By Nick Stamatakis
Our article of last week, titled “GOA Accelerates the Sale of Properties: The Case of NYC’s St. John the Baptist”, received enormous attention from all corners of the country, proving that the issues we presented are real and are deeply concerning the Greek American community. AB Elpidophoros felt the need to make a statement a day later, explaining that (In Greek, translation mine): “It’s not bad for someone to retire. It’s a natural occurrence. To give interpretations for issues that do not exist and to create another dimension is not right. We neither want to sell churches, nor did we sell any in the past nor do we plan to sell any in the future”.
We are very happy that AB Elpidophoros clarified his position. But some experienced observers of GOA affairs had a different perspective on the issue and have been thanking us for days. Why? Because we touched such a thorny issue and were able to get a clear answer from the leader of the Church, preventing even temporarily the unjustified sale of parishes. At the same time, they all agreed that the statement by Elpidophoros is not to be taken at face value. Why? We will explain below as we analyze the issues further.
On Selling Parish Properties.
First, the idea of closing a parish/church is nothing new. As I explained in my previous piece, AB Iakovos attempted to close down St.Nicholas at Ground Zero and, fortunately, he was denied by the parish about 30 years ago. Since the arrival of AB Elpidophoros, talk about this possibility has intensified at 79th Street and beyond. For AB Elpidophoros to suggest that “they had or have no such plans” is rather disingenuous. Especially because the need for “merging parishes” was widely proclaimed by His Eminence.
Not only was it proclaimed but it was also practiced in the case of the parishes of Corona and Jackson Heights in Queens. First, AB Elpidophoros installed the new Education Director, Mr.Koularmanis as president of the Corona parish (and Koularmanis, completely disregarding any rules on “conflict of interest”, picked his family, friends and colleagues as members). Then, early this year, the Jackson Heights parish was invited to decide whether they would agree to merge with Corona. They answered with a big “NO”… After their negative response, Elpidophoros changed their priest installing someone from Constantinople, who is guaranteed to follow his directives to the letter. And then he proceeded slowly in many indirect attempts, continuing today, to effect the merger of the two parishes “socially”… Does Elpidophoros want us to believe that, once he is successful merging the two parishes, GOA will not sell the “freed”/”unnecessary” property?
This is not an issue exclusive to our Church. The diminishing numbers of church-goers in all Christian denominations, and even more so paying members of parishes, has been making national headlines for a long time. Yes, some parishes have very few or no members, while they have great expenses and little income to justify their staying open. Also, we all understand the need for any organization to “restructure”. And so, closing a church would be an acceptable proposition if certain conditions are met. What are these conditions? It would be the task of the Archdiocese to present them publicly so everybody understands them. But since GOA did not do it, while they prefer discussing the issue in secret, let us list here some basic ones:
- The parish is in an area where an effort for “rehabilitation” (by increasing enrollment, or otherwise producing income) is futile. For example, if the parish happens to be in or near a heavily Orthodox-populated area, then this is not the case and an effort to renew its leadership should be attempted.
- The parish property has value that outweighs significantly the parish’s financial obligations.
- The parish council and the parishioners are thoroughly consulted and agree.
These are “common sense” conditions and I am sure that people with experience in the operation of the parishes would have one or two more to add… But above all GOA should install transparency and accountability procedures every step of the way. They should be especially explicit on what they plan to do with the proceeds of the sale BEFORE they list the property for sale. Do they plan to support GOA ministries? Which ones specifically? Do they plan to support the priests’ pension plan? Do they need to built another Church in a more “prosperous” area? Or maybe they received a call from the ever money-hungry Pat. Bartholomew demanding more money for Constantinople? Whatever the case, they should keep in mind that in most cases an approval from the local District Attorney is required for the sale of valuable properties and this is not going to be easy at all, when all D.A.s already know that GOA is under investigation for financial “mishandling”.
On retiring priests.
AB Elpidophoros’ decision to abruptly retire Fr.Vassilios Bassakyros struck the parish of St.John the Baptist like a lighting: the decision “screamed” of many injustices, not the least of which is age discrimination.
1) If a certain age limit over 70 or 75 was to be applied across the board, then the first to be forced into retirement should be Karloutsos, whose presence causes tremendous damage to our Church and drives away numerous Greek and Orthodox faithful who would otherwise be able to offer a lot to our communities. Also, there are others much older than Fr.Vassilios Bassakyros, or much less healthy, not to mention their level of motivation and energy, who should retire first…
2) AB Elpidophoros chose to force to retirement Fr.Vassilios Bassakyros, an aging but youthful priest in excellent health, with overflowing energy who spends his days doing Christ’s work and is loved by his parishioners. The following day, visiting the parish of Port Jefferson in Long Island, Elpidophoros praised it as exemplary, while all of us who live on Long Island know that it is very problematic… AB Elpidophoros does not have the excuse of not knowing the dismal situation of the Port Jefferson parish and who is to be blamed for it… He is not excused because his Chancellor Fr.Andreas Vithoulkas has served in Long Island for many years… Does AB Elpidophoros realize how disingenuous and phony he appears to the tens of thousands of faithful in our area, if one day he forcibly retires a worthy priest and the next he praises the unworthy?
I could go on and on with other examples of “unworthy priests” and “problematic parishes” but I am wasting my time… Unfortunately, AB Elpidophoros’ is not here to renew the Church and lead it to new heights. He is here to act as an agent and a money collector for the Constantinople Patriarchate. If he wants to make a statement proving otherwise then he has to present a complete plan for (the possibility) of selling church properties, installing accountability rules and explaining what he plans to do with the money. The Phanariots of GOA have to understand that this is NOT Turkey. They have to be truthful, they have to follow the rules of this great country and they have to realize that trust in America is always earned: Nobody will trust them just because they bear a title – be it “Pasha”, “Sultan” or “Archbishop”…
As far as Fr.Vassilios Bassakyros’ retirement is concerned, AB Elpidophoros has the option to revise his decision after listening to the parishioners of St.John the Baptist. It is obvious to all that this was a grave mistake and so he has the option to, once again, ask for forgiveness, as he so easily does; He can be sure that this time not only he will be wholeheartedly forgiven by all, but his retraction of a misguided decision will be the most appreciated by all and especially the parishioners…
BELOW YOU CAN ENJOY SOME VIDEOS OF FATHER VASSILIOS BASSAKYROS… AXIOS!!