This podcast episode features adult themes and content. Please proceed with respect and love.
Dan Bein: Hey, everybody! We’re back with another episode of OCF All Stars. One of the most frustrating thing in OCF is getting excited after going to College Conference or a retreat, and then you go home and it’s just not clicking; something’s not happening. All Stars is created to address that directly by saying, “What are some of the strategies that people have used?” and almost act like an online bank for everybody. Today we’re here with Andriana Mali. Welcome to the show!
Andriana Malhi: Thank you!
Mr. Bein: All right, Andriana. So, who are you, and, I know you’re a student, but where do you go to school and what’s your relationship to OCF? Kind of that run-down.
Miss Malhi: Okay. I’m a student at UC Davis in California. I’m a major in psych and religious studies, and I am president of the OCF chapter there.
Mr. Bein: All right. Cool. So you’re a regional student leader. The charming Markayla recommended you to me, and she said that you have this really inspirational story. Ever since she said that, I’ve been waiting in suspense.
Miss Malhi: [Laughter]
Mr. Bein: Do you want to elaborate on that?
Miss Malhi: Yeah! I’d love to elaborate on it. I wouldn’t say it’s inspirational, but I would say that, whenever I look back on my own past, it’s a humbling experience, because I remember all the times I trusted the Lord and it really worked out for me and how it reminds me that, in my present-day life, there’s no need to doubt him as well, because there are easier things I’m going through now. So there’s no need to worry that he’s going to drop off the face of the earth in my current time when he was there in harder times yet. So, let’s see.
I was raised in the faith. My family wasn’t religious, but my mother took me to church, and I all of a sudden loved it. I was the child who was speaking in church and talking to icons on my ceiling, and people were telling me to shut up and I never would. I was all about it and I would stay for hours after church asking my priest questions. Eventually I started going to church regularly and even more than regularly. I would always be following my priest around, going to all sorts of activities. I had a really deep relationship with icons, and that’s something that my priest helped facilitate from a young age. I was just always very interested in the faith. I felt very safe at church. It was definitely my home base. I was blessed to have that relationship with God from an early age. I definitely saw him as a strong father-figure in my life as I do now, but in the sense that it was very, very paternal. I always felt safe. I always felt that I was falling asleep in his arms every night, and it was that sense of comfort and security that I held very dear to my heart.
In high school I experienced severe accounts of sexual abuse, and during those times I never told anybody about it until I graduated from high school. I kept it to myself, and the only thing that got me through it was literally the Lord. There’s so many times when I just wanted to disappear, and I just hated myself, hated my body, and I would go home, pretend everything was normal, hide into my bathroom, and just cry for hours, biting onto towels so that no one could hear me cry. The only thing that would stop that and that would allow me to go on was God. I felt unconditionally loved during that time when the current world was telling me otherwise. I had people in the world that [were] telling me that I wasn’t deserving to have a life full of life and happiness, and God was whispering me otherwise during that entire time. Because of that comfort, I was able to make it through without coping in harmful ways. I was able to achieve above 4.0 GPA at school despite that. I had reconstructive spine surgery during this time, when all this abuse was still occurring, and I was still able to push forward.
At the end of the day, when I eventually did get help, through my priest and through the authorities and counseling, I was able to tell my offender that I forgave him, because he was worthy of love, because God created him perfectly. The only reason I was able to tell him those things was because that’s what God was telling me the entire time. He brought me through it. He kept reminding me that I was his daughter, I was worthy of love, and that there was nothing to fear, that nothing in this world could really touch me because he put a space in his heart that no one else could touch but him, and that’s where unconditional love lies. So, when I finally faced this person, this person I had feared for such a long time, I was able to take him literally by the hand and say, “I love you. I forgive you. I love you because you are sick. I forgive you because you need healing. I will pray for you because you need my help. That you are more deserving for help than I am, because I know the love of the Lord and you don’t, and I wish you had that love in your life, and I believe that you will do better and that you will be infinitely more helpful to other people than you were harmful to me if you find the Lord.”
Once I entered college, I was sexually assaulted again, in a different situation. That really tore me down. I couldn’t— I couldn’t believe that I had faced years of this kind of situation, and all of a sudden I was hit again, in a totally different way. I didn’t know my perpetrator this time. It was an act of randomness. And it was harder for me to seek comfort in God. It was harder for me to understand why this happened again. Because of that, I fell into a very deep depression. I ended up attempting to die by suicide, and I thankfully got to the hospital and got help. In that hospital, I met a guy, a beautiful guy, whom I ended up falling in love with and I have my first love, and he helped me get involved in my church life again, and he really supported me, and he showed me what, really, love was. He himself was not religious, but he still pushed me to go to church and to pray, and I ended up reading the Bible with him and praying with him.
And through his help I was able to really get a control of my life again, but unfortunately he was not able to conquer his depression like I was. On March 25, 2015, he died by suicide. Again, I ended up taking a quarter from school, and I didn’t speak for months. I just stared at the wall. I don’t even remember what happened during that time when I was home, but what I do recall was my mom taking me to church. That was the only time I left the house. I never talked to anybody. I just sat there, because that was the only space where I didn’t cry. I was constantly crying and screaming into my pillow because I couldn’t believe that this was my life that I had been given, that I had found someone to really show me that, in the world, of the human world, that love was possible, and [he] was taken away. I was scared. I was scared for his soul. I didn’t understand what would happen to him in the next life. I was afraid, and I was ashamed, too. All that past guilt and fear from my life just came flooding in, and I didn’t know how to cope, so I didn’t speak, because it felt like all my words had been taken from me, that there was no point in speaking.
But I still went to church, and one day I came up to my priest after church, and I told him that I wanted to go to confession. That was one of the first things that I said to someone outside of my family. So I had confession with him, and I was able to really get it all out, and I was crying and I felt guilty. I mourned my boyfriend. I felt guilty for his loss. I felt guilty for my entire existence, really, and my priest said, “Thank you. Thank you for turning to God during this incredibly difficult time. I am so happy and grateful that you turned to God.” And he spent the entire rest of the time thanking me, and I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe he was thanking me after I was telling him all my deepest, darkest secrets, all of my regrets, all my offenses, and he was thanking me.
That’s when I really understood I was still alive. In that moment it became very, very clear why I had survived this long. It was so that I could know love, so that I could fully experience love, and therefore give it to others and bring love to places on the earth where people don’t feel it, because it literally saved my life during that moment when he was thanking me. I felt the will to live come flooding through me again. When I came home, I just sat in front of my icons and I just thanked God. I thanked God that he kept me close. I thanked God that he was with me as a child, that he was my parent, and that I turned to him. I thanked the angels for keeping me alive. I thanked everybody. I was just oozing with thankfulness, and I was able to enroll in a full-time therapy program, get the help I needed, and then return to school the following year with a lot of hard lessons I have learned, but a lot of love to give.
I think I was more loving after these experiences than I was before. Because of that, I’m willing to put all my energy into OCF, because I want people to have that parent, to have that God to turn to when things go wrong. I want them to know that his love we can always trust. I want them to understand what unconditional means. I don’t want them to feel afraid and alone. I want them to have the blessings I did when the world turned sour, and be able to see the sweetness of life like God allowed me to do. Yeah. So I’m really touched that Markayla thought my story was inspirational, but there’s hundreds and thousands of people whose stories are analogous to mine, and I’m sure they would agree that only love can really get you through it.
Mr. Bein: Wow. That totally went in a different direction than I was expecting. Yeah. I have not [wept] like that in years probably.
Miss Malhi: Thank you for weeping on my behalf.
Mr. Bein: On the one hand, I’m reminded of when the Lord goes to Lazarus’ tomb, and he weeps, because he sees what has come. I have St. Panteleimon right there, and I have the Resurrection right there, and I have the memory of St. John. I think it’s 1 John 3:1, where he says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we are called children of God.” And King David says, “Sing to the Lord a new song, all the earth.” There really is no resurrection without the cross. Oh, man.
I don’t know. I didn’t necessarily know what you were going to say, but I was going to ask you how you see OCF. You kind of started to touch on that, that we would be able to see God’s love.
Miss Malhi: Yeah. So I think that OCF gives us a chance to really practice what it’s like to embody the fruits of the Holy Spirit so that we’re prepared to be the embodiment of those fruits to other people who don’t know them. At OCF we get the chance to really strengthen our foundation in Christ, but also to experience love and community within each other, so that when we’re out in the world and there is someone who is lonely and hurt we are still warm from the love in community we’ve experienced at OCF, and therefore we are willing and able to really share it with them. I think that OCF gives us the opportunity to really strengthen those gifts that are medicine for the sick, really, in our community.
Mr. Bein: The hymns of the Church and several of the litanies in unction services and people who are sick, like we refer to Christ as the Bishop of all flesh, the Physician of our souls, and that we’re not called necessarily to minister to these earthly surroundings—I mean, we are; we are; we’re in this earthly space, that we would, in essence, become the true materialists, that we would see the world around us, see the people around us, and bring them to God, because we just think of it as our social club and it’s where we see our friends. We hang out and we go home, and we don’t necessarily think of it in these drastic terms, these dramatic terms, of life and of death, of the kingdom. I’m reminded of St. Macarius the Great who says:
Look into the heart, for in the heart are all things. There is death and there are fearful dragons and beasts. But look in the heart, for there also is the kingdom. There is Christ and his apostles. There is love and joy, and in the heart are all things. So descend into the heart and there do battle with the devil, and find God who is victorious in all things.
How does that manifest, how does that transfer over to the practical element of OCF? How do you necessarily go about being that bonfire of love?
Miss Malhi: In OCF we start off with prayer, right? And through prayer we have everyone partake in the small compline together. We give everyone a chance to chant, and everyone a chance to read, so that when you become really a practitioner of the service, it’s a stepping-stone of becoming that bonfire of love, because you start exercising those skills. You start taking part and putting work into prayer. Part of being this person who embodies the gifts is being willing to put work into worthy things like prayer. Afterwards we share a meal together. That is usually the format. It’s a chance to reconnect with your friends, yes, make sure they are well from the week before, to be able to laugh and share warm food together, to be able to really celebrate in that joy that we just got from doing prayers together. Then it leads into discussion. Through discussion, really, all of this training that we get to be Orthodox Christians, to have the glow of love on our face that people can see when they walk down the street, that really happens in discussion, because during discussion, those are the ample times to ask the questions you’ve always been wanting to ask, to hear other people’s stories and see how they relate to you, and to take lessons from our ancient faith and see how they relate and how they’re relevant to our modern-day lives.
In OCF US Davis, we’re talking about the sacraments this year. That is our theme. We’ve talked about how the sacraments have three things. They have to have a priest, they have to have a piece of the earth, and they have to have you. You must willingly participate in the sacrament. Without you, there is no sacrament. (A quote from Fr. Nebojsa Pantić.) I think what’s important about learning about something like sacraments, learning about something like the lives of the saints, learning about those seemingly otherworldly aspects of our lives, like things that only happen on Sundays, things that aren’t part of our daily lives, and really looking at the elements and seeing how they’re relevant, taking a lens and looking at the pieces of our faith that are so ancient and why we do them, why we put so much value and priority on them, why we constantly keep coming to church—Why do we come to unction? What does it heal? What changes? How do we transform in Christ? Why did Christ die on the cross?—and through knowledge is power. The more we become knowledgeable about our faith, which is what happens in OCF through discussion and through prayer together, when we learn these lessons and then dedicate time every week or every month to learn these lessons and to really discuss them with others, we become critical thinkers of our faith. When we become more engaged intellectually with our faith, we become more engaged spiritually, and we’re able to integrate them into our daily lives more easily than before.
At some point you might think that unction is not something that you would be able to incorporate into your daily life, and all of a sudden you’re coming out of OCF and you’re looking at the earth differently. You thinking, “Wow. Something from the ground turns into oil that transforms into literal healing through Christ. Thank God. Glory to God.” And that is all possible, that kind of thought is possible through discussion at OCF with other young people and their priest to have a safe space to explore those ideas.
Mr. Bein: What I’m hearing in terms of your meetings are two big things. One is prayer, and the second is discussion. But more importantly within both of those there is almost a return to the basics, a return to core elements, so that you’re unpacking these foundational elements of the faith and saying, “How does that impact how we go forward?” The other thing, especially with discussions, is discussions rather than just a lecture, because people can get involved. That’s kind of your general format of your meetings. Do they ever change?
Miss Malhi: Our structures with our meetings is that usually the first and third Tuesday of every month we have a formal meeting which follows that format, and the in-between Tuesdays we have a gathering, where we can all hang out with each other. That might be things like—we just did a board game night and then we had a movie night. We had plans to go to a corn maze together. That is to get a sense of parea, to really form communion and feel like these people in our club are not just members of an organization, but my brothers and sisters in Christ whom I can turn to. The reason why I emphasize these social gatherings is to have a sense of community so that, when something bad does happen, you feel like you have someone to turn to; you feel like you have a brother or a sister to turn to, because it’s really vital that, when you’re in distress, you feel like you have someone you can call. I hope and pray that with opportunities to bond with one another and to get to know each other better and to have a respect and love for our peers that we’ll be able to have someone that we can turn to during a time of need and to also be someone and prioritize being someone that others can turn to as well from the club.
Mr. Bein: Wow. So in that you’ve actually gotten three of our big pillars. You’ve got fellowship, education, and worship. That’s really amazing. I think the fellowship element is so important, and it’s one that we do in slightly different ways. I think you’ve really hit a beautiful balance there. Fellowship is so important because, as you said, it’s that safety net, because this is the body of Christ. This isn’t just a class that you come to. This is really about formation. This is really about our lives in Christ. But I think that a lot of people, whenever we do fellowship events, we utilize fellowship as “Oh, this is going to be a great way to get people in so that we’ll kind of sneak in the faith aspect,” but what I really like is how you separated faith—or not necessarily faith, but that you separated fellowship from maybe a more serious discussion, but that faith is present in all of these things, so that you’re a Christian when you’re talking about unction or the Eucharist, but you’re also a Christian when you’re hanging out and playing board games or when you’re just watching a movie and lounging around in sweatpants.
So to kind of wrap it up, I guess, do you have any advice for a new chapter president or somebody who’s coming into the role a bit more?
Miss Malhi: This is my first year of being president, so of course I’m not as wise as others before me, but I guess my biggest piece of advice is to stay connected with all your members, to go out of your way to form friendships with all your members and to deepen your bonds with them, because you do want to be someone that they can turn to. If they have questions or they just need someone to lend an ear, things like that, I think that’s the most important thing, because you’re not a leader. It feels like you’re a leader, but you’re not exactly a leader. You’re learning, too! You’re just as [much a] part of the community, too. Everyone there is your equal. Yes, you’re organizing the events, but there’s no event if they don’t attend, too.
So the best thing for me that has allowed me to be a successful president at this time is the fact that I have dedicated my time to get to know everybody on an individual basis and to stay in touch with them during the week. I want to make sure everybody is well. I want to make sure that they passed that test, that that homework assignment went well, that they survived office hours, and I love it when they tell me; I love it when my community members keep me in the loop. I love that they feel comfortable with me, so I think to strive to really have connections, not just with your good friends, but with every member in OCF, and to find something you love about each member and something that you can learn from each member. Seriously, whenever I’ve taken the time to have a good, wholesome conversation with each of my members, I’ve learned something new, and I always come out thinking, “This person should be president! Oh my goodness, they have so many beautiful fruits I can’t believe it.” And I come out learning a thing or two, and I think that’s the key there. It makes it less about power and more about community.
Mr. Bein: Wow. That’s a lot to chew on. I always thank everybody who is on the show, but that was maybe one of the most humbling things I’ve ever gone through, just talking to you right now over the last half hour. Kind of like the hymns of the Church say, I and all of the creation fall short of thanking you. So thank you for sharing your story, and thank you for being so brave and so open and talking about it and talking about it with me. I really cannot thank you enough.