Theofania at Rosebud with the “Man of the People,” a thorn in the Archdiocese’s side

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By Mary Sinanidis

Thousands flocked to Theofania at Rosebud on Saturday, January 6 for the second Blessing of the Waters ceremony conducted by Papa Lefteris as an independent priest of the Hellenic Orthodox Brotherhood of St Paisios.

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At least 5,000 people attended Theofania at Rosebud. Photo @infrontofthelens21.

Many of those present told The Greek Herald they are drawn by the way Papa Lefteris’ face lights up when he greets them, the help he offers to anyone in need, his campaign to keep sacraments affordable, even free for the impoverished, and the way he brings the community together to build churches (laying the foundations of nine in his 57 years as priest).

Seen as a wild card by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia (GOAA), he has paid a huge personal price for his actions, including fractured relations with the leadership of Archdiocese.

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Papa Lefteris at Rosebud on Saturday. Photo @infrontofthelens21.
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Photo @infrontofthelens21.
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His relationship with parishioners continues to thrive though, and he has been dubbed “the man of the people” with two Facebook pages on his behalf numbering almost 27,000 members.

Victoria Police Officer Sean Burke told The Greek Herald that he estimated at least 5,000 attendees at the Theofania dive. He dubbed it “a great community day.”

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Papa Lefteris shared a banter with Victoria Police. There were more than 10 officers on the ground ensuring that the ceremony ran safely. Photo copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.
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Photo @infrontofthelens21.
Video footage provided to The Greek Herald of the Blessing of the Waters at Rosebud. Copyright: @infrontofthelens21.

The figures did not consider the waves of people who arrived in droves following the throwing of the cross due to high traffic congestion surrounding Rosebud.

Four-time cross-catcher Matthew Papadimitriou from Rowville caught the cross, becoming the blessed diver of the year. There were 70 divers who jumped from the pier, including 10 women following Papa Lefteris’ encouragement for more girls to join.

The number of actual divers is closer to 100 when taking into account those that swam from the beach.

Yiannis Foundoulakis had to pick up some food from Rye for the family picnic and just ran to the sea when he saw the commotion. Similarly, Sotiris Rerakis from Essendon managed to see the cross being flung in the water and ran to participate from the beach.

John Foundoulakis and Sotiris Rerakis came just as the cross was thrown and dived in, unregistered.
John Foundoulakis and Sotiris Rerakis came just as the cross was thrown and dived in, unregistered. Photo copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.
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The Foundoulakis and Artemios clans enjoy a barbeque. Photo copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.

“I knew I wasn’t going to win, but it’s a blessing just to take part,” Simon said, adding that he also came out of respect for Papa Lefteris.

Another diver, Nikitaras Mavromichalis said, “My family and Papa Lefteris have been close. My grandmother and he did many acts of service for the Church in South Melbourne and then Red Hill, and I find it is a duty to be the third and fourth generation of my family to stand by him.”

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Nikitaras Mavromichalis and his friends all came to support Papa Lefteris and dive for the cross. Photo copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.

Papa Lefteris told The Greek Herald he has baptised six generations of children in some families. He continues to perform sacraments that church members say are binding in the eyes of God.

Contrary to media reports, we are told it is incorrect to refer to him as “defrocked.” It’s an easy mistake to make bearing in mind the email sent to him by Archbishop Makarios of Australia telling him that he was “let go” was sent on October 5, 2022. Supporters of Papa Lefteris believe it is null and void as the popular priest had already resigned on October 2, 2022, making a “defrocking” impossible.

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Papa Lefteris knows the names and personal stories of people in his parish, and they say that’s why they love him. Photo copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.

Mary came to Theofania with her children, Veronica and Marcus. 

“He should never have lost his church,” Veronica said. “Why can’t we all have our opinions? Papa Lefteris accepts everyone, like Jesus did when he walked with the lepers. When my parents divorced in 1999, my mother’s whole family were ashamed. Papa Lefteris helped restore her faith when she lost all hope.”

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Mary, with her children, Marcus and Veronica. Photo copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.

DJ Chris Tsiandoulas, baptised by Papa Lefteris, kept the music pumping on Saturday.

“I’ll always offer DJing for free whenever Papa Lefteris wants this. I don’t want a cent. It’s the least I can do for someone who helps everyone. If you don’t have money, he’ll marry you. If you’re homeless, he’ll do what he can to help,” he said, explaining that this is the reason people are eager to help the church, from maintenance work to construction.

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Thea with her children Arthur and Dina. Photo copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.
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Lemnian Youth Club President Joanna Angeletes, came from Frankston with her sister Helen and their friends. Photo copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.
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Dean Kotsianis and his friends came along, stating that they wanted to support the event which brought together the community. Photo copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.
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A family day out for young and old. Photo copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.
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Dimitris Politis baptised his son at Red Hill. He and his family came from Preston to stay in Dromana. Photo copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis,

On the downside of such spontaneity, come media reports attacking Papa Lefteris, mainly because he doesn’t mince words. Even his supporters don’t agree with 100 per cent of all he says, but say they prefer “authenticity” and a man speaking his truth than pretence.

Regardless of words, nobody can deny that he does embrace anyone who sets foot in his church regardless of beliefs, sexual orientation or background.

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