SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver has gone ahead with his plan to split the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake in Utah into two parishes, disregarding the wish of the majority of the membership who oppose the move, defying the decision of the Holy Eparchial Synod of the Archdiocese and Archbishop Demetrios who “agreed the Salt Lake community will remain as one united parish” as Archbishop Demetrios wrote him on March 24 on behalf of the Eparchial Synod. The Salt Lake Parish was established by Greek pioneer immigrants in 1905 and now has approximately 1,300 families. To better serve its members, in 1969 the parish built a nave (church) in the name of Prophet Elias in the area of Holladay, just as it was with the Cathedral parish of St. Demetrios in Astoria, N.Y., which has two naves, St. Demetrios and St. Catherine. The parish has two priests, the initial chief priest Rev. Michael Kouremetis, and Fr. Matthew Gilbert. With the split, Metropolitan Isaiah has assigned Fr. Gilbert chief priest at the Holy Trinity Cathedral and Fr. Kouremetis to Prophet Elias. Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver did not return phone calls left in his personal voice mail box at the Denver Metropolis. Of the eight members of the current parish council only two were elected by the parish members, while the rest were appointed by the priest. In March 2010, Prophet Elias was organized as a separate religious corporation and registered in Utah without informing the membership of the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake. At that time, Metropolitan Isaiah requested the Archdiocese recognize Prophet Elias as a separate parish and grant it an official Charter of the Archdiocese. Archbishop Demetrios, in a letter to Metropolitan Isaiah dated April 12, 2010 wrote that, “We have received your letter requesting the granting of the Official Charter of the Archdiocese to the Greek Orthodox Church of Prophet Elias in Holladay, Utah, a community of the Archdiocese and specifically of the Holy Metropolis of Denver. It gives me great joy to grant the Official Charter to Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church, effective immediately.”
The Archbishop also wrote that, “The Charter certificate itself will be forthcoming as final preparations are being completed for its production. This letter is a certification with the official Seal of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America attests to the granting of official status of the community.” In a letter to the Salt Lake priests dated Oct. 6 last year, Metropolitan Isaiah announced the split of the parish into two parishes. He wrote that, “I confess to you that I have held back the contents of this letter (the Archbishop’s letter) all this time, because in making my evaluation I wanted to be absolutely convinced that the church-going members indeed wanted to see two separate parishes, each with its own parish council, its own income and its own property.” Isaiah, in his six-page letter, gave directives on how to finalize the split organizing two separate parish councils, two philoptochos societies, schools, youths, etc.
On Oct. 24, 2010 a special meeting took place attended by 450 people, 97% of whom voted against the split and decided on a Call to Action. On Oct. 30, the Chief Secretary of the Holy Eparchial Synod Archimandrite Sevastianos Skordallos sent a letter to Attorney Nick Colessides stating:
“I am writing to you on behalf of the Holy Eparchial Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Your appeal dated September 13, 2010 was received and discussed by the Holy Eparchial Synod on October 27, 2010. At the request of His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver and in accordance with the Regulations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, a Synodal Committee has been formed to review the issues you have raised. The Committee, which includes His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios, of Boston, His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit, and Legal Counsel Kathryn Walsh, will contact you, in the very near future, to schedule a meeting to discuss your case … all involved in this matter were advised to refrain from any further action whatsoever related to the issues raised, pending review and resolution of the matter by the Holy Eparchial Synod. On behalf of the Holy Eparchial Synod, I kindly ask for your patience as we diligently work to resolve the concerns you have raised in a manner that will establish peace and promote spiritual growth among the faithful people of Salt Lake City.”
A SHARP DIVISION
Nick Bapis a prominent member of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and member of Leadership 100 who has helped the Salt Lake parish to raise millions of dollars, in a telephone conversation told The National Herald that, “The Metropolitan is defying the Archbishop and the Synod. We continue to be disenfranchised and not allowed to hold fair elections. Instead the parish council is appointed as instructed by Met. Isaiah who said on June 7 that vacancies in the current council should be appointed (not elected) and sent to him for approval. It has been over a year since we have had a General Assembly with free and fair voting, and it has been several years since we have had appropriate and fair elections. Parishioners have not had access to proper pledge forms. There is great confusion about our rights to vote because some assumed pledges had to be fulfilled by March 31 as stated in Parish By-Laws. Others heard from the Parish Council that the deadline had been extended to May 31st. Not until June 7th were members informed that the official date was May 31st, an entire week after the deadline.” Bapis also stated that “none of this communication has been carried out properly and keep in mind that the pledge method sanctioned by the hierarchy after the Synod called for a halt to all further action toward a split consisted of two separate pledge forms, one for Holy Trinity and one for Prophet Elias but two separate pledge forms are illegal because we are still one corporation, we are one entity. So, who is really a legitimate member?”
Bapis was going to send Metropolitan Isaiah’s letter to Archbishop Demetrios. He said, “It was sent to Fr. Sebastianos (Scordallos) Secretary of the Eparchial Synod and to Kathryn Walsh the legal advisor and to Jerry Dimitriou also.” Vasilios Priskos, another faithful member of the Salt Lake parish, and a member of Leadership 100, told TNH that “Metropolitan Isaiah is telling us that we are a hierarchical Church and the hierarchy stops with him; he is not going to listen to the Archbishop” and he added “It was clear to me in his letter that he doesn’t care what the Synod said, we are his flock and he can do whatever he wants with us. So why have a Synodal appeal process? Or elections? Or General Assemblies?” Bapis and Priskos revealed their frustration with the Metropolitan’s, the clergy’s, and the parish council’s unwillingness to acknowledge the authority of the Eparchial Synod. “Perhaps the next form of assistance will be with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew” they said.
An icon of Christ was said to exude oil on Oct. 17, 2010 during the Divine Liturgy, which Metropolitan Isaiah declared a miracle. In a letter to Fr. Michael Kouremetis dated Oct. 20, 2010 he wrote: “The Lord has answered our prayers asking Him to resolve the confusing situation in the Salt Lake City area regarding the two parishes. When icons exude tears, like many of the Ever-Virgin Mary have, it is a sign of caution and problems. But, when an icon exudes oil, this is a sign of healing and blessings. When I was informed that the icon of Christ the Archpriest was exuding oil during the Divine liturgy on Sunday, October 17, 2010, when we celebrated the Holy Fathers of the Seventh and final Ecumenical Council in Nicea, I realized that a miracle had occurred. It is not usual for an icon of Christ the Lord to exude oil or even tears. I truly believe that our Lord heard our prayers to make His presence known and to resolve the situation of the two parishes. Now there can be no question in the minds of any of His people. Our Lord recognizes His parishes as monogamous and independent, each with a Proistamenos representing Him through the local bishop. Both parishes can now proceed to grow and to develop for His greater glory and the salvation of His people. The Lord Jesus Christ has spoken with this miracle, and His people will be faithful to His divine will.”
The Eparchial Synod and the Archbishop discussed the appeal filed by the concerned parishioners, and it was also requested by Metropolitan Isaiah.
On March 24 this year Archbishop Demetrios of America sent a letter to Metropolitan Isaiah informing him that the Synod had revoked the new charter that the Archdiocese had granted on April 12, 2010 for Prophet Elias. The Archbishop also wrote to Isaiah that, “At your request last October and in accordance with the Holy Canons and our Archdiocesan Charter and Regulations, the Holy Eparchial Synod agreed to review an appeal pertaining to the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake City.
The Holy Synod In its meeting on March 17, 2011, reached consensus and agreed, the Salt Lake community will remain as one united parish, until such time as the appropriate conditions are in place for the separation into two communities. Therefore, the ecclesiastical charter for Prophet Elias that was issued on April 12, 2010, is to be considered inapplicable and consequently withdrawn. Similarly, the Prophet Elias corporation will be finally dissolved and no separate trade names will be filed with the state of Utah for Holy Trinity and Prophet Elias.”
He added, “The Holy Synod, of which you are also a most valuable and integral member, affirms your authority as a Shepherd of the Holy Metropolis of Denver and assures you, that it will firmly be at your side as you kindly implement the Synodal decisions for the benefit of the Greater Salt Lake City Community who are under your Administrative and Pastoral care.” But in a letter dated June 7, 2011 Metropolitan Isaiah defies the Holy Eparchial Synod and the Archbishop and actually refuses to comply with their decision.
He wrote among other things that “as we approach the final Great Feast and celebration of Pentecost which completes the liturgical season comprising Great Lent, Holy Week, Pascha, and the Pentecostarion, the time has come to put all matters regarding the Church of Christ in Salt Lake City in good and proper canonical order. Please allow me to review certain critical matters regarding the Sacred Tradition of our holy, Orthodox Faith which concern the life of all parishes, at all places in the world, and in all centuries of the Christian era.
A QUESTION OF IDENTITY
The identity of the Church as one flock with one shepherd has always been the foundational principle in the holy Canons. This reality was reflected in the Second Canon of the Second Ecumenical Council held at Constantinople in AD 381, which states: “The bishops are not to go beyond their dioceses to churches lying outside of their bounds.” The same canonical principle was the basis for the statement made over sixteen centuries later at the meeting of the Eparchial Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America on March 16 and 17, 2011: It was noted by all the Members that the responsibility of shepherding the parishes in each Holy Metropolis of the Holy Archdiocese belongs to the respective Hierarch who shepherds them according to the order of the Church, her Canons, the Charter and the Regulations of the Holy Archdiocese. In practical matters concerning the Orthodox Church in Salt Lake City this means that you have one hierarch, the Metropolitan of Denver. The Church in Salt Lake City therefore consists of the faithful people united to their Metropolitan. In other words, there is one shepherd and one flock, one Church and its one bishop.
As the Eparchial Synod reiterated, it is I alone as the Metropolitan of Denver who have exclusive canonical authority over the Orthodox flock throughout this Metropolis, which includes Salt Lake City. It would be a gross violation of twenty centuries of our Church tradition for any other hierarch to interfere in my assigned Metropolis, and no Orthodox hierarch would even conceive of doing so. Yet, I do not act on my own, but I always refer to the consistent tradition of our Church and reflect the common consensus of my brother hierarchs in our Eparchial Synod. Second, it is essential for all of us to understand that the Church in America functions as one Archdiocese. There are not separate rules for different parishes or for the various metropolises. We express our unity in Christ first and foremost at the Divine Liturgy, which is our common worship, but we also do so in day-to-day matters by following a common set of administrative regulations that apply identically to every parish. These are referred to as the Uniform Parish Regulations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Just as I do not “do things on my own” so our parishes do not have separate sets of regulations. We are not like the heterodox congregational churches that exist in America which, according to a United Nations estimate, today comprise over 25,000 separate independent denominations in this country alone. It is regrettable that the Orthodox faithful in Salt Lake City have been misled by some to believe that the ecclesiastical circumstances there are unique and thus that the Uniform Parish Regulations, not to mention the 2,000 year old traditions of our faith, do not apply.
For the sake of unity and harmony within the greater community in Salt Lake City, it is time for the Church to move forward in the spirit of Christ our Lord and to focus on why the Church is in the world. Accordingly, I am directing your priests to convene a Special Parish Assembly of the faithful from both parishes on Wednesday evening, June 22, 2011.
I am also sending my Chancellor, the Reverend Luke Uhl, as my personal representative to be present with you.
The agenda for this Special Parish Assembly is straightforward foundational. There are four items for you to approve:
• Formal acceptance of the Uniform Parish Regulations of the Archdiocese
• Formal recognition of the names of the two existing churches
• Restoration of the sacred names of the Holy Trinity and Prophet Elias
• Amend the present articles of incorporation within the State of Utah acknowledging the Archdiocese Regulations and the original name of the Holy Trinity which was first incorporated over one hundred years ago, as well as the name of the Prophet Elias.
There is no Greek Orthodox parish that is not under the Uniform Parish Regulations, and there is therefore no need for discussion regarding this agenda. You simply accept the Regulations, so that there will be no confusion or misunderstanding on the part of any and all who may be concerned regarding the ecclesiastical status of the Church in Salt Lake City.
As I have mentioned in previous letters to the current Parish Council, any separation of the two churches will be done in an orderly manner with written documentation in harmony with the teachings of our Church which has preserved the concept of monogamy in all things. Finally, the current continuing parish council members have served well and ably these past few months. It has not been fair for these few individuals to bear the full burden of your combined community. In accordance with the Uniform Parish Regulations (Article 24, Section 5e), I am requesting that the Parish Council submit to me the names of current, contributing members in good standing who will accept to serve on the current Council until December 31, 2011, so as to complete the full number of Parish Council members. These individuals are to be voted on by the current Parish Council and forwarded to me for approval and ratification.
As your bishop, I look forward to receiving the report from Father Luke about the Special Parish Assembly in Salt Lake City. I also look forward to your continued progress in Christ, for the spiritual edification and sanctification of the faithful Greek Orthodox Christians in greater Salt Lake City.”