The following is the next installment in a series written from the perspective of Orthodox college students. This contribution is by Mary Anna Roden, the current President of UGA’s local OCF chapter, and a future graduate of the class of 2016:
As a cradle-born Orthodox Christian I am blessed to have been brought up in the Church. When I started school at the University of Georgia I was fortunate enough to be close to an Orthodox parish with an active OCF chapter and a wonderful priest. However, it took some readjusting to get used to my new home, because I was raised in an OCA church (Orthodox Church of America for those who don’t know) and this new church was under the Greek Archdiocese.
At first it was difficult for me because I felt like an outsider (not through any fault of the church itself, but because the parishioners were Greek, the members of OCF were all Greek, and I was the only one who wasn’t). I would often get very frustrated because I felt that people were too focused on ethnic pride and every conversation seemed to center around Greek culture. It seemed to me that people were using the Church as a way to keep their heritage alive rather than grow as brothers and sisters in Christ.
One week in particular I had a very upsetting experience. I was waiting in the Narthex after service with a Greek woman, trying to explain to her the origins of the OCA church. During our talk she told me that “the Greeks created Orthodoxy”, and when she said this I had to just walk away, because I knew that if I allowed myself to respond I would only lash out. However, when I excused myself, Presbytera (who was present for this talk) ran after me. She comforted me and consoled me, saying how important it was for us to try to reach out to people who have a mindset akin to that of this woman’s. She spoke to the fact that too many Orthodox Christians are concerned with being Greek or Russian or Antiochian, rather than being Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ.
This incident served as a turning point for me. While I do still find myself feeling like an outsider at times, I have learned that much of this is a result of my own insecurities and arrogance. I have come to the realization that, yes, there are Orthodox Christians who are misguided and too focused on their cultural identity, but if I allow that to push me away then I am doing the same thing I accuse them of—creating a division between us. This has inspired in me a desire to better integrate our churches and to unite as Orthodox Christians rather than “the Russians”, “the Greeks”, “the Romanians”, etc. I’ve also learned to appreciate the Greek culture and to understand more of how it does complement the Orthodox Faith. I’m learning to be thankful that the Church is so tightly woven into their Faith, and to respect the honor with which it is upheld in the Greek culture.
Going to any new church always has its struggles, especially if it’s a place where the language, people, and customs are outside of your norm. Yet I’m discovering that we are Orthodox Christians first and foremost, and if we can keep that truth in our hearts then everything else will fall into place. The love of Christ is the universal truth, and thus transcends any divisions of culture, practice, or race.
If you are currently in college or a recent graduate, we would like to hear from you. Please submit a brief “college perspective” to the Family Ministry blog by e-mailing Paula Marchman