The first person I encountered at GAAP weekend, an introduction to campus for admitted students, was the Orthodox Christian chaplain at Georgetown University. My conversation with him about the vibrant Orthodox Christian community at Georgetown cemented my desire to attend a university where religious life is not only tolerated, but encouraged. Needless to say, I quickly found a home in Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) that fall.
Georgetown’s commitment to spiritual development has exceeded my expectations. However, practicing faith on a college campus, even at a Jesuit university, can be challenging in the context of a largely secular culture. Reflecting on my experiences, I would like to share three lessons I learned about faith and the university using Orthodox Christianity as my guide.
The first lesson is to follow the examples of the saints. The word “orthodox” originates in Greek, meaning “right teaching.” Indeed, Orthodox Christians strongly emphasize apostolic tradition, meaning that our praxes are centuries old and largely unvarying. Nevertheless, Orthodox Christians are called to embody our ancient faith amid modern-day challenges. While we may feel alone in this endeavor, we should recall that our present-day tests are variations of what Orthodox Christians have experienced for millennia.
The saints struggled to apply their faith to their own contemporary struggles, which often mirror those we face today. Most relevantly, several Orthodox saints experienced hardships in many ways representative of “cancel culture,” from the politically motivated exile of St. John Chrysostom in 403 A.D. to that of St. Nektarios in 1891. Studying the lives of the saints inspires the understanding that we are neither the first nor the last to reconcile our faith with our culture through prayer and humility, as did the Church Fathers before us.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians around the world whom we welcomed to campus in 2021, is another inspiring example of how we can, and should, use our ancient faith to tackle cultural challenges such as combating climate change and navigating religious diversity. Identify a role model in your religious tradition and emulate his or her resilience.
The second lesson is to build a tight-knit community with whom you can pray. University culture can feel overwhelming, and centering yourself in faith can be difficult. The ability to practice the religion of your choice in a pluralistic society is undoubtedly a blessing, but exposure to tenets of new faiths can be confusing when you are still in the process of understanding your own. On the other hand, the secularity so prominent in the West may feel crushing, and the existence of pressure from peers to abandon religion altogether cannot be ignored.
The solution to this problem is to forge strong community ties. OCF understands that it will remain relatively small, yet it is still an exceptionally robust group. The group builds fellowship through weekly prayer services, service projects, retreats, monastery visits and engagement with Orthodox Christians at other institutions. After I planted my roots in fertile Orthodox ground, my faith blossomed amid the storm of external distractions. Campus Ministry is eager to provide students with resources about faith groups; seek out a community that feels like family.
The third lesson is that human reason is a gift, and it is fallible. Above all, our identity at Georgetown is “student” and is largely defined by our academic pursuits. In such an intellectually driven environment, reason is king: every problem and solution is rationalized. Orthodox Christians believe that we have been endowed with reason by our creator to grasp a basic understanding of our world and our God, but the Church accepts the limitations of the human mind and the element of mystery in its approach to God and his creation.
In what I believe perfectly encapsulates this message, Gregory of Nazianzus writes in his Third Theological Oration, “For faith is that which completes our argument.” Changing our perception about reason will take the form of profound appreciation of your studies, not only because reason is a gift, but also because its purpose is to draw you near to God. However, it also forces us to acknowledge that by virtue of our humanity, everyone has limits. We are not invincible, and the goodness of God and his creation is beyond our imagination; love and cherish it.
If faith is your foundation, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Following the saints, finding a community and accepting my limitations have altered the course of my spiritual development for the better. I am confident that being a student at Georgetown can enrich your faith as it did mine.
Antonia Sames is a senior in the College.
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