Despite my upbringing as an Orthodox Christian, I lost touch with my faith around the time I went to high school. I still considered myself Orthodox and I was definitely proud of my heritage and the traditions of my family, but I didn’t feel a need to engage with Christ in any way, and I certainly didn’t feel a need to go to church. By the time I entered college, I was absolutely checked out, and I had no intention of changing.
My mind changed completely when I started at Fordham University. Until that point in my life, I had never really been able to focus on what I wanted to do, but I had suddenly found myself in a whirlwind of interesting classes, clubs, and various activities that were about nothing but personal growth. It was so odd to me, having come from an environment where my academic success was valued and fostered above everything else.
It was when I took a theology class and we learned about a variety of other religions that I realized how little I knew about my own and how upset that made me. How was I supposed to grow as a person in all of the ways that Fordham allowed to me grow, if I did not have a grasp on the basic facets of my being?
I can’t pinpoint exactly when I joined Fordham’s chapter, but I know that it was at a good friend’s insistence that I joined him at a meeting one day. At first, I definitely felt uncomfortable, but the older members of the club were nurturing and constantly made sure to reach out. Eventually, I began to look forward to going to meetings, where I don’t think many people knew that I was learning everything for the first time. By sophomore year, I was hooked, and by junior year, I was on the executive board.
My fellow OCF members taught me how to pray, how to volunteer my time, how to be compassionate and kindhearted and faithful, and they helped me experience Christ’s presence. They pushed me to go to summer camp, paraklesis and compline services, and Sunday liturgies. For one of the first times in my life, attending services didn’t feel forced because I actually wanted to worship God. I got to make my own decisions, and it made me want to choose wisely. For me, it was revolutionary.
It was my experience at Orthodox Christian Fellowship, and specifically OCF at Fordham, that drew me back to my faith. In a predominantly Catholic school, I wanted to learn more about Orthodoxy so that I could join conversations, so that I could serve the church in a way that I saw my Catholic friends doing. Somewhere along the way, I picked up Orthodox friends who wanted to grow and learn with me. They wanted to go to church, they wanted to talk about God, they wanted to pray together. The most important thing about my OCF experience was the renewal of my relationship with God, which continues to grow today.
Every now and then it hits me that I would never be in the place I am now if it had not been for my experiences with Orthodoxy in college. These experiences influenced everything that I did and everything that I have done since then. When I think about all of the experiences that I never would have had without Orthodoxy, I am filled with gratitude.
My peers at OCF led me to get excited about my relationship with Christ, gave me people with whom to relish in the highs and people whose shoulder to cry on during the lows. I cannot thank OCF and its members enough for changing my life, for allowing me to learn about my faith at my own pace, and for lighting a fire in me that I know will never be extinguished.
Maria Pappas is the Administrative Coordinator for the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. She is a recent graduate of Fordham University (Go Rams!), and she is still learning to love New York City even though she has spent her whole life there. She is a parishioner of Holy Cross in Whitestone and loves summer camp and chocolate.