Father Themis Adamopoulos is back on Australian soil for a national tour to help raise funds for global charity Paradise 4 Kids, with proceeds going straight into the mission he established in Sierra Leone, and says he has been taken by the community’s philanthropy.
It seems today we have kicked God out of everything in Australia, God is no longer a reality.
“So far we’ve been very successful, people are being very generous,” he told Neos Kosmos.
So far events have been held in Melbourne and Sydney, with the priest set to make his way around the country to Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth.
He planned to arrive earlier, but with the recent mudslide and onset of floods in Sierra Leone’s capital that resulted in the death of more than 1,000 locals, he chose to postpone his travels to stay back and assist with much needed relief.
This is of course not the first disaster to strike Sierra Leone, having endured what few others have. When Father Themis first arrived in Sierra Leone in 2008, the country was overcoming a brutal and horrific 12-year Civil War, and then in 2014 was struck by an epidemic of Ebola.
“Five hundred medical personnel who were helping people, were killed by the virus. We fought through it and we tried to educate our people that were coming to our churches about wearing gloves, washing your hands, about not touching anybody. My rule was, and that’s why I didn’t get it, I didn’t touch anybody. It’s not airborne, it’s fluid, any body fluid – sweat, tears. You touch it, you’re going to be dead in 14 days,” he said of the incurable virus.
Over the year’s the mission has managed to come a long way. He recalls starting with nothing “except the grace of our Lord Jesus” with the first Orthodox church run out of a kitchen in the residence they were leasing.
From three or four attendees, they have expanded to include three churches, two schools with some 2,000 pupils enrolled, a teacher’s college and they are just putting the finishing touches on two orphanages and a clinic.
Meanwhile without access to social welfare such as that available in Australia, Fr Themis says the role of the church is very important.
“If you are a single mother, there’s no social welfare; if you’re an elderly person, forget about it, there’s no aged pension. That gap is filled by the church, which we are proud to say we are apart of, filling the vacuum of the inability of the government to be able to do that. It tries, I can’t say it doesn’t, it tries – it doesn’t have the resources,” he explains.
“So far I think we’ve helped thousands. Today for example we would have fed about 600 kids a hot meal, we are sheltering disabled people under our roof. So you know, God has smiled upon us.”
Aside from his philanthropy in Sierra Leone, Father Themis is rather well known for his colourful past.
Formerly a member of a rock band, he was a Marxist and Atheist and against any religion whatsoever.
“I just felt that the whole concept of God was a myth and it was just a way the churches were exploiting people, so I was a complete radical,” he reveals.
Then around the age of 23, he had what he describes as an unexpected “mystical experience” that led to his conversion.
“If you had told me back when I was 22 that ‘one day you’re going to be a Greek Orthodox priest’ I would have vomited,” he says.
“My conversion taught me that what I was doing before was wrong and that I had sinned. So part of my repentance and trying to redeem myself in the eyes of God, is to work in Africa and to, as it were, make up for the years that I had squandered as a young man from God.
“Now I understand things differently and that there is a purpose to our life here on Earth and the purpose is to help others, and in that way of helping one another and by loving God, there would be no wars. But unfortunately it seems today we have kicked God out of everything in Australia, God is no longer a reality,” which Fr Themis admits is a growing concern for him that seems to be worsening every time he returns Down Under, and adds “I’m worried for Australia’s moral standards.”
He sites a number of reasons for the movement away from religion including the counterculture of the 1960s – which he admits to being apart of, the nation’s drug culture, the rise of technology, and the influence of mass media which he says is largely left wing, with little choice for an alternative.
“For example, if I was to go onto one of the main channels and they were to ask me about let’s say marriage equality, and I say ‘well, you know the bible is against two men or two women marrying’, they would say to me ‘oh you’re a homophobe!’ or ‘you are against equality’ or ‘you are a product of an ancient time’. Our attitude as a church is we love the gays, lesbians, transvestites, all the LGBTQI, we do, but we don’t love the action. But that’s what we Christians get now. We’ve become the minority in this country; we have become the maligned minority. Twenty years ago we were the voice of conscience,” he says.
Fr Themis believes we are currently in the phase of a social experiment, which he likens to the philosophical method of deconstructionism where there are no absolute systems, the newer generations breaking down and challenging the value system of the past.
“Now we are enlightened – so everything we thought to be real and true is now considered questionable. Everybody can believe whatever they want to believe as long as you don’t hurt anybody. That’s where we are; redefining ancient concepts of marriage, gender, of what it means to be a human being … and God has no part in it whatsoever.”
Faced with the fierce marriage equality debate currently taking place across the country, it’s not one the Orthodox priest is keen to take part in, and says there are other more pressing issues we as a society should be concerned with.
“I don’t see it as so crucial as I see that babies are dying everyday – 30,000 kids are dying today in Africa. The biggest experience in the world of a serious dysfunction is the fact that 3 billion people on the planet are living on two dollars a day, and 69 families control half the world’s money. That is the biggest scandal in the world today,” he says.
“Now here in the west you have the luxury of redefining gender, you have the luxury of going into the intricacies of what gender means. Where I’m living we don’t have that leisure, we have people dying of hunger, people dying of Ebola, people dying of floods, and people having less than $2 a day. I see myself as a poverty warrior.”
For more information on Paradise 4 Kids, the mission and how to donate, visit paradise4kids.org/