By Nick Stamatakis
We all need a vacation – especially when we work hard… And we all look forward to some time off when we are feeling that we have reached our limits… A vacation is an almost “sacred time” (pun intended) in our life… I enjoyed a few days off recently and I felt really rejuvenated (even though I had to turn off my phone completely for extended periods of time….) But do we take out a loan to go on vacation? Do we mortgage our house to go on vacation? No, we do not.
This is exactly what seems to have happened this year in the biennial National Clergy Retreat which took place these days (Oct 12-15) in Naples Florida in the luxurious Naples Grand Beach Resort (HERE IS THE LINK). The whole thing shows a very long distance between the “mission” stated and how this mission is practiced.
First of all, the priests (and the Archbishop with his assistants) should have thought twice about this year’s retreat: 1) We are coming out of the pandemic and it is very doubtful that the clergy is “over-worked” as the churches were empty and the services almost canceled for much of the time. 2) We just published a few days ago a statistical study showing that between 2010-20 GOA had a 20% decline in membership – and that was pre-pandemic! Now the decline could be almost double! 3) The PPP loans are finished and GOA is feeling a financial pinch at all levels because of the empty pews. I could go on, but just these three factors should have given a pause to the clergy and the leadership… Shouldn’t they have a sense of what image they present to the faithful? Don’t they care not to look insensitive, when they were supposed to empathize with their flock?
Then as you will see below they (the leadership) added insult to injury by stating on their website: Who is responsible for covering the cost of the retreat? Answer: Your Parish… Below you can see the full explanation, ie. that it is part of their “compensation plan”… blah..blah…blah… Yes, my dear friends, this is your “compensation plan” but you do not work for American Express. You work for a Church that lost PRE-PANDEMIC 20% of its membership and by now this can be up to 40% or more. Take a look around you at the empty churches… The Churches are your “home” and your “business”… Especially in your case, the whole Church is underwater financially – not to mention the federal investigation!… Is this what you would do if you run a business and the business was not doing that well? You would take a vacation? And you would charge the credit card – meaning in our case that if a parish does not have enough money, you would expect the parish to find a way (i.e take out a loan) to pay among other things your vacation?
Did you consult with your parishes? What did they tell you? Did they tell you they had enough money? If so, you did the right thing. But if they told you that there is no extra money why did you insist to have the vacation? Especially because the Uniform Parish Regulations contradict your “compensation plan” and the “Archdiocesan rules” and they provide only one paid trip: to the biennial Clergy-Laity Congress… (see below)…
Let me give you an extreme example to make the case clear. The Saint Demetrios of Astoria sent to the biennial retreat in Naples Florida, three out of the four priests serving the Community. The presiding priest Fr. Nektarios Papazafiropoulos, created a huge fight within the parish council – and he even involved the Archdiocese – when he was told there was not enough money for the trip. He was furious as if the struggling community owed him the extra compensation… As if he was the great priest that has so much charisma that the Church is full every Sunday of people hanging from his lips…
None of this is true – quite the opposite. He has no charisma, he is anti-social and the Church is empty every Sunday. In addition, he simply does not make the extra effort… I will stop here – I truly would not want to create more problems than the Astoria Parish already has…
The mission of the retreat is – among other things to support “our priests through spiritual growth, educational development and personal wellness”. At the minimum the Astoria community, which operates the ONLY Greek-American High-School in the country, expects the three priests to finally decide and teach “religion” for a couple of hours a week… Would they “learn” such a thing in their retreat? We will find out soon… So far I have verified talking to many parents that NONE of them is teaching religion at the high school next door or at any other school…
I do not think that such “sensitivity” is something that can be taught at any retreat…
This is an excerpt of the retreat brochure (HERE IS THE LINK).
Who is responsible for covering the cost of the retreat?
Your parish. As cited in the Archdiocesan Presbyters Council Guidelines, “The National Clergy Retreat (NCR) of the Archdiocese of America will be organized by the Archdiocesan Presbyters Council and held biennially on the off year of the Clergy Laity Congress. All expenses for clergy participants are to be covered by their individual Parish, as per the Regulations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the remunerative standards for clergy established by the Clergy Compensation Plan that is issued annually.” Exceptions to this directive must be approved by the local Metropolitan.
Further, the Archdiocese Uniform Parish Regulations (Article 17 (Clergy), Section 8), state: “The Archdiocesan Council and the Archdiocesan Benefits Committee will establish remunerative standards for the Clergy. These standards, for the following year, shall be sent to each Parish annually, by September 30,” and in the Clergy Compensation Guidelines referred to therein, it is noted: “The Parish must provide…Expenses for attending District/Metropolis Clergy-Laity Assemblies and Retreats, the Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress, Clergy Continuing Education Programs, and the Archdiocese Presbyters Council Retreat.”
THIS IS PAGE 38 OF THE UNIFORM PARISH REGULATIONS – DETAILING THE PRIESTS’ REMUNERATIONS – FOR THE FULL DOCUMENT LINK HERE
Section 8: The Archdiocesan Council and the Archdiocesan Benefits Committee will
establish remunerative standards for the Clergy. These standards, for the following year,
shall be sent to each Parish annually, by September 30.
A. After the review and approval of the respective Hierarch, each Parish shall be
1. To assume the moving and travel expenses when a Priest is assigned to a
2. To compensate the Priest appropriately according to the established
remunerative standards for the Clergy as found in the Clergy Compensation
3. To provide a housing allowance or a parish house including the payment of
all utilities for such parish house. This designation is to be in the form of a
Parish Council resolution and should be designated in advance of payment.
4. To provide the family Orthodox Health Plan Coverage (or single coverage as
5. To pay the full cost of existing Social Security (FICA/SECA) coverage at the
full self-employment rate.
6. To either purchase or lease an automobile for use by the Priest and cover all
7. To defray all expenses incurred in attending Clergy-Laity Congresses or
8. To provide for an annual vacation period of fifteen (15) calendar days, plus an
additional week for each five (5) years of ordained service (up to a maximum
of five (5) weeks), regardless of the amount of time served in his current
Parish. Prior to absenting himself from his Parish, a Priest shall obtain written
permission from the respective Hierarch.
9. To provide for a paid sabbatical of three (3) months after six (6) years of
continuous service in the same Parish