Greek Orthodox students balance faith, fitting in

Marquette may be a Catholic institution, but that doesn’t mean its students are all Catholic. And of those students who are Catholic, there’s a division most people don’t know exists, between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Catholics.

Eastern Orthodox churches encompass a wide spectrum of denominations, including Russian, Serbian, Ukrainian and Greek. Each has slight differences in customs, hymns and music, but are in communion with one another. This means a practicing Orthodox can go to any Orthodox Church – be they Greek, Siberian or any other – and receive the Eucharist.

The Rev. David Hostetler, presbyter at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Milwaukee, said there are a number of differences that set Greek Orthodoxy apart from Roman Catholicism. Among them is his own title; a presbyter is similar to a priest or bishop in the Catholic Church, and is responsible for leading the congregation.

“For the Greeks, we teach what has been passed down to us from Moses as well as from our ancestors,” Hostetler said. “We don’t rely on or recognize a pope and all of the doctrine of the Catholic Church.”

Hostetler said the Greek language is more expressive and mystical, allowing for a more experiential attitude, whereas in the West you hear Latin and see volumes of scholastic exploration of theology.

He also explained the Canon Law, similar to a Catholic’s sacrament.

“People are expected to be the best person possible,” Hostetler said. “You are to try, but expected to fail. Perfection is not the goal. This is where prayer and fasting come in.”

Nicholas Stellas, a sophomore in the College of Communication, has been practicing Greek Orthodoxy since he was little.

Growing up in what he calls the “typical Greek family,” with a “yiayia” (grandmother in Greek) who was a proud Greek, made Stellas confident in his faith.

Stellas feels he fits right in at Marquette, but knows where his real faith lies.

“I’m fine with going to Mass here,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me because a lot of the prayers and devotions are the same, but it doesn’t feel right to not go to my hometown church.”

For Stellas, a normal church service, called a Divine Liturgy in Eastern Orthodoxy, lasts three to four hours, and people dress to the nines.

“I remember my first Mass here,” Stellas said. “They asked why I was so dressed up. I was wearing what I would normally wear at home, a suit and tie.”

Maria Tsikalas, a junior in the ­­­­College of Communication and president of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship on campus, has been a practicing Eastern Orthodox since she was 10 years old. Originally Roman Catholic, she felt the Orthodox faith fit her better and converted.

Tsikalas hasn’t found it difficult fitting in at a Catholic university, but feels at times it’s hard to locate an outlet because the Orthodox Christian Fellowship group didn’t exist until her sophomore year.

Tsikalas attends the meetings and evening services on campus and enjoys working with Campus Ministry, but there is a downside. Because Liturgy is offered only once a week on Sunday mornings, it is hard to explain conflicts with work or other activities.

“You can’t just ‘go at a different time’  because there is not a different time,” Tsikalas said. “The reason for this is because the whole church community comes together at one time to worship together.”

Even with the setbacks of not having a flexible service schedule, Tsikalas and Stellas are comfortable at Marquette. Knowing they are accepted and able to practice Greek Orthodoxy openly allows them to share their faith.

“All I can say is that anytime someone says I should join Greek Life I say, ‘Why? I am already 100 percent Greek.’” Stellas said.