“Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them,

and they that are great exercise authority upon them.

But it shall not be so among you:

but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto,

but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28, KJV)

The word the Athenians used for their Assembly was Ekklesia, the same word used in the New Testament for Church
(and it is the greatest philological irony in all of Western history that this word,
which connoted equal participation in all deliberation by all members,
came to designate a kind of self-perpetuating, self-protective Spartan gerousia -
which would have seemed patent nonsense to Greek-speaking Christians of New Testament times,
who believed themselves to be equal members of their Assembly.)

- Thomas Cahill, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter


Monday, December 8, 2008

Letter to Metropolitan Isaiah from Dimitri Tsagaris

Per Mr. Tsagaris' request, we've posted his letter to Metropolitan Isaiah.

Dimitrios Tsagaris
3815 South 2900 East
Salt Lake City Utah 84109
801) 554-1951

November 14, 2008
Via fax: (303) 333-7796
Original via first class mail.

His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah

Metropolis of Denver
4550 E Alameda Ave
Denver, CO 80246

Your Eminence,

I have been an active member of the Salt Lake Greek Orthodox Community for the last 30 years. When I first arrived in this country, I represented the University of Utah’s Greek Students from Greece. I addressed the General Assembly and asked permission that the then-minimum pledge requirement for those students be waived in order for them to become official members of the Community. This request was granted. Thirty years later, having served for six years in prior terms, and also during the last two years as a parish council member, I am still here offering my services to this community in any capacity I can.

Please allow me to express to you that during the last four years our community has endured serious setbacks. There is damage due to specific actions and/or decisions that have been detrimental to this community and that, unfortunately, are still continuing. Your immediate attention and guidance is imperative.

I do not know from where you are receiving your information about the affairs of our community. I’m quite certain you are not receiving them from your parish council.

I have submitted two drafts of this letter to the council for input and discussion, and I wanted to present it to the assembly. I was told by the president of this community that technically I cannot discuss this subject with the board, and definitely not during the upcoming General Assembly. I have respected his directive.

I feel strongly enough about it, however, to present to you my point of view and my thoughts and to ask for your consideration. This is not meant as a challenge to your authority, or to be in any way disrespectful. It is just a simple talk between me and my spiritual leader. I’m told you are the nicest person in the world to talk to in person. I understand you are extremely busy however I look forward to meeting with you in person. Until then here are my thoughts on a few specific issues.

Our community in Salt Lake City is facing severe financial shortfalls. The most recent action of the Special General Assembly, allowing us to place approximately $170,000 of our festival funds in our operating budget, is but a temporary measure. Our forecast for next year does not appear any more encouraging. This shortfall is indicative of the great financial crisis sweeping this country and the world and also due to the compromised current parish organizational culture of our community. Our parishioners’ revenues and expenses are negatively affected by this global crisis; however they all do their best by taking the appropriate corrective survival measures by controlling their expenses first.

We the Parish Council have examined and adjusted our expense accounts to the best of our ability. Labor and benefits comprise 62% of our expenses for our employees, and also for the remuneration and benefits of our three clergymen. The clergy’s portion accounts for 31%, or half of the 62%. We have a total of three clergy along with 12 additional full-time-equivalent staff.

Below are the measures the Parish Council has taken in order to arrive at the 2009 labor and labor overhead components of our expenses and their values.

(A) Non-Clergy personnel: (12 full time equivalent employees)

1. No merit increases for 2009: Approx $(13,000) @ 3.5 %

2. Elimination of parish’s contributions portion to the employee 401(k) Plan: Approx $(6,000)

3. Initiation of a 15% co-payment to their 2009 health plan. Approx $(8,000)

4. Responsibility change-related salary reduction to 1 employee. ${placeholder for future consideration}

The above 2009, expense budget cuts amounts to about $27,000

(B) Clergy personnel.

We approved an increase for our three clergy’s remuneration (labor and overhead) of approximately $15,000. This increase was in the range of 4% to 7%. For the record, the day after the meeting, Fr. Michael Kouremetis, to his credit, “humbly declined” the proposed increase. Fr. Elias Koucos followed his example, and as such it is not included in the 2009 budget.

I feel that it is my responsibility as a parishioner, as member of the Parish Council and as member of the Finance Committee to point out the following:

We increased our clergy’s remuneration while we cut salaries, merit increases, and benefits to our other personnel and in the face of growing economic difficulties our fellow parishioners might be facing.

The present remuneration costs of our clergy are based on the attached guidelines set forth by the Archdiocese. This is a generic guideline that needs to be re-examined in order to be revised improved and customized.

Of equal importance in following the Archdiocesan guidelines is the financial situation of each community, particularly our own community, to respond in accordance with our ability to follow the guidelines. At the end of the day, if our community cannot afford current clergy salary levels, this needs to be pointed out. Indeed, this is the case.

The aforementioned 31% of our budget in clergy labor and overhead costs is extremely high at this particular time, and will be as well for some time going forward. I believe it too ought to be adjusted accordingly. In five years the above $15,000 clergy remuneration level of increase, @6% will become $85,000. When taking into consideration historical increases in health benefit costs, it can easily reach the $100,000 range. A few months ago the finance committee, of which I am a member, presented the parish council with a list of action items, along with suggestions targeted to streamline our finances and operations. One of those recommendations was to enter into open dialog with Your Eminence regarding a symbolic if you will clergy salary reduction. This negotiation never materialized. We ought to be allowed to immediately enter into discussions with Your Eminence to implement a one-time base salary reduction of our clergy to be effective preferably by January 1, 2009.

The issue of whether or not our three clergymen at their present remuneration levels can remain on the payroll should be placed before you for your consideration, along with the request that at your earliest convenience you reassign one of our clergy to another community currently in need of a clergyman.

Here is the dilemma and the struggle, in my opinion, our Parish Council faces: The attached guidelines sent by Your Eminence, on one hand, clearly allow us to discuss fairly and negotiate clergy remuneration, and, on the other hand compensation issues cannot be discussed with the parish council when considering the Parish budget.

The question is: HOW then does a community negotiate with Your Eminence on the remuneration of our priests, and then find itself barred from discussing the very same subject in a parish council meeting and/or in a General Assembly?

The answer in my opinion is very simple. We must begin by talking to you and outlining our dilemma. Rules and regulations are written to apply to the majority of communities in the most usual of circumstances. However, rules and regulations need to be constantly streamlined and revised, and these are not the most usual of circumstances.

It is our responsibility to enter into open discussions with Your Eminence. When faced with extraordinary circumstances, I enter into similar discussions at my place of employment, in my household, with my friends, with my acquaintances, and, presumably so at the Parish Council. Why not with my spiritual leader? The essence is not really the mechanics of interpreting and following the wording, but in capturing the true issue and just putting it on the table for food for thought, discussion and subsequent action.

We cannot and should not be using “band-aids”, instead of prudent solutions. We have asked for drastic cuts from our non-clerical employees; we have acknowledged the financial burdens of our parishioners. We should further be allowed to be proactive and ask for similar sacrifices from our clergy. The collective amount of their remuneration at this time is simply too large. It should be clarified here that if a clergyman declines the proposed required increase in a given year, according to the guidelines, in order to be within the range, the following year, if economic conditions improve, the increase should be adjusted accordingly. Remuneration can be deferred to be paid when conditions improve.

On the proposed revenue side, I have had the opportunity to preview the new stewardship presentation. I was truly impressed. It is very well thought out. However, I am convinced, as you will see from the presentation, that it will ONLY work if the parishioners of our community feel that the Parish Council, the Clergy and the laity are on an equal footing; that there is an active demonstration of unity; that there is a commitment toward working cooperatively; and that there is open communication. If there is no such commitment, then we can expect to see the ongoing declining trend in the number of stewards and in the amount of stewardship.

In closing, I believe that the extraordinary circumstances we face in these times require extraordinary measures. Whether we like it or not, we are facing extraordinary circumstances. We can continue to put our heads in the sand, pretending that the problems will simply go away, or we can proactively and honestly begin to address them. Like it or not, we are ALL in this together. We cannot simply decide these things by ourselves, nor can we blindly ask our parishioners to accept to measures adopted without their input and expect or demand from them to simply comply.

Our clergy need to do their utmost to be viewed as servants to all our parishioners. They need to be role models, not critics. They need to exemplify the Lord’s role as that of the good shepherd. Humility, and not arrogance, is what is required. They must stand with us and not presume to stand above us.

I keep hearing that the complainers will always be complainers and that there is only a small group of people that create trouble and advocate reduced monetary stewardship giving. I submit, however, that it is those “trouble makers” who give very generously when it comes to specific restricted capital projects and /or community fund raising events such as the St Sophia’s School, the Thavma Foundation, Taste of Greece, etc. They will not be as generous when their intelligence is insulted and when their input is rejected. I ask Your Eminence: is there a possibility that they are trying to point out something to you? If nothing else, Your Grace, the loss from the previous year of 130 stewards or 13.00% for the 12-month period ending October 2008 is surely a matter for serious consideration.

Respectfully yours,

Dimitrios Tsagaris

Cc Parish Council


Here are some relevant UPR notations for consideration


Section 1: The Parish is the local eucharistic community of the
Church in a given locality; organized under the jurisdiction of the
Archdiocese whose ecclesiastical authority is its canonically consecrated
Hierarch. Locally, the Parish is headed by a canonically ordained and
duly appointed Priest. The assignment of such appointed Priest shall bind
the Parish to the Archdiocesan Regulations, Uniform Metropolis
Regulations and Uniform Parish Regulations with the same force and
effect as if the same were formally approved and adopted by the Parish.

Article 17. Section 2:
A. In accordance with the canons and ecclesiastical procedure,
neither the Parish Council nor the Parish Assembly is
authorized to dismiss a Priest.

Article 17. Section 8.
B. No Parish shall reduce, withhold or adversely alter a Priest's
remuneration without the consent of the respective Hierarch.

Section 4: If a problem should arise between a Priest and the Parish
Council, the matter shall not be brought before the Parish Assembly. The
Priest or the Parish Council shall have the right to refer the matter to the
respective Hierarch.

Here are some relevant notations for consideration from protocol 08-15 July 24, 2008.

a. A clergyman is assigned or reassigned to a parish by the Metropolitan alone.

b. Clergy compensation is governed by the annual Clergy Compensation Plan. This plan is promulgated by the Archdiocese through the office of the Chancellor and the Archdiocese Benefits Committee.

c. The clergy of this Metropolis are forbidden by me to discuss the terms of their compensation with any member or body of the parish. This includes the parish council and its officers: this standard practice helps to preserve the good relationship between the Priest and the parish on a spiritual level. All discussions and negotiations regarding the compensation of a clergyman are, without exception, conducted solely between the parish and the hierarch who acts on behalf of the Priest.

d. The compensation of the priest is not subject to discussion when considering the parish budget. This is so whether it is being considered informally, such as at a parish council meeting, or at a General Assembly: the compensation of a clergyman is to be regarded as a “fixed” expense just as a mortgage payment or other financial obligation of the parish.

Link to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Clergy compensation plan for 2009.

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