My mom visited me on campus for Easter this year. It’s the biggest holiday in the Christian faith, and to be separated for the ultimate Christian celebration of love was too much for her to bear. She was here for just one weekend — April 23 to 24.
“But that was a week after Easter?”
We are Orthodox Christians. Like most things between the West and East, it’s done a little differently. Orthodox customs are usually more time-intensive, and there’s a greater emphasis on faith and practice than for other Christian traditions.
Living as minorities in Egypt, and then as immigrants in America, our faith was often seen as our refuge. It was a focal point in our lives.
Although I was happy to see my mom, the guilt that came with seeing her during Holy Week was more than I thought it would be. For much of my life, she was my religious guidance, and to not have committed to that part of our relationship after I left for college only magnified my feeling of betrayal. I hadn’t attended church at all that week — not for Palm Sunday, Covenant Thursday or any of the nightly Paschal praises.
It was excuse after excuse. Whatever validity they had, I would tell myself, “But I turned on the service live streams, I listened in.” But in truth, I had listened in while working as I would any day for whichever playlist.
Come Easter morning, we ate at Crepevine to break our fast. For Lent, Orthodox Christians traditionally abstain from all meat and dairy-based products for 55 days. I had done so since middle school. And yet, this year, I followed the same excuses. I would tell myself, “Stanford doesn’t have good vegan options, this isn’t like home; it’s not doable.” But to continue the spirit of truth, I had never really looked at the vegan options here.
At Crepevine, my mom gave the usual lecture of every Easter. She talked about the love God has for us, and the importance of valuing and trusting in it. The one word she said over and over again was one of the central dogmas of Christianity: agapē.
Agapē means the unconditional, sacrificial love of God. According to the Bible, it is “the highest form of love and charity” and “the love of God for man and of man for God.” It is an action that must be done at every single moment. It is the love that was commanded to be offered by Christians to all people. It is the very essence of the teaching: “become like God, for God is love.” It is to love God, brother, enemy and yourself, as God has loved his creation.
During that conversation, in that Crepevine, all I could think was how could I, a walking stereotype for religion in college, adhere to that?
I had known that college would make faith harder. The work and people, and the general pace of Stanford, allows for little introspection, let alone devotion to a higher being. It somehow became increasingly more difficult to reconcile the pursuit of academic knowledge and faith-based knowledge. I probably know much more about theology, the Bible and other religions than the next person over, but has that yielded any fruit?
Maybe it came with loss of community, or as a byproduct of my laziness, but I had begun to question some of the very tenants of religion and whether I could prove any of them at all. My personal experiences and own manifestations of faith seemed to have stayed home, while I didn’t.
I still considered myself religious, but it was more fueled by thought than action. I still brought my Bible to campus, and it still sits on my shelf. Although it collects dust, I do read it sometimes.
I never completely lost faith. I still believe that God is real; in the Christian faith. But like so many things at Stanford, the application, the purpose of knowing what you know — to produce agapē in my case — is so much harder in practice. I’m not sure how I reached this point, or if myself from just a few years ago would even recognize me now, but if I say I still believe, then I must still believe in agapē. I must still believe in the unconditional love that God has for his creation, me. I must continue to be a proponent of agapē.
I don’t know how things will go, whether I will recognize myself in another year from now, but I believe that the Easter weekend my mother visited me was an important one. It served as a reminder of what I value and work for — what so often gets lost in translation in college.