Try to imagine a bearded young man of great stature, six foot seven inches tall with a large smile, standing in front of his church in the middle of Thessaloniki’s most dangerous street, greeting all who went by with giant outstretched hands. This young man is Father Athenagoras, and he ministers to Deudropotamos, a gypsy neighborhood, and one riddled with drugs, human trafficking, hunger, theft, homelessness, and many other sufferings. As a child, Father Athenagoras wanted to be a missionary priest in Africa, and even serve liturgy in the middle of the jungle. He wanted to hang icons of Christ and Panagia on two trees, preparing the Eucharist between them, and needing only the basics to be a servant in these remote places. After Father Athenagoras was ordained at the age of 25, he told his Metropolitan that he wanted to serve in Africa, but the Metropolitan told him they had their own type of Africa in Thessaloniki .
The Metropolitan was referring to the neighborhood of Deudropotamos. This neighborhood is right inside the western entrance to Thessaloniki, a place that many people usually haven’t heard of or seen. Police hardly even go there and when they do it usually results in more parentless children. There was once no school for the children, nor a local hospital or other place that would admit and treat the gypsies. Often these people went without food, and lived in squalor on the streets, a place so very similar to Africa that Father Athenagoras says, “I found my Africa.” So, as Father approached this neighborhood, out in the streets some 11 years ago, many of the people he would converse with and invite into the church were about the same age as him. Those same people now regularly attend and Father has done a wonderful job helping any and everyone in this community.
The story in Deudropotamos is really about the children, though, and the great strides their Father has made…..
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