Father Themistoclese Athony Adamopoulo, “Father Themi,” is a Greek Orthodox priest. He was born in Egypt, grew up in Australia, but was looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places. At one point he was a neo-Marxist, at another stage a rock star, (founding member of the 1960s Australian rock-n-roll band The Flies), on another level an academic with a PhD from Brown University and a Master of Theology from Princeton Divinity School, but then he had a radical encounter with God. He had a Damascus road experience, and as a result of that he has given up everything to serve the poor.
Hank Hanegraaff invited Father Themi to be a guest on the March 14, 2016 Bible Answer Man broadcast. The following are some highlights of their conversation.
Hank Hanegraaff: I continue my conversation with Father Themi. He is someone, as I said just before the break, who was not only talking theology, but he has taken his faith and put it into practice. He was once a rock star, but now he’s in Sierra Leone and this is what I am really interested in. I’m really interested, Father Themi, in a communication from you as to why Christians are losing the culture wars. We have a said faith often times not a real faith, or we give intellectual ascent to logical truth propositions, but were not living out the faith. The reality is Christ has not only saved us by His death, He has saved us into His life, so that we can give life to others.
Father Themi Adamopulo: I guess, Hank, I can only speak for myself. Unfortunately, that’s the reality. Having gone through all these other phases in the world, even as you mentioned before, rock star, you know we played on the same stage as the Rolling Stones, when they came to Australia. I went to a party with Mick Jagger. We did all the things that rock stars, I’m ashamed to say, do. So in a way I understand the secular world. I understand what is attractive to a young person of the secular world. But I want to tell your young listeners, those who are aspiring to become rock stars, those who are aspiring for fame, those who are aspiring for whatever it is that the latest fashion is, my friends, it’s empty! Beyond the glamour, beyond the glory, you know, beyond the fans that scream at you one day and the next day you’re forgotten. The very people who turned up and screamed their heads off and were going absolutely crazy over you one day, and you couldn’t, we couldn’t even reach the stage door before we were mobbed, just to get to the cars to get away, it was just an ordeal, you know, I would lose half my hair just being torn apart by fans, and then having fans outside your door camped all day just to get a glimpse of you, these things people dream of, I tell you now, I’ve been through that, it’s empty. Because after your expiration date, there’s a complimentary expiration date to fame, there’s an expiration date to rock stardom—except if you’re the Rolling Stones for some reason, its incomprehensible, though I think the time has almost come, I’m not sure, I’m not quite sure there—but there is an expiration date. I can mention rock groups that were huge—The Who, The Yardbirds, just so many groups that have come and gone, The Young Rascals, Chicago, so many groups that have come and gone—who has ever heard of them anymore? What happened to the fame? It’s gone. It’s all gone, right? So it is all ephemeral. It doesn’t last. This fame business, this success business in the world, doesn’t last forever. Even if you’re the greatest baseball player, or the greatest football player—by the way I can’t really call American football “football” but that’s another story. Nevertheless, even there, I think your expiration date is obvious. It’s obvious.
What I’ve discovered in Christianity is that that is not applicable anymore. There is no expiration date. You don’t expire after a certain period. If anything you go from glory to glory to glory until eventually we reach that kingdom of heaven. So it’s an amazing contradiction to all the propaganda that we’ve had heard in the secular world. Oh, in order to make it you’ve got to have a lot of money. In order to make it, you’ve got to get famous, and this and that. My friends, you know, those of us who’ve been through fame and stardom and so forth, behind the scenes you’re still the same human being, behind the scenes it’s still you, before you go on stage you going to face one-hundred-thousand people, it’s still you. You haven’t changed, it’s still you. So, you being alone, where are you at the moment of death? You see, you’re still the same person. That’s the comfort of Christianity. That’s the strength of Christianity that we have. We are not restricted. We are not restricted by time or period or phases. We keep going as long as we are faithful to the Lord.
Your question, Hank, was why is it, I guess you’re asking, forgive me if I got the wrong question, why is it that more people are trapped into the secular world than Christianity, is that what your question was?
Hank: Essentially what I want to talk about is you call from, not only you call to salvation, but your call from salvation to service.
Father Themi: A ha. Having been an academic, therefore, after conversion naturally there is a period of reorientation, where you find yourself. Who am I? I’m a Christian. Ok, what do I give up now? The Bible says he who wishes to be perfect come sell everything you have give it to the poor and come and follow me and I’ll will show you the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:16-26). That’s very difficult to do. It’s very difficult to do. I tried it, I sold my car, I sold my things, and so gave it to the poor kind of thing. Now what? Where do you go from here? You know? You allow the grace of God to come and work into your life. There was a period of some difficulty in the beginning, because I was discovering what Christianity meant. I was discovering for the first time the grace of God. I was discovering for the first time the forgiveness of God, the new avenues the new horizons that God was giving, but I was still the old man. I was still the old person. The old rock star. The old Marxist. The baggage’s you see. All that had to be knocked out. All that had to be cleansed clean, you see, and that took time, because yes we talk about conversion, but let us not imagine that one day you’ll become a brand new person. There’s still a lot of the old luggage, a lot of the old baggage, a lot of the old things you are carrying from the old life. These things have to be removed slowly and gradually. I guess my initial years were the removal of the old baggage, until, you know there is a period of catharsis, it’s sort of like a purgatory, going through purgatory.
Eventually, I started teaching schools but because of my need for repentance and for my past sins, I began to, you know everywhere I was I would talk about Jesus. If I was in the classroom I would tell the kids about Jesus. If I went on a bus, I would tell the conductor about Jesus. If I was sitting in a chair on the bus, I would tell my next door neighbor about Jesus, you see. Fine. That was great, but then I thought, you know, I need to systematize this, I need to make it more systematic, more effective, right?
The way I did it was I went back to academia. I went back to theology. I started theology in Australia, here in America, the Lord led me to Princeton, Harvard, Brown, some of the greatest schools that you have in this country, and I’m very honored to have gone to these schools. I have learned a lot. So, I went back and became an academic in my tradition in Australia.
But the call to serve the poor was irresistible. Here I was. I think one of the dramatic moments was this. I had prepared a lecture for one of the universities in Sydney, and the lecture was, are you ready, Hank, the Trimorphic Protennoia of the Nag Hammadi corpus, and the Johannine Prologue. Now if you understand what I’m saying, you’ve got problems.
Hank: [laughs] Unfortunately, I’ve got problems.
Father Themi: You do understand it? Oh my goodness. So, well you do understand. So, here I am three months working on this Coptic text, trying to see whether it was John’s Gospel that was impacted by it or it was the Coptic gospel that was impacting John, blah, blah, blah, and I was very happy with my work, and I went to deliver the lecture, and I was convinced that I was defending the priority of John’s Gospel as opposed to this Nag Hammadi Coptic Gnostic text, and there were four people in the lecture. You know, three months’ work, whatever, a published article, and there was like three or four people. I don’t want to lie to you, let say at minimum, right, and I’m thinking, is this what the Lord, you know, is this how I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life? You know, researching obscure Coptic texts and Syriac texts and so forth, or is there something else the Lord wanted?
When I saw the work of Mother Theresa, when I heard of the great work Mother Theresa was doing, and the impact that this eighty-year-old elderly senior woman was having on the lives of people around the world, particularly in India, Calcutta, of course, but also around the world, she would have an enormous impact on people, young and old, I thought, surely this is the model that you should be following, rather than the more pedantic, though necessary but pedantic academic way to the kingdom of heaven. In particular, trying to teach Hebrew to stubborn Greek Orthodox seminarians, didn’t help either. So, I decided to give it up. Give up academia, as it were, and to follow the road to the crucified Christ. The road to the poor. The road to serving among the poor. The poorest in the world. Not in Australia, but the poorest in the world.
I thought where are the poorest in the world? Automatically, of course, Africa came to mind, and because I was born in Africa, I was born in Alexandria, I mentioned before, North Africa, I thought this is what I should do. I have, of course, to get permission from my bishops, my archbishops. I think my archbishop was happy to get rid of me so he gave me his blessings. No, I’m just joking. You know, he was very kind and very, very understanding, and gave me his blessings to move on. In fact, I remember his words, you have the blessings of Abraham. That was it. I move to Alexandria, from Alexandria to Kenya, and in Kenya I learned about world poverty. I learned about the poor of this world.