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Financial struggles impact local Greek Orthodox worship

By Joe Walker

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Aug. 25 2013 10:45 p.m. MDT

HOLLADAY — More than 400 members of the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake packed a special parish assembly Sunday afternoon to consider the church’s financial struggles.

“This is a family matter,” said parish council president Dimitrios Tsagaris, explaining why the discussion at the Diamond Z. Miles Multi-Purpose Center at the Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church was closed to the media. “We need to be able to speak openly and plainly with other members of our church family.”

Tsagaris confirmed that by a narrow 220-215 vote, parishioners voted to:

  • Reinstate their three priests, who have not been performing the sacraments of the church since late July over a financial dispute between the local parish council and church administrators in Denver
  • Provide back pay to the three priests
  • Urge leadership in Denver to reassign one priest and allow the Salt Lake parish to continue with two priests, one to oversee the Holy Trinity cathedral in downtown Salt Lake and one to oversee the Prophet Elias church in Holladay

"It was a very orderly assembly," Tsagaris said. "From my perspective it was a success on several levels: We talked as a family; I think we gave our members a better understanding of our financial situation; and we voted and made a decision that I think will benefit everybody."

The dispute began late last month when the parish council sent notification to parish members that “our community is out of money and unable to meet payroll.” Salaries for the three parish priests were cut by 40 percent and questions were asked about several benevolent funds over which the priests had control. The regional leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church in Denver responded by instructing the priests not to officiate in any of the sacraments of the church — including worship services, weddings and baptisms — until the matter is resolved.

Tsagaris said he hopes the Sunday voting will bring the matter to an end.

"Of course, the Metropolitan (His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah, hierarch of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis — formerly diocese — of Denver) alone has the authority to decide how many priests we will have," Tsagaris said. "But we will make the request and ask that one of our priests be reassigned somewhere else. The Metropolitan will have to decide which priests stay and which one goes, and where they are assigned."

The parish council president acknowledged the Metropolitan could decline to reassign a priest and leave the parish with three priests between the two churches. If that happens, Tsagaris said, "then we will find ourselves in this same position at the end of the year."

Still, he has confidence the Metropolitan will consider the vote of the assembly and respond accordingly.

"It was a very inclusive discussion," Tsagaris said. "I think things were explained very well. It's time for us to move on."

Moving on, he said, means finalizing preparations for the annual Greek Festival in downtown Salt Lake City, scheduled Sept. 5-8 near the Holy Trinity Cathedral on 300 West. The festival is not only a major fundraising opportunity for the Greek community, he said, it is also an opportunity for benevolent giving, with "a substantial amount" of festival proceeds going to charities outside the Greek Orthodox community.

"It's time to put this behind us," he said. "It's time for people to come and have fun at the best Greek Festival ever."

Email: jwalker@desnews.com

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