In my adolescence, I wasn’t the most popular; as a matter of fact, I wasn’t really connected to anyone outside my family. I was raised in a large Greek family, but alienated by distance from a community of Orthodox Christians. This distance enabled me to grow distant from Christ, and for a moment, I didn’t think about Him at all.
I was the girl who got into college and immediately ran toward finding a group of people who would help her be someone new. And you know what, it happened! And, it felt really good for a long time, but eventually left me feeling empty.
After a brief period of feeling sorry about my emptiness, something amazing happened – I rebuked my sadness and gave myself a second chance. I was determined to find my true group, the one I was searching for this whole time. I spent more time with my family. I studied more. I invited friends for coffee. I started listening to people when they talked to me. Then, the most pivotal point, I joined Christ again. I made the active choice to be an Orthodox Christian that day and every day after. In talking to people about my struggles, I realized they struggled, too. Up to this point, I imagined my faith was a secret and personal part of myself that I shouldn’t be quick to express. When I allowed myself to connect with people of faith, I found its true beauty. I realized it should be expressed. Each time I went to church, I met a new person. I started branching out, meeting other Orthodox youth in the area, in the Southeast and eventually throughout the nation, thanks to the Orthodox Christian Fellowship. In doing that, I was able to start loving myself, my fellow man, and my Lord more than I ever thought possible. This realization culminated at a conference not unlike Connect when I realized the growth that had occurred within me. In that moment, I realized the true meaning of family in faith. Surrounded by new and old friends, I knew these people, my brothers and sisters in Christ, had always been my family, and they always would be.
Here I am, nearly three years later, happily participating in Connect Conference and surrounded by the resplendent joy of having an amazing community of Orthodox friends to fall back on, and a strong relationship with Christ. The not-so-small act of joining Christ got me more than I’d ever imagined.
-Athena Vlamis, Grassroots Outreach Co-Chair