It is April 26, 2019, and our beloved Georgetown Day has finally arrived. I walk out of my Village A apartment to hear “Mr. Brightside” blaring from the rooftops and make my way down the stairs, careful not to trip over the array of red solo cups. Dressed in my Sunday best, I get an Uber to attend a funeral for the crucified Christ.
Orthodox Christians celebrate Pascha — Easter — based on the Julian Calendar, meaning that Orthodox Easter can fall up to five weeks after the celebration of Easter in the West. This year, Pascha will be at odds with the most sacred day of the year for Georgetown students: Georgetown Day.
Orthodox students will need to decide between participating in an important school holiday or celebrating the most holy occasion on the Orthodox calendar. But this trend is just part of a larger issue: Orthodox Christians at Georgetown struggle to navigate an academic and social environment that is largely unaware of the Orthodox tradition.
Great Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha are no joke in the Orthodox tradition. Orthodox Christians fast for nearly 50 days, abstaining from all meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and oil. Furthermore, this period is marked by a substantial increase in prayer, with churches offering daily services focused on repentance. Taking part in these rituals as a student, however, is particularly difficult with classes, assignments and campus activities.
On Holy Friday — the climax of the Lenten experience — believers gather to remember Christ’s sacrificial death by holding a symbolic funeral procession. Additionally, Orthodox Christians will refrain from work, school and celebrations while also intensifying their fasting. Growing up, I remember eating nothing more than a few bites of unseasoned potatoes on Holy Friday. We tend to spend most of the day at church, and many stay throughout the night to “guard” the tomb of Christ just as the Roman soldiers did 2000 years ago.
The next day is the great feast of Pascha, which is followed by 40 days of celebration and, of course, lamb roasts during which Orthodox Christians with greet each other with the traditional phrase, “Christ is Risen!” This year, however, Pascha celebrations for Georgetown’s Orthodox Christian students will be low-key as they overlap with study days and finals.
This struggle represents a wider dilemma among young Orthodox Christians in the United States today. Practicing a 2000-year-old faith, rich in tradition and history, is increasingly difficult in a modern, Western-oriented society. Fortunately, Orthodox students at Georgetown have access to a part-time chaplain, Copley Crypt — an aesthetically familiar Byzantine-style chapel — and a diverse array of Orthodox churches in the Washington, D.C. area.
That being said, Orthodoxy, the world’s second-largest Christian denomination, remains for the most part a mystery both at Georgetown and in U.S. mainstream culture. The Eastern Church is often treated as the ugly stepsister in Protestant and Catholic circles, not meriting any more than a brief mention in Georgetown’s wide array of theology classes or any more than a small, unexciting showcase in the corner of D.C.’s new and vast Museum of the Bible.
Practicing our faith in this environment is already difficult. The next two months, however, will be an especially trying time for Georgetown’s Orthodox community as we attempt to celebrate holidays that do not align with the Western calendar. Students will undoubtedly struggle to accommodate their already hectic lives to fit the rigorous prayer and fasting practices customary during Lent. Meanwhile, our peers will continue to lack an understanding of our faith or even ridicule our practices. Ultimately, some Orthodox students may opt for the easier solution and dismiss our faith and tradition as archaic or irrelevant for college life.
At Georgetown, where Jesuit values underscore interreligious understanding and tolerance, we should make strides to break a long history of the West sweeping Eastern Christian traditions under the rug. Creating a positive environment for Orthodox students to practice their faith could help ease an already difficult time and truly facilitate interreligious understanding.
This spring, if you have an Orthodox peer who is fasting and has to eat Leo’s oddly colored tofu or decides to attend church instead of going to a Village A rooftop in late April, don’t ridicule, judge or laugh. Maybe take a minute to learn about their faith and, of course, support them however you can, because sticking true to ourselves and our faith can be incredibly challenging.
Munir Pavez is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. Interfaith Insights is a series of Viewpoints written by students of different faiths.