Over fifty years ago, a band from Melbourne, Australia called “The Flies,” won a competition for the band who sounded “the most like ‘The Beatles.’” The bassist of this band was a young Greek Australian, then named Themi Adams. Today, Themi Adams is better known as Father Themi Adamopoulo, a Greek Orthodox missionary priest in Freetown, Sierra Leon. The transition from Rock star to Greek Orthodox Mission Priest has captured the hearts of many, but Father’s work stems well-beyond his rock star past. Sierra Leon is one of the poorest countries in the world and Father Themi has been there serving its people through many of its hard times including the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
In this interview (click here for the video interview), Australian-based, ABC’s “One Plus One,” touches upon a bit of Father Themi’s life history and the way he navigated the world into the Orthodox priesthood. When he was a boy in Egypt, his Egyptian Greek parents found that, because of the changing political climate with relation to Europeans in Egypt, the only hope for the future of their family would be to leave Egypt for Australia. Father Themi still remembers the thirty-day long voyage to Australia on the big ship called the “Himalaya.”
In the beginning of their life in Australia, it was a great struggle for the Adamopoulo family. Father Themi’s parents went from a somewhat aristocratic life in Alexandria to working in Australian factories just for the hope of their children’s future. In addition to their financial struggles, they experienced some of Australia’s racism and an anti-Southern European attitude. This affected Father Themi’s racial perception as a young child and made him very conscious of this. For Father Themi, the best way around this racism was to use the talents he had, playing Australian rules football, speaking French, and later playing bass in the rock band. This experience with racism would later shape his proactive attitude towards encountering other cultures in the mission field.
Father Themi attributes the musical success of his band “The Flies,” to being in the “right age group, with the right music, at the right time.” He remembers the success of the band and the various times when they played and partied with “The Rolling Stones” and other large groups at the height of his Atheist, pre-Christian days. The band did not last long for Father Themi, though. He saw it all as temporary, so he dropped out and returned to his studies, in which he had already attained a university degree in commerce and business. However, this former area of study in commerce no longer interested him after he left the band, and he began to explore other avenues including politics and the Marxist movement of the time.
Then, prompted by the spiritual exploration of “The Beatles,” Father Themi began to explore the Maharishi realm. He found a guru in the area where he lived in Australia and began to practice meditations and other practices. Father Themi remembers one particular time he wore a cross into the meditation room; his cross was merely a fashion statement at the time “like Led Zeppelin or something,” and the guru became very upset and troubled at the sight of the cross. The contradiction of this guru’s upset response to the cross made Father Themi begin to think, and this “thinking” in combination with mystical experiences of Christ were, according to Father Themi, the beginning of his conversion.
When Father Themi began to pursue the Greek Orthodox priesthood, he was well-studied and well-versed in the language of Orthodoxy, but he felt he was missing something. He remembers looking at the life of Mother Theresa and all her accomplishments, and he realized this was the sort of work he would find most fulfilling. Being that Father Themi came from Africa, one of the most impoverished continents in the world. He felt this was the place to return to and commit his efforts to his homeland. Father Themi spent many years working in the mission fields of Kenya, but the call to Sierra Leone came into his heart. Father Themi thought to himself, “where would Mother Theresa go right now? -Sierra Leone.” He then wrote to the Patriarch of Alexandria to have his missionary location changed to Sierra Leone and his request was granted. Father Themi’s work was under the Patriarchate of Alexandria and his funding was coming from his foundation Paradise4kids.org. Now, Father Themi receives support from many places like Greece, America, and Australia.
When Father Themi arrived at Sierra Leon, the scene was very terrible and the violence was overwhelming. People were being mutilated and massacred everywhere. Father Themi says, “You really have to rub your eyes to make sure it’s real.” When you go from a place like Australia who has good life and you enter into the struggles and horror of a country like Sierra Leone, he says,
It is really like you are living in two different worlds, when you go from one place to the other.
He says it just makes you feel so bad and all you can think is, “How can I help?” So, Father Themi’s mission has built shelters for those with polio and children with amputated limbs. They give them food and money.
During the Ebola crisis, it was very scary that people went begging for money in this epidemic. So, they gave them even more money so they would not beg. What connected Father Themi with the people of Sierra Leone was not their demographics, as he is educated and white, both of which he calls privileges. In fact, Father Themi feels he came from many privileges that separated him from the people of Sierra Leone, but it was his own disability that helped him connect with the people of Sierra Leone.
Father Themi, is visually impaired, and almost blind. When he was young and in his rock and roll days, he was out on a walk with a friend in a park in Melbourne and he was jumped by a group of young men. He said back then things like this could happen, because he had long hair and belonged to a different “group” than the clean cut young men who jumped him. This assault left him with hardly any sight from the blows to the head. He remembered one eye was gone almost immediately after and the other began to follow.
In spite of his physical impairment of lacking sight, Father Themi’s vision seems boundless. And again it seems that this example of racism and cultural hatred only deepened his love and his faith in the end. Father Themi’s work in Sierra Leone is truly a miracle of God. He has shown countless acts of almsgiving and mercy to the people of Sierra Leone, and he continues to grow his mission.
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