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Hillsdale’s Orthodox Christian Fel­lowship is small, but tight-knit. Emilia Heider | Courtesy

From Com­pline to fasting prac­tices, to reading group with Dr. Jackson, there is a tan­gibly dif­ferent vibe about the Orthodox Christian group com­pared to the other reli­gious groups on campus.

“We call it the ethos, the sort of char­acter, the atmos­phere, the tex­tures of the church,” sophomore Brigid Maj­mudar said. “It’s very intense.”

Among the mul­titude of active Catholics and Protes­tants, the 15 to 20 Orthodox Chris­tians com­prise a sparse one percent of Hillsdale’s student body, and pos­sibly, campus’ tightest reli­gious group: the Orthodox Christian Fel­lowship.

The dif­fi­culty of their prac­tices may explain this dif­ference.

“Lent alone is ridiculous,” Maj­mudar said, describing how the fasting prac­tices of Orthodox Chris­tians amount to being vegan for more than half of the year. “It’s so good and so wholesome, but it’s hard. And when you grow up with all those things that are not only intense and hard, but also so clearly dif­ferent from any­thing you see in the West, it means that other Orthodox Chris­tians, espe­cially other young Orthodox Chris­tians, are very familiar to you.”

Maj­mudar spent a period of her childhood on the island of Cyprus while her father studied at a monastery. Com­pared to the average Hillsdale student, her back­ground differs sig­nif­i­cantly. She described being per­ceived as more normal to members of the OCF because of their shared practice.

“There are very familial vibes in the OCF,” Maj­mudar said. “It doesn’t mean we have to con­stantly be around each other all the time, it’s just assumed that you make the same time sac­ri­fices for each other that you do for your family.”

For senior Anas­tasia Frigerio, the student contact for the Orthodox Christian Fel­lowship, the familial nature of the group is more than just a vibe.

“I wouldn’t be getting married in May if the Orthodox group didn’t exist, which is just bizarre,” Frigerio said.

She said that there were only four Orthodox Chris­tians in her freshman class, and only one, senior Gregory Farison, who reg­u­larly attended church besides herself. The two became friends quickly and are engaged to be married this spring.

“We figure there wasn’t much luck in that; that was probably on purpose,” Frigerio added, laughing.

Frigerio admitted some dif­fi­culties to having so few local members, including sharing respon­si­bil­ities for events such as “OrthoTeas,” a weekly event where the Orthodox Hillsdale stu­dents get together to drink tea, eat scones, and chat.

“I guess some­times I think it would be easier if there were more people to spread out event planning,” Frigerio said, “but at the same time, I know I wouldn’t know any of them as well. And it would be easier to just be friendly acquain­tances and not actually spend that much time together.”

Both Maj­mudar and Frigerio grew up in the Orthodox Church, with fathers who are Orthodox priests. Frigerio’s father is the priest in Albion, at the Holy Ascension Orthodox Church where the Hillsdale stu­dents attend, and the first Orthodox church freshman Kirby Thigpen would ever step inside.

Thigpen, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church in North Car­olina, first encoun­tered Orthodoxy through an influ­ential high school teacher. Coming to Hillsdale, she said she was inten­tional about con­necting with others on campus, as she began her official con­version process.

“I saw that the OCF was going to be at The Source, and I went intending to meet them and introduce myself. I did, and from there I went to church with them that Sunday, and I’ve gone ever since,” Thigpen said. She will offi­cially join the church the Sat­urday before Easter.

In addition to weekly teas and car­pooling to church, the OCF also hosts a reading group — open to any stu­dents inter­ested in studying the primary texts of the Church fathers — lead by the group’s faculty advisor, Pro­fessor of English Justin Jackson.

“The OCF Reading Group really is for all stu­dents,” Jackson said. “I try to create a safe space of non-pros­e­ly­tizing. I mean, they will learn about Orthodoxy, because sometime I tell the Orthodox stu­dents, ‘Alright this is what the church teaches about this,’ but that’s really as far as it goes.”

Each semester, on Fridays at noon in Lane 232, stu­dents gather to parse the texts of Athanasius, St. John of Dam­ascus, St. Ephraim of Syria, and more. This semester, the reading group is studying St. Gregory of Nyssa’s “On the Soul and Res­ur­rection.”

The purpose of the group, Jackson empha­sised, is to read the text and answer stu­dents’ the­o­logical ques­tions.

“The thing that stu­dents need to under­stand is that when you read any the­o­logical text, you would never see it as just ‘the Orthodox Church’s teaching.’ It’s not inten­tionally an ecu­menical group, it’s really more of an aca­demic thing,” Jackson said.

This was not always the case with the reading group, however. He said ini­tially, the texts were almost entirely sec­ondary sources of Orthodox apolo­getics.

“When I first got here, it was kind of a tra­di­tional OCF group, so Orthodox and inquirers, and they would go through intro­ductory ‘What’s the Orthodox Church’ texts, and I don’t know, they probably got more con­verts that way,” Jackson said.

Although he stuck to the status quo for the first few years, he found that the Orthodox stu­dents were not as engaged. Since most sec­ondary texts present certain ideas as being the beliefs of the Church fathers, Jackson began studying the texts on which those sec­ondary sources are pred­i­cated.

“It’s fun to give them the actual primary texts that either affirm or prob­lematize those ideas,” he said.

Jackson added that as a pro­fessor, there is freedom in the loose framework of a not-for-credit dis­cussion time.

“I feel a bit freer not to just speak about the­ology, but what it has to do with one’s soul, in studying these sorts of things, than I do in a class,” he said.

Most reli­gious groups on campus are largely evan­gelical in their approach. By con­trast, the attitude of the OCF seems to be very uncon­cerned with pros­e­ly­tizing.

Thigpen appre­ciates the sta­bility of the OCF, and said that she knows the group will always love and accept her.  

“Also knowing that what brought us together is some­thing that is will con­sis­tently be there for the rest of our lives,” Thigpen said. “It’s some­thing very special.”

  • Who, hoo! As one of the founding members of Hillsdale’s OCF in 1992, I fully applaud the con­tin­u­ation of this great effort. Good strength to all who cur­rently labor in the Lenten fast (East and West), and may our good God grant us in 40 days the joy of his res­ur­rection!

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    Well done, fellow Orthodox Chris­tians! As a member of a smaller reli­gious com­munity in America I think it’s great you get together at Hillsdale and engage in fel­lowship. This article is very appre­ciated, we Orthodox Chris­tians some­times feel we’re over­looked or mar­gin­alized when a dis­cussion of Chris­tianity in America is occurring. May the Holy Spirit bathe you in his Grace and give you Peace this Lenten season.