The following letter was sent to Father Kouremetis and distributed by him to Father Gilbert and to the Parish Council during our Greek Festival Weekend. In keeping with their promise to keep the community informed in these matters, the Parish Council distributed this letter to the community via e-mail on September 8. The Metropolitan's original correspondence may be viewed here.
September 4, 2012
Rev. Michael Kouremetis, Proistamenos
Rev. Matthew Gilbert, Proistamenos
Mr. Dimitrios Tsagaris, Council President
The Esteemed Parish Council
The Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake
Holy Trinity Cathedral
Prophet Elias Church
5335 S. Highland Dr.
Holladay, UT 84117
Beloved in the Lord,
I am in receipt of a letter signed by Mr. Dimitrios Tsagaris, the Parish Council President dated August 23, 2012. The letter informs me that there was a final resolution regarding the attorney fees owed by the community pertaining to the recent lawsuit filed by five individuals in October, 2011 against eight members of the previous parish council.
Mr. Tsagaris' letter requests that I now ratify the election of the final candidate who was elected, Mr. Yannis Armaou, the rationale being that a final resolution of the lawsuit had been achieved. In this legal action five individuals who consider themselves members of the community sued the eight former council members. The total financial cost against the parish in the form of attorney fees was originally $56,467.10, with the spiritual cost being far greater. Your insurance carrier paid $25,000 of the debt leaving the balance to be paid by the community. After being given a discount the community is obligated to pay $28,000 to the attorney who defended the eight council members.
Reflecting back these past two and one-half years, I became aware of the fact that a vocal group of parishioners preferred to believe the un-Christian gossip and accusations against other parishioners, against the office of a bishop in the Church, and even against our Ecumenical Patriarch. Adding to this detrimental behavior, many parishioners were encouraged to give nothing or a mere token stewardship commitment so that they would be able to vote at the ensuing general assembly and to vote at the recent parish council elections. As you know, I relaxed almost all the requirements to allow this to happen.
Yet the fact remains that your community has four separate accounts, which are not under the current Parish Council, clearly in contrast to the Archdiocese Uniform Parish Regulations which state that all funds of a parish must be under the custodianship of each current parish council. The separate funds in your community are the HighTower investments, the Greek Orthodox Community Restoration Fund, the Skedros Memorial Fund, and the Hellenic Community Foundation.
In the face of this reality, and due to a cash flow problem in the community, you are now taking the current stewardship of parisr..ioners in order to pay the attorney fees of the lawsuit. Furthermore, the sequence of events following the lawsuit has caused increasing financial instability, including the community's inability to pay its commitments to the Archdiocese. These important points force me to pause in regard to ratifying Mr. Armaou's election to the Council given his role as a plaintiff. Until all problematic financial matters related to this have been resolved, Mr. Armaou's status will remain pending.
In my letter of ratification to the previous parish council, dated May 29, 2012, I called to attention the words of Saint Paul found in his first epistle to the Corinthians (6: 1-8) which prohibit church members from suing their fellow members. On the basis of this Scriptural exhortation, it appears most logical and correct to expect the five individuals who filed the lawsuit against their fellow parishioners to pay the $28,000 to the attorney. After all, the debt is a direct result of their action in opposition to Holy Scripture. This would eliminate the need to use the stewardship funds of the parishioners to pay an invoice which does not rightly belong to them. To compound this anomaly, the statement is made in the recent letter sent out to the parishioners that no management fees were paid to one of the individuals who sued along with the other four, who controls the largest amount of community funds. Undoubtedly the $28,000 in legal fees negate any benefit gained in this regard.
One positive statement I discovered in the letters sent to me in reference to the operating accounts of the parish was that, "We were assured to know that none of the accounts have been mishandled .. . " Obviously, this clears the names of the members of the previous parish councils.
Please know that this whole affair saddens me greatly. In my fifty years in the holy priesthood beginning at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Salt Lake City in 1962, I have never encountered so much anger and animosity and division in one parish. Attempting to analyze this whole tragedy, only one common string stands out; money! Are we a church or a secular business?
I am sorry to say that even the makeup of the current parish council which I ratified demonstrates a clear division between those who identify with the Holy Trinity Cathedral and those who identify with Prophet Elias Church. Some responsibility regarding this sad reality also rests with our Archdiocese in New York.
My exhortation to all of you is to consider all real estate and all funds secondary to who we are. We are Greek Orthodox Christians who are members of Christ's Church because we believe in His words that our eternal condition will be either with Him in His glorious Kingdom or we will be in the eternal darkness with the devil and all of his fallen angels.
When we came into this world, we found His Church for our salvation, and after we are gone, His Church will remain for those who seek Him and His unchanging truths.
With paternal love,
+Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver