Converting to any religion is a monumental and life-altering decision. But for Elyssa, it was a pretty straightforward one. A decision made from the heart. She describes it as “finding a home, somewhere that I belong”.
This is the story about Elyssa’s conversion to Orthodox Christianity.
With roughly 250 million members worldwide, Orthodoxy Christianity is second in size only to the Roman Catholic Church.
The Orthodox Church has deep and lasting roots in Christian antiquity and is steeped in rich Biblical tradition. It has been the context of Christian living for millions of Christians for almost twenty centuries. This tradition is what is most unique about the Greek Orthodox Church.
Elyssa was baptised (‘Chrismated’ into the Orthodox Church) and named after the Greek Orthodox Martyr, Elesa of Kythira.
Saint Elesa was the daughter of Eladios and lived in the Peloponnese. When she converted to Christianity, her father, who was an idolator, strongly objected and got very angry. He demanded that she marry a young man of his choice.
Elesa didn’t want to marry, so she secretly fled to the island of Kythira to become a nun and devote her life to God.
Elesa’s father never gave up and eventually found her. In her attempt to escape from him, Elesa begged God to open the earth in order to hide from her father as she fled to the mountains of Kythira.
As she reached the top of the mountain Elesa found a crack in the mountainside into which she climbed, only to find her father waiting for her. Her father forced her to endure horrible tortures in his effort to get her to deny her Christian faith and return to Idolatry.
Finally, in the year 375, having been unable to get St. Elesa to recant her Christian faith, her father Eladios whipped Elesa and hanged her on a carob tree before he decapitated her. St. Elesa is considered the protectress and patron saint of the island of Kythira. Her feast day is August 1 and celebrated by throngs of pilgrims who make their way to the Island every year on her feast day.
Greek City Times Lifestyle Writer Despina Karp sat down with Elyssa Vickers at the weekly Orthodox Cafe at St. Stylianos Parish in Gymea to talk about her journey to Greek Orthodoxy and her love for the Greek Culture.
Firstly, thank you for taking the time to chat today Elyssa! Could you tell our readers a little about yourself?
Of course! Thank you for offering to interview me for Greek City Times. I hope it will be an insightful and entertaining read. My name is Elyssa Vickers and I am 21 years old, I grew up in a mostly secular and non-practising Catholic/Anglican household. My mother is El Salvadorian who migrated to Australia in the late ’80s from San Francisco, and my Father is of English and Dutch background heritage. I am Greek Orthodox and have been since July 2018. I am also co-owner of a beauty business that I started when I was 19 with my close friend.
How did you first get involved with the Greek community?
I first got involved in the Greek community during Christmas/New Year of 2016/2017. My friend’s parents asked if I wanted to join them for their church service, and having recently distanced myself from the Catholic church at that time, I decided to go – not for any particular reason, just more out of curiosity as I wanted to see how different the Orthodox service was to the Catholic service.
What stood out to you about the Greek Culture and Greek Orthodoxy in general?
Immediately upon entering the Church (St. Stylianos Gymea), I felt a strong sense of community and purpose which definitely stood out to me. Everyone at church seemed to all know each other, be supportive of each other and all have one priority which is God, everything else doesn’t matter. I definitely felt the safest I’ve been in a long time.
Probably the most moving experience I had, which even today I can never fully describe, is what seemed like an outer-worldly comfort that washed over me, and at that moment upon entering the church and observing the service, I felt completely and unequivocally at home. And I guess that is what the church is for us, God’s home: a place where we all belong. I also loved how after attending my first few services, the YiaYia’s began talking to me and hugging me which made me feel loved and welcomed.
What made you interested in joining the Orthodox faith?
So, I stumbled across the Greek Orthodox faith by happenstance. I never went out of my way to find it. As I mentioned before, I grew up in a household where my parents were not very religious – my father had a loose Catholic/Anglican upbringing, and my mother had one parent who was devout Catholic, and the other who was an Atheist.
I attended Anglican Scripture classes in Primary school, but switched to Catholic Scripture classes out of pure interest as a child. I was also never baptised as a baby. I was baptised at 10 years old in the Catholic Church because I had decided, after a few years of Scripture classes, that I wanted to be Catholic – it also happened to help with my application into a Catholic Girls School.
I ended up volunteering to become an Altar Server alongside the Priest, and I enjoyed having responsibility in the Church and being involved. For some years I went to church every Sunday, however, I never felt like I belonged, it didn’t all make sense to me, and I struggled to have a relationship with God, I ended up seeing it as a chore that I had to go to church each Sunday and help the Priest with the service – kind of like a job, you wake up, you do what you need to do, and you leave.
I ended up moving to the Eastern Suburbs and that’s where my faith completely fell apart, I didn’t want to go to church, I felt like an outcast, I even thought there was something wrong with me for not feeling like Church was a safe place for me, so I stopped going entirely.
Fast forward two years and I end up attending a service at a Greek Orthodox Church and all the missing pieces were found and put together. After around two years of going to church, I decided to move forward with my faith and write a letter to the Bishop to ask permission to convert. I attended the Catechism course over the weeks, read a lot, studied, and also received an abundance of support from my family and friends and the Church community. It is a decision I am happy I made, and I thank God that my faith has been strengthened by Him directing me down this path.
Have you ever visited Greece and what is your favourite Greek food?
No! I have never been! I have been wanting to go. I would love to visit Crete – I hear it is very lovely there, I would also love to visit Thessaloniki because the Bishop said it is a beautiful Byzantine city. My favourite Greek food is Fakhes, I could eat it all day.
You started your own business a little while ago, tell us about it! What inspired you to open a business and what are your goals with it?
Yes, I did. My mother owns her own business in the medical field so I thought it would be nice to start something of my own and see where it takes me.
When I was 19 I began an e-commerce beauty business (Dressed in Mink) specialising in luxury strip lashes for women, makeup artists and physical and online boutiques to stock and use on clients. I am coming out with a new collection in the New Year that will hopefully be in 2-3 stores by the time we launch, we just need to confirm everything first.
I’m also attending the 2021 Beauty Expo in Sydney where I will be showcasing our collections and products, so I’m excited about that.
What do you like to do in your free time?
In my free time, I like to attend Reformer Pilates classes close to where I live, and I also like seeing my personal trainer and working out at the gym. I have two adorable cats, so I love to hang out with them and watch Netflix shows.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In 5 years I will be 26, so I would love to have finished my Master’s degree and be teaching part-time while doing a PhD in Learning Styles and Brain Anatomy – something along those lines.
I hope to have expanded my business and completed some mission work somewhere. I have been wanting to visit Father Themi Adamopolous in Sierra Leone and help out for a few months with his mission Paradise 4 Kids.
Fr Themi Adamopolous will be having his Annual ‘Africa Function’ on the 22nd of November, with more details to come as well as the official announcement.