Moderator's Note: We thank Dr. Vidalakis for sharing this letter with the community, and for his many years of service to our Church in this valley and throughout the country. His original letter may be accessed by clicking here.
October 20, 2010
VIA FEDERAL EXPRESS
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios
His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Headquarters
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver
8 East 79th Street
4550 East Alameda Avenue
New York, NY 10075
Denver, CO 80246
Rev. Father Michael Kouremetis
Rev. Father Matthew Gilbert
Prophet Elias Church
Holy Trinity Cathedral
5335 S. Highland Drive
279 South 300 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84117
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
Members of the Greek Orthodox Community of Salt Lake City, Utah
RE: A call for unity
Dear Archbishop Demetrios, Metropolitan Isaiah, Reverend Fathers Michael & Matthew, and Members of the Greek Orthodox Community of Salt Lake City:
It is with sadness and great distress that I am compelled to write this letter. The Greater Salt Lake Community has been among the top Greek Orthodox communities in the United States. A small splinter group has emerged in the past few years and is attempting to divide our Community. These efforts are in violation of the principles of our Church, the will of the vast majority of our members, and the law. It is our spiritual, moral and legal imperative to resist these efforts and keep our Community united, as it has been for more than 40 years.
I write this letter as an 82-year-old who has been a member of the Greater Salt Lake Community for 70 years. I love our Church and have devoted a meaningful amount of my time, talent and treasury to it. With a happy heart and joy for our beloved Church, I have been blessed to have worked on many Church endeavors on both local and national levels.
As someone who has served on the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council, as a founding member of Leadership 100, and as a Board Member of Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology, I understand that a dispute such as this can have devastating effects on the Church at the national level, apart from imperiling the morale and financial health of the Church at a local level.
I am moved to write this letter because I have firsthand knowledge of the intent of our founders in legally uniting our Holy Trinity and Prophet Elias churches and communities. A unified community was the will of the Church clergy, leaders, and laity in 1968, and it has served us well for more than forty years. It remains the will of the Community today. It is my understanding that more than 80% of those responding to a recent survey of the Greater Salt Lake City parish stated that they are in favor of the Community remaining united.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I had the honor of working with Father Elias Stephanopoulos and Father George Stephanopoulos, along with many others from our community in founding the Prophet Elias Church. I was appointed the Chairman of the fundraising committee to build Prophet Elias, and as the lead negotiator for acquiring the properties adjoining Prophet Elias and Holy Trinity Cathedral that we now own.
Members from throughout our community joined together to raise around half a million dollars, a staggering sum at the time, to found Prophet Elias. There was a similar joint community effort, with donations large and small to raise more than a quarter of a million dollars to purchase the properties adjoining Holy Trinity, and subsequently those adjoining Prophet Elias.
Exhibit A (attached) is the minutes from the Holy Trinity General Assembly meeting of April 18, 1968. Page 2 of the minutes shows a motion I made to ensure that any motion to separate or divide the greater Salt Lake area Greek Orthodox parish in any way would require 6 months written notice, General Assembly action, and a minimum vote of 75% (amended from 2/3) of the total eligible membership of the total parish. This motion was unanimously approved and is the binding legal structure that must be followed to divide the Greater Salt Lake Greek parish.
Attempting to divide the community now without meeting the requirements set forth in 1968 is not only illegal, it is a travesty to the memories of Father Elias and Father George Stephanopoulos and to all the dedicated past and current members of our community who have worked so hard over the last four decades to build our community and keep it united.
It is important to underscore that our Church Heirarchs have not been given the true facts and legal circumstances and that indeed many misrepresentations were the basis of a proposed charter for separation.
Some clergy and laity members of the separatist splinter group have claimed that dividing the churches would provide many benefits, along with more money for the Metropolis and the Archdiocese. This is a myth with no basis in reality. We have seen in many communities throughout the United States that divisions all too often cause frictions and competitiveness between two Greek Orthodox churches. Division would produce less money from separate giving to the national ministry.
The unified parish has been a great promoter of Orthodoxy and Hellenism in Utah. Salt Lake now has one of the largest and most prominent Greek festivals in the country. Many non-Greeks from throughout the state, along with political and community leaders attend the festival and enjoy the food, dancing. and tours of our Church, which enlighten those attending on Greek Orthodox Church history and Hellenic culture. Division would obviously diminish our presence in the Utah community.
The small minority in favor of separation has used horrific tactics in an attempt to intimidate the majority into acquiescing to their demands for an illegal separation. Great insult and harm have been done to some of the most hardworking. dedicated long-time leaders of our Church. There has been one excommunication, several threatened excommunications, and many other threats and intimidations to long-standing parishioners who have served the Greater Salt Lake Community for decades.
Such turbulence has led people to reduce their church attendance, stewardship, and fair share contributions. Prior to the actions of the separatists, which have devastated the function of the parish, we were among the most thriving parishes in the country. We were always loyal givers to the national ministry of our Church and active in philanthropic efforts.
Separatist clergy and laity have accused members in favor of unity oftheft and misappropriation of funds. This is nonsense and there is no basis for these accusations. In fact, the truth is that the splinter group has attempted to illegally and inappropriately confiscate funds earmarked for specific projects. An audit has shown that more than six hundred thousand dollars has been misappropriated by the separatists and spent without the authorization of the General Assembly and other necessary legal authorization.
The splinter group of separatists is proposing to take Prophet Elias and its considerable landholdings, including the Saint Sophia School. The Saint Sophia Parochial School was started by those who are for a united parish. The highly-regarded school has students from Holy Trinity and Prophet Elias. In addition, there are many non-Greek students. The separatists' have no claim or jurisdiction over the school, as it is an independent corporate entity, with its own 501(c)(3) tax exempt IRS status, subject to the laws, rules and regulations of the Utah Education Department.
The separatists propose to take all of this without any of the time, talent, and treasury it takes for establishing a church such as Prophet Elias and all of its programs and facilities. The separatists have accused those in favor of unity of theft. The real theft would be if this small splinter group were allowed to steal the assets of Prophet Elias.
If the separatists want their own Church, they are welcome to establish one. They can go somewhere in the Greater Salt Lake County area, buy the land, raise the money, and design and build their church, along with any other facilities they choose. They can go from a mission church to a thriving, established church, based on their time, talent, and treasury.
This is exactly what the united community of Salt Lake did to found the Prophet Elias Church. This is also what was done to found the Ogden Greek Orthodox Church. I served on a committee of three, along with Con Skedros and the late John Papanikolas in identifying and acquiring the property and raising the seed money to help the Ogden community found the Ogden mission church, which is now a well established and thriving church community.
The escalating mean-spirited tactics and untenable position of the separatists may ultimately compel legal action to preserve the integrity of the community. Formal legal action could cost the Archdiocese millions of dollars and would cause a terrible rift in the Church. Our national Church should not be burdened with a costly and unnecessary lawsuit to indulge the illegal desires of a small minority separatist group.
Our Church leaders should provide Christian leadership with wisdom and compassion. I urge you, both clergy and laity alike, to do the right thing-to keep the community united and to heal the damage that has been done by a small separatist splinter group. This letter comes from me out of love and concern for the Greater Salt Lake Community, our Metropolis, and our beloved Greek Orthodox Church at large.
Yours in His Service,
Nick S. Vidalakis, PhD
HOLY TRINITY GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH
REGULAR GENERAL ASSEMBLY
April 28, 1968
ATTENDANCE: Rev. Fr. Elias Stephanopoulos Rev. Fr. George Stephanopoulos
EXECUTIVE BOARD: Nick P. Sefakis, President Jim Colovos, Vice President Andy Katsanevas, Secretary Pete N. Gustas, Treasurer
BOARD MEMBERS PRESENT: Jim Funtas, John Chipian, Dr. George Hatsis, Spyro Harkis, Basil Anton, Andy Dokos, George Adondakis, Jim Kastanis, Nicholas Rhodes
BOARD MEMBERS ABSENT: Steve Poulos, James Cayias
NEW CHURCH BLDG. COMMITTEE: Sam Souvall. Geoxge Furgis, Con Skedros and Nick Vidalakis were also present.
Father George opened the General Assembly meeting with prayer. Reading of the November 5, 1967, General Assembly minutes were read and approved as read.
John Sargetakis complimented the Parish Council and New Church Building Committee on the fine work they are doing. Mr. Sefakis gave a report on the money paid to the Archdiocese, number of people having paid $52, number having paid more than $52, number of senior parishioners, total on mailing list, total members in good standing, total enrollment of Sunday School, average Sunday church attendance and total enrollment of Greek school. A copy is a part of these minutes.
Mr. Furgis gave a report on the Theological Endowment Fund. Mr. Furgis stated that the board has budgeted $1,000 for the Theological fund. There has been a donation of $1,000, making a total of $2,000 less what has been sent to Mr. Manousakis in Salonika. Mr. Furgis stated that the money is presently in the general fund, but will be transferred to a separate account so that it can be administered by the Theological Endowment Committee. John Sargetakis made a motion to accept Mr. Furgis’ report, Seconded by Mrs. Tujios. Motion carried with one opposed. Father Elias said he has received many letters from Mr. Manousakis thanking the parish for their help. Mr. John Sargetakis suggested that a program should be set up to get more young people interested in going to Theological school. No action taken.
Mr. Rhodes gave a report on the certified public audit to year ending December 31, 1967, made by Elmer Fox & Co. A copy is a part of these minutes. Motion made by Mr. John Delis to accept report on certified public audit. Seconded by Jim Funtas. Motion carried unanimously.
The 1968 budget was presented by Mr. Sefakis. A copy is a pan of these minutes. After considerable discussion, Mr. Sam Souvall made a motion to approve the 1968 budget. Seconded by Mr. Zahos. Motion carried with one opposed.
The Clergy-Laity Conference in Greece was discussed. Motion made that insasmuch as Mr. Gustas will be in Greece at the same time as the Clergy-Laity Conference that he be elected to be a delegate representing Holy Trinity. Motion made by John Sargetakis that Pete Gustas be our delegate to the Clergy-Laity Congress. Mr. Gustas will pay his own expenses except for the registration which will be paid for by the church. Seconded by Jim Funtas. Motion carried unanimously.
Mr. Sefakis suggested that Father Elias represent our parish at the Clergy-Laity Conference. After a brief discussion, it was agreed that Father Elias would attend the conference. Mr. Nlck Vidalakis made a motion that the board be allowed to set the amount for Father's expenses to the conference. Seconded by Con Skedros. Motion carried unanimously. Mr. Vidalakis said we should consider the possibility of sending our president. Mr. Sefakis to the Conference. Mr. Sefakis stated that this was discussed by the Board and decided against it inasmuch as we did not budget for it. Mr. Maverakis moved that we accept the decision of the Board. Seconded by Mr. Barbouletos. Motion carried unanimously.
Mr. Sam Souvall gave a report on the new church building fund. Mr. Souvall stated that to April 19, 1968, our total receipts are $109,091.29. Our expenses were $25,555.35 which gives us a balance of $83,535.94. A copy is a part of these minutes. Mr. Souvall thanked the members of the parish for their fine support. Mr. Souvall said that bids would be let out May 15, 1968. Mr. Maverakis asked why were letting out the bids now rather than waiting a while. Mr. Souvall said that the new church building committee have discussed this with various builders and other experienced contractors and they have suggested that now is the time to let out the bids plus the fact that our people are anxious to see us get started.
Mr. Vidalakis gave a report on the new church building fund solicitations. He said that as of April 28, 1968, 60% of our members have pledged $392,753.00. He said many more have said they will pledge. Mr. Vidalakis said he had several motions he would like the members to consider. Mr. Vidalakis made a motion that -- any motion to separate or divide the greater Salt Lake area Greek Orthodox parish in any way would require:
1. Minimum of six months written notice with full particulars.
2. General assembly action.
3. A minumum vote of three hundred (300) or two-thirds (2/3) of the total eligible membership of the total parish (not the number which may be present at any given general assembly) whichever number is greater. Seconded by Andy Katsanevas.After some discussion, Mr. Con Skedros asked Mr. Vidalakis to amend the two-thirds to 75% in his motion, Mr. Vidalakis agreed. Motion carried unanimously. (emphasis added)
Mr. Vidalakis made a motion that the new church building committee be empowered and directed to investigate the feasibility of and acquire options for:
1. Establishment of the Hellenic St. Luke's Home for senior parishioners.
2. Acquisition of property adjoining the third south and second west property.
3. Add three additional members if necessary by majority vote of a quorum to help in accomplishing 1 and 2 above.
4. To implement 1 and 2 above and organize a fund-raising drive aimed primarily not at those loyal parishioners who have already good new building pledges, but:
- a -to those who have pledged nothing to date.
- b -to those who have pledged too little.
Seconded by John.Sargetakis. After considerable discussion for and against, Mr. Harkis made a motion that Mr. Vidalakis amend his motion eliminating #4 of his motion. Seconded by Mr. Nick Cozakos. Mr. Vidalakis agreed with reluctance to eliminate #4 of his motion. Motion of Mr. Vidalakis' carried unanimously.
Mr. Vidalakis made a motion that the new church building committee be empowered and directed to proceed with the new church project at 5335 Highland Drive by:
1. Soliciting competitive bids from at least five (5) qualified contractors.
2. Awarding the contract for construction on a bonded basis to the lowest qualified bidder.
3. Construction to begin and be finished as soon as is reasonably possible.
4. Arrange interim and other financing as necessary. Seconded by Jim Funtas. Motion carried unanimously.
Mr. Sefakis gave a financial report to April 26, 1968. A copy is a part of these minutes. Father Elias closed the meeting with prayer. Meeting adjourned at 5:10 p.m.