Saint Vladimir’s Seminarian Deacon Andrew Eskandar was born and raised in Egypt until the age of thirteen when his parents decided to move with Dn. Andrew and his two sisters to America to offer their children a more stable future. Since then, Dn. Andrew has lived in Staten Island, NY, where he is a member of Archangel Michael & Saint Mena Coptic Orthodox Church. For many years, Dn. Andrew worked as a business analyst and has served in youth ministry. In the summer of 2020, he was ordained to the diaconate by His Grace, Bishop David of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of New York and New England (Bishop David is also an appointed member of St. Vladimir’s Seminary’s Board of Trustees) . Bishop David assigned Dn. Andrew to full-time youth ministry in his diocese. Deacon Andrew then began the Master of Arts (M.A.) program at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in August of 2020 part-time, so he could continue his youth ministry during his studies. Deacon Andrew and his wife, Youstina, are parents to three-year-old daughter Parthenia.
Q: You are now a deacon in the Coptic Church and have been involved in youth ministry for many years. Was your faith always a big part of your life?
DA: After I moved to America, my relationship with the Church was not very strong. I started to distance myself from God—you know, high school and “living the life.” But always I felt this struggle—there was a longing inside of me to want God but then also these desires and lusts and things. Then I went to college in the city and things just started to drain me, and I felt like this gap between me and God started to grow bigger and bigger every day. I started to believe that there is no God, or if there’s a God where is he in my life? My parents always prayed for me and put me in front of God, but things kept getting worse and worse. I got kicked out of school in the city because I wasn’t going. My GPA was bad. I hit rock bottom, and started to feel that, “just end your life. There’s no where you can go.” So these thoughts started to attack me. I couldn’t sleep at night at all. When I went to bed I was always terrified.
Q: When did things start to change?
DA: This one day, I think it was December 18, 2008, my mom called me up and said, “Come to Church. There is a retreat going on.” So, to make her happy I said, “okay, I’ll come.” And a lot of people before had tried to reach out to me, like “Come to Church, just pray.” I never prayed in my life. I never opened the Bible—maybe once or twice, but when I read it was like I was reading Chinese. I didn’t understand anything. To me God was just a mystery…
I went [to the retreat]. And it was like the guy who was speaking was literally talking to me. I felt straight away the words were coming to me. It just started to hit me really hard. “There is a God. There is a God who loves you. There is a God who sees what you’re going through.” And then at the end, people started singing prayers. I was sitting all the way in the back, and decided to move to the front, which was something that I would never do. It was like someone was grabbing me by the hand and telling me to go in front [laughs]. I sat in the front and just kept singing with them. This was my first time chanting, and as I was singing I felt like literally someone was washing me inside. And I said, “God, I’m sorry for things I have done in the past.” I felt very sorry for what I had been doing. I said, “God, please accept me.” At that same moment, I felt a very loud voice inside my heart that said, “I have been waiting for you. I have been waiting for you for so many years, and I am here…” And as I heard that voice, I just relaxed. People might say [this experience] was just emotion, but it was not. For me, it was fact. It was a very loud voice. And for me what made it clearer was that afterward this voice came again.
I went home, and was like “What did I just—what happened?” For the first time ever in my life, I go into my room and I close the door. And I just start talking to God…and I heard that same voice say, “Your sins are forgiven. “I felt the wall between me and God just got broken down. So for the first time I opened the Bible and I started to read the Gospel of John. The first time I read it, I read like five or six chapters. It’s like my eyes were opened. Before, you know, I tried [to read the Bible], but now something happened—I don’t know what—that just opened my eyes… It’s like something you feel inside your heart and not your brain. I was hungry for the Word of God, and thirsty. Every day I would keep reading, keep reading. I felt, “I don’t want to lose this.” It was so valuable to me, this encounter with Christ. Every single day I would hear the same voice, “This is what I’m doing with you. This is what I am preparing you for.”
I spoke with my father of confession. I confessed everything, and he said “God accepts you back. He loves you.” And from that day on, God made sure that I do not forget this.
Before I met Christ there were a lot of things I could not stop doing. Once I came to Christ, it’s like I don’t feel the urge to do them anymore. I feel like I’m full. Sometimes I fall but I know now the way. I run to Him. I know that He washes. I know that He cleanses.
That journey went on, and I joined the Church again regularly. My life became just for God. I do not want to do anything else but to be with Him and to serve Him.
Q: Did your family notice the change in you?
DA: Of course! My mom had been praying for me day and night, and when I would do something stupid, she would know. I would walk home, and she would say, “you just came from that place” or “you were with this person.” And I was like, how did she know? So once I encountered Christ, she noticed it right away and said, “I’ve been telling you!” One time, after this taste of Christ and seeing how amazing He is, I went to her and said, “Why didn’t you tell me that God is so good?” She laughed and said, “I’ve been telling you this, and you’re just deaf!” [laughs].
Q: How did your new life lead to ordination and to St. Vladimir’s Seminary?
DA: I started serving the youth in the Church. My passion and my heart are for the lost, for those who don’t know Christ, because I was one of them. So we started a meeting that serves this purpose. Through visits and through talks and through service, we connected with some of the youth and are working with them to bring back that relationship with Christ. Thank God, God is working with us and we see His hand in everything. We see people who lived in drugs and alcohol and things like that just coming to the feet of Christ and repenting. By God’s grace things started to ignite and move forward. My father of Confession and some people went to His Grace, Bishop David and mentioned my name to nominate me for service under him. So he took me in as a father, showed me love and told me, “I need you to consecrate your life as a deacon.” My wife and I prayed about it, and we said, “ok.” And he wanted me to come to St. Vladimir’s and expand my knowledge of the Church Fathers and Orthodoxy.
Q: You enrolled at St. Vladimir’s part-time so that you could continue youth ministry. Do you see yourself continuing that particular service after seminary as well?
DA: Continue doing what I’m doing. That’s what the Fathers of the Church always teach. Just continue—consistency and building. We’re just witnessing about Christ. We’re not there to save people, but to have Christ save people. So we’re presenting Christ to youth. So once they connect with God and respond to this call they come and join the Church, but now they need spiritual build-up. Okay, there is that encounter, and then the build-up. Because you can have an encounter but then it dies out. So it’s good that we kind of continue on building through Bible studies, prayer meetings, through the Eucharist, through the Liturgy, through Confession, things like that, so it’s a solid connection. So once you start building that, now they can lead others the same way. It’s kind of like a chain that you started. Christ was able to do everything by himself, but He chose twelve disciples and seventy-two apostles and sent them to do ministry. Why? He wants to put this idea of, “I’m the head, and now I invest in you. I taught you. I gave you everything. Now you go and get others.” Just keep going.