Denne Cruz shared his incredible journey through life, from being homeless in Kentucky, USA, to becoming a Greek Orthodox Christian in Australia, at the 2020 Youth Assemble held at St Euphemia College, Bankstown.
Denne Cruz has previously told his life story on the SBS show ‘Insight’, and has decided since then to communicate his journey to the Greek Orthodox youth, as invited by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Australia.
“When I was asked to speak here today, I felt proud and hopeful… I thought I was helping add a bit of flavour to the church,” said Cruz at the Youth Assemble.
A difficult childhood
Denne Cruz was raised in Kentucky, USA, in an abusive home for most of his childhood, leaving home at an early age. Until 16 he spent stages of his life homeless, moving from house to house and providing for himself as best he could. He would have breakfast and lunch supplied by the school and would often stay back after sports sessions to use the facilities before going to find a home to sleep in for the night.
At 16, his school found out he was homeless and was provided a massive amount of love and support by the school and foster parent, who was a Christian pastor. Cruz went on to study at university while playing college basketball, graduating with a degree in social science in 1990. He came to Sydney, Australia, shortly after to finish the final requirements for his political science degree he was undertaking, taking part in representative basketball. He also worked for The Wesley Central Mission program ‘Street Wise’, which assisted youth who lived on the street.
In his twenties and thirties, he went through a period of his life which he referred to as the ‘dark time’, going into rehab and struggling to find a sense of meaning in his life.
Becoming a Greek
In April 2001, he was in Sydney celebrating an event with friends, surrounded by decorative Greek columns and Greek decor, and met what would be his future wife, Marianna.
“Dating a Greek girl, po po po…. when dating a Greek girl, your dating not just her, but her Greek family, Greek society, and the Greek church,” Cruz says.
Struggling to fit in with her Greek family, he was labelled “mavri,” yet says although he saw it differently at the time, now he has come to accept the term.
“I am a mavri, I’m a Greek mavri, I’ve learned that the term isn’t used as a derogatory comment but rather just to state who I am.”
Cruz decided that to show is full commitment to his girlfriend and their Greek family, he would be baptised in the Greek Orthodox faith.
“Through baptism, I felt attached to Christ, but importantly to my family,” Cruz stated.
Acceptance did not come so easily however for Cruz. As he prepared for his first Easter, he went to Parramatta church to receive oil, yet was turned away at the door due to the priest not believing he was Orthodox.
“I felt sad and I felt ashamed… I went to my priest Father John Daskalakis, and told him what had happened. And he told me, ‘the Greek Orthodox Church includes everyone.'”
After many years however, Cruz finally felt as though he was part of a community.
“They completely accepted me into the Greek community and I was proud to be apart of this community,” Cruz stated.
Cruz went on to marry his girlfriend Marianna in the Greek Orthodox Church, singing ‘S’ agapo’ in Greek.
“My pethera came up after I was done and kissed me on the cheek. First time she’d ever done that. You can see just the shock on my face,” Cruz says with the assistance of a video.
Cruz went on two have two kids with his wife and settling down feeling connected within the Greek community.
Destined from a child
Cruz revealed that when he was little, he fell in love with Greek history, particularly Greek literature.
“I used to love Greek literature. When I was a teenager someone showed me Homer and I read the Iliad and all the other books. I fell in love with culture…. I always thought Achilles was cool,” Cruz revealed at the Assemble.
During a Q and A session at the 2020 Assemble where Cruz gave his speech, Greek Herald writer Peter Oglos asked him if he thought that pre-existing love for Greek culture was a sign of his future life.
“When I met my Helen of Troy (wife Marianna), I embraced the Greek culture, but I always felt connected. I was constantly attached to it as a child… I feel like God leaves little breadcrumbs to show your future,” Cruz replied.
Denne Cruz was thankful to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese for inviting him to speak at the event, receiving a substantial applause at the end of his talk session.