Father Themi Adamopoulos has led a fascinating life, leading him to find God and his calling to be a missionary priest in Africa.
Meet Father Themi
Born Themistocles Anthony Adamopoulos in 1945 to Greek parents in Alexandria, Egypt, Father Themi and his family migrated to Australia in 1957, joining the mass exodus of Greeks from Egypt, as they weren’t “made to feel welcome”. Among the first big wave of immigrants to Melbourne, his parents felt they must assimilate. As professionals — his mother was a teacher, his father a chemist — they were accepted fairly quickly.
“Initially, my parents were laborers. Eventually they were recognized for their credentials, and we moved to a middle class life within Australian culture. It was difficult for us to identify completely Greek, and easier to swing toward the Anglo ways; there was more acceptance. The immigrants that were coming from Greece at the time were uneducated laborers. We didn’t have a lot in common. I basically turned my back on my Greek culture, until my conversion.”
Atheism takes hold
Though baptized Greek Orthodox, growing up, Father Themi had no connection to the Church. As a teenager, he said he felt he didn’t have time for church.
“I didn’t find it attractive. I didn’t believe in God. I thought that churchgoers were misguided, and that they didn’t understand reality.”
During the Vietnam War era, a counterculture swept the youth. Father Themi said that youth of his generation rejected middle class values, and worked toward a revolution. This was pop culture in that era.
“Atheism was part of the dominant youth culture at the time. We believed that the capitalist society was exploiting the poor. In the youth discourse, the aim was revolution to bring about the fall of capitalism, so the worker could take power. That was the utopia. This is what I was part of while at university. Marxism states that religion is the enemy of the people; that it’s a drug given to make people fall asleep, while the middle class and the rich exploit you. We were fighting against this.”
In keeping with this rebellion, taking the name Themi Adams, he joined a rock band, playing bass for The Flies.
“We imitated the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Kinks, The Yardbirds. It was all part of our rebellion against middle class values.”
The Tides Turn
One day, John Lennon and George Harrison began talking about transcendental meditation, and things began to change.
“We were caught by surprise. We didn’t expect religion to be part of the agenda. When John Lennon spoke about it, we took it seriously. About that time, I started to think, maybe we can mix in some aspect of religion. Mahatma Gandhi and other great thinkers were inspired by Jesus. He brought down British Colonial power in India based on the Sermon on the Mount. This also influenced Martin Luther King’s passive resistance.”
Incorporating religion into the Marxist movement was an interesting revelation. This led to several experiences, all leading young Themi to God.
Coming Back to Orthodoxy
Now about 22, young Themi wondered which religion was right for him. He explored Hinduism, spent time with Hare Krishnas, and meditated with an Indian guru.
“Unexpectedly, I had some mystical experiences, where I was touched by Christ. This was the last thing I expected. I then realized that Christ was the answer. That was the reality I was seeking, and I couldn’t find it in Marxism or Eastern religions.”
With this important realization, he read the Bible for the first time, and began searching for a church. He went to a Presbyterian church, and then began to ponder why he was born Greek and baptized Orthodox. Was it God’s plan?
“I struggled with it. I thought why would God want me to be Presbyterian if I was baptized Greek Orthodox? So I went to see a Greek priest. He didn’t speak much English; I didn’t speak much Greek. Somehow we communicated, and I became accustomed to the Greek Orthodox Church.”
Father Themi began to teach Sunday School, and formed youth groups. As a former member of the counterculture, he understood the problems of youth. He put his experience to work, and was able to bring many young people back into the Church.
“We need to have Jesus before we can become Orthodox. That’s how we approached it, and that’s how they related. They came back.”
Becoming a priest
Father Themi went on to study theology and New Testament at the Catholic Theological College in Melbourne. and then to Hellenic College/Holy Cross in Boston. He later studied at Princeton University, then pursued a PhD at Brown University. Halfway through his PhD program, he said he was called to become a monk.
Back in Australia, he taught at a Greek Orthodox seminary in Sydney. Learning about the extraordinary work of Mother Theresa, he realized that helping the poor was much more important than what he was doing.
“I then got the calling to work among the poor. Africa made sense, since I was born there. With the blessings of the Church, I went back.”
Assigned by the Patriarch to Kenya, he worked in Nairobi for 7 years. Seeing Sierra Leone ravaged by war, and the incredible human pain and suffering, he decided to move there to continue his mission.
In 2007, Father Themi arrived in Sierra Leone. He found a community suffering due to a long and bloody civil war; some lost arms or legs for refusing to submit to the rebel forces. He found people living in the streets, begging for food. Father Themi soon realized that education, medical care, nourishment, and getting people on their feet were top priorities. Since that time, two schools have been established, providing educational opportunities to 2000 students. A clinic was created, as well as a compound to house and assist people who’ve lost limbs or suffered from polio– they live with free accommodations, as well as a stipend. They also provide meals to school children. Churches have been built, and many have converted to Orthodoxy. All this has been made possible by the generous supporters of Paradise4Kids in America, Australia, Greece, and around the world.
Paradise4Kids (P4K) is a US-based non-profit organization that supports Father Themi’s efforts in Sierra Leone.
“Rev. Themi is an Orthodox Monk, a man of God who sold everything he had, gave it to the poor and followed Jesus into a world of poverty, affliction and oppression; a world of widows, orphans and the disabled; a world of the hungry, the sick, those in jail and those forgotten. He brings the compassion, love, understanding, patience and the characteristics of Christ.
Not just part time, but full time; not from luxury surroundings, but living in the same conditions as his flock; he brings uncompromising Faith in Jesus Christ, justice for the poor and compassion to anyone of any color and any faith without judging and without exception; never stopping, never on vacation or holidaying, but always working for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and HIS Church.”
In 2014, the Ebola outbreak claimed 4000 lives in Sierra Leone. P4K donors’ overwhelming support resulted in container shipments of badly needed food, gloves, chlorine, and other medical supplies. Friends and supporters pleaded with him to leave the country, but he vowed to stay until the crisis was over. When the Ebola outbreak was officially declared over by the World Health Organization in November 2015, Father Themi announced that by the Grace of God not one person under his care, including the disabled, died or was even infected with the Ebola virus.
Father Themi in the USA
Father Themi has traveled to the States, and will visit many parishes to share the plight of the people of Sierra Leone. He’ll talk about his unusual route to his vocation, what’s going on post-Ebola, and more.
“I want people to know how we are making a difference in the name of Christ. I also wish to thank people in America — our sponsors — all those who have helped us, so they can see what we’ve accomplished, and what still needs to be done. It’s all about making a difference, and we need you help.”
Father Themi will speak at three parishes in the Chicagoland area:
March 9: St. Demetrios Church, 2727 W. Winona, Chicago. Following Paraklesis Service at 6:00 pm
March 12: The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Demetrios, 893 N. Church Rd., Elmhurst, IL. Following Great Vespers at 5:00 pm, and a meatless dinner at 6:00 pm
March 13: St. George Church, 2701 N. Sheffield, Chicago. Discussion and video following Forgiveness Vespers at 6:30 pm.
Proceeds from these events will benefit the mission in Sierra Leone.
Visit www.paradise4kids.org for more information on Father Themi, the mission, and to make an tax-deductible donation.