“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


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Letter to Metropolitan Isaiah from John T. Speros

Moderator's Note: Mr. Speros' original letter may be viewed by clicking here.

October 20, 2010

Via fax: 303-333-7796

His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver
4550 E. Alameda Avenue
Denver, CO 80246-1208

It is with true sorrow, a heavy heart and crystal-clear resolve that I write this letter to you today. Last week I had an opportunity to read your letter dated 9/16/10. Your decision to divide this community coupled with a lifetime of personal grievances with the church and its clergy has finally forced me to act on my instincts. Like you, I too "have been observing and monitoring the existing situation in the life of the Greek Orthodox people in greater Salt Lake City." The only difference is, I've been doing it for the past sixty years; ever since I was a child and thought I wanted to become a priest. Please allow me to briefly recount the most poignant, shocking and life-altering observations I've made while "monitoring" this community.

I was really taken with the first priest I remember in this community. He was so handsome and commanded such respect from everyone. I was sure I wanted to be a priest. Within a relatively short period of time, he had a sordid affair with a single female parishioner, took off his collar: and left his wife and several children for parts unknown. My father was the president of the community and I remember all the phone calls to the archdiocese and the anguish it caused the community. Several years later, I admired another priest. He was eventually apprehended, after several episodes, in the gully behind my family's home, exposing himself to all the little girls in my neighborhood. Again, more phone calls to the archdiocese, the police department, and the Mormon bishop who was in charge of the Bonneville Ward House near our home¬ -- thank goodness for the benevolence of that man. He understood the explosive nature of what had happened and he allowed the police to book the priest without "Greek Orthodox Priest" behind his name. We lived in a neighborhood with very few households that weren't LDS. We lived in fear for years that our neighbors would find out who the perpetrator was and that we would never be able to overcome the outrage and the embarrassment. I guess that kind of killed any ambitions I had to become a priest. I'm relating these things to you now because 1want you to know that I have come by my phobia of the clergy and my cynicism honestly! Albert Camus wrote: "The worm is in the man's heart." Believe me, after those sterling examples of orthodox Christianity, this worm has been in this man's heart a very long time!

As a result of these experiences, I agree there is a "cleavage" within this community, but it exists between the parishioners and the clergy/archdiocese because of their lack of vetting the best men to be priests. That's not to say that all the priests who have come through this community were bad; many have been exceIlent spiritual guides, yourself included. You were an asset to the youth in this community. You were involved with Jr. and Sr. GOYA. You were always there. We were friends. Or at least I thought we were. You almost resurrected my desire to become a priest. We spent time together, we talked about life. We dragged State Street together in your low-slung, two-door Mercury with dual exhausts. And then, as the life of a priest in Salt Lake City went, you were gone. I accept that life changes all of us. Nobody stays the same. Some men became more powerful. Now, as I try to reconcile my memory of you as a young priest with this decision, I wonder how relevant Lord Acton's words might be to this situation? "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." That is not a judgment, just a query of relevance. Who would I be to judge you because we disagree?

For most of my adult life, I have not been an active member of this community and I have never been a terribly religious person. But just because I haven't gone to church doesn't mean that I haven't cared or paid attention to what happens. Out of respect for my parents and relatives, I have always been respectful of the community and what it has tried to accomplish in spite of its clergy. As such, perhaps I don't have any right to complain and be critical. I have so much respect for so many people, many of whom are dead, who spent their lives in service of this community, who were: "the generation" that built these two churches, overcame all the obstacles and brought this community to where it is today. There have been times when I have taken pride in what has been accomplished by other parishioners on behalf of the Greek community, in spite of the petty and constant bickering that has persisted and plagued it since my childhood. However, as I've described above, there were times when I was terribly ashamed. I have never been able to get over all the havoc and embarrassment wreaked upon this community and my heart by some of its arrogant, pompous, self-serving and ill-prepared clergy. As an adult, I have finally been willing to accept that they were mere men who have sinned and made mistakes just like every other man and are worthy of understanding and forgiveness. It hasn't, however, made me any less cynical. But it would seem, that these days, the clergy and archdiocese representatives regard themselves to be "god-like" and, as such, I would consider their human frailties and greed to be unacceptable in anyone's eyes and therefore, worthy of our scorn, not our continued forgiveness and respect. If the archdiocese, the clergy and the Parish Council had spent all the time and energy that they've spent in a power struggle and instead focused on all things "Christian," I dare say you would have accomplished so much more for this Greek community, Salt Lake City and the State of Utah. There is so much need. But it doesn't appear that you, Father Michael or the Parish Council are willing to compromise your egos and step away from your personal agendas to achieve the greater good. I feel your goals are shallow, petty, short-sighted and maniacally egocentric. Now that the communities are divided, they have been pitted against each other! How Christian! Now the Parish Councils will spend all of their time trying to attract all the new members and they will compete to get the wealthiest to change churches. Will they advertise? Offer coupons? In any case, I obviously don't agree that they will prosper divided. And speaking of the Parish Council, I do have one suggestion: they need to be elected by the parishioners, not hand-picked by the priests or the archdiocese. That's a little too self¬-serving. The parishioners no longer have a voice. But I guess that leads to a well-tended flock. Unfortunately, I feel that these shepherds are leading this flock astray.

I must also admit, that apart from the great pride and the excruciating embarrassment, I have carried a personal grudge for over thirty years, having endured the loss my first son. On that day that my second son was born, the doctors told me he would not live through the night. I left the hospital and came to the church to pray. I was turned away ''because my jeans had holes in them and I was not properly dressed to enter the church." So, do I have the right to be angry? I had holes in my jeans! The archdiocese appointed the men whom I've described above to be this community's spiritual leaders and a member in desperate need of spiritual guidance was rejected. Needless to say, I have never been back as an active member! And, as long as this will be my last correspondence, I must add that no one seemed to notice. No one, ever, not one priest or any other church official, has ever asked why they don't see me on Sundays. Why am I not more active in the church? Perhaps, because all of my family is involved, I guess everyone just assumed I was a heathen. Even the last time we were together, after all these years, you made sure I kissed your ring, but there was no query as to the health of my spiritual life. Perhaps there wasn't enough time. Perhaps I assigned too much significance to our association all those many years ago. But I guess that's why I'm so embittered, because it doesn't matter.

The church takes my family's money, which was given freely and with love, and nobody really cares about anything else. Case in point: your letter addresses how much or how little a random number of people have given to the churches. Maybe that's all they could afford. You seem to know that they could have/should have given more. Obviously that's all they chose to give. I can't imagine that the church isn't happy with whatever is given without demanding more. I'm so tired of hearing about the money, and I don't even go to church! What you didn't address was the possibility that perhaps, as the clergy have become more brazen, contemptuous and greedy, the Greek people in greater Salt Lake City have stopped getting their money's worth of spiritual guidance and eternal salvation! Or that maybe everybody's so worried about money, the church has stopped meeting the religious needs of its membership, young and old alike. I assume, however, that Father Michael, being a man of God, will also be a man of his word and honor his personal assurances to me and my family that the money donated by my parents, Theodore J. and Katy P. Speros as the "Speros Family Educational Trust" will remain, as such, in perpetuity. My parents, "may their memory be eternal," are probably rolling over in their graves watching all you "Christian men fighting for control of the money and church properties.

At this time. I would request that my name, John T. Speros (not my grandfather or any other member of my family) be stricken from the official church register. I guess I can excommunicate myself? Don't know! But I assume you'll let me know. Or perhaps you won't. I appreciate that this is no great loss to this community, but I can no longer stand by and pay homage to a God, apparently yours, who would direct mere men and would-be, self-appointed "gods", however small, to disrupt, disrespect, dismantle and destroy the life-time accomplishments of the very people who give Him life.

My father used to tell me stories about his life, growing up in Bingham Canyon, how the non-Greek children used to push him off the sidewalk, beat him up and call him names. I never quite understood the reasons behind the name-calling. During my childhood, I was hung by my ankles from street signs because I was a Greek. I have forgiven those children, some of whom are still friends, and I will always be proud of my Greek heritage. But now, I just thank you and Father Michael. Because of your covert and unchristian actions, with regard to splitting this community, you have finally helped me to grasp the concept and meaning of what those kids may have meant when they disparaged my father.

I know, in my heart, that the God I will continue to hold dear will forgive me for writing this letter, as he does the sins of all men, including yours. Your God, however, probably won't. Based on my assessment of your "Christian" actions and the vindictive nature of the "powers that be" around here" they will want to crucify me for my irreverence or perhaps, as long as they get their way, He just won't care!

I apologize for the catharsis. It's been a long time coming. I guess, if I had to unload on someone, it might as well be on an "old friend." Someone who has a chance of understanding the pain in my heart. And please, at this time, don't concern yourself with my eternal salvation. My family knows where my ashes are to be spread. To quote Edvard Munch, "From my rotting body flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity."



John T. Speros
169 South Main Street
Salt Lake City, Utah

Cc: His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, via fax: 212-570-3592
Rev. Fr. Michael Kouremetis, via fax: 801-424-1296
Rev Fr. Matthew and the Esteemed Parish Council, via fax: 801-328-9688
Nick Colessides, via fax: 801-521-4452


Barbara Billinis Colessides said...

Hear, Hear! Well said, John! Na agiasei to stoma sou!

Steve Gamvroulas said...

This was one of the most stirring and heartbreaking letters I have read. It is so depressing to see the negative repercussions of the hostile takeover that is in our midst.

I hope that the clergy and their appointed cronies on the parish council will sleep peacefully in the knowledge that they were responsible for this unChristlike debacle. Ntropi sas.