Moderator's Note: the original letter may be viewed here.
March 7, 2013
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE CLERGY AND THE LAITY OF THE GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH OF GREATER SALT LAKE
Beloved Fathers, Deacon, and the Faithful Laity,
As most of you know, I permitted the general assembly of community to take place a year ago this April for the purpose of having parish council elections, which shortly thereafter took place. Since that time I have kept silent except for several letters I wrote to the current parish council in response to its letters addressed to me.
For the past ten months, during which your parish council has been functioning, I have been receiving an ever greater number of letters informing me of an increase in the divisiveness among you, including among young adults and teenagers. When the parish council assumed its responsibilities ten months ago, it assured me that it would work for the unity of the community. Unfortunately, despite whatever steps the council may have taken, this does not appear to be happening.
Allow me to cite some realities that exist and which speak to this divisiveness and lack of progress toward unity:
1. Although your current parish council should have a total membership of fifteen persons, it has only fourteen. Originally a fifteenth member was elected whom I did not ratify because he was one of the persons who brought-about last··year's lawsuit against the previous recognized parish council. I must say that I was ready to ratify his election for the sake of peace and unity. However, he prevented me from doing so by sending a letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch making a request which went contrary to the Uniform Parish Regulations of the Archdiocese, which our Ecumenical Patriarchate ratified several years ago. After these many months your parish council has ignored its responsibility to fill the position, and thus is ignoring the Uniform Parish Regulations of the Archdiocese. In choosing to "honor" the un- ratified individual, they have placed him above the importance of a properly functioning parish administration. Obviously if the needs of the community as a whole are given a back seat, unity cannot be achieved.
2a. On March 1, 2013 Father Michael Kouremetis received an e-mail from one of the current council members.. as.king him. if. he could "perform a speedy liturgy" on Sunday, March 17, 2013 so that the program·of the teenagers involved in this year's St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival could be squeezed in, and so that the Special General Assembly scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on that day could take pace with an adequate number of parishioners present.
Please know that this was the ultimate insult to the Sacrament which promises eternal life to those who seek God's coming Kingdom. It must be known by all Greek Orthodox Christians that the most important act in the life of the Church is the Divine Liturgy which offers to the believers the very Body and the very Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for our eternal salvation. Moreover, the Divine Liturgy is not "performed." It is not a stage production. We commonly refer to the Holy Eucharist as "Communion." The Divine Liturgy is conducted or celebrated with prayerful expressions so that we can receive Communion and thus enter into communion with our Lord and with one another.
Rushing through this most essential and holy sacrament of the life of the Church in order to conduct the mundane is tantamount to sacrilege.
2b. Is the scheduling of this special general assembly not an insult to the teenagers of your community who have chosen to put their faith into words through the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival, one of whom won First Place in the senior division of the Archdiocese Festival last summer? The Oratorical Festival was planned for that date by the organizing committee last September. Do those who scheduled the assembly realize that they have intentionally or unintentionally expressed to the Church's young people that they, and their words based on Holy Scripture, are not as important as a meeting? Do they realize that the repercussions of such decisions will have lasting effects for the community and the Church as a whole?
2c. It is my understanding that one of the basic reasons for scheduling this special general assembly is the limited amount of stewardship given to the community thus far this year. Yet it appears that this was orchestrated in 2011 and 2012 when people were encouraged to give less stewardship while the previous parish council was in place and then only ten or twenty dollars for each year after that, merely in order to vote at the anticipated parish council elections. Clearly the results of this short sighted and poorly conceived effort are being experienced now and further divide the community. Moreover, another unwise proposal is being discussed in regard to eliminating one of the three priest's salaries in order to address the current financial situation. While this may be seen as a "quick-fix," a responsible approach would not prudently consider dismantling the core ministry.structure of a church. Perhaps if a 2013 budget existed, more reasonable cost cuts could be identified.
3. Is it true .that even one or two members of the current parish council gave only twenty dollars in 2011 and also last year in order to vote? I find this difficult to understand given the honorable history of sacrifice that has been handed down to us by our forbearers. When I was informed that the community was planning a Greek Town Memorial a few years ago, I contributed five thousand dollars in memory of my uncle, my mother's older brother, who came to our country as a very young man to tart a new life in Salt Lake City. I am still grateful to our loving God for allowing me to honor this uncle who helped to start the Holy Trinity parish in 1905, in a way which reflected his life-long sacrifices for his deeply held Greek Orthodox traditions.
4. When the parish council elections took place last April there were 141 absentee ballots. Undoubtedly some parishioners may have been traveling or ill, but the relatively large number of 141 begs the question, who were those people who could not even be bothered to present themselves to the church for the election? In many of our. parishes in our Archdiocese 141 ballots are the total ballots cast at parish council elections. Can anyone explain this phenomenon?
5. In addition to the divided nature of the community, a separatist attitude continues to exist between the Salt Lake City community and the rest of the Metropolis and Archdiocese.:The community did not give its financial obligation to the Archdiocese in 2011 in the amount of $137,000. The other forty-seven parishes of this Metropolis stepped up to pay the amount to the Archdiocese. Ideally the community would owe them a reimbursement, but at the very least an expression of gratitude and a recognition that they too belong to the greater whole.
6. To add insult to injury, although I allowed a general assembly to take place last year in April, certain young people outside of the assembly meeting at the Prophet Elias Church were walking back and forth chanting, "F*ck the Metropolitan!" The irony of this is the fact that Archbishop Demetrios congratulated me for allowing the general assembly and the parish council elections to take place at that time.
Unfortunately, a few years ago Archbishop Demetrios was convinced by three or four individuals from Salt Lake City that I had ordered the separation of the two churches.
Having been in the administration of our Archdiocese forty of my fifty years of service to the Church, I would never had done such a thing, knowing that the official request had to come initially from the membership of a separate parish, as the Uniform Parish Regulations state. I received no such request and no response of official recognition was ever sent by me.
Regrettably, the un-canonical involvement of Archdiocese attorneys convinced certain people in New York City and in Salt Lake City that I was at fault regarding this whole scenario.
It is clearly seen through these examples, as well as many, many others, both blatant anci subtle, that the Greek Orthodox Community of Greater Salt Lake is not unified.. Much wqrk needs to belfol!eJn or er has been divided. This is a difficult endeavor that will require the prayers and hard work, not only of those who have placed themselves in leadership roles, but of the entire body of believers.
A first step in the journey toward unity is to reconcile the financial difficulties that the community is experiencing so that appropriate focus can be turned to more important matters of spiritual edification. To this end, I ask all of you who consider yourselves faithful Greek Orthodox Christians to give to Christ our Lord and to His holy Church at least one per cent of your last year's income as stewardship to the Church for 2013. I am optimistic that this initial effort will both alleviate financial stresses and allow the community to experience a spirit of unity through your joint effort. Moreover, it will establish a stable foundation upon which the community may build for the glory of God and for the benefit of His people.
With paternal love,
+Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver