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The V. Rev. Dr. Themistocles Adamopoulo, born in Alexandria and raised in Melbourne, is an archimandrite in Freetown, Sierra Leone, within the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa. His work is in mission and charity, using education as a means of bringing people out of poverty.
Eleftherius and Helen Adamopoulo were the parents of a Greek family who lived in Alexandria, Egypt. Eleftherius was an author, successful banker and had a double qualification in Chemistry; and Helen was a headmistress of a school. In 1945, Themistocles was born. Seeing developments that would have dire consequences for foreigners in Egypt, in 1956, Eleftherius and Helen immigrated with their family - including their son, Themistocles - to Melbourne, Australia. Themistocles, because of the social stigma of Greeks at the time, grew up wishing to fit into wider Australian society.
Due to the Adamopoulo's being Greeks from a non-Greek country, they were considered to be Greeks by Anglo-Celtic Australian society, and outsiders within the Greek community. As such, Eleftherius became a labourer, and Helen worked in factories. However, in a few years, Helen was recognised by Melbourne University, becoming a teacher at Presbyterian Ladies College, and Eleftherius was recognised by local industries, becoming an industrial chemist.
Themistocles went to high school at Williamstown High School, being gifted in academic areas, and getting a result good enough to win a scholarship to Melbourne University. He began a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1964, and then formed a music group similar to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones known as The Flies. This caused a two-year deferment in his university studies while he pursued the music industry, including records, Top 10 songs, a fan club and supporting the Beatles on their Australian tour.
However, he decided that this was not to be a permanent occupation, and returned to university in a Bachelor of Arts course, studying philosophy, political science and history. His readings, and perspectives on human rights, social justice and minority groups, were formed during this period, and are acknowledged by himself to have affected the way he lives his religion today. At 22, he became a tutor at Melbourne University.
However, at the time, he held a strict athiestic view that he later recognised as contradictory. Themi attributes his conversion to anti-establishment ideas that happened in greater society, such as the opposition to the Vietnam War, and to Timothy Leary's influence in exploring counter-cultural concepts in spiritual terms. This anti-establishment focus was brought to bear on Nietzsche and Marx, and Themi was to look at various religions, looking for truths in them that could be useful in an ideal world. Undergoing a Christian mystical experience, Themi then accepted Christianity as the path to God.
He did not immediately go to the Greek Orthodox Church of his parents, but first held a belief in Christ while looking for the denomination that could best understand his experience. Through reading the Bible and the life of St Francis of Assisi, Themi began to sell his property, give to the poor, and resign from his tutorship in political science. Speaking to one or two Greek Orthodox priests in Melbourne, he asked about God and was told not to inquire into God. Finding this unsatisfactory, he then went to other churches, finding in the Presbyterian church interesting people willing to discuss God and accommodate his previous experiences, people who accepted and greatly respected him. However, he began to ask why he was born a Greek and baptised Orthodox, and looked again at Orthodoxy.
Pity for the state of the Orthodox Church in Melbourne in the early seventies led him to join the Church - there was no teaching of Christ, Sunday schools, youth groups or Bible study groups, but rather joining together as a common identity of Greeks. Themi felt sorry for these people, whom he had already learnt more about the Bible than. He was immediately accepted due to being Greek, and received permission to begin a Sunday school.
Return to the academic world
Themi, after beginning a Masters of Education, transferred to a Diploma of Education for teaching at technical schools to continue his new-found association and identification with the working class. He went on to teach at Richmond Technical School, Essendon Technical School and Preston Technical School, all in the heartlands of the working class. However, his unwavering and spoken commitment to Christ meant that he was transferred from school to school, finally resigning from Lalor High School due to frustration at the continued restriction of his freedom of speech.
After this, due to the lack of Orthodox seminaries at the time, he took up studies at a Catholic theological school. He was advised by Archbishop Stylianos, the then-new Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Australia, to study at Corpus Christi College, Melbourne. He then went on to study at Holy Cross, Massachusetts, beginning a Masters of Theological Studies and concurrently studying at Harvard Divinity School. After this, he undertook a Master of Theology at Princeton Divinity School, and completed a Ph.D. at Brown University with his thesis entitled Endurance, Greek and Early Christian: The Moral Transformation of the Greek Idea of Endurance, From the Homeric Battlefield to the Apostle Paul, explaining how endurance changed from the Greek philosophical concept of something that one could do on their own, to St Paul's transformation into endurance being something a gift of God in Christ.
Fr Themistocles, by this time a tonsured monk usually called 'Br Themi', returned to Australia and, in 1986, was one of the founding lecturers at St Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College, Sydney, Australia; he was also teaching at Macquarie University and University of Sydney.
After considerable time lecturing, Fr Themi began to wish to personally act out his theology, and due to his being born in Africa he decided to return there in 2000, utilising his academic ability at the Orthodox Patriarchal Ecclesiastical School "Archbishop Macarius III" in Nairobi, Kenya.
Ordained and elevated in Kenya to Archimandrite, he conducted liturgies and preached in various parishes in Kenya, but his primary focus is on teaching people in Kenya to earn a living on their own. With the blessing of Archbishop Makarios, Fr Themistocles established the Saint Clement of Alexandria Philanthropic Education Centre. Through the centre, he set up a school for unemployed women to learn tailoring and dressmaking in November 2001, then a computer school for unemployed youth in 2002; in September of that year, he then set up a pre-school and primary school for children in slum areas, giving them free education, food and clothing.
In January 2003, the Teachers College was established. This grew into the Saint Clement of Alexandria Orthodox College of Africa, currently consisting of an education department and a business/information technology department, teaching for minimal cost to break the cycle of depression. Future plans include a nursing and pharmacy school; furthermore, serious negotiations are underway with the University of Thessalonica towards the creation of a Paediatric Medical School within the College. Fr Themistocles envisaged an Orthodox University of Africa.
In January 2008, with the blessing of His Beatitude Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria, Fr Themi moved from Kenya to Sierra Leone, where he involved himself in similar activities that he had initiated in Kenya. He built premises for the small, pan-African missionary team that came with him, including a chapel dedicated to St Eleftherios, and in February 2008, he began a program designed to give food to the hungry. In March, negotiations with the government led to Fr Themi having responsibility for two schools, with a total of 3500 students and 90 staff; and in May, grants were received from two Greek missionary societies, the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity and the Missionary Alliance of St. Cosmas the Aetolian - one grant to build infrastructure for one of the schools, and the other to begin construction of a Teachers College. Work began on the Teacher's College before the end of that month, and construction has begun on housing for those who wish to be involved in mission work.
- Bachelor of Arts (University of Melbourne)
- Diploma of Education
- Master of Theological Studies (Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology)
- Master of Theology (Princeton Divinity School)
- Doctor of Philosophy (Brown University - dissertation on the idea of endurance from Homeric times to the writings of the Apostle Paul)
- University of Sydney, Sydney
- Macquarie University, Sydney
- St. Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College, Sydney
- Sub-Dean, Orthodox Patriarchal Ecclesiastical School "Archbishop Macarius III", Nairobi, Kenya.
- Source: Interview with the Very Rev. Dr. Themistocles Adamopoulo, Apostle to the Poor and Oppressed by Nick Trakakis, published by Theandros (a publication edited by the Eparch of Nebraska)
- St. Clement of Alexandria Philanthropic Educational Projects in Kenya website
- Source: Rev Themi's PK4A's Sierra Leone Blog