By Nick Stamatakis

A very happy surprise over the past two years, during my continuous writings on corruption at various levels of the GOA, was learning about a letter late last May by Fr. Andreas Vithoulkas, Chancellor of the GOA, to Fr. Nektarios Papazafiropoulos, the presiding priest of St. Demetrios Astoria, demanding action regarding the “conflict of interests” of various officers of the parish (to refresh your memory please follow the link here). I asked very experienced members of our Church this question: When was the last time you have heard of any similar action in the last few decades? The answer was negative from everywhere and this was another cause to celebrate this first – remarkably positive – action in AB Elpidophoros’ tenure; But also made all of us curious to see if this first move will be followed up by other steps.  After all, the persistent demands for transparency and accountability from the grassroots towards the Church hierarchy were entering their third decade of inaction…

More interesting was the reaction of the “Mafiosi” who run the Astoria parish for decades: the “godfather” Andriotis, and his puppets, Sideris (president of the parish council and main culprit whose wife still is the principle of the elementary school handling a multimillion-dollar budget), Papamichael (president of the school board and employee of ALMA realty) and the priest himself, Fr.Nektarios, who was either blackmailed or strong-armed or lacking the backbone to oppose such illegalities… I was informed later that they were all laughing at the letter by Fr. Andreas and they “threw it in the garbage”…  No respect at all – understandably, as nobody from GOA called them to task ever before…

The Astoria parish serves for many reasons (the most important being its rich, prestigious history and its school which produced numerous priests, cantors, and even hierarchs of the GOA) as the showcase of the Archdiocese. Due to the illegal and immoral actions of the above “Mafia-like” clique, supported over four decades by the self-serving publisher of TNH Diamataris, the parish was rendered – and it still is today – into a “showcase” of what our parishes should NOT be: 1) Countless conflicts of interests (in addition to the above, at some point both ALMA BANK and ATLANTIC BANK had their employees serving at the parish council – at the same time as they were doing business with the parish!!)… 2) A complete lack of accountability: tens (yes tens!!) of bank accounts, one hiding after the other, so nobody knows exactly how much money the parish is handling… Nobody, except Andriotis and one of the “girls”, a secretary/bookkeeper who always acted as an extension of Andriotis “accounting”…  Yes, the accounting that existed mostly in his sick – now provenly sick – head… “What should we pay this contractor?” – Let’s ask Andriotis… “How much of a raise to give to this teacher?” “Let’s ask Andriotis”… A former school principal, Koularmanis, who used to be reimbursed for his personal use of his own personal credit card monthly, “no questions asked”  – among many other questionable actions… And cash, lots of cash… Unaccounted and unaccountable cash – except in Andriotis’ sick head… If a true auditor suddenly entered the parish and saw all this unaccountable cash they would be sure that this is not a Church of Christ but a mafia-like organized crime operation…  Cash from candles, cash from festivals, cash from “donations” and cash for all kinds of reasons… “Why so much unaccountable cash if we are running a non-profit corporation and we pay no taxes anyway?”, a reasonable person would ask.  But reason had no place here – only the personal interests of those running the “scheme”…

As for transparency, where to start? Nobody ever in GOA thought it appropriate to publish anything but a misleading general budget whose main purpose was more to hide than to reveal… As for publishing the payroll – forget t!! That’s how we learned this past January, with a delay of about two decades, that both presvytera Xanthi Karloutsos and son Mike were on the GOA payroll costing in total about $1 million annually!! At the parish level, things were even worse. St.Demetrios of Astoria’s budget was a concoction of fake numbers that usually had no relation to reality… And nobody ever thought that it is a good idea to publish the payroll at all levels of the GOA. Please, do not tell us that it is not required by law… Yes, it is certainly not required by Law… But in a bankrupt organization like our Church, the main goal is to re-establish trust.  You will never re-establish trust by trying to see what is required by law, but by opening all the books everywhere this is possible… By shedding plentiful light into all accounting corners…

And so, the St.Demetrios of Astoria parish, after a one-year effort during 2019 which was undermined by these shameless characters and their “accomplishes” in the 79th street headquarters, seems to be now heading into a new direction and is starting to be looking to a brighter future.  AB Elpidophoros and his chancellor Fr. Andreas seem willing to help the parish move on.  If these efforts succeed, the parish and its school will be in the next few months a real laboratory of all the principles and techniques that could be applied to “right the wrongs”, to achieve transparency and accountability, to attract the younger generation of Greek Americans and in our case to produce Greek and Orthodox culture. St.Demetrios of Astoria is in a unique position to facilitate the “production of culture” more than any other parish in the US.  It sits at the center of a very populous and very talented and active Greek-American community…  These younger people have been actively excluded (yes, excluded) by the “Mafiosi”… St.Demetrios is also surrounded by other populous Orthodox non-Greek communities, some members of which have been trying in vain to approach the parish and become members… They were not welcome by Andriotis.  The examples of “closing the doors” by Andriotis are plenty… For example: Why was the former treasurer not allowed to continue, even though he was voted in by the parish? What are they hiding? Why did they not let him continue? Were they worried he might find something?

The parish has a great potential of attracting a younger generation of Greek and Orthodox people – if a few steps are taken towards this direction.  Please do not anybody start again with the “declining numbers of church-goers” and the rest… This is the time for GOA to prove that it means what it has occasionally – ceremonially – declared.  No need for further ceremonial declarations, this is the time to take action… The principles and tactics to be employed are obvious in the above; we will apply them in a specific “set of ideas” at an appropriate time in the near future. But it is now time for GOA leadership to take the necessary steps to allow this new day to rise… Are Elpidophoros and Fr. Andreas up to the task?

October 24, 2020, n.stamatakis@aol.com   www.helleniscope.com

PS. Question to our GOA leaders: How is it possible for someone (Koularmanis) who is suspected of having caused grave financial damage in his 20-year tenure at St.Demetrios School and who – acting unethically – sued the parish which fed him lavishly for 20 years (and the case is still active and not settled!!), is allowed to be in charge of forming other (“charter”) schools nearby? If this is how our leaders are trying to bring change? We are hoping not…

1 ΣΧΟΛΙΟ

  1. Sorry but Koularmani is likely being enabled/ supported to extort the St Demetrios community. This is shameful and embarrassing for both Koularmani and the Community. I wonder if he had the blessing of the Archbishop to proceed with this action?

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