The Greek Orthodox Church in Australia is gradually seeing people showing interest in the Church of the first millennium. One such person is Father John Sullivan in Bunbury, Western Australia.
Fr John is a “down-to-earth working-class man” who worked as a police officer, a fuel tank driver, and numerous roles in public service. He lives in Bunbury, 168km South of Perth, with his wife, Presbytera (De)Anna, and was introduced to Orthodoxy in 2011.
Fr John is unique in this part of the history of the Greek Orthodox Church in Western Australia (WA). Not only is he a ‘convert’ to the faith, but he is the first to be ordained in WA as a Deacon, by His Eminence Archbishop Makarios pf Australia, and a Priest, by His Grace Bishop Elpidios of Kyanea in 2020. Fr John has been appointed as parish priest to the Church of Saint Nicholas in Bunbury, and his duties extend southward to Prevelly and Albany.
Fr John points out that he may be the first non-Greek to be ordained in Western Australia, but he won’t be the last “as there are many who are interested in the Orthodox Church”.
Fr John and Presbytera (De)Anna’s road to Orthodoxy was an interesting journey involving various steps in different directions. Fr John has an Irish Catholic ancestry and Presbytera (De)Anna is a Dutch migrant with a Protestant ancestry. Fr John attended a Pentecostal church in his youth before he and (De)Anna married in 1987 and went on to have two sons and a daughter by 1992.
The year 2011 was an eventful year with the death of Fr John’s Roman Catholic maternal grandmother, whom he had a close spiritual connection with. Her death impelled him to start on a journey seeking the truth about Christianity. He wanted to discover what happened to the early Church. It was in this period that he read the book “The Way of a Pilgrim”; a classic 19th Century autobiography of an anonymous Russian Orthodox author who discovered continuous prayer (c.f. 1Thess 5:17). It was during this time that he realised Orthodoxy is the hidden gem he had been searching for and is the true way of Christianity.
Fr John then visited the St Nicholas Orthodox Church in Bunbury. This was a bold step for someone who could not understand Biblical Greek. Nonetheless, he persisted and was eventually invited to join in with the church chanting. He felt he had finally found his spiritual home, but his wife was not yet ready to accept his personal decision for herself.
Things were in a hiatus for a while, until Fr John realised the relevance of the 1980s true story “Eleni” by Nicholas Gage set in Lia in Greece, which is a true story on the sorrowful events during the Civil War. (De)Anna had told Fr John the story years ago as she had been so deeply stirred by the unwavering faith displayed in this true story, firstly, as a teenager and again when she was pregnant with their daughter. This time Fr John was so impacted by the story that he sought out the author Nicholas Gage and arranged a trip to Lia, Greece and a personal meeting with the author for (De)Anna. It wasn’t until she made the pilgrimage to Lia and met with the author Nicholas Gage that (De)Anna finally began to understand the truth of Orthodoxy. The stories Nick shared had such an effect on her, to the extent she chose to be baptised Orthodox in a beautiful mountain stream close to Lia in Greece during 2017.
Fr John explains, “Both our personal journeys to find the truth of what became of the Original Apostolic Church led us to Holy Orthodoxy and has changed each of our lives dramatically in ways we can’t put into words. Even though we are the same people, John and Deanna, we feel that our lives have, and continue to, transform as we continue on our lifelong journey together. The Orthodox faith keeps on guiding us and giving us a deeper relationship with Christ. We have discovered that the truth we have been looking for all these years isn’t a belief or set of principles to live by; the Truth is Jesus Christ, the God-Man, the Word, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity. Orthodoxy has given us a safe harbour, and to live our lives with a sense of wholeness. Orthodoxy is the fullness of the faith, even though we have been Christians most of our lives, loving God the best way we knew at the time. We both always felt something was missing; there was a void inside that nothing could fill. The fullness and depth of the true faith has filled this void. I know our journey is not complete. We have begun the journey of a lifetime, but now, we are finally walking a solid path with the sober wisdom of this Holy Church to guide us and shelter us. The future is exciting, and our mission in life is to share the truth of the Orthodox Christian Faith with the Southwest Region of Western Australia and beyond. We know now that we are finally home”.