On a spring day a few months ago our Metropolitan finally allowed us what was, even under the oft-cited, cherry-picked and highly flawed UPRs, our right and our due. He deigned to allow a open general assembly and then free elections. He also said, “no restrictions” on WHO could run, or WHO could be elected. We were of course pleased. We figured everyone involved was exhausted and finally understood it was time to turn “swords into plowshares”.
It is really nice that our Metropolitan starts out his August letter thanking the community and its elected parish council (with still one member yet to be sworn in, despite the assurances that "anyone" could run and could be elected!) for its attempts to reach out to all in a spirit of unity, understanding and forgiveness. He further offers prayers that such a spirit will continue to grow.
Strangely, (or, perhaps not so?), he then proceeds in that same letter to offer a highly tortured, utterly inconsistent, explanation as to why HE instructed three parishioners to, yet again, establish a separate corporation – for Prophet Elias only!
In regard to the other letter of the same date, which requests information about the renewal of the Prophet Elias Corporation, please know that as the hierarch of the Metropolis of Denver, I am obligated to oversee all the parishes which are officially under the Archdiocese through the Metropolis. The community of Salt Lake is reincorporated from 1974 as an independent corporation solely under the State of Utah. The Prophet Elias Corporation on the other hand, is recognized as a legal name under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. This was my decision in order to conform to the Uniform Parish Regulations. In making this important distinction I am able to recognize the greater community composed of faithful stewards as being an integral part of the Archdiocese.Establishing a corporation for only ONE of the two churches in this community in no way conforms to the UPRs. Nor, of course, is it applicable to the well-established exception this community legally enjoys, and has upheld by vote last November, despite dire threats from the hierarchy of what could happen if this community did not foreswear that exception.
Further, in making what he says is “this 'important' distinction”, the Metropolitan claims that he is recognizing what he calls “the greater community composed of faithful stewards”.
Your Eminence, the greater community in this valley, is composed of faithful stewards, who have proven, time and again, that, whichever church they might attend here on any given Sunday or holiday, they all belong to the Greek Orthodox Community of Greater Salt Lake, comprised of TWO ekklesies that our forebears built, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral and Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church, both under the aegis of one Greek Orthodox community. We know you don't like the arrangement, but this has worked for us, and this is what we still want. After all we have been through, the excuse that yet again establishing a separate P.E. corporation “protects” that particular church from a takeover by a charlatan clergyman is both dishonest and absurd.
In no way can there be a recognition of Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church as a separate corporation under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Archbishop Demetrios and the Holy Synod were highly specific in a letter to our community in March 2011:
"The ecclesiastical charter that was issued on April 10, 2010 is to be considered inapplicable and consequently withdrawn. Similarly, the Prophet Elias corporation will be formally dissolved and no separate trade names will be filed with the state of Utah for Holy Trinity and Prophet Elias." (emphasis added)We have before pointed out that this passage by our Archbishop seems utterly unclear to Mr. Shand et al. Additionally, these explicit statements seem to have confused our Metropolitan and his counselors as well! Of course in his September letter our erstwhile Metropolitan throws the Archbishop under the bus, along with everyone else. He himself accepts no blame in causing any of this strife.
In the Metropolitan's August letter, he goes on to state:
Moreover, from your letter you state that the renewal of the Prophet Elias Corporation is divisive in nature. In regard to divisiveness, what can I say about parish funds which must be under the direct custodianship of the Parish Council, but are under separate corporations such as the HighTower investment firm in Chicago, the separate Hellenic Cultural Foundation and the Greek Orthodox Trust Committee? Are these not equally, if not more, divisive than the Prophet Elias Corporation which has no funds?
Question: How does the community even know that there are no funds? Are we to believe that the unelected principals of the renewed corporation do not know how to open a checking account?
The metropolitan's assertion also poses a false equivalency. The HCF and the trust committee are entities overwhelmingly approved by general assembly VOTES, and one of the trustees of such, is always the parish council president. Obviously this fact gives the Parish Council OVERSIGHT! The situation is set up in a manner quite similar to Leadership 100, or is the Metropolitan now disapproving of that institution as well?
Conversely, no general assembly in this valley has ever approved any initial establishment, or any renewal, of a separate Prophet Elias Corporation. This latest action is in direct contradiction to the Archbishop's revocation of a separate charter for Prophet Elias. It also runs counter to SEVERAL directly expressed votes and surveys by the overwhelming majority of members of this community over the past several years. Moreover, it should be remembered that the Metropolitan said he would honor those votes!
Where in the UPRs does it state that two or three members can simply take a church’s identity and claim it as a corporation in their names, without any election or grant of authority by the general assembly? This is, simply put, yet another putsch by a minority, who have the Metropolitan's ear, with tacit approval by at least one of the local clergy, to split this community and take over the church on behalf of the wishes of, again, a TINY MINORITY.
Furthering the false equivalency, there is absolutely nothing divisive about the separate accounts designated for specifically allocated projects for this community. These were voted on and approved by the general assembly. Just as funds were collected and donated for the pavilion and prayer garden at Prophet Elias (and, at a time when the dome and roof still leaks!), so funds have been collected and dedicated for various other projects for the community. It is not up to the Metropolitan, or the very few, to claim that these allocated funds can be diverted to other purposes. It would be dishonest to do so when these funds were gathered for specific purposes and upgrades. In fact, the Metropolitan's freezing of said funds has limited the interest those funds could be collecting; it has also put the specific projects for which they were gathered on an indefinite hold. It would be tragic if people who had hoped to see projects completed in honor of loved ones’ memories, may not live to witness such, due to the freezing of these funds by the Metropolitan. Surely it is past time that this situation be rectified! And, since he is so fond of bringing up the afterlife, … συγνὠμη, δἐσποτα, αλλά τι ψυχή θα παραδὠσεις εσὐ σε αυτή την περίπτωση;
It is unfortunate, yet not surprising, that during these past years, when this community had no voice in its own governance, that stewardship dried up. A repressed and unrepresented laity had no other way of making its despair known. If the problem ended up in the courts, the Metropolitan and his cronies are to blame. Pleas and entreaties to the appointed - not elected, to the clergy and the hierarchy, for too long fell on deaf ears. This community has not forgotten that the Metropolitan, in attempting to force a split before the Archdiocese's letter in 2011, was simply demanding that all funds be split, regardless of their original intended use. The Metropolitan is now clearly insinuating that these funds ought to be part of repaying past due allocations for the Archdiocese. There is no doubt that it is unfortunate that the other parishes were forced to shoulder that burden on our behalf. This unfair system portrays yet another travesty to be found in the current Uniform Parish Regulations that were rammed through the supposedly representative Clergy-Laity Congresses.
The Metropolitan blames six individuals who, on behalf of a very large majority in this community, and AS REPRESENTATIVES of that great majority, sued the intransigent appointed parish council members who would not hold an open general assembly, would not provide lists of members that were legally requested, would not provide any sort of transparency, would not conduct audits as they were legally bound to do, and did not have the guts to tell the Metropolitan that they would not betray their own community! Now the Metropolitan asserts that the six "who consider themselves members" (THEY ARE MEMBERS!!!) who represented hundreds, should themselves pay the legal costs of the appointed parish council members. This is nonsense. That lawsuit only occurred because the appointed parish council members themselves were in violation of civil law, AND, of the UPRs. If anything, your intransigent appointed should pay their own legal bills. Yet the elected parish council, in the spirit of forgiveness and unity, is, instead doing so. How we do it is our business. Instead of gratitude for the spirit of forgiveness, we see belligerence.
Our Metropolitan ought to consider that if this community finds itself struggling today, that struggle is directly attributable to his ongoing interference in non-spiritual matters, to his high-handedness in acting on behalf of the very few, to his continuing to seek means by which to split our community on behalf of that very few – despite the majority’s objections, and to his allowing this situation to endure far too long, even after the Archbishop and the Holy Synod asked that it stop. It is long past time that this miserable situation he himself created cease!
The Metropolitan made a step in the right direction last spring. (He refers to it as "bending over backwards".) He allowed a parish assembly, followed by free and open elections, supposedly with no restrictions as to who might be nominated and elected. He then, once again having given his word, reneged, and disallowed two members until such time as the lawsuit was withdrawn. It was withdrawn and in the meantime one elected member withdrew his name. The other still awaits swearing in, and NOW the Metropolitan says that the appointed parish council's attorney's fees must be paid - and how they must be paid - before such can occur.
In taking these bizarre actions, in making these absurd claims, as well as in insinuating himself into the minutiae of governance in this community, the Metropolitan simply is setting a poor example to his flock, and most particularly to our youth. He is our spiritual leader, yet it is he, not we, who confuses the spiritual with the temporal; and, it is he, more than we, who is consumed with money. If nothing else: surely a spiritual leader's word ought to mean something? Surely a spiritual leader can guide, can encourage, without resorting to pettiness, insinuations, back-door machinations? In his own words, "is this not a demonstration of separation and divisiveness?"
Your deeds speak louder than your words, Your Eminence, and neither have always been loving nor kind. You say you "bent over backwards?" No. You go backwards and you go back on your word. Time and again you seek to drag this community back with you. We are not going back.
In your letter you said, "please let us be sincere and forthright, since we are serving our Lord." We can all progress together, unified, in a spirit of cooperation and love. We really can forgive and forget. Or, we can have the disharmony, discord and stagnation of the past few years. You can either guide us, with Christ’s example of the good shepherd, or you can continue to throw out roadblocks and obstacles.
We can move forward if we all set our egos aside, or, the games can continue. The choice is yours, but we are not going back!