Lacrosse Leads Alumnus to Eastern Orthodox Ministry
By Mary Hierholzer ’16
Believe it or not, lacrosse teams and the Eastern Orthodox Church are not completely unrelated entities, especially if you’re Gordon alumnus Mike Tishel ’08. Twenty-seven years old and engaged to be married in October, Tishel is the director of theCrossRoad Summer Institute and a student program coordinator at Hellenic College in Boston.
But Tishel, who hopes to serve as a priest in the Orthodox Church, was drawn to Gordon for one reason: lacrosse.
He was accepted at plenty of colleges, but Gordon won him over one picturesque day in July: Tishel toured the campus with the lacrosse coach, Kevin Dugan, and knew it was the right choice.
Tishel played lacrosse at Gordon for two years until he tore his ACL and spent a season on the sidelines. Essentially playing the role of water boy, he chose to swallow his pride and take the opportunity to serve his teammates.
“That whole experience grounded me a little bit,” Tishel said. “I became more aware of the needs and lives of the people around me. I started to develop an interest in theology and faith, and became more aware of my God-given talents in ministry and pastoral work.”
Halfway through his sophomore year, Tishel switched from English to a Pike major in comparative historical theology (comparing Protestantism and Orthodoxy throughout the centuries). He participated in the Jerusalem and Athens Forum2006-07, which was his first real exposure to classical literature and philosophy. Also the president of Gordon’s Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) chapter, Tishel says that JAF provided interesting perspectives on his Orthodox faith. In one class, Center for Faith and Inquiry Director Tal Howard asked Tishel to conduct a question-and-answer session about Orthodoxy for his classmates.
“I felt like the campus was open to dialogue and to learning more about my tradition, and I was open to learning more about others’ traditions,” Tishel said. “I felt very at home. It gave me the opportunity to evaluate my own faith, to solidify my beliefs and way of life and to gain some insights from my friends who came from Protestant or Catholic traditions.”
Tishel took two trips to Greece during college: a seminar abroad with Professor of History David Wick and a spring break service trip with OCF. His time studying biblical history in the seminar and helping renovate Orthodox monasteries on the service trip sparked a love for the country so deeply connected with his theology.
“I encountered a really vibrant faith,” he said. “I wanted to experience it more.”
So after Gordon, Tishel moved to Thessaloniki, Greece, for intensive Greek language courses and an M.Sc. in theology. Living in Greece allowed him to visit many locations associated with his thesis: “The Knowability and Unknowability of God according to St. Gregory of Nyssa.”
“The examples I witnessed in Greece of pastors and other interesting people awakened a yearning and desire to serve people and to walk alongside people, to get to know them in very real ways and at crucial times in their lives,” Tishel said.
From Greece he applied for the director position at CrossRoad, a program near Boston, in Brookline located at Hellenic College centered on giving Orthodox high school juniors and seniors an opportunity to explore their vocation and faith. Between various ministries at CrossRoad and Hellenic College, Tishel works with high school students, college undergraduates, graduates and seminary students. And his relationship with Gordon still endures, as he hosts Gordon’s JAF cohorts who visit Hellenic College in an annual outing.
“I enjoy the opportunity to encourage and challenge young people to go deeper when it comes to faith and exploration of vocation,” he said.
Tishel’s parents were raised Jewish and became non-denominational Christians in the ’60s. He and his parents entered the Orthodox Church when he was two, and grew up in the Church, but was not short of exposure to varying theologies. So what keeps him in the Orthodox Church? Jesus Christ. Tishel recognizes that, from the perspective of an outsider to the tradition, the Orthodox Church may appear very multi-faceted between the incense, music, visuals, complicated services and extensive history. It comprises a rich mosaic of the tradition, he says. “All of these layers and colors and images all serve to do the same thing, which is to point us towards a higher reality, beyond what we see in the visible, immediate world,” Tishel said. “There’s a beautiful paradox in the richness of the tradition and the simplicity of it all. The aesthetic richness is all pointing toward one central focus, which is the worship of the person of Jesus Christ.”
Tishel has now worked at CrossRoad and Hellenic College for three years, and plans to continue for the foreseeable future, challenging himself to build strong relationships.
“I’ve found that my desire to go far and wide in traveling and exploring is turning into a distraction from going deep,” Tishel said. “For me, going deep is establishing deep relationships with people around me and with God. That requires a person to learn how to stay put for a while. I yearn for that.”
Photo: Mike Tishel ’08 with his fiancee, Catherine
Mary Hierholzer ’16 is a communication arts major and history minor, and Editor-in-Chief of the Tartan. She hopes to study history and political science in graduate school, and to pursue a career in writing for intellectual publications. In the rare moments when Mary is not writing or conducting an interview, she enjoys good conversations, drinking coffee, exploring great literature, admiring art and discovering music.