Faith Perspectives: Orthodoxy, icons at a Reformed school

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As an Eastern Orthodox Christian studying theology at a Reformed school, I have experienced challenges in how I display my devotion. If someone had told me that by the time I graduated college I would be an Eastern Orthodox Christian studying theology at a Reformed school, I would have been confused. At the time that I started applying to schools, I was a Southern Baptist planning to major in film. How all of that changed is another story, instead I am going to focus on some of the challenges I have faced within my chosen major and how I reconcile my faith with it. 

One problem I have faced at Calvin is the difference of views between myself, professors and students regarding the use of images in devotional practice. In Orthodoxy, icons are used in devotional practice, on a surface level as a way to direct your focus during prayer, but at a deeper level, the depiction of Christ and the saints are used as a way to honor them and to show them devotion. This is opposed to the traditional Reformed view of iconoclasm, that says any use of images and depictions of the divine is wrong. Within my religion classes, I have written several papers on the theological importance and the necessity of images within the Christian tradition. These papers are met with some intrigue, just for being different, but not excitement. There are more professors in the Calvin religion department open to ideas of universalism and the Holy Spirit being a woman than they are with me facing East and saying prayers before an icon of Christ. 

At Calvin, I have never experienced an outright negative perspective towards my Christian beliefs. Most professors disagree with me, but I’ve never had a professor tell me I am wrong for my beliefs. With students, it is a little different., Tthey often think the use of images is strange and are against it. 

Although I have experienced some hostility towards my beliefs, I have never really experienced incredible openness to my beliefs. Often professors will be intrigued when they find out I am Orthodox, but that is it. The most I get when I explain my faith story to students is an “oh, that’s cool.” I have never met someone that is excited or wants to know more. That being said, my faith is important to me and studying theology at a Reformed school has presented some challenges, but never so bad that I have been discouraged from either.