Mr. Bobby Maddex: Welcome to Ancient Faith Presents. I’m Bobby Maddex. You might recall that this past summer the Department of Missions and Evangelism of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese conducted what’s called an elevator speech contest, and in this contest the competitors were asked to write a 30-second-or-less explanation of what the Orthodox Church is. Well, today I am very pleased to have on the program Valerie Ann Zrake, the winner of that contest. Welcome, Valerie.
Ms. Valerie Ann Zrake: Hi. Thank you so much.
Mr. Maddex: Valerie, I want you to tell me a little bit about yourself. Are you a cradle Orthodox Christian? A convert? Where do you live and what parish do you attend?
Ms. Zrake: I am a cradle Orthodox Christian. I was born and raised into the faith. I attend St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Fr. Michael Elias is the priest there, and as I said I was born into the faith. My father was an altar boy, sang in the church choir. He and my mother met through a church organization. So it’s been my faith my whole life.
Mr. Maddex: So when you first heard about the contest, did you decide to enter right away? Tell me about that experience.
Ms. Zrake: Well, I was not familiar with the term “elevator speech,” but I was familiar with the term “pitch,” and I’ve been working on writing. I’ve written two manuscripts—you can’t call them books until they’ve been published, and they have not—which I’m reworking into a screenplay manuscript, so I guess that makes me an aspiring screenwriter. So I’m familiar with the term “pitch,” and once I saw “pitch,” I said, “Well, I can do that.” So I decided. I’ve recently returned… I’m living in Manhattan. I recently returned to Manhattan after the new year; I had been living in Brooklyn for many years. Since I’ve moved back to Manhattan I have not written a thing, and it’s a little upsetting, but when I saw the challenge to try and write an elevator speech, it gave me a specific writing goal and I took it on as that.
Mr. Maddex: Now do you have the winning entry right there with you?
Ms. Zrake: Yes, I do, Bobby.
Mr. Maddex: Would you mind reading it for us?
Ms. Zrake: No, I wouldn’t mind at all.
Orthodox Christianity is the authentic and original Christian faith founded by Jesus Christ. As an Orthodox Christian, you can experience heaven on earth through the Divine Liturgy which is mystical, spiritual, and beautiful with its incense, icons, and sacred music. You can transcend time and space while you meditate on the words and teachings of Jesus Christ. It’s the most pure form of Christianity, nothing artificial added. It’s the real deal.
Mr. Maddex: Very nice! So what did you win?
Ms. Zrake: It’s $100 for Conciliar Press, so I plan on purchasing the New and Old Testament Orthodox [Study Bible].
Mr. Maddex: Have you ever had to deliver an elevator speech? Have you ever been asked what the Orthodox Church is and then tried to explain it quickly?
Ms. Zrake: No, I had not. Since I won and mentioned this to two people, they were like: “Okay, go ahead,” and then I, you know, I did deliver it. I don’t know that I did it well, but I’m working on it. As a matter of fact, I wanted to add at the end of it: “Come and see” or “Check it out” or “You should come and check it out,” but I think I took the 30-second limit too literally, and I kept timing it out, and with what I read it was 30 seconds, but I think I would have liked to have added that, you know? Of course as a writer you’re always changing what you’ve written.
Mr. Maddex: You’ve already mentioned that you kind of approached the writing of this as a pitch, but how did you go about the writing process? How did you decide what to include and what not to include?
Ms. Zrake: Well, the specifications were to either discuss what it means to be an Orthodox Christian or what is Orthodox Christianity, and I decided to address both of those questions, so my first line discussed Orthodox Christianity and what it is and basic truth: It’s the original Christian faith founded by Jesus Christ.
And then the second question, what it means to be an Orthodox Christian, proved to be a bit more challenging. It kind of became a run-on sentence. There was so much I wanted to say, and I feel like I even missed the mark a bit on that. I failed to mention eternal life. So I wasn’t so happy with that sentence, but I let it stand. I was pleased with the third line about transcending time and space while meditating upon the words and teachings of Jesus Christ, because I think most people are familiar with the term “transcendental meditation.”
And then the last line, they had said make it sound like a popular commercial, so I liked the line, “It’s the real thing,” which was a popular phrase for Coca-Cola years ago. That’s where I came up with the line, “It’s the real deal, nothing artificial added.” I just broke it down like that. It was basically… They had suggested three or four lines, a sentence at the most, to keep it within the 30-second limit.
Mr. Maddex: Well, it really is a nice, complete, pithy statement there. So I’m wondering then: What advice do you have for those who are seeking to share the Orthodox faith with others?
Ms. Zrake: I think it is important—and, again, this contest got me to do this; I was not prepared before the contest with an elevator pitch or an elevator speech, but really I think it’s a great opportunity because people so often don’t know what it means, or if you say, “Greek Orthodox,” that doesn’t really tell anything. I hope they’ll run this contest year after year and give people more chances to come up with more and better more succinct ways of quickly conveying what Orthodox Christianity is or what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. I think it’s something that we all should have at the ready all the time, because it’s maybe not something asked often but for the chance that you’re asked, certainly you want to be able to explain it quickly and hopefully catch somebody’s interest and have them come and see or check it out.
Mr. Maddex: Here’s the real question then: Can we rip you off and use your elevator speech to share the Orthodox faith with others?
Ms. Zrake: Oh, absolutely. It would be my honor and pleasure.
Mr. Maddex: Well, Valerie, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today, and congratulations again.
Ms. Zrake: It’s my pleasure, you’re welcome, and I want to thank Howard Lang and the Department of Missions and Evangelism, John Maddex, Ancient Faith Radio, and you, Bobby Maddex, for this opportunity.
Mr. Maddex: Again, I have been speaking with Valerie Ann Zrake. She is the winner of the Elevator Speech Contest of the Department of Missions and Evangelism of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.