Father Themi on Seeing the Crucified Christ through Solidarity with the Beggar

Father Themi-Identify in Solidarity with the Beggar

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: In studio with Dr. Father Themi. He is an Orthodox priest who has given his life to reaching out to the poor in a tangible way. I think this is an example for all of us. It’s not our bank account in this world that ultimately matters, it is doing precisely what Jesus Christ said to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt, where thieves do not break in and steal, for where your treasure is there your heart will be also.

Thinking right now about the words of Paul in Corinthians, Father Themi, when he says there’s no foundation that you can build other than Jesus Christ, but on that foundation you can build, you can either build using gold, silver and costly stones, or wood, hay, and straw, and the day of the Lord is going to reveal the kind of material we were building with. If what we have built survives, we’re going to receive a reward. If it does not, we are going to suffer loss. Paul kind of gives us an image of people escaping burning buildings with little more than chard clothes on their backs. So the here and now is critical. People often talk about salvation; very seldom talk about the fact that there are degrees of reward in heaven. What we do now matters for all eternity. I want you to talk in this regard about what you have done. First of all, the culture shock. You’re in America sitting in a prosperous city that culture shock between where you are right now and when you go back to Sierra Leone. It is a different world. Even though you can transfer from one culture to another very quickly with an airplane, it’s a completely different world, but there’s a world there of hurting people that need to be reached, not only with the Gospel, but with material means as well.

Father Themi Adamopulo: You hit it on the head. We are living in two planets. We call it earth, but I call it two dimensional planet. There is the abundance, and the apparent wealth of nations such as yours, the United States, and Canada, Europe to some degree of course, and Australia and so forth.  These are the rich countries. They’re the countries of abundance and wealth. There is another world that is hidden and it seems to be neglected by our consciousness. It’s as if we don’t want to know about it. We only get to know about it in certain times that we allow ourselves to get involved, e.g. when there is an Ebola crisis. Ok, suddenly we’ve become aware of Africa, but even then, even then, only when it strikes us. When Ebola hit us in Sierra Leone last year, it was terrible. People were dying everywhere. Ok, even where we were, people dying in the streets, people’s bodies in the streets. Near us, it’s pandemonium, ok. Nobody lifted a finger in the international world. For months we were suffering. Months! Until, a gentleman from Liberia came to the United States, gave Ebola to a nurse in Texas, suddenly, Ebola exists in the consciousness of the Western world. But, until Ebola hit a White person there was no Ebola, and all the thousands of people that were dying in Africa—and I saw it myself, I’m a witness to that—nothing was done. Even the World Health Organization said in the beginning oh this is not a big deal, lets not worry about it. It was shameful, and disgusting, that such a statement could be made, and it was made. The rest of the world was completely immune to any cries. I repeat, it was only when Ebola hit Europe and the United States that suddenly the armies came, the doctors came, and the convoys came and blah, blah, blah came. Until then, nobody came. That’s an example of the hidden world. The world of suffering that we either consciously or subconsciously want to do away with from our consciousness. You see? That’s the world I live in. I call that the crucified Christ.

Where the average—I’m now speaking to the women in your audience, if I may—the average daily monetary allowance for the African woman by in large, sub-Sahara Africa, by in large is about two dollars a day, two dollars a day. I want your women listening, mothers, to tell me what can they do for two dollars a day? Now, I’m telling you, sixty-percent of the world’s population, Hank, sixty-percent, that’s six people out of ten, are living under two dollars a day, sixty percent. We are a small minority on this planet. We’re a small minority. Even when I go up to eighty percent it’s still under three dollars, again. If we are looking at the reality that is facing us, out of seven or eight billion people that live upon the earth, half of us, half of us are living under two or three dollars a day. The other half of us are enjoying the abundances and the luxuries that exists in the rich world and we are not even aware that we have them, and we’re not even aware because all the depressions and, you know, the so called anxieties, and all these things, and we are not aware of how much we have around us. You know? Because we’re not aware of it, we don’t appreciate it. But, if you get an African immigrant coming to the United States, they will appreciate everything. They will see everything. They will see the electric lightbulbs that work. They will see the toilet that works. They will see the water tap that runs water. They will see a button on the door there that switches on and off the light. They will see a beautiful table. They will see it. But, an American coming or a Westerner coming to your office, Hank, would take all this for granted.  That’s the difference. That’s one of the great differences.

Now, how many children are dying a day? Let’s get down to that. Twenty-two thousand children die every day in Africa, mostly in Africa. Twenty-two thousand children die every day. That’s unacceptable to my reality. That’s unacceptable.

I’m there firstly to what? To repent for all my sins as a rock star, as a Marxist. I’m repenting. And I’m living with them, and understanding them. We have beggars coming to us every day and you have to help. What we do, Hank, is this: First of all, we identify with them. We don’t try to lord it over them. The worst attitude is I am the White man who has come here to help you, you poor unfortunates, you the poor of the world. That would be so anti-gospel and yet it exists. You know fly by night missionaries who come I am the great missionary who come two or three days in Africa and then go away. I’m afraid that’s not the right attitude. You have to be—you identify in solidarity with the beggar. You do not talk down to him. You do not abuse him. You do not lose patience with him. You talk to him on an equal basis with a beggar, with the beggars of the bottom of the barrel of this world. Once you do that something extraordinary happens, Hank. You begin to see the crucified Christ. You begin to see in the desperation, in the cry.

“Where are you sleeping tonight?”

“I have nowhere to sleep father.”

“Have you ate today?”

“No, father.”

“Where are you sleeping?“

“I’m sleeping out on the porch, father.”

“Father, do me a favor. When I die, will you bury me?”

“Nobody will bury you?”

Now, if you understand that, then you understand the crucified Christ, the voice of the crucified Christ, the pathos of the pain of the destitute of the world. Where else can I be but with them. That is our mission.

Hank: The mission’s called Paradise for Kids.

Father Themi: Whoa, Paradise for Kids is our sponsor; the mission is the Orthodox Church. It’s the Orthodox Patriarch of Alexander and we are a branch of that. We are jurisdiction of the Orthodox Patriarchy, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchy of Alexandria. That’s where we are.

Hank: You’re getting your hands dirty, talk to people, we only have a few minutes left, about getting their hands dirty.

Father Themi: Well, know that, I’m not requesting people to come to Africa. That’s not what I’m doing here. I am saying this: Be aware of what you have. Be aware of the riches that are around you, the material riches. Be aware of the comfort, no matter how little you have, you have far more. Just the hospitals you go to. Just the— I mean, when I get sick, I have to fly out of there to come all the way to New York just to be seen . You know I have some poor eye, I have to have eye surgery, I have to come all the way to New York in order just to get something simple like a cataract thing, replacement. Be aware of your medical service here. Be grateful to God for all the things you have. At the same time, you have an obligation to the poor. I mean the poor here, the poor in this country, the poor here, the destitute here. You have an obligation as a Christian. It’s not negotiable. I was hungry and you fed me. Matthew 25. I was naked and you clothed me. I was thirst and you gave me to drink. And you will hear the words, come ye who fed me, you who gave me to drink, come and enjoy the riches of the kingdom of heaven. May we become aware of that brothers and sisters, and Hank thank you for the invitation, God, bless you.

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