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.


Father Themi’s Road to the Crucified Christ

Father Themi-Christianity No Expiration

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.


Father Themi’s Damascus Road Experience: From Neo-Marxism to Hinduism to Christ

Father Themi-I Needed The Metaphysical

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: Today over twenty thousand people die of hunger each and every day. Half the world’s population lives on under $2 a day. This is an issue that we need to be conversant with because we are called to give the cup of cold water, the piece of bread, in the name of Jesus Christ so that we can bring the life of Jesus Christ to the poor and the downtrodden. Father Themi has moved to Sierra Leone, one of the poorest places on earth and there he is making a difference for time and for eternity. I am delighted Father Themi to have you on the broadcast today.

Father Themi Adamopulo: Hello, I’m absolutely honored to be here and to be with you. I heard so much about you. It’s an absolute honor to be with you. Thank you for your very kind invitation.

Hank: Again, delighted to have you on the broadcast. Talk a little bit about your background. You were born in Northern Africa, in Egypt, and born into a Greek Orthodox family?

Father Themi: Well, nominally, I was Orthodox Christian, baptized in Alexandria, which is one of the historical—those who know in church history will understand what I mean when I say that it is one of the great early Christian centers. But it meant nothing to me. I was not a believer. Most of my infancy and early childhood and moving onto my teenage years, having moved over to Australia, a secular society, I had no faith at all. I did not believe in God. In fact, during my university days, I was a convinced neo-Marxist, as opposed to classical Marxism, and Neo-Marxism being the assimilation and the fusion between classical Marxism, Freudianism, Marcusenism, and all kinds of isms to make classical Marxism more applicable to today’s historical events, such as the Chinese Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and so forth. So, I believed in that in my university student days. We looked upon Marxism as the solution to the great injustices that were going on at the time—the issue of poverty, the issue of get now more, the issue of women’s rights, even the environment—all these issues were there, and it seemed to me that Marxism had the answer.

God for a Marxist is the antithesis of progress. The whole concept of a supernatural world, the whole concept of a metaphysical world, is very much opposed to the strict letter of law of Marxism. It is the opiate of the people. Christianity according to Marx is the means by which the capitalist class will as it were employ to subdue the working class and to let them believe in some mythical concept that after death they will achieve eternal life. That, therefore, becomes the tool of the capitalist to oppress the worker with the consolation that “Well you are going to the afterlife world, I will not, but in the meantime I’m going to enjoy this all here, and you will have to suffer.” So that’s basically in a nutshell Marxism.

So, we were all quite happy until something happened. What happened was that we were following our gurus of the period. The avatars were the Beatles—particularly John Lennon, who we saw as being the intellectual Beatle, George Harrison the spiritual Beatle—Bob Dylan, of course, and some of the other spokesmen of the period. They were the acceptable voice of the youth of the 60s and 70s—the early 70s. One day the Beatles said that were going to India to seek metaphysical enlightenment, and we all thought wait a minute, they’re betraying the revolution. They’re going counter to everything that dialectical materialism—the idea that the revolution will only occur through the struggle of the proletariat, the working class, against the bourgeois, the capitalist class. What’s this about going to India to seek enlightenment? We don’t understand that? I mean that was just, as you Americans would say, “left field,” is that? It was absolutely “left field.” We were amazed because it was John Lennon who said it, and because it was George Harrison who said it, well maybe we need to look into this, right? So begins a kind of a revision of Marxism among the student population now, and a possibility, a very important possibility, that maybe the answer is not just dialectical materialism, historical materialism, but it could be that there is something supernatural going on. Now that was an amazing admission to make because we were very logical, very empirical, very rational, we were the product of five hundred years of the age of reason, the age of enlightenment, we thought we have gone beyond the age of God, we had gone way past Christianity, at which we saw according to Nietzsche, I’m sure you read him, the uberman [Übermensch], the superman, the self-fulfilled man does not rely on any other external being but relies on himself and his own will to achieve that which is his to achieve, we believed all that. We read all that.

Now we’re told by Mr. Lennon and Mr. Harrison that perhaps we should seek beyond metarealism into the world of the metaphysical. My goodness that contradicted Bertrand Russell that was an extraordinary contradiction, but it was John Lennon, and so we needed to investigate further. So that’s what I did. I went into ashrams, I went into Hare Krishna temples, I went into guru led classes, we even had American Richard Alpert come from the United States, called himself Dam Rass [Ram Dass], or something like that, a great man, a great man. We listened to all this and we came to the conclusion, some of us, that Marxism wasn’t enough that there was something beyond the material, and there was something transcendent from pure material history, the economic factor of history, which is pure Marxism.

To make a long story short, once I went to one of the ashrams, this is in Australia, and the guru who claimed to represent no less than a fourteen year old child who is god, that fourteen year old Indian child, young man, was claimed to be god. We were curious to find out more about him so I went in there and the guru comes around and taps us on the forehead—receiving knowledge, receive knowledge, receive wisdom, receive. He came to me, at the time, we were all squatting in the traditional lotus position, etc. and I think I was wearing my Che Guevara hat and my Led Zeppelin cross something, and he asked me—oh Black Sabbath, sorry they used to wear crosses, so I wore a cross, Black Sabbath wore a cross—so he asked me to remove the cross, and I thought “What?” He said, “You have to remove the cross.” I said to myself I was not a Christian right, and I thought “How curious that this wise man, how curious that this devote of the avatar would be confounded by a fashion statement?” That’s all it was for me., just a fashion statement, you know. And he said, “Well, you must remove it.” I said, “You know what, I’m not going to remove it.” I actually contradicted and stood up and said, “I’m not going to remove it,” not because of anything of a faith which I did not have, but it was something inside of me telling me this cross is disturbing him. This cross has something that is to be investigated. So I left. I did not go on with the meditation and the road to wisdom according to their principles, you see. Having left I began to ponder on this issue of Christianity.

I think God was gracious enough to—what I am about to tell you now may sound strange and inconceivable, and illogical, which it is, in many ways. It is that. I needed that. I needed the illogicability of the metaphysical. I needed the inconceivable of the metaphysical. I needed that contradiction of the material life of the material reality for me to be able to release myself and to be able to accept the existence of God—so the Lord was merciful to me, and He gave me what can be described at least from my tradition, the Orthodox Church tradition and the monastic tradition, as a mystical experience.

Now I’m the last man in the world that should be getting mystical experiences, you know, trained in universities steeped in the empirical world, steep in the world of reason, steep in Greek philosophy, Aristotle, steep in everything that contradicts the metaphysical from childhood, and yet there it was. It was inexplicable, it was confrontational, it was radical, it was compelling, it was nonnegotiable, and I accepted it as my Damascus road experience. That was it, I accepted Christ. Nobody led me to Christ. There was no evangelical preacher who came to me. There was no priest who came to me. There was nobody who came to me with the Bible and said, “You must accept Jesus,” this came on its own without my wanting it to occur and it happened. From that, and there was a series of mystical experiences, I believed in Jesus. I believed in the existence of God. There was no doubting it anymore. I saw it. I saw it.

Unfortunately, in my case, it is because of my lack of faith that it had to happen that way. It doesn’t have to happen that way. It can happen in many ways, you know, but because of my being immersed in the world of reason, the world of logic, the world of rationality, there was no other way to jolt me out. God knows. God knows. That was the only way that I would have walked into the life of Christ. There was no other way. In His wisdom, that’s how He chose to bring me. That’s it, I never looked back ever since. That happened when I was twenty-two-twenty-three, and it saved me from so much blindness, walking in the wrong way, sin, and temptation, you name it.