Group photo of students and Fr. Pratt in front of World Trade Center memorial

Building Community on Pilgrimage: Georgetown’s Orthodox Christian Life Journeys to Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine

By Alina Watson (H ’26)

Students and Fr. Pratt in front of World Trade Center memorial

Orthodox Christian students with Fr. David Pratt [center] after a tour of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center. (photo credit: Becky Hay)

I was intrigued to learn about the opportunity to visit Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York City with Georgetown’s Orthodox Christian Life and Ministry. Truth be told, I was anxious about taking time away from school and studying for such a trip. After some reflection and discernment, however, I realized that I did not want to focus my studies on classes alone but rather expand my knowledge in theology and faith as well. Delighted by the opportunity to further develop my relationship with the Orthodox Christian community and God, I reconsidered my initial reservations about the trip, and I am beyond grateful that I did.

When our journey began, many students were focused on the amount of work they had piling up and the stresses of school. However, as we spent more time together, our conversations quickly shifted into anecdotes about our shared faith and stories from our lives. With each passing moment, the bond within our small group grew stronger, and we were soon sharing a strong sense of unity. The sights we passed on the train to New York were beautiful, and many of them were new to members of our group. I have always believed that encountering the new—whether it be new individuals, new landmarks, or new sensory experiences—builds both character and fellowship, which is exactly what I witnessed on our pilgrimage.

Iconic representation of Christ with Saint Nicholas on his left and the Mother of God to his right

This iconic representation of Christ with Saint Nicholas on his left and the Mother of God to his right is an example of the exquisite hand-painted iconography found throughout the church. (photo credit: Alina Watson)

One of the most profound experiences I felt on the trip was the silence that met the whole group when we entered Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine. The stillness we encountered within such a well-illumined atrium was indescribable. The walls were covered with Byzantine iconography integrating traditional Biblical motifs with historical representations from the tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2001. These latter scenes were especially poignant, yet simultaneously inviting and awe-inspiring. One mural, for example, depicted Christ breaking the bonds of Hades, but it was first responders and emergency service personnel from 9/11 who were depicted with Christ in this otherwise traditionally executed scene. As an EMT myself, it was moving to see the representation of the individuals who lost their lives—in compassion and service for others—commemorated within this Biblical scene.

In addition to the experiential value of the trip, it was also a much-welcomed interlude between the hustle and bustle of demanding weeks at school. Georgetown has a distinct style and culture that sets it apart from other universities. While this culture encourages students to be the best versions of themselves both personally and professionally, it is still sometimes necessary to step away from the busyness of campus life. This trip offered me—and many others in the Orthodox Christian Life community—a chance to step away and foster a positive outlook for the rest of the semester. 

The Office of Mission and Ministry at Georgetown organizes many pilgrimage opportunities for students from a myriad of faith backgrounds, and it was a great joy and privilege for me to participate in one dedicated to Orthodox Christian Life. I believe the pilgrimage was a necessary respite for our community, especially in terms of spiritual well-being. I wish I could confer the contentment I felt at the closure of the trip to another student because it was incredibly inspiring and unexpected. I did not fully realize how impactful a pilgrimage could be, but I believe the friendships created while traveling together, along with the faith illuminated in our encounters and our experiences, are new aspects of each of our lives that will continue to carry on throughout our time at Georgetown.

Orthodox Christian
St. Nicholas