Monday, July 22, 2019

Giannis Antetokounmpo and His Orthodox Christian Faith


Much has been written about Giannis Antetokounmpo, the so-called "Greek Freak," from his humble beginnings in Greece to his enormous success as a professional basketball player in the United States. Little if anything however has been reported about the Orthodox Christian faith of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Though I cannot speak for his faith now, as it seems to not be reported on, though there are positive rumors (ex. he and his brother became godfathers in June 2018), below is some information from his background.

Sepolia is a neighborhood north of the center of Athens, Greece. There is located the Church of Saint Meletios, with an older church now in ruins on one side of the street and a newer church on the other side of the street, both bearing the same name. It was in the newer church where Giannis Antetokounmpo, who came from an immigrant family, first started playing basketball, and it was here where his spiritual father, Fr. Evangelos Ghanas, served as parish priest. It was also here where Giannis Antetokounmpo and his brother Alexandros were baptized Orthodox Christians on 28 October 2012, when Giannis was 18 years old, after attending weekly catechism classes.


Fr. Evangelos Ghanas

According to Fr. Evangelos, Giannis chose the date for his baptism on the 28th of October on purpose, because it is also a national holiday in Greece known as Ohi Day. He also says that it was Giannis who kept his family attached to the parish, because it was here that he attended catechism classes that shaped his character.


Fr. Evangelos says that many of the children in the neighborhood, because they grew up poor, also grew up very angry, but Giannis was different: "I never remember him having a grumble or a sense of being wronged by life and being aggressive towards society. I have also distinguished this in his mother, a woman with a good soul. What I cannot forget was John's gaze. I find it difficult to describe it. There was an innocence but also a hope. No fear and no resentment. His mother wanted him to be present in the parish, not as a man seeking help to overcome economic problems but as a person who feels he is a living member of an equal community."

Church of St. Meletios in Sepolia

Giannis fondly remembers his catechism class, and how it helped shape his character, as he stated in an interview: "There was a man at my Catechism school, who helped my household a lot. I cannot tell you how much he helped us, and he knew that when you give, you should not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing. This is why I help people. This cannot be taught in a class."

Giannis with his catechism class

He also has and maintains a great love and respect for Greece, as is well known. One particular example of this was shown one day when some Greek-Americans presented to him a Greek flag and asked for his autograph on it, to which he responded: "Not on the flag, kids!"