. To celebrate divine liturgy at its purest form, singing hymns in full with 60 of your closest friends, is both humbling and awe inspiring.

What’s something cool going on in your chapter/district/region that you’d like to share?

In our district, we are planning an inter-chapter worship service at the historic Duke Chapel on the campus of Duke University!

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

Keep an open line and a constant line of communication with your chapter leaders and chapter members. The more we talk about OCF and our faith, the more active everyone will be! And most importantly, give people the opportunity to lead in their own way, because their level of comfort will increase and they will feel more willing to take ownership about their faith and role in our church.

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Check Yo’ Self | Have Mercy On Me, Oh God

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We’re going to take this a different direction than usual.

If you’ve read my previous “landmark” posts (here and here and here), which call for moments of perspective and reflection, you know that I tend to get a little…excited. Fervent, some might say. Off-kilter, probably a few more would say…

Regardless of how you might describe those posts, they’re undeniably intense. They’re meant to dig deep, to get to the roots of our very being and make us question things we otherwise would have overlooked. That process of brutal self-honesty is a good one. I think it should be integrated more often and readily in our lives than just with three posts throughout the school year.

That being said, I’m not going to spend a fourth post doing that. That was my original thought, but I won’t.

I don’t know about you, but Lent is dog-tough for me. I mean, just knuckles-bared, teeth-grinding difficult. And that’s not because I do anything special, no. I spent from 7:30 AM to 8:00 AM this morning laying in my bed, convincing myself I didn’t have to go Liturgy. I was so exhausted with church, guys. I was just at the end of my rope and wanted to sleep.

I went, probably more out of guilt and fear and pride than anything good. As I stood in church I felt the rejuvenation, and I knew I had made the right decision. But man, I did not want to make the right decision at all.

I think that sentence there really encapsulates one of the greatest struggles I face. I can walk you through every step of my decision-making process, no sweat. How I came to recognize the choice before, how I evaluated my options, how I discerned the best one–the whole kit and caboodle. But when it comes time to make the right decision, I often…don’t.

And it’s weird, because the entire time–before I make the wrong decision, while I’m making the wrong decision, and after I make the wrong decision–I’m thinking to myself, “This is the wrong decision. Stop.” But it feels like I have just no free will at all, no control over my body or my mind. And I just…poof. Make the wrong decision.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

In reality, of course, I did have free will, but I didn’t turn to God to help bolster me, to strengthen me when I was faced with that decision. I elected to face it alone, to make a solely man-made decision. The first man-made decision, of course, was Eve’s, and most of the other man-made decisions have been pretty crummy since then. Without God present in our choices, sin takes us.

“So the grand point of your whole ‘I’m going to take this a different direction post’ is: ask God for help? That’s super revolutionary, Ben.”

Let me finish, Fictional and Sarcastic Interrupter.

The thing is, when we’re about to make the wrong decision and we realize we could and should and must ask God for help, you know what we do? We compound our wrong decision by making another one. We recognize the opportunity to ask God for help, and we neglect it, casting it off to the wayside. Why? Because that wrong decision just looks oh-so-tempting.

What then is the solution? We’re trapped in a vicious circle wherein we can never make the right decision to start rectifying all of our wrong decisions. How do we escape the rabbit-hole?

Mercy.

Lord have mercy. Roughly 300 bajillion times.

You know how you don’t pay attention to the words of your prayers some (most) of the time? You gloss over them because they’re familiar or unfamiliar; repeated to the point of hackneyed or foreign to the point of unintelligible? Psalm 50 is my jam, but I always miss that first verse:

Have mercy on me, oh God, according to thy loving kindness; and according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.

I can’t tell you how hard that smacked me in the face this Lent. I’ve been so focused on the push, on the dogfight, on the toughness and grittiness and hard-nosed fast–on this romantic image of me standing up to Satan and to sin–that I’ve literally got zero clue what’s going on. I am a little hamster, convinced he has traveled many miles, when really his wheel is just turning a touch faster.

I was so focused on some grand battle that existed in my Pharisee head (not good Pharisee, who’s smart and knows stuff about the Bible; but bad Pharisee, who makes up stuff about God and doesn’t recognize Jesus at all) that when I heard that my God was supposed to have mercy on my “according to the multitude of His tender mercies,” I was flabbergasted.

Lent is a period of preparation–for what? For Pascha. The sacrifice of the Lamb of God, the redemption of Adam, the correcting of that first, uber-crummy, man-made decision. Pascha, the extreme humility of God, the mercy of God that he showed his fallen people by giving his only-begotten Son as a ransom to death–that is the solution to the vicious circle of wrong decisions. A God who became man for us, that he could understand that struggleso that he could be merciful unto usTHAT’S what the Incarnation, the Ascension on the Cross, and the Resurrection is all about.

But I missed the forest for the trees. I made Lent about me and my effort–not about Christ and His glory.

What does this mean for you?

Well, hopefully you did better than I. If not, that’s okay. I’ll be begging for mercy right next to you for the next two weeks–and probably a few weeks after that, too.

-B

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Real Break Reflection | Say Yes To The Thess

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Racing the setting sun, we scurried down Thessaloniki’s veins in search of the perfect souvenirs. Convenience stores were swarmed, pharmacies flooded, cafes crowded. In the heat of this serendipitous rush, I looked for some sort of affirmation in the reflections of the city’s snow globes and edges of its fancy fridge magnets. I craved some sense of accomplishment, the kind one usually gets when buying ornate souvenirs, the kind that gives you a “wow what a trip” sort of smile. But whatever I was searching for, it was already there, more than it had ever been in any nick knack store across the world.

Who knows, maybe it was because I finally got to use my plethora of My Big Fat Greek Wedding quotes in one week. But when I thought back on this trip in that moment, and still now, all I could think of was not the impressive sights but rather the overflowing waves of love.

Real Break Thessaloniki was incredible to say the least. Saying it was the best way I could’ve spent my spring break is still under-selling it. Words can’t describe what it’s like to walk in the footsteps of great saints, seeing the marketplace where St. Paul spoke to the Thessalonians, the river bend where he baptized the first European, and the cave where St. Gregory Palamas spent five years of his life praying to God to light up the darkness in his spiritual life. Seeing the struggles our faith has endured come to life in these 1500-year-old churches and monasteries once transformed into mosques now standing as strong as ever was so deeply inspiring, and talking to living icons of Christ was even more so.

From Nobel peace prize nominees saving the souls of prisoners to priests turned robotics coaches giving Greece’s most underprivileged community and children a chance at a better life, Christ’s love was manifest everywhere. Having returned from this magical place, where churches filled every other block and love saturated the air, I can definitely say I came back with something I didn’t have enough of before.

Taking in this “real break” from the stress of senior biochem electives, the medical school application process and just the daily race we’re so immersed in here in America, I’ve definitely been able to refocus on what’s important in this life and have made some amazing friends in my fellow Real Breakers who came all this way looking for the same thing.

I’m so glad I said yes to the Thess and can’t wait to see next year’s Real Breakers fall deeper in love with His love on this trip, too.


Naim Mekdessi is a third-year Biochemistry major minoring in Chinese and Medicine & Society at the University of Houston and is proud to call himself a member of Houston’s huge OCF chapter. In his free time, Naim likes to learn new languages. With six already under his belt along with a couple of Chinese tongue twister awards, he can’t wait to go explore the world some more and maybe learn a new tongue or two in the process.

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Nothing Greater than Great Lent: Told by Snapchat and a Busy College Student

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Great Lent. It’s pretty much the best time of the year. Growing up, I always got super excited when Lent rolled around for some of these reasons:

1. You get to sing all your favorite hymns.

2. There are more opportunities to attend church services.

3. Prostrations = working out

4. It made me thankful for everyday things, like having a regular glass of milk.

5. Lenten food, despite being simple, is actually really good. (Editor’s note: agree to disagree)

6. There are more opportunities to receive Holy Communion.

7. And when Pascha finally comes, Lent teaches you how to feast.

But when I got to university, Lent became a little different. Scheduling in the services became much more difficult with my classes, finding Lenten food on campus is a daunting task, and my professors wouldn’t accept “I was at church” as a reasonable response for not having an assignment done, like my teachers at my Christian high school did. I remember one time talking with one of my non-Orthodox friends and casually naming off church services that I attend during Lent. “Wow,” she said, “How on earth do you have the time for that? I definitely don’t.”

You know what? Maybe my friend is right. Maybe I don’t have time for Lent. Maybe I’m just a little too busy this year. It’s March, and the list of assignments, tests, and extra-curricular events is piling up in my planner (not to mention the fact that it’s the end of the school year and I’m starting to feel pretty burned out). Right now, I want to be living from church service to church service, but the reality is I am sometimes living from deadline to deadline. What am I supposed to do?

I’m going to give it everything I possibly can.

You know why? Someday, that assignment, that test, that extra-curricular activity–none of it will matter. The time I spent praying, going to church, fasting, and serving others will. By the world’s standards, I absolutely do not have time for Lent, but we need this time of preparation more than we could ever possibly know. And no, the Snapchats I posted really can’t describe how beautiful and awe-inspiring this season is.  

Many things have changed in my life, but when I say the Prayer of Saint Ephrem or sing one of the hymns during the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, I feel as though nothing has ever changed. You see, we are most ourselves during Lent. Praying, going to church, giving alms, fasting, serving others–you will never be more human than in those moments. Yes, our other commitments are important, and I do not want to undermine the importance of those activities, but nothing ever is more important than church.

One of my fellow Blog Contributors, Paul, recently told me that one time, after he missed a Presanctified Liturgy many years ago, he told his priest, “I’m sorry I couldn’t come Wednesday, I had a few assignments and knew I needed to finish them and get some sleep.” His priest  responded, “That’s fine, but remember that when you come to church, it elevates your soul, and it often takes the body with it.” There’s nothing we need more than the healing Christ can give us if we allow Him to do so.

So please, I don’t know who you are or what your situation is, but I ask you not to let this opportunity to be the most human you can be pass you by. Don’t let our churches be filled with kids, teenagers, young professionals, middle-aged adults, and senior citizens, but empty of college students because this is one of the busiest points of the year for us. My dad’s a priest, and one thing I’ve always heard him tell his parishioners is that by the end of Lent we should be different people. And why would we not be different people? If we allow Lent to be a season of prayer and repentance, of course we will not be the same.

I’m not even going to try to advise you on what your Lenten discipline should look like, because that should be between you and those involved in your life. But I ask you to seriously consider doing something! If you have not started yet, it is never too late to start. When the Paschal homily of Saint John Chrysostom is read on Pascha, I am always amazed by these words:  

If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

If you have not begun your Lenten discipline yet, do not be afraid to start now.

College offers us so many amazing opportunities. It is pretty much common sense to know that we need to take the chance to have these experiences before we move on to a different phase of life. Some of these experiences are experiences of a lifetime. But Lent is even far more fulfilling than anything college could ever offer us, definitely much more profound than sending each other Snapchats of our fasting food and far beyond all human comprehension. So when the priest opens the church doors on Pascha, I pray that we will enter the church prepared for the feast, knowing that nothing in life is comparable to witnessing the glory of God.

All Snapchats were used with permission.


Anastasia Lysack in her third year of her Music degree at the University of Ottawa. She attends Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Ottawa, where she teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, volunteering, and visiting just about any coffee shop in the city of Ottawa.

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