Thursday, November 17, 2011

Greek Orthodox Church calls in cops for vote

Posted By on November 17, 2011, 11:15 AM

Tensions surrounding Sunday's vote by the congregation of the Salt Lake City parish on its future as part of the Greek Orthodox Church hit a new high today, after the parish council announced police officers would "ensure that order is maintained," while the regional church leader banned six senior parishioners from voting.---

The 2 p.m. vote at Prophet Elias in Holladay is to decide whether the church's congregation will embrace regulations that, according to church authorities, will simply bring it in line with the 500-plus other orthodox parishes in the United States, but which for critics casts a shadow over the future of the parish's assets.

 Unified Police Department PIO Lt. Justin Hoyle confirmed that four Unified officers had been hired on an off-duty basis by the church "to keep the peace."  

That the parish believes cops are needed reflects not only increasing tensions within the congregation that gave rise to a recent lawsuit by five church members, but also underscores recent parishioner complaints of ongoing church tactics of intimidation. That lawsuit, covered in this week's CW news story, Greek Tragedy, was an attempt to secure long-sought information about the church's membership in order to bring about open elections of the parish council, say those who support the parish's continued unity.

Perhaps most disturbing of all was the announcement that Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver—the Salt Lake City parish's regional hierarch—was banning six people linked to the lawsuit from voting Sunday. Five senior community members were plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including Con Skedros, the highly respected community historian, two former parish council presidents [Ed. note: one of them, Nick Bapis, is administrator of City Weekly's 401k program], and Yanni Armaou, owner of Yanni's Express and pioneer of the gyro in Utah. Who the sixth person is, however, is unclear.

A letter sent out last night from the parish council did little, it would seem, to clarify for the 1,300 families estimated to be part of the parish exactly who can vote on Sunday. While it stated that only members that had paid 3/4 of a pledge made either on Sunday or before could vote, past confusion over pledge cards for the two churches and other issues may well leave many in the congregation scratching their heads as to whether they are eligible or not.

According to the council, there will be a list of names by which attendees will be verified as eligible to vote. Parishioners who are not in good standing were requested not to attend.

The parish council also sent out two pages of what it described as "myths and reality" being circulated by council and clergy critics. They denied the Archdiocese had any intention of seizing parish property, and noted that the Metropolitan had "indicated" the parish would continue whole after the vote if the new regulations were approved.

It blamed there not being a June parish assembly on "threatened legal actions," and also stated that four of the current parish council were elected, while another four were appointed by the Metropolitan. The eight, one of whom critics say is non-voting, is still far below the 15 council members that have run parish affairs up until the last 18 months.

In a letter to Salt Lake City's Greek community dated Nov. 15, Metropolitan Isaiah pondered the parish's history and noted that its current problems may well stretch back over five decades. He wrote that the central issue was whether the parish was "in harmony" with the Greek Orthodox Church's regional and national leaders, or only under the state of Utah, "as an independent authority with no higher ecclesiastical authority over it."

He highlighted $2 million that he termed as "missing" from the "legal responsibility" of the parish council. This referred to $1.2 million raised in excess of the financial needs of the renovation of the downtown Greek cathedral, Holy Trinity, currently frozen in an account outside the control of the parish council, and a further $800,000 raised for a gymnasium, which critics say has not been in contention for some time.

Accusations by the Metropolitan of "robbery" and threats of excommunication against senior parish members involved in raising those funds by the church nevertheless failed to turn control of the money over to the council. Critics fear that with the lack of transparency of the management of the parish's financial affairs, if control of those monies were to shift to the parish it might well be spent on capital improvements that, according to a recent audit, have not been approved by the general assembly. 

Metropolitan Isaiah wrote in his letter that the vote came down to whether the parish wanted to be a secular "association" controlled by a "select few temporal humans" or essentially part of the Greek Orthodox Church.

For those concerned about the vote's potential impact on the parish, Metropolitan Isaiah's use of the term "uncanonical reality" may have prompted shivers. If the parish votes to approve the regulations, critics argue that, according to the 2007 church regs, the Metropolitan has the power, if he deems the parish to be in disarray, to effectively dissolve the parish and take control of its assets, leaving the faithful with a 105-year-old church history, but nowhere to worship.

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