Martin Ritsi is a Greek Orthodox priest. But he's never been one to commune with God solely behind sanctuary walls.
Instead, he'd rather commune with God through adventures that connect him to the world the creator made.
That's one reason Ritsi, who lives on St. Augustine Beach and is executive director of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center, surfs. He even kite surfs - which is a more challenging way to ride the waves.
But that's not all.
Ritsi has also made four-hour rides into the Kenyan desert, in 108-degree temperatures. He also hikes - and was recently in the midst of freeze-drying peas, strawberries, apples and beef for a 200-mile trek this summer into the Sierra Mountains in California. He's doing this to raise $100,000 to help the Turkana, a Kenyan tribe, build a well.
But while Ritsi's adventurousness might seem unusual to people used to seeing priests in pulpits, in reality, surfing and hiking fit right in with who he is - spiritually and otherwise.
"There's a real peaceful side to surfing, which puts you in touch with the world and nature," he said. "So you get out in the water, and with the sun coming up you see the birds diving, you feel the wind coming up ... because you're surfing on the water, you place yourself more in tune with your surroundings ..."
It took Ritsi a while to get in tune with God, though.
Now 51, Ritsi grew up in San Clemente, Calif., a place where surfing was popular. His father was an aeronautic engineer, and his mother owned a needlepoint shop. But his middle-class upbringing didn't deter him from taking a radical route in high school when, after reading Ayn Rand's book "The Fountainhead," he declared himself an atheist.
"I believed that religion was being used to control you, and if you use your mind, you'd understand that religion is about controlling your mind," Ritsi said. "As a young man searching for truth, I bought into that."
However, Ritsi said, he began to change once he entered college. He decided that, to be respectful to his mind, he had to allow for the possibility of God's existence. It was then, he said, when he moved from being an atheist to becoming an agnostic.
"I continued searching," Ritsi said. "Finally, I came to look around, and see a spiritual realm around us that's active, that touches us, and people who are trying in their life to get in communion with that ... so I started on a religion search."
That led Ritsi to Christianity, and ultimately to the Greek Orthodox Church. But not before some more adventures along the way.
After Ritsi graduated from the University of California Santa Cruz with a psychology degree, he was still searching for spirituality. So he hitchhiked to Alaska and worked in a cannery and on a fishing boat to make money so he could travel.
Ritsi said he wanted to travel because if he was going to go into psychology, he wanted to be able to help people - and one way to help people was to be able to look at the world differently.
But as Ritsi was raising $3,000 to go to Latin America, his brother-in-law challenged and inspired him to become a Christian. He also had applied to the Peace Corps, and a priest had urged him to apply for the seminary.
"On the same week, my acceptance came from the Peace Corps, my bank account hit $3,000, and I was accepted into the seminary," Ritsi said.
Ritsi chose the seminary. And he chose the Greek Orthodox religion because the mission work at its core complements his adventurousness and his continuous search for God in everything.
Among other things, Ritsi did mission work in Albania in the early 1990s, after its communist government fell and a financial panic led to instability.
"The police had disappeared, and there was anarchy," Ritsi said. "I remember trying to do a priest retreat, and there were people out there with machine guns, and they were firing them off ... but as a missionary, you have to be ready to risk your life."
Yet Ritsi, who moved to St. Augustine in 1998 with his wife and son and daughter, has a special affinity for Kenya. That can be seen in the pictures and the artwork adorning the walls of his home - and in a Kikuyu greeting posted atop the doorway that means "God Bless This Home."
"It [Kenya] was the first place I visited [as a missionary]," Ritsi said. "I loved the vibrancy of the people there, the spirit of the people. After going to church in Africa, you come back here and the churches seem dead.
"Also there's a great thirst and a great need."
It also takes someone like Ritsi, someone drawn to extreme challenges, to do missionary work. The Sierra hike, for example, will take Ritsi to heights of more than 10,000 feet and over rivers and glaciers.
With no trails.
"I'm doing this to make a difference in helping people who have to walk 23 miles for water, round trip," he said.
The fact that Ritsi would take on adventures such as kite surfing and mountain backpacking doesn't surprise Don Cox - a college friend who will be joining him for part of the trip.
"We did camping and backpacking back in college," Cox said. "He's never taken a cushy job with the parish ... he's always pushed the envelope."
Said Ritsi: "Maybe that separates me from a number of people ... often I'm on the edge, and I think it's that way in my faith, in my religion, and with what I do with my religion, and it also spills over into my hobbles as well.
"And they're not incongruous. They actually go together."