Faith in a Faithless Generation?

Thinking on the theme “Fear, Faith, and Love” we reached out to Catherine Addington, an Orthodox Christian and senior at New York University to speak about Faith in the Campus setting:

Wonder: What does a life of faith (specifically, our faith as expressed in The Creed, Holy Tradition, and Scripture) look like to you?

Catherine: The great thing about Orthodoxy is that it works for everyone. The Church really needs good Orthodox students as much as it needs good Orthodox teachers, chemists, mathematicians, cooks, soccer players, nuns, hairdressers, musicians, priests, poets…but for me, all three parts of that phrase are important. Right now, God has placed me in a position to be a good Orthodox student: that means being a good Orthodox Christian (praying every day, participating in the life of the parish, testifying to the truth of the faith when an opportunity arises) but it also means being a good student (supporting the school community, expressing gratitude in the form of learning, and striving to put my skills and resources to use in the service of others)! For me, a life of faith means orienting my particular daily grind toward holiness.

Wonder: What are some generalities about American college life that you have found to be true? found not to be true?

Catherine: Every time I asked people for college advice, they’d just blanket it: “Get involved!” I hated that before I got to college, because it sounds so general. And it is — but it’s also very true. I found that getting involved with school activities, such as volunteer trips or working at the theatre or writing for a school publication, was the best way to help me get a sense of my school and to find my place in it. I also found that my mental image of college — you know, that horrible red-solo-cup frat party in every bad comedy movie — was way off. I thought it was going to be hard to make friends without being a part of the partying scene, but I found that there were plenty of other students who felt the same way I did, and that we could support each other in creating an alternative to that environment.

Wonder: What has been the most challenging aspect of living a life of faith on campus?

Catherine: It’s been hard feeling like I need to defend my existence. Despite the active and diverse religious communities at my school, there is a general assumption here that all students are secular until proven otherwise and it can lead to some awkward situations — like that time I had to explain to our publication’s editors that an op-ed making fun of Justice Scalia’s belief in the devil wasn’t cool, or that other time a world history professor asked me to briefly explain Christianity because he didn’t feel the need to dedicate much class time to something so irrelevant. At the same time, each of these encounters has been a “teachable moment” that has ended up improving my relationships with my fellow students.

Wonder: What has surprised you about publicly identifying as a Christian at school?

Catherine: I’ve been surprised by the incredible support I’ve found at school. I actually converted to Orthodoxy during my second year of college. During that journey, I found a lot of support, especially from my two best friends (both atheists) and from the many devout students I met through NYU’s multifaith programming (mostly Muslim, Jewish, and Protestant students). I was worried that NYU’s “diversity” talk was just that, but my fellow students made a point of celebrating my faith and not just treating it as novelty. People showed up to my chrismation, they made sure there were vegan options during fasting seasons, and they asked how things were going at church — they really took an interest, especially because it was so new to most of them.

Wonder: How have challenges to your faith strengthened your relationship with Christ and your neighbor?

Catherine: I have found that it is really good for me being the only Orthodox Christian most of my fellow classmates know. Because I’m often put on the defensive for my faith, I’ve had to remember over and over again what it is I’m defending and why, and it has helped me stay close to the love I have for the Church. Plus, while there are a few other Orthodox students, and plenty of other Christians, I tend to be either the only or just the loudest Christian in the room most of the time and that comes with a responsibility to be a good “representative” of the faith. It’s often difficult, but over time I have come to think of that responsibility as less of a burden and more of a grace. I get to be the first experience of the Gospel for lots of my fellow students — what could be a greater blessing?

Wonder: What advice would you give to high schoolers advancing into colleges, universities, the military or workplaces about expressing, living, and having faith?

Catherine: Remember that places are only God-forsaken if we forsake them. There is no place on earth that you can’t live your life as an Orthodox Christian, even if it will look different for all of us. Try to use the challenging moments as opportunities to be in solidarity with other people who find themselves feeling like outsiders in your community, and to live your faith openly and with integrity.

Catherine Addington is currently studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her writing has appeared in “The American Conservative”, “First Things”, and “NYU Local.” She will graduate with a B.A. in Latin American Studies from New York University in May 2015.