By Christopher Gillett
Winter break is coming up and many students of different faiths are preparing to celebrate the holidays. Some Eastern Orthodox students are members of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, a Youngstown State University student organization.
The Orthodox Christian Fellowship is a national organization for Eastern Orthodox students but is open to all. Junior nursing major Maria Tsarnas is the organization’s president at YSU and a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. Tsarnas said she became involved with the OCF after her priest encouraged her to join.
“[YSU] had an OCF chapter that was pretty active years and years ago, and it was basically a non-active organization listed at YSU — so, I didn’t have to start it up or anything — my priest just said, ‘Hey, we haven’t had an active OCF for years, I really think you’d be great to get it going again,’ and that’s basically how I became president of the OCF,” Tsarnas said.
That priest was Rev. Steve Denas, a priest at Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church, who acts as the spiritual advisor for the club. Denas said his favorite part of working with the club is the students.
“I have to say [I enjoy] the enthusiasm of the students because they’re young — for sure they’re young — and they have an interest, a sincere interest. Obviously, not every Orthodox Christian student is part of this organization, but whoever does show up has a very vibrant interest in learning more,” Denas said.
Eastern Orthodoxy is a denomination of Christianity commonly practiced in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Caucasus mountains and the Middle East. Some countries in which Eastern Orthodoxy is a major religious denomination include Russia, Ukraine and Greece.
Most of the OCF chapter members are from the local Greek community. Tsarnas said that Eastern Orthodox Christianity is tied to Greek culture.
“There are so many Greek Orthodox people, and Greek people are very passionate and very involved and dedicated to their culture and preserving their cultural practices that the faith and the culture are often intertwined,” Tsarnas said. “Many people believe the reason our faith and our culture have remained so strong is because of the connection between the two.”
Anthony Testa, a junior integrated social studies education major, is a member of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the OCF. He said many Eastern Orthodox Christians fast for Christmas.
“Most [Eastern] Orthodox Christians fast for 40 days before Christmas. And then once Christmas comes, you go to church and there are a bunch of different services you can go to. You have special meals. A lot of times it’s cultural stuff,” Testa said.
Testa also said that some Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6 because they use the Julian calendar.
“Since my church is Ukrainian, we celebrate on Jan. 7. We use the Julian calendar. Some [Eastern Orthodox] churches celebrate on [December] 25 because they use the Gregorian calendar. The only difference is that the Julian calendar is 13 days behind,” Testa said.
If interested in joining the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, contact its Instagram @OCF_YSU.