Hello everyone! This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Kotsakis, a very talented freelance artist and founder of Artisticon, an art convention on the East Coast dedicated to helping young artists break into the industry! Chris specializes in all kinds of different art for advertising and has a very impressive client list on his website, chriskotsakis.com. Chris says his love of comic books played a huge part in his becoming an artist, as well as how he discovered my blog earlier this year!
In addition to being an accomplished artist and comic book fan, Chris is also a devout Orthodox Christian. Chris, his lovely wife Janet and beautiful son Dean faithfully attend Saint Thomas Greek Orthodox Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Chris and Janet were both kind enough to take the time to be interviewed, for which I thank them profusely. 🙂
We begin by asking the tried and true question of “How did you both meet?”
Chris: [Janet] was on the tail end of her trial [on Match.com] and wasn’t really going to continue it, and I was kind of at the same thing. I’m not really familiar with how Match is nowadays, but back then, ten years ago, you could wink at each other and you could send a picture. So I wound up sending my picture, and according to her…
Janet: I saw his picture and I had always told my friends and family I always look for a person with kindness and gentleness in their eyes, and intelligence as well, and I saw his picture and I said, “That is exactly what I’ve been talking about all this time and I’ve never seen before.” So you can say it was love at first sight or, “That’s the man I’m going to marry,” but it was a definite like, “That’s what I’ve been looking for all this time.”
I think we were serious within a month. I lived in Pennsylvania and he lived where we live right now in Cinnamanson [New Jersey]. I was in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, an hour away. We talked for two weeks before we met.
C: We adjourned from the online very quickly, like within a day, and just continued on the phone.
J: I think even that first initial conversation when he winked at me and we talked, I think I was at work. He called me the next day and I was at work the day before the holiday, and I sat there for two hours talking to him and everyone had gone! Everyone was let go before the holiday. I sat for two hours and spoke to him in an empty office, in the dark practically.
Our faith came out almost right away in that first conversation; that we believed in God and what our views were on how we felt about our faith. We went home and talked four more hours or something like that that night, and I had never met anybody that met the same things that I did in terms of faith!
One of the things you asked about is my conversion. One of the things we talk about frequently is how Protestant/Catholic/Orthodoxy is all part of the Christian faith, but I had never met anyone who had personally reflected that as much as Chris. And I had been on the earth for thirty-six years! It was special.
FN: Chris, I assume you grew up Orthodox (because you’re Greek)…?
C: Cradle Orthodox. Born into it and baptized. St. Thomas in Cherry Hill was opened in ’67, I was born in ’70, so I was probably one of the first twenty babies baptized there. I grew up in the faith. My mother and father were very involved in this community, they were one of the [founding families] of the parish. My mother was the parish secretary when the office was our dining room table that we’re sitting at right now!
FN: So amidst all this you were a good Greek boy, baptized, raised, etc. Were you always involved in your parish, was there ever a time you left and came back…? I mean, we all go through our trials and tribulations at different points in our life. How was it for you?
C: My mother was always involved whether she taught Sunday School, or for a while in Greek School, she was involved in doing church tours for the festival, the iconography and all that, the descriptions in the Agora (the four-day festival we had), she was involved in anything you could think of. Philoptochos [Ladies’ Philanthropy Group], anything that was truly giving to the faith, giving back to the church. Not because she was my mother, but anyone you met would tell you she had a very deep love of her faith.
I myself was always drawn to the icons, being an artist, and was always fascinated. I was fascinated by the smell of the incense, and all the sensory being a visual person. I think my mother instilled in me her knowledge, which I then went further on to study when I was on my own. I was studying, reading, learning through the YAL [Young Adult League] conventions. I was president of our YAL for years, I’ve been to several national conventions back when YAL was very flourishing in the late 80s/90s until the millennium. I met many bishops, many people who’ve become priests. It’s been an interesting journey. I contemplated the priesthood myself, but I felt the calling wasn’t so much there for that as it was in the other aspects of the church doing lay work. I’ve taught Sunday School, my mother and I co-taught a class for seventeen years before she passed called Tot and Me. It was from pregnancy to age 3, but it was an adult class on how to raise your child in an Orthodox home. There was a book by [Fr. Anthony] Coniaris we would teach the children how to do their cross from very little. You’d see from toddlers to age three, by the end of the year they would do their cross, kiss the icons, light a candle and all. They would do their coloring page while my mom and I would do an adult class for the parents. A lot of these parents were of mixed faiths and conversions. We not only had parents but had godparents, grandparents, sometimes we couldn’t even fit people in the class! She just hit such a chord with people.
J: She was brilliant. She could have been a college professor, she could have been anything she wanted to be, really.
C: And all of that with love.
J: But beyond that, she had a knowledge of the church, a history, the canons of the church, and all that. We were just talking about it the other day, she just had such a deep faith. She talked about her faith openly, she lived her faith, she made decisions based on her faith, it was just at the core of who she was. She was an excellent, excellent example for Chris.
It’s interesting you say that we all go through our trials. Most people would say I probably went through some questioning times in my life in my 20s and 30s but I never stopped going to church. My husband, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say you questioned your faith really in any way. I mean, you’ve had your moments…
C: Well, I had an illness in the late 90s. I had a condition that caused severe vertigo, and I was incapacitated for almost six to eight months. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t walk, I’d be hugging the walls, and I still deal with this, it’s a permanent issue. You’re dealing with severe anxiety, there’s depression because you’re dealing with the condition. Your brain goes on fight or flight because the adrenaline kicks in and the body does not get accustomed to it. That was probably my most trying part, and I would just lay my head down and say the Jesus Prayer [“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”] and lo and behold, things would pass. My wife has witnessed these attacks over the years and they can be pretty horrific.
J: I’ve never seen him blame God or question.
Part 2 next week!