Archdiocese Ministries Loose Funding to “House of Smoke and Mirrors”, While Elpidophoros Celebrates his Nameday with a story of “Helping” Camping and Youth Ministries of the Archdiocese.
EDITORIAL NOTE: The attached story “House of Smoke and Mirrors” about Hellenic College and Holy Cross Theological School, written by an anonymous contributor, speaks volumes to the black hole that the Archdiocese continues to prop up with their increased funding, with no leadership and a total lack of accountability and professional educators.
In addition to the clarity outlined in this well-written article related to the sexual misconduct of the President, who remains in his position, it has been recently revealed that the Archdiocese and Hellenic College / Holy Cross offered the HC/HC Presidents Job to Mr. William Marianes of the Atlanta Metropolis. A retired lawyer who specializes in Intellectual Property, Mergers & Acquisitions, Technology & Telecommunications. Someone with absolutely no experience running a higher education institution or a theological school. Mr. Marianes is also a member of the Archdiocesan Council as well as a member of the Legal Committee of the Archdiocese.
Although Mr. Marianes has been known to have an excellent gift of speaking at a podium as an MC and more recently selling his services to the Archdiocese as a supposed expert in Strategic Planning and Stewardship, even he is smart enough not to jump on a ship that fraught with backstabbing pirates and leaders that award positions for certain “personal” favors instead of real academic credentials. Apparently, the Archdiocese and HC/HC is now throwing darts at a board trying to find a President stupid enough to take on the position.
The sad story is that by looking at the Archdiocese budget over the past four years, the Archdiocese has increased its funding to Hellenic College / Holy Cross exponentially and has funded approximately $13 Million to the school in the last four years. Let’s not also forget that the Archdiocese has increased its funding to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and has provided over $6 Million to the Patriarch over the same 4-year period. A portion of which is very well known to be “skimmed” by the Turkish government for “protection and survival” at the Fanar. The rest of the Patriarchal Grant is used to gas up all the Mercedes for the Metropolitans at the Fanar and help maintain the Patriarchal Yacht.
So, when you look at the increased funding for HC/HC and the Patriarch and the declining enrollment and lack of qualified clergy coming from the school, one wonders where they found the money to prop up the school and increase the Patriarchal Grant?
Well, look no further than YOU, the “Good and Faithful Stewards” of the Churches in America. Your Stewardship dollars, collected by the Parishes and given to the Archdiocese for the Ministries in America amount to over $25 Million per year. Funds collected by the Archdiocese to provide National Ministries BACK TO the Parishes and the Faithful of the Churches in America.
While there has been a steady increase in funding for Hellenic College / Holy Cross and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, when you look at the Budgets of the Archdiocese over the same period, the Archdiocese has REDUCED ministry funding by approximately $2 Million per year for a total REDUCTION of almost $6 Million.
Our Parishes toil and spin to raise funds through their Stewardship programs to pay their operating expenses, payrolls, and local ministries and expect some ministry support in return from our national Church. Instead, they get a reduction of national ministry support and a constant “shakedown” from the Archdiocese to fund various “special programs” and the daily whims of Archbishop Elpidophoros and his henchmen chancellors.
A case in point is tonight’s Nameday Gala – “a noble endeavor” – being held in the New York area in honor of the Archbishop’s Nameday and to “support the camping ministries” of the Archdiocese. In fact, the quote used in the flyer is:
“In an effort to make our camping ministries available to all children, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America has initiated a noble endeavor to establish the Archdiocesan Youth Summer Camp Scholarship Fund. This scholarship fund’s goal is that any child within our Archdiocese, regardless of financial circumstances, has the opportunity to attend our beloved camps and experience the transformative power of faith, fellowship, and nature.”
The irony of the “Smoke and Mirrors” here is that the Archdiocese has raised the price of their Ionian Village and Camping Ministries programs exponentially over the past years therefore making them virtually unaffordable for the average family. Those in charge, running the national church like a hedge fund instead of a ministry-based institution, are only concerned with the profitability of a ministry and could care less about the local parishioner paying their stewardship to the local church. Therefore, they are determined to have the camping ministry programs “profitable” regardless of who can attend.
Parents must now save for years to send their children to a camps that were previously partly underwritten by the Archdiocese budget, keeping fees affordable for those who are not the “rich and famous” of the church. In reality, this “noble endeavor” of the Archbishop is just another “smoke and mirrors” money grab, collecting more funds from the faithful instead of using the stewardship that is already paid to the Archdiocese to help the camping ministry programs. One must admit, it is a pretty clever, sneaky trick and masterful sleight of hand, but we all know that is how things work under our current Turkish ruler.
Funds are being diverted from our national ministries and re-directed to the black holes of our Archdiocese just to put on the façade that those institutions are thriving, when in fact they are withering away just like our national church. They are being used to pay for a Syndesmos of foreign clergy that came from Greece with no ministry experience or knowledge of how our Churches in America run, yet they are wined and dined in the Archdiocese headquarters literally “eating” away at your Stewardship dollars.
Recently, the New York and New Jersey parishes have gotten threatening calls and emails from their so-called “Chancellor” Fr. Villas, demanding each parish be “properly represented” by purchasing several tables at the Archbishop’s Nameday Gala, otherwise there will be “consequences”. A truly sad situation as our national church is in decline and our ministries are almost nonexistent.
It’s time for our faithful to ask the real questions about where your Stewardship is going. Why are we funding institutions that are failing and irresponsibly run? Why are we funding a foreign Syndesmos just getting fat and happy? When will the Archdiocese stop giving our hard-earned stewardship to the personal friends of the Archbishop and start funding our national ministries again? It’s time to wake up and speak up people!
The Holy Hill? OR
House of Smoke & Mirrors
To successfully create an illusion, the first thing you need is trust, but to perfect an illusion, the false reality must appear as authentic as the one it hides. Careful attention must be paid to every detail. The slightest of imperfections can, like a pin to a balloon, burst the illusion . . . and the truth behind the illusion becomes revealed (Emily Thorne). Hellenic College Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, MA, promotes itself as the “Holy Hill.” But what is so holy about an institution that falsely fosters an image of itself when reality tells a much different story?
Daniel Webster said, “The world is governed more by appearance than realities so that it is fully as necessary to seem to know something as to know it.” HCHC promotes itself as an exemplary institution of higher education with a strong Christian ethos of integrity and spiritual formation. However, as this article will illustrate, this is more a matter of crafty and misleading media than the actual reality and ethos.
While perspectives may vary from student to student, the facts are indisputable. Whatever one may feel or be indoctrinated to believe does not change the reality. If one calls themselves the “Holy Hill,” then we would expect evidence. More importantly, when we use a statement like this, we say we are a place of high moral and ethical integrity. Given the advance in media and marketing production, which alludes to a well-run and intentioned seminarian program and spiritually sound ethos, one would expect good evidence. So what are the facts?
HCHC has had a checkered past, including above-average leadership turnover of critical positions (Deans, Presidents, key faculty members.. etc.). It also needed clarification regarding its organizational structure and mismanagement of finances, both of which drew the attention of the accreditation board.
Consequently, the school was placed on probation and was in danger of losing its accreditation. During that time, it was hoped and stated that the institution had learned from these mistakes and made great efforts to correct itself. Where administrative efforts were made, and some internal structures did improve, most issues remain the same as before. In fact, in recent events, even worse things have happened.
The institution was supposed to define a clear understanding of its leadership structure and each person’s respective roles. What has occurred is a confused power struggle between the Office of Student Life and the School of Theology. Fr. Patrick O’Rourke, a priest of about six years, was made Chief of Staff this past year. He graduated from the school in 2016, and before becoming Chief of Staff, his most significant leadership experience was serving as an associate priest at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in New Rochelle, NY. He also holds a degree in journalism and is trained in drawing and photography. Fr. Michael Kouremetis, a priest of over 20 years, was serving as the Dean of Students within the Office of Student Life. This year, Fr. Michael was dismissed from his position and replaced by Fr. Patrick, a decision made by the president of the school, George Cantonis. This was decided despite opposition by certain board members and priests for various reasons, including his lack of credentials to hold such a critical role.
In most other academic institutions, the Office of Student Life (OSL) handles quality of life issues relating to students, such as events, activities, RA and RD training and oversight, orientation, and other related things. Academic and spiritual life programs, especially the seminarian ones, would fall naturally under the School of Theology. However, over the summer, while the school was closed and having just started his role as the Dean of Students, Fr. Patrick decided to wholly revamp the seminarian program based on his past experiences and documents he found. The result was a brand-new handbook detailing his vision of the program and the disciplinary consequences for not complying with the new rules, which were to apply to all seminarians regardless of their stage in the program. The handbook was produced over the summer without a formal and thorough review process by
the School of Theology and its faculty. It was immediately introduced to students in the chapel without any other representation from the school.
Since then, Fr. Patrick has continued an aggressive strategy to control seminarian life independently of the School of Theology. This is in addition to the traditional role of OSL and large portions of the media department. He has used his background in journalism and art to produce artwork for the school and media that represents his vision and ethos and has done so independently and not in cooperation or via any formal review process conducted by the School of Theology, its faculty, or even the Board. Consequently, a significant compartmentalization has occurred, leading to more intense leadership struggles
Student opinions vary based on their program of studies and interactions with leadership, but the results have yet to do anything to form a holistic single program for seminarian students. More than ever, students must compete and choose which aspect of the program they will be loyal to or suffer the consequences. The Seminarian Handbook outlines the punitive consequences for not fully complying with the program and sets Fr. Patrick as a significant authority and decision-maker in most matters.
The question to be asked is how someone with so little experience gains such power and authority over one of the most critical programs of the school. How is it that the Dean of the School of Theology is now subject to the Dean of Students and the Department of the Office of Student Life, which ought to be a subdivision of the school? How does a revamping and relaunch of the seminarian program get accomplished over the summer without a formal and rigorous review process?
Students’ experiences of the new program vary. However, an increasing number now fear OSL and feel they can no longer share their concerns or complaints about the program for fear of retribution. The threat of losing your cross, cassock, rasso, and even your seminarian status for non-compliance is a manipulative tactic. Rather than focusing on a journey of spiritual formation and discovery, it is a program focused on strict discipline and consequences with no foundation within Orthodoxy. Instead, it is a formula based on military and corporate practices of coercion and consequence. One student was aggressively pursued by Fr. Patrick and almost suspended from the school for calling into question the leadership decisions being made, thus raising the administration’s awareness of the problematic leadership approach.
Thus, the program and its leadership balance and structure are more chaotic than ever. Students fear consequences such as not attending enough social events, the Greek parade, and enough chapel, and fear addressing concerns to OSL. Instead, they have begun to voice their concerns to Fr. Philip Halakis in HR and DC Gary Alexander. Yet, the media and advertisement of the school give the impression that it is united in purpose and mission with a deep focus. The reality could not be farther from the truth.
The school’s advertisement goes far beyond an honest representation of student life. Rather than focusing on areas that are true to reality, they go well beyond to promote an image that does not exist. The failure always is that none of this is done with a unified voice and vision. In this case, the image of the school is being driven by the imagination of the few rather than based on real life. Again, they demonstrate that image is more important than the content.
If the school is going to be so bold as to call itself the Holy Hill, then we would also expect a degree of integrity in other areas. Take grounds and maintenance as an example. This team’s staff are some of the best men you will ever find, and have been there for over 20 years. They work tirelessly and do the work of 50 men to keep the place up and running. You would expect the school to abide by city laws and regulations regarding its buildings and structures. However, due to no fault of their own, the maintenance department has been forced to do work without pulling permits from the city. They have had to rewire buildings and ignore code laws, all in the name of restructuring housing to accommodate staff. This is done under strict deadlines with minimal staff. They have also been subject to
removing asbestos, which is by law supposed to be done by professionally trained personnel.
Where is the institutional integrity to abide by applicable city codes and laws for
the safety of its students and staff? Why does the institution continue to sacrifice
student housing instead of staff housing and spend tens of thousands of dollars
in renovations while virtually no upgrades or renovations are done to student
housing? Again, this is another instance of how convenience and image take priority over the more critical matters of students’ quality of life. Rather than spending money to provide better student spaces, the institution splurges on giving staff comfortable accommodations for free while paying them full-time salaries. It is not necessarily a bad idea if both were being accomplished. For example, the gym is entirely run down, does not have adequate ventilation or humidity control, and suffers from rusty, broken, and outdated equipment. There still is no single space that can be called a student center. The cafeteria is only open for limited hours, consists mainly of low-quality meals, and students are not provided with alternative opportunities for snacks or meals.
That being said, when the Archbishop or special visitors arrive, no expense is too great, and the entire school, including the student body, is corralled into presenting a prestige image. In times when ATS or some accreditation member is present, only specific students are selected to speak to them, and the general community is coached on how to behave. Students may feel uncomfortable sharing a more authentic picture of their reality because of peer pressure or because they do not want to get the school into trouble. If the consciousness of the institution were clear, then they would have nothing to fear. However, when people overcompensate to present a more pristine image of themselves, it typically indicates that there is much to hide.
Finally, and the most disturbing and sensitive matter is the sexual harassment allegations brought upon George Cantonis, president of the school. The allegations have been confirmed as accurate, yet he had been allowed to remain in power until December 2023. The reasons for Fr. Michael’s dismissal are vague. What is known is that the president then appointed Fr. Patrick in his stead, a man of considerably less experience and not adequately credentialed for the role he was to take. The extent or part the Archbishop has played in all these decisions is unknown. What is known is that the earlier dismissal of Mr. Cantonis back in August was suspended in lieu of the coming ATS visit. The school did not want to risk further complications and thus extended his stay until December.
Hypocritically, students accused of lesser or similar offenses have been suspended by the school or have had severe consequences or threats imposed upon them. Where, then, is the integrity? The institution chooses its acts of righteousness not based on moral principles but on the consequences of such actions on its image. Choices on which rules to follow and which to dismiss have little objectivity but are almost exclusively driven by the effects they may have on the image the institution is trying to promote to the public.
But the issue here is not the act of sexual harassment itself but rather the lack of integrity that the institution has demonstrated in all these areas and continues to promote and lead the public to believe the image of the “Holy Hill.” This is the most disturbing aspect of all these happenings. When faced with the opportunity to make wise and discerning decisions, it consistently chooses those that only benefit its image while putting far less effort and focus on its infrastructure. Its content is a mile wide and an inch deep. Its focus is diffused. Although it has the benefit of two thousand years of church wisdom and history, it applies very little of those lessons and principles to its spiritual formation program. It instead relies
on more superficial and coercive means and tactics to produce compliance and obedience rather than the more mature route taught by the Orthodox Faith.
Regarding pastoral care, seminarian students are often taught one thing and then told or, by example, shown to do something entirely differently. Seasoned and mature priests are not leading the most critical aspects of spiritual formation but rather the youngest and least experienced. Thus, there needs to be more being led by good example. Within any institution, there is a degree of tolerance. People exaggerate, disagreements occur, and occasionally, you have a more significant issue. We would accept many things as just part of any institution. So, at what point is it just not normal? How many things does it take to finally conclude that, institutionally, you are working well outside of what may be considered normal or within acceptable tolerances?
HCHC goes beyond accurately portraying itself at every turn to include a most recent example. The school recently touted that 93 students were enrolled, a record number. Once again, the information needed to be more accurate, and an honest explanation and breakdown of the number were conveniently left out, leading the general public to assume they have an additional 93 full-time students on their campus. Remember that two schools are on one campus, so that number needs to be divided between two schools. Secondly, only a portion of those students are full-time degree students. The rest comprise the semester of faith students, those earning a certificate, those in the Masters of Theology program, and those only online. But full disclosure and integrity seem to be a difficult
concept, and one must wonder why.
This does not cancel out or ignore some excellent work staff and faculty are trying to do. Some sincere individuals are trying to do excellent work. Still, these efforts are often hindered by power struggles, egos, and agendas that don’t belong in an institute of higher learning. The problems are systemic, and one would hope that an institution that has been around as long as HCHC would have the core elements of its program and organization figured out by now.
Despite its shortcomings and inadequacies, what is worse is the lack of integrity and transparency. HCHC should at least be more honest and forthcoming. Rather than smoke and mirrors, stick to a more humble approach rather than misleading us into thinking you are a holy hill. That image implies wholeness, integrity, and a degree of excellence and proficiency, which there is little evidence of. Are you a leader in your field? Are you an excellent institutional example for others? Do you honor, respect, and seek all student feedback, or do you have selective hearing and sensor those who may see things differently? Do you have excellent leadership and organization clarity, including a clear mission, defined goals, and actionable objectives? Are you truly honest about your shortcomings while striving to be better? Otherwise, how can you have such a clear conscience to self-proclaim yourself the “Holy Hill?”
If you focus more on content, integrity, and creating an excellent program that
others would want to emulate, then you would not need to title yourself or boast
as you do. Practice the art of being first, then your actions will speak for
DISCLAIMER: The views and statements expressed in this article constitute constitutionally protected opinions of this author.