Thomaida Hudanish

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Thomaida Hudanish is our Woman of the Week, nominated for her work with Beauty First Films, which has not only produced a film–Ampilochios, Saint of Patmos–but also publishes the ideal Orthodox calendar for home use.  You see her here conducting an interview in Jerusalem and with friends at midsummer last year. We asked her to tell you how she got from where she started to screening films around the country:

“I’m always going to be involved in supporting and building up the Church— whether it's my paid position or just in my lifestyle and the way I support my parish. I worked for 17+ years in church ministry. Right now I work for a conservation nonprofit in Portland, Oregon. The year before that, I was working for a local farm. Meanwhile, over the last five years, I've been on this journey of filmmaking. It's been an interesting path, and it's still evolving. 

“I'm always amazed at how family context really influences and informs our paths in beautiful ways. My parents and my siblings are all internationally minded, service-minded, naturally curious, adventurous, and faithful, and each has a splash of artistic talent. It's really no surprise that, given my environment, those things have all become a part of my life and my path.

“During college, I had the opportunity to visit Greece for three months, including a trip to Romania. During this time I visited monasteries, venerated relics, took an iconography class, and met many beautiful people. The whole experience gave me a better understanding of the Orthodox immigrants whom I worshiped with in the US. I decided when I came back that I wanted to spend more time in an Orthodox country. Since I already had studied Russian in high school and college, I switched my major to Russian, which allowed me to continue exploring history, art, economics, and linguistics, while also studying abroad in Vladimir, Russia. This allowed me to continue to visit holy places.

“Shortly after college, I started working as a parish administrator at a newly established parish in the Portland area, St. John the Baptist. I worked there for eight years and had an incredible mentor in Fr. Theodore Dorrance. My work involved recruiting and training volunteers, writing and editing, helping prepare people for sacraments, facility management, and more. I also learned some chanting by attending daily prayers before the workday began. I was blessed to witness people generously offering their time and talents to the church, in ways both seen and unseen. 

“When people are thinking about serving nationally or at a parish, I often tell them parish ministry is where “the magic happens.” It’s where people who have been away for years, and others who have read about Orthodoxy, wander in, thirsty to encounter God. You get to minister to the people every day directly. Those years were so formative—the best training ground for anything that has happened since. 

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“After those eight years, I wanted to learn more about the Church in an international context, to understand where I might best use my talents. I embarked on my own extended international mission pilgrimage. I volunteered at the Orthodox orphanage near Kolkata with Sister Nektaria. Then I went to Palestine, or the West Bank, and worked at an Orthodox school that has been there 70+ years. I returned home via a little bit more pilgrimage in Western Europe. 

“Next I spent eight years working for the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco in the Ministry of Missions and Evangelism. This role allowed me to support clergy and parish leadership, helping them think through how we can be more accessible to church newcomers. We're all receiving visitors: Are we aware of them? How can we improve our hospitality? How can we make ourselves more visible in the community? With these goals, I traveled up and down the West Coast within our Metropolis and also got to be a part of some national events focused on evangelism.”


Our Woman of the Week is Thomaida Hudanish, nominated for her work with Beauty First Films. You see her here with a proof of last year's calendar and at a screening of  her film Amphilochios, with fellow-producer Tim Patitsas. We asked her to tell you more about her journey to becoming a filmmaker (and calendar producer):

“While I was working as the Director of Missions & Evangelism for the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco, I got to know two critical people: Dr. Timothy Patitsas, a professor and author at Hellenic College Holy Cross in Boston, and Danica Sheean, a film producer who attends my parish. The three of us began talking about creating Orthodox films, especially around the theme of pilgrimage. These conversations were the genesis of what would become Beauty First Films, incorporated as a non-profit in March of 2019. 

“Initially we wanted to choose a quick and simple project that would give us the opportunity to learn how to make a film; I was envisioning something filmed over a weekend, close to home. Then we started pursuing a project in Jerusalem where both Dr Tim and I have several contacts.  It just so happened that a saint to whom Dr Tim had a personal devotion, St. Amphilochios Makris, had just been canonized a few months prior. So we decided to form a crew, rent equipment, travel to Patmos, and film his very first feast day on April 16, 2019. While there we would interview two of his spiritual children, as well as locals and pilgrims who expected to gather for the feast day. Then, because we were “nearby” and the timing was right, we would fly the crew to Jerusalem and film a second film revolving around Orthodox Holy Week. 

“With God’s help and the generosity of some visionary individuals, we pulled a crew of six people and a budget together in less than a month. We filmed our first documentary over four days on Patmos and then flew to Jerusalem to film for twelve days. We learned many lessons, and God blessed our trip and opened doors we could never have imagined. 

“Back at home, we were talking with other filmmakers and learning from them. Our production budget had been covered, but we knew we wanted to get more people involved and do a Kickstarter for post-production. And that led to designing the Calendar of Liturgical Seasons. 

“I had always wanted to design an Orthodox wall calendar that included the feasts and fasts and featured images, other than icons—between parish life, feast days, and celebrations, there's so much beauty in the practice of our faith. Dr. Tim liked the idea too. He said, “Great idea, but can we just not do months?” He explained that, as a professor, he had his students for 10 or 15 weeks, and found the months arbitrary when planning for the whole semester. “I feel like it's the same as an Orthodox Christian,” he said. “We're flipping all these pages when we just need to see Great Lent spread out. Let’s lay it out according to the liturgical seasons.” 

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“I was sympathetic, but uncertain I could make it work. For one, a piece of paper is only so big and the seasons vary in length. Secondly, Great Lent and the Nativity Fast are clear seasons, but the parts in between are less obvious. I opened my computer to try a few things, and within fifteen minutes, it started to come together right before my eyes. Making the calendar has turned into an incredible, life-giving project. I love the experience of getting it from the printer, holding it in my hands, and then putting it in the mail to somebody who is just as excited about the concept. And by God's grace, sales from the calendar have helped fund our other Beauty First work. I'm so grateful to everybody who purchases it and shares the Calendar of Liturgical Seasons. Every year it reaches new people and we have an increasingly international customer base too, with lots of potential for growth. This project has also given me the opportunity to do more research about pilgrimage and our sacred heritage in places as diverse as Scandinavia, the Balkans, Alaska, Ireland, and the UK. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work.

“When we finished Amphilochios, Saint of Patmos in August 2023, we immediately entered it into several film festivals. Then we started doing US screenings in January. We don't have a distribution contract, so it’s all very grassroots. Individuals and parishes are reaching out, asking to screen it. In many cities, these screenings become beautiful pan-Orthodox events at a local theater. Whenever possible, either Dr Tim or myself tries to attend to speak about the saint, Patmos, the importance of pilgrimage, and tell stories about the behind-the-scenes process of making the film. 

“Working on Beauty First Films, I've met so many talented Orthodox filmmakers, so a part of our vision is to help this network grow and connect with people who want to see beautiful, life-giving content that points, ultimately, to Christ. The films may be narrative or documentary, educational, or just a beautiful piece of art. For us at Beauty First Films we still need to finish our next film, about pilgrimage and Holy Week in Jerusalem. In order to make that happen, we are now focused on fundraising and finding a way to invest more time in developing the nonprofit. We have lots of ideas for similarly inspiring projects. 

“Pilgrimage has played a big role in my life and I want to share that with others. The mission of Beauty First Films is to take the audience to a place of awe, beauty, and holiness. Our goal is that after watching our films, people will both feel that they’ve been on a pilgrimage and also be inspired to go themselves. Pilgrimage can be especially meaningful for young people who long to take ownership of their faith. Sometimes our context in the US is too small, and we really benefit by seeing our faith in its worldwide and historical context.”

As always, we asked our Woman of the Week, Thomaida Hudanish, to tell you about her morning routine:. You see her here at the Evangelismos monastery with Jennifer Rich and taking photo with a young friend. She is also sharing her prayer corner with you:

“I always look forward to Axia’s morning routine pieces! My morning routine continues to evolve, and I’ve learned some new things that have made it better in recent years. For example, although I used to aspire to rising from sleep and standing immediately for prayer, once I discovered that I tend to have low blood pressure, I realized I needed to take a more incremental approach. Similarly, after reading my friend Jennifer Anna Rich’s book, Prayer Spa, (and reading other Axia morning routines!) I started making a cup of tea to help me wake up, warm up my voice, and take to my prayers. 


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“These days I think about my morning in blocks. The first part involves making a cup of tea and while it’s brewing, watering plants or putting away some dishes. Then prayers, and if I’ve given myself time, spiritual reading. I also try to write morning pages, as described by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way. A few mornings a week I do a brief online workout. The last block is to shower, eat, and get out the door to work. Truthfully, I’m always trying to fit more in and often running behind.

“The real surprise of this season is finding more flexibility in the mornings than the evenings. But I am enjoying this season of front-loading my day with the things that set me up for success both spiritually and physically.

Thank you, Thomaida!

You can watch the trailer for AMPHILOCHIOS: SAINT OF PATMOS, and find plans for the 2025 Calendar of Liturgical Seasons at: Subscribe to the Beauty First Films e-newsletter to keep up with screening dates, calendar release, and more. 


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