NEW YORK – Fr. Themistocles Adamopoulos is a missionary of the Orthodox Church serving in Sierra Leone before, during, and after the Ebola outbreak. He is not going anywhere soon as he has a lot of work to do. He is currently in the United States, driven there by the only thing that could take him out of Africa, the need to raise funds for his latest big project: An Ebola orphanage.
“I would never have left but for that…there are children whose parents died of Ebola running around barefoot…We have a responsibility to the poor, the Ebola orphans…we can’t let them run around barefoot and being vulnerable to exploitation…I am the voice of those children.”
Fr. Themis, as he is known (one will likely only encounter his full title Very Rev. Dr. on the internet) helps first and asks questions later – but he will also make an appeal for funds for the children.
He was on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak.
“When the crisis hit, I did not know whether I would make it out or not. There was no international help. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) said in June 2014 that it was not such a bad situation.”
“We played an important part by handing out gloves and masks and other materials sent to me by my friends in Australia and America,” a prime example of how far even modest donations go in such places. A few early dollars can stop an epidemic its tracks.
On March 23, the U.S. branch of the organization that was created to support his efforts – it can be visited at paradise4kids.org – will hold a “Meet Fr. Themi” fundraiser at The Grove restaurant in Cedar Grove, NJ at 6:30 PM. Inquiries can be made at 973-650-9510.
March 27-28 he will be a featured speaker at the Archon’s Lenten Retreat at Kimisis of Southampton in Long Island.
When he arrived in America, authorities deemed him low risk, so he could travel freely but was required to report his temperature twice a day for 21 days through Mar. 18. To reassure people, Adamopoulos voluntarily also quarantined himself in an apartment for 15 days.
ATHEIST ROCK STAR TO ORTHODOX MISSIONARY
People are fascinated by dramatic changes in some people’s lives – rock star to Greek Orthodox missionary is as wide a gulf as one can imagine, but if one looks closely, common ground and streams connect the disparate aspects of their lives.
In his youth his love for humanity took the form of a passion for political and social justice. He became a Neo-Marxist and helped organize strikes. Now with the same missionary fervor he brought to workers in Australia, he brings his message of solidarity with the poor of the world to the middle class and the rich of America.
Adamopoulos was born in Alexandria. His family left Greece in the early 1900s to join the then-substantial Greek community in Egypt but left in the 1950’s when the Nasser regime turned against the Europeans. His parents settled in Melbourne, Australia and after first struggling, their education ensured a good life – though Adamopoulos experienced prejudice against the Hellenes that both fueled his strong sense of social justice and caused him to distance himself from his Greek and Orthodox heritage.
He became thoroughly Australian but the culture that conquered him was rock and roll after the advent of the Beatles, whose exploration of social and philosophical issues blew away youth like him raised on fun but vapid “boy meets girl” songs.
He dropped out of the prestigious University of Melbourne “to form what was eventually known as Australia’s first post-Beatle group,” The Flies. Their hits songs put him on TV and “people were camped outside my house to get a glimpse.” His younger sister sold possessions like his toothbrush as souvenirs.
He had a great run but thinking practically about his future, he returned to university. Adamopoulos laughed when reminded that successful people in other fields wish they were rock stars. “Yes, I got out of it to become a priest.”
But not right away. There was a long road with turns that caused his parents to worry. His sister remained an anchor in his life.
The nudges towards God came from unexpected directions. First, the Beatles took their spiritual turn and travelled to India. “Until then we never thought about religion. It was uncool,” he said. But he turned first to Buddhism and Hinduism.
An incident in an ashram shook him up. “I was wearing a cross – it was just a fashion statement,” but the guru told him to remove it. “I said, ‘why?’ Being a Greek, I was stubborn, and I said no.”
“That made something start to tick in my head,” Fr. Themi told TNH, and he began to think about the cross. The guru inadvertently gave it a value and meaning for him it had previously lacked.
“I got out of there and started considering things.” His promising career as a very young university lecturer was in jeopardy, compromised on the one hand by his abuse of marijuana and on the other by his students’ increasing annoyance over the expressions of his budding Christianity.
His parents and especially his sister would visit him in the wild group house in the bohemian section of Melbourne to rescue him. “They brought me pastichio, which was a part of my youth I would not give up, but I did not accept their invitation to return to what they would call normality.”
Eventually he did return to his parents because his peers rejected the new Christian among them.
He humbled himself by shifting from university to public school teaching, but he soon felt compelled to take the full path to Christ.
Adamopoulos sold all his possessions – his car, his beloved books – and put the money in an envelope marked “for the poor,” which he slipped under the door of the Greek Orthodox Church.
He was not part of the Church at the time, but he thought, “I am Greek, and there must be a reason God made me Greek… I must return to what God made me. For better or for worse, I must embrace that. I am Themistocles Adamopoulos, not Themi Adams.
He knew what he wanted, but the world didn’t know what to make of him and his new faith.
His first encounter with the Greek Church was not felicitous. When he told the priest of his fervor to learn about God, his reply was “Ach! Leave God where he is. Don’t get mixed up with that!”
Adamopoulos concluded, “This can’t be where God is, so he looked into the Presbyterians, Methodists and others. They embraced him, but he did not feel at home.
“I’m going to go back to the Greeks and preach the bible,” and share his new knowledge, but quickly “I realized the Orthodox Church had so much to offer, the mystical, monastic and spiritual side” that was either largely or wholly lacking in the other churches.
He finally found guidance from a humble but sympathetic priest and Archbishop Stylianos of Australia helped him to become focused and encouraged him to study theology. He attended Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, MA and then Harvard, Princeton and earned his PhD at Brown.
After mastering the most sophisticated theological thought, Adamopoulos felt he was missing something.
MOTHER THERESA SHATTERS ILLUSIONS
Then he saw a documentary about Mother Theresa, an experience that must be been similar to his first encounter with the Beatles. “I saw this elderly woman with no frills or show, no masks – just a basic human being taking care of other human beings, I said myself ‘Themistocle, this is what Christianity is.”
With Archbishop Stylianos’ blessing he went to the Patriarchate of Alexandria, which sent him to Kenya for several years. He then went to Sierra Leone.
“What I saw was such a dramatic collapse of a country. It needed serious help after civil wars, poverty,” so he decided that was the place to apply what he learned in Kenya, which was essentially “how to become their friend,” he said of the people he encountered.
“I had to start with nothing. Ex nihilo.” But Faith was a powerful foundation, and he realized, “The name of the game is to educate them. You don’t make them rely upon you.”
His team has built schools with nearly 2000 pupils and most importantly, a teachers college that multiplies their efforts and resources
“We have also built the St. Moses Orthodox village for the victims of the civil war, people who are disabled, amputees, polio sufferers and we provide for them…We want them to go back to the community to live a normal life so we train them and feed them,” he said.
In addition to churches where the people can have access to services and religion classes there is also a clinic and there a feeding program.
Adamopoulos was most passionate when he told TNH that despite the suffering the people in Greece are enduring, “they send us a lot of money…The American people should know that Greece is helping Africa. In Europe, they are probably the most generous donors to Africa.”
Two mission-oriented organizations have been especially supportive: Ierapostolikos Syndesmos “Agios Kosmas O Aitolos” (in Thessaloniki) and Adelfotita Exoterikis Ierapostolis Thessalonikis.
Source: The National Herald