By: Athina Vella – St. Andrew’s Church Randolph, NJ
Every year, the host church for the St. John Chrysostom National Oratorical Festival asks previous national finalists in the area to return as presenters to introduce the speakers. So, when my younger brother Niko (a three-time national Finalist and First place winner in 2009) and I were asked by the Festival organizers to participate this year in Port Washington, NY, we jumped at the opportunity. The Oratorical Festival had a significant impact on our teenage years and the trajectory of our professional career, but more importantly, Niko and I had so much fun traveling to the different festivals for what was almost a decade of our competitive years.
We traveled across (and under) the nearly 20-mile span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel to Annunciation Cathedral in Norfolk, VA. We boarded a steamboat ship on the Mississippi River to watch the engineering marvel of lock dams when we competed in Minneapolis, MN. We went horseback riding through the Rocky Mountains in Denver, CO. We visited the infamous Alcatraz Prison when we both took third place at the Holy Trinity Church in San Francisco, CA.
Aside from traveling, we’ve been blessed by the spiritual journey the Oratorical Festival has given us. We’ve been blessed by His Elder Eminence Archbishop Demetrios countless times. We’ve celebrated Divine Liturgy in beautiful churches all over our great country alongside communities of Orthodox Christians that welcome us with open arms. I still carry in my heart the messages delivered to me from previous competitors. I know not just the teachings, but the history of our great Faith because of this wonderful experience, the Oratorical Festival.
If you are considering participating in the Oratorical Festival at your church, do it. It’s the one thing in my life that I look back on and I’m so happy I did. Not only did it grow my confidence and empower me as a speaker, but it holds a special place in my heart as I look back on my teenage years. I have a much deeper understanding of faith, belief, God, and Saints because I stood in front of so many congregations articulating what I felt about my Orthodox Faith. It truly is a magical and blessed experience and I only hope the young speakers sitting in Sunday School classes can have the same opportunity as I did.