Orthodox at a Protestant University

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Mercedes LeBron -- Bethany Geleris reads from her prayer book.

Bethany Geleris prays every day, but unlike her Protestant acquaintances, most of her prayers are guided by a pocket prayer book.

Geleris is an Orthodox Christian. In fact, she is one of the few Orthodox Christians who attends California Baptist University.

“I think there’s five of us,” Geleris said, laughing. “I think I know them all.”

Approximately 15 years ago, when Geleris was about 6-years-old, her small church began to distance itself from its denomination: Foursquare Pentecostal.

“We were really unhappy with the Pentecostal church,” Geleris said, “so we kind of broke off on our own.”

The small flock of 120 began researching for a new faith tradition to follow. Everyday, they would gather to research churches.

They almost adopted Catholicism as their Christian denomination of choice, “because we liked the tradition and the history,” Geleris said.

However, after reading a book about Orthodoxy and meeting with its author, Father Peter Gillquist, the entire church began calling themselves, “Orthodox.”

“He connected us with a church in Riverside and we went through lessons on what Orthodoxy is and what we were actually getting into. Then we were all baptized together,” Geleris said.

Originally, Geleris attended the University of Redlands, but after one year she decided to transfer to CBU, in order to be closer to her parish, St. Peter the Apostle Antiochan Orthodox Church, Pomona.

This makes her life easier, as she attends services multiple times per week.

She said, to the CBU student, “The services would appear like [Catholic] mass. To me, they are all very different. They’re really just beautiful.”

Orthodox services are much different than what the average CBU student is used to. Icons, which are images of saints and Christ, are a major part of Orthodox services.

The use of icons may raise skepticism among some Protestants, mainly because they believe the icons are being worshiped, which they think would violate the fourth commandment.

According to resources from ESV Online, this is a misconception.

The website says, “…the Second Council of Nicea emphatically denied that icons are worshipped. Following John of Damascus, it distinguished between honor given to saints and icons, and worship owed to the indivisible trinity alone.”

Geleris, too, said icons are not worshiped. They are reverenced. “We don’t ever believe that the dead aren’t with us anymore. It’s a completely different way of thinking,” Geleris said. “So, if you don’t think the dead aren’t with you, it’s not a scary thing to have the icons and talk to them.”

“[We] recognize the love they had for Jesus in their life.” Because of Orthodox practices like using icons and other denominational differences, Geleris has found it somewhat difficult interacting with her campus acquaintances.

“I think I had to adjust a little bit, because there are a lot of foundational differences and just differences in the way you interact and explain religion,” she said.

But even though she is Orthodox, Geleris is still required to go to chapel. Upon first attending CBU, she disliked chapel.

“I considered just not going and getting the GPA drop, because I would find myself arguing with the speaker in my head, because I disagreed with what they were saying or even just how they were saying it,” she said. “That was something that was really challenging for me.”

Now, Geleris is a senior. She still clings to her Orthodox faith, but said she enjoys the atmosphere at CBU and find commonality in the fact that both her and her Protestant friends love God.

“I like that you can just walk around and hear people talking about really important things,” she said. “I like that there’s a real global awareness.”

Geleris said her faith is “extremely” important to her and, “It’s as foundational to I am as the fact that my name is Bethany.”

About Jenny Miner

I am a journalism major and long-time Banner staff member and will, this year, be serving as the Editor-in-Chief. I just returned from an intense semester in Washington, DC, where I learned a lot about the future of journalism. I am looking forward to one last year working for The Banner and am hopeful that the team will make great strides in keeping up with the rapidly changing journalism field, as well as do our job to keep the CBU community informed about all news California Baptist University.

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