When Atheism Was Easier

From the time I was 16 years old until more recently than I care to admit, if asked, I likely would have told you I was an atheist.  I wasn’t really, but, when asked about my beliefs, I found it easier to call myself an atheist than to say I’m Orthodox.  Even in a city with a thriving Catholic population, I found from an early age that it raised fewer questions to assert that there is no God than to claim I was a Christian.  I had always considered my faith my own, and I wasn’t the type of person who wanted to have to discuss it too much, particularly from a defensive point.  That mentality stuck with me for most of my young adult life.

Then, when I accepted this position with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, I suddenly had a bunch of people asking about what specifically I was leaving home to do.  And for the first time in my life, I didn’t have a simple answer for them.  I consider myself an open and honest person, but when it came time to tell people I had decided to make the Church an even bigger part of my life, I panicked.  

The first few people I told, close friends and coworkers, were very receptive.  They knew me well as a person and understood my relationship with the Church.  They were all very happy for me.  But then people I knew less well wanted to know, and I realized that I was scrambling to explain that, while I was working for “a church,” I was still a normal person.  My Orthodoxy raised all the same questions I hadn’t wanted to answer at a younger age, and I still didn’t feel equipped to answer them. Before I knew it, I found myself dropping the word “Orthodox” from my job description altogether.  

It felt like I was 16 all over again and declaring stubbornly: “I’m an atheist.”

Because that’s easier than the alternative.  

I never saw myself as someone who denies my relationship with Christ.  I wear my cross, my social media is littered with churchy posts, I talk about my father (the priest) more than people care to hear.  It’s not like I’m hiding it, at least when the context feels safe.  But now, when asked about my job, I find myself getting defensive and insecure.  I want to avoid having to answer the questions that inevitably come with identifying as a Christian or, at the very least, make sure everyone hears my disclaimer: “yeah, I’m Orthodox, but don’t worry, I’m still cool.”  

But people do worry, and in the last few months I’ve gotten very used to people shutting me out as soon as I mention religion.  When I first started looking for church jobs, a conversation with an acquaintance came to a crashing halt when he assertively declared his shock--he didn’t know I was religious, since he doesn’t get along with religious people and hates religion.  Similarly, I had another person mentioned to me that, the first time he came across my social media, he didn’t think we would get along based on my many Church related posts.  We’re dear friends now, but that initial reaction was pretty rough to hear.    

Those interactions weren’t the norm, thank God, but they also weren’t comforting.  It felt like every time I wanted to talk about my religious involvement, I needed to add a cheerful thumbs up and a, “but hey, I’m still normal.”  And that, even just last week, seemed like a lot of work.

That’s when I realized that no matter how comfortable I thought I was in my Faith, I was clearly not as comfortable as I needed to be.  And that’s something I’ve been struggling with every day since.  Even for Peter, who was a disciple of Christ and saw His work, being a believer and owning up to being one was a struggle.  

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.  (Luke 22:54-62)

What I didn’t know at the time of my first identity struggle (and what I’m trying to remember now) is that no matter how much easier it seems to avoid having the hard conversations about myself and my identity, it doesn’t do anyone any good.  It’s not helpful to the people that are trying to get to know me as a person, and it’s particularly not good for my relationship with my Christ.  

Because I do believe, even when I’m too insecure to admit it.  

Of course, being aware of this bad habit and breaking it are two different things. I’m very willing to be open about my faith with people I already know, since it’s such an important part of who I am--maybe it’s because I feel safer around them. But I’m still struggling to be honest about my faith with strangers, especially when it comes to explaining exactly what I do with the Church.  I still finding myself referring to my job in generic terms; only as I get to know them do I mention religion.  Reluctantly. 

It’s a work in progress.  

But living Orthodoxy all day every day is an important part of who I am, and one day I hope I’ll be able to exclaim (with all the conviction I lacked as a 16 year old) that, “I am Orthodox.” 

What about you? Do you ever find it easier to hide your faith in God? Why do you think that is, and how do you deal with that struggle? Leave a comment below!


Charissa Giannopoulos is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM.  Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and studied political science at the University of Utah.  She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones.  Charissa currently lives in New York City.


For more:

For more on belief in God, check out this episode of Be the Bee:


For more on faith and doubt, check out this episode of Be the Bee:


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