All These (Fascinating) Lives!

CIR - New South“You really can’t understand the Orthodox tradition without theology…” said Theo Lyketsos, a Russian major here at Georgetown. “Orthodoxy is embedded in culture, but everything we do is aimed at being transformed by love through purification, illumination and deification.”

His friend Dionysios Koroulakis nodded, “A while ago, I went through a really tough time in life, and my Orthodox Christian faith put me back together and gave me peace. It transformed me.”

As these two students shared their lives, the New South freshmen who were listening and asking questions began to gain a sense of the tradition from the inside out. What is it like to grow up Orthodox? What spiritual practices do Orthodox engage in? How do they feel about dating outside the Orthodox community? What’s the relationship of the Orthodox church to nationality? What is it like being Orthodox here at Georgetown? Does it affect their choice of study or life plans? By the time the conversation finished, we had covered everything from icons to international politics!

In fact, this Monday’s conversation was the last week of a whole series called “My Life as A…..” which I have been hosting during my weekly chaplain-in-residence open house, the ‘Monday Munch.’ I am grateful for all the students who responded to my invitation, who agreed to come share “My Life as a Muslim,” “My Life as a Jew,” “My Life as a Buddhist,” “My Life as a Protestant Christian,” “My Life as a Hindu,” “My Life as a Catholic,” “My Life as a Humanist,” and finally “My Life as an Orthodox.” Each week, the guest student(s) would share their own background and experience for about 15-20 minutes, before we shifted into informal Q&A discussion that would sometimes go for hours!

While each discussion was fascinating in its own right, I think many of the freshmen who came to the series were most struck by the true diversity of the sharing. It wasn’t that each of the traditions had different answers to a common set of questions…. Although there were a few common themes, the guest students took up genuinely diverse concerns that emerged from the specificity of their traditions and their own personal life experiences.

For example, two of our Muslim students emphasized honoring God sincerely in all that they do, and spoke about this through the concrete experience of being married to each other and working to harmonize very different cultural backgrounds (Tunisian-Hawaian American and Bangladeshi-American). Our Jewish guest led an excellent discussion on the concept of ‘religion,’ sharing from her perspective as a non-theistic Jew who nonetheless maintains the religious practices of Orthodox Judaism. At “My Life as a Buddhist,” freshmen were struck by the meditative stability that our guest exhibited, even as she taught us about Buddhism’s principles. Our Humanist was impressively articulate about ethics and the quest to live with integrity. And the Catholic discussion highlighted the experience of conversion, since one of the speakers had grown up in an Alaskan family with some anti-Catholic sentiment, but he then chose to become Catholic here in college. I could go on and on providing examples, but it suffices to say that the conversations were delightfully unique!

Yesterday, a freshman, Sarah dropped by the chaplain apartment, lamenting that the discussion series was over. She suggested that we have at least one final week to talk about the series and I think that’s a great idea! Next Monday, I can’t wait to hear their take-aways from the series as a whole! I know that for myself, these guest students’ various journeys have served to inspire me in my own Catholic faith, making me even more eager to live out my beliefs in every aspect of my life!

Stephanie Wong (new window), Chaplain in Residence – New South