As a Child of St. Spyridon, I am Appalled

I begin this piece by saying something complimentary about George Passias, who was presiding priest at the St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in Washington Heights (in Upper Manhattan, NYC) until very recently, when he was relieved of his duties and banned by the Archdiocese: in all my years of attending Greek Orthodox Church services, I have never heard the Holy Friday Engomia – Lamentations chanted so exquisitely by anyone as by Fr. George.

If nothing else, from a selfish perspective I will miss not having another opportunity to visit the church of my childhood for Holy Friday Vespers with Fr. George conducting the liturgy. The thought of such a prospect was so appealing that I actually contemplated figuring out a way to celebrate Easter in New York City (from three hours away in Central Pennsylvania), just so I could hear Fr. George at that Holy Friday service.

That, of course, won’t be happening, because if you haven’t heard by now, Fr. George has been accused of sleeping with and impregnating Ethel Bouzalas, a married woman he calls a “spiritual daughter.” We have reported this information, as has the New York Post, which on October 4 included pictures of the two, allegedly still shots from “kinky sex tapes,” as the Post describes them, which the couple presumably made during their clandestine meetings at a New Jersey motel – a few minutes’ drive from St. Spyridon.

Some of Passias’ most vocal supporters have come forward to point out that Passias and Bouzalas, like any other mere mortals, have sinned, and that as Christians, we should be compassionate and forgiving. That’s fine. I am not seeking to condemn Passias or Bouzalas. Mind you, I am certainly not defending them, but they are now both out of the picture. No different than, say, Nixon resigning after Watergate.

What concerns me most of all, however, is not the past, but the future: that the same mistakes must never again be repeated in that church that I so love: to which I was brought as a 40-day-old baby (and many years later, brought my own daughter there at 40 days – to be blessed, by Fr. George, in fact!). In which I was baptized. In which I served as an altar boy under the eminently wonderful Fr. John Psillas. In which I baptized one of my four godchildren. From whose Greek Afternoon School I graduated. And in which I can still picture countless images of my very large extended family, knowing exactly in what spots in the Church they sat or stood – who was there every Sunday without fail, and who showed up sporadically.

To that end, here are my concerns:

PARISH COUNCIL

I do not know the current members of the St. Spyridon Parish Council. Make that: as far as I know, I don’t know them. I say “as far as I know,” because one would think their names would appear on St. Spyridon’s website. But they do not, and so I’m not really sure who’s on there, and if I know any of them. So, as far as I know, I don’t.

I have no reason to accuse them of any wrongdoing. I learned through articles by our Religion Editor, Theodore Kalmoukos, in this issue, that the Parish Council President’s name is Efstathios (Steve) Papadatos, and that he is close to Passias, as Passias brought him along from Brooklyn, along with Bouzalas, when Passias took over at St. Spyridon nine years ago.

I definitely don’t know who Mr. Papadatos is. If he was really in the dark about these apparently evident atrocities that Passias and Bouzalas committed, then I genuinely feel bad for him. But if he knew, and he covered it up, then he should be tossed out onto Wadsworth Avenue, and the same goes for all of the other Parish Council members: if they didn’t know, then they should stay and help pick up the pieces. But if they did know – throw the whole bunch of them out.

THE SCHOOL

I also read that Bouzalas has no experience or qualifications in educational administration, but that nonetheless, Passias appointed her Principal of the St. Spyridon Parochial School which, as far as I know, continues to provide classes from pre-school through the eighth grade.

Again, if that is true, I am especially appalled. You see, I have been an educational administrator for over twenty years. In fact, the St. Spyridon Parish Council in the mid-1990s invited me to consult them, and the School’s principal at the time, in order to help save the School from permanently closing. The short-term problems, as explained to me, were funds. Even if that were true – even if there really were no funds to keep the School afloat, I had a solution. I knew enough well-qualified individuals who would volunteer their time to serve as teachers and administrators – including me – to keep the School running. In the long run, I outlined a plan designed to reverse the School’s woeful enrollment within two years, and place it on track for long-term success. In short, the problem was one of quality: my plan, which was never adopted, would have made the school competitive, insofar as parents would gladly have sent their students there instead of the New York City public school system, not only because the environment at St. Spyridon would have been safer, but also because the education would have been top-notch.

Because of my personal history with that School, I hope that moving forward, whoever is in charge of it will be a bona fide educator with the requisite skills to lead and motivate. Again, I don’t know what Ms. Bouzalas’ qualifications were, and so I’m only going by what I’ve read. But if in fact, she was as vastly unqualified as is described, then my advice to St. Spyridon moving forward is this: just because you are a Greek Orthodox Church doesn’t mean you have to be “Greek” about the way you staff your positions (i.e., cronyism over merit: for more details, take a gander at the Greek government and how it has filled public positions for the past umpteen years).

THE ARCHDIOCESE

I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Over the years, I have been baffled by countless times that clergy, embroiled in scandal, instead of being shunned – as Fr. George now has been – have been cast off to other parishes. A variation of sweeping the problem “under the rug” – they just swept it to another parish, far, far away from the scene of the crime.

To date, I have not heard a credible answer about why such things happened. In fact, some elders would say to me: “paidi mou, einai i Ekklisia, min milas – my child, this is the Church, you shouldn’t speak this way.” Of course, I found that rationale even less credible.

I am pleasantly surprised, then, that instead of farming Fr. George and his entourage to some cushy gig in some unassuming parish in say, the warm Southwest, they altogether gave him the boot. Wow! I hope this wasn’t just a fluke and it’s really going to be the norm from now on. (What next, the Greek government will start prosecuting tax cheats?)

THE PEOPLE’S CHURCH

Over the past few days, several current and former St. Spyridon parishioners have called me about the Fr. George scandal. Knowing that I am a writer and editor for the Herald, they figured I’d know what was going on. Some told me that they’ve asked all around, before the story broke – when they went to church and saw that Fr. George was not there. “He’s on vacation,” or “he’s sick,” or “I really don’t know” were some of the answers they received from Church employees. Now, these people are angry they were lied to – and rightfully so.

Moreover, they are furious that they gave so much money to St. Spyridon over the years, partly because of longstanding loyalty, and partly because of their affection for Fr. George.

Some tell me they’re going to find another church to attend, as they can no longer go where they feel they’ve been betrayed. What I told them, and what I would tell anyone else who says that, is: “I understand that you’re upset. You feel as if you’ve been sucker-punched. But no matter how much of this story is true or not, and no matter if anyone still at the Church there is guilty as well, St. Spyridon has been a part of your life long before any of those people got there. And the St. Spyridon physical building, as well as the celestial beings it represents, will be there long after those people are gone. Don’t let a few bad apples spoil your wonderful relationship with such a truly special and historic parish.”

15 Comments

  1. Mr. Scaros while I appreciate your perspective I believe in many ways you’re missing the point of priests like Fr. George Passias. Chanting well is how many of these priest with a hidden agenda keep their positions within our greater Church. The damage that all fundamentalist Priests is generally done in a closed office when they are meeting privately with individual parishioners. While these adherents to the “theology” of Elder Ephraim continue to do damage, many just sit and listen to the wonderfully beautiful liturgy that they repeat Sunday after Sunday. They are unaware of the agenda. Universally, carnage is left at every parish where these adherents go. They blow up one parish move onto the next. That is the point of their message. That is their agenda, to cull out the “nominal Christians”. All that remain are spiritually observant to them and to them alone. Unfortunately, their message comes at a great expense to the greater church. None of us should ever allow ourselves to be intoxicated by the sound and the spirit and the beauty of our liturgy. If it is coming from an individual whose goal is to destroy what is in their path and leave the “chosen” remains for the Ephraimite movement. Should you want to understand the mentality of this ilk of clergy you should be reading the following websites: Gotruthreform.org, Weareorthodox.com, or look up “orthodox reformer”. There is also a Facebook website entitled “concerned orthodox laity of America” that is quite good. Good luck on your journey to understanding.

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      I have not delved deeply into studying the Ephraimite movement and its impact on the Greek Orthodox Church in America as a whole.

      Please know, however, that in my op-ed piece about St. Spyridon I simply focused on a different aspect of this whole scandal: what to do moving forward about St. Spyridon specifically. By doing so, I am not trying to draw attention to, or away from, the Ephraimate movement and Fr. Passias’ role in it. Rather I’m focusing my concern on my hometown parish.

  2. I appreciate both your concern and focus. The problem at your Parish is being repeated at Parish after Parish all over the country, without the disclosure of “Sex, Lies and Videotapes”, and of course now money. We are losing people at an alarming rate and yet the Church is not only silent, they continue to ignore this malignant cancer on the body of the Church. They convince everyone at all these Parishes with an affected Priest that it is an isolated incident, limited to the Parish in question. It is not!

    We are dying a slow death because we have individuals who are only Hierarchs in title, not action or behavior. Also the proponents of this Ephraimite movement have now co-opted the common sense and discernment of what is now a majority of our jurisdictional Hierarchs. Chicago is overrun by the Ephraimite movement and instead of the Laity that is on the Metropolis council acknowledging the problem, the “Deny, Defend and Deflect” acting as if nothing is wrong. This cancer is eating away from the inside and is literally under the skin of the body of the Church. Fr. Passias is considered the highest level of affected clergy among their rank and file. While they preach abstinence to married couples, he apparently thinks nothing of violating God’s laws and impregnating another’s wife!

    There is a news story in your paper (“Bay Ridge Man Tells TNH of Passias’ Holy Cross Days”) that documents the civil war at Passias’ prior Parish and how Parishioners were treated. There is your story. Look into the following Parishes in the Metropolis in Chicago and see if you do not find parallel to that man’s story: St. John the Baptist Parish in Des Plaines, Illinois, St. George Chicago, St. Demetrios of Chicago, St. Demetrios Libertyville and many many others. Please focus your newspapers attention to this migration. The normal leave, and Ephraimites then control the Parish. The Ephraimites follow their spiritual leaders to the new Parish and best practices, transparency and following the Uniform Parish Regulations fall by the wayside.

    I thank you too for your efforts, but keep in mind this is not just a one Parish issue, it is a national issue. Unfortunately we are in an era of the “prom committee” leading the Church.

  3. Like most readers, I’m not privy to the financial matters of St. Spyridon Church, nor to the administrative situation of its school. However, while I have to admit that anything is possible, I do know Fr. George enough to go out on a limb and defend him from the sexual misconduct accusations. Why? Because the “evidence” provided to us, at least so far, is shoddy and dubious – at best.
    One of the photos is obviously “photo shopped” with the outlines of the super imposed image clearly visible; therefore I have to question the credibility of this mysterious “source”. In addition, after supposedly HOURS of secret liaisons and tawdry tapes, we’re provided with thirty-six SECONDS of some goofy fetish, where one cannot see, or identify the woman’s face. Not surprisingly, there is no physical contact, only a curiously impassive, and rigid image of Fr. George’s face that quite suddenly, appears in a mirror located several feet away from the woman. I find it conspicuously odd, that despite YEARS alleged of relations, and the more recent graphic accusations, NONE of the photos or videos (which I would imagine would be all over You Tube by now) even shows them holding hands, let alone anything explicit.
    Finally, let me remind readers that not so long ago there was a Bishop in Greece who was accused of fiscal improprieties, and after review by the Church leadership, was stripped of his ecclesiastical duties. He was later accused of sexual relations with a nun(s). Ultimately, all of the accusations proved to be false. That Bishop was Saint Nektarios of Aegina.

  4. Armodios are you kidding?

    Thank you for providing us a narrative of what the problem is with having “spiritual guru’s” infect our theology. I am personally insulted that given the facts here you would invoke Saint Nektarios. First of all, nothing was Photoshoped. Amazingly, you can make an assertion like that after his mistress has iacknowledged taking the videos and the liaisons. Secondly, the priest in question has already gone and confessed to the Chancellor his indiscretions including impregnating another man’s wife he happens to see as a “God child”.
    So even after your “Priest” sends an email to his multitude of “spiritual children” acknowledging indiscretions and issues you can still manufacture arguments that he is innocent?
    Clearly, we have a schism occurring in our theology and our Church. This schism has been brought to the shores of North America through the movement started by Elder Ephram. His carriers have so infected our laity that commonsense is now in short supply. We are entering era where anything a follower of the Elder does can be rationalized away. In other words, there are two sets of rules in our church now. Our hierarchy appears weak against the face of evil and a cancer that is infiltrated our church. So let’s see if we can give this a short summary. In spite of the fact the priest in question has confessed, his mistress has not only confessed but is now accusing him of victimizing her, he has sent a email confirming a multitude of issues to hundreds or even thousands of his “spiritual children” we still have people defending him.
    What happened to the days of honor? When someone did something wrong and just acknowledged it and moved on without winding up their multitude of followers to defend them in spite of the fact they committed sins against God? And, the tactic of using a Saint of our church to justify a position that this confessed adulterer is somehow innocent! Those among us have now reached new lows.

  5. Sorry Basil, but quite frankly I couldn’t care less about your personal feelings. People’s live are being utterly destroyed based on hearsay, conjecture and innuendo – as was the case with St. Nektarios
    You and others seem have all the answers, but, none of the questions. A confession is NOT proof of guilt. Fr. George has been lamenting his “multitude of sins” since well before he met Mrs. Bouzalas. Does that indicate previous affairs? I suggest you and other readers pay careful attention to what is written and actually take the time to examine the so-called “evidence” provided so far. We need to be mindful of what we say because we will all be judged.

  6. Armodios do you know what it is to bear false witness? “Thou shalt not bear false witness” forbids speaking falsely in any manner designed to deceive our neighbor, or in this case fellow Orthodox Christians.

    I am merely repeating what witnesses to the events are saying. You are adding new and false information about “photo shopping” and casting aspersions on anything that disagrees with your perspective of your truth. By the way, a confession is a statement where on acknowledges some personal fact that most people would prefer to keep hidden.

    Are you one of this “Priest’s Spiritual Children”? Why would you be a proponent of contradicting facts. Did the “evil one” cast the Priest’s sperm into this woman? Is there any honor left in our Faith when we have people making up things to defendant someone who has acknowledged his actions?

    Again the Church faces a crisis and we have people attempting to discredit the messenger but not the admitted wrongdoer. The Ephraimite movement has generated those who are now so spiritually obedient that they submissively put forth false information to protect one of their own. Personally I am appalled at the use of a saint to make someone who is so far from the normal behavior of a civilized human, let alone a Christian look better.

  7. To clarify, both Fr. Passias and Ms. Bouzalas admitted to the affair. So, the fact of the affair is not in dispute.

    Were those photos of the affair photoshopped? Who knows? The point is, it really doesn’t matter. Of course, the “cake-crushing” video makes the story juicier and attracts more readers, but the impropriety here is the fact that there was an affair, not the gory details.

    What interests me more than what happened – because what’s done is done – is what will happen from this point forward regarding a responsible oversight of church personnel – clergy and laity alike.

    For me, the main concern is not that a man of the cloth succumbed to the weakness of the flesh, but rather that the Archdiocese gave him about 1000 chances before finally defrocking him.

    Every time a priest does wrong and instead of being defrocked is transferred to another parish, it causes more and more young members of the faith, who are not bound by any ecclesiastical strongholds, to say: “Umm, so can you please tell me again WHY you expect me to give up my Sunday morning to come to a place like this?”

  8. Ok , sure Constantino. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”; “Let’s move along, nothing to see here”. Sorry my friend but the only “fact” beyond “dispute” is that neither you nor I, or anyone else at the NH know what Fr. George or Mrs. Bouzalas specifically admitted to behind closed doors. Perhaps one or both, felt threatened, frightened or coerced. Perhaps one or both admitted to something in order to protect another party or cause. Such a scenario certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented. So, just to RE “clarify”; an admission is NOT proof of an extra-marital affair; and neither are the two photoshoped “stills” or the doctored 36 second “video” (which more than several parties agree). While you may prefer to flippantly disregard the clearly tampered-with “gory details” as juice inducing fodder to “attract more readers”, Bishop Andonios apparently considered them legitimate evidence spurring him to “contact Archbishop Demetrios immediately….after seeing the EVIDENCE” (emphasis mine), as reported in the NH. If the 36 second snippet / “evidence” has been tampered with, then obviously, it’s NOT evidence – which really does “matter”. Naturally, now one must also question, the credibility and motivation of the anonymous provider of this so-called proof, the integrity of a betrayed, 17-year jilted and estranged husband, the (in)competence of an Archdiocese, apparently unfamiliar with the term “forensic”, and the equally incompetent newspapers unfamiliar with “investigative” reporting. The search for truth is never “done” my friend. Ironically, it was Fr. George’s passion, zeal and indefatigable pursuit of both spiritual and secular truth that attracted scores of younger members / families to the faith. Again let me reiterate: anything is possible, but there are way too many inconsistencies and incongruities to this entire travesty. I suggest we all tread lightly before condemning the man.

  9. Armondios, you are literally the gift that keeps giving!

    Every time you post it is like Christmas. The understanding of those watching the historically significant Ephraimite movement and the detrimental impact upon the greater Church is increased. So here is my turn to correct the misinformation being promoted on behalf of the now defrocked Fr. George Passias. Clearly here there is an “ADMISSION”. What is an admission, “If a fact or issue is admitted, the fact or issue is deemed to have been proven CONCLUSIVELY. [emphasis added by this author]. Admitted facts or issues, along with other proofs, can be the basis for summary judgment or for a jury verdict”. Chapter 5 section 500 Admissions, Illinois Trial Evidence, Lee Hugh Goodman. In laymen’s terms you can be executed for admitting a capital offense. Here we have the addition of a pregnancy, more conclusive proof.

    Do you so feel an obligation to defend that you will print anything at the cost of the truth? Word is that Passias had as many as 3,000 “Spiritual Children”. Is this number correct, no it is incorrect. It is an estimate of what many believe to be true, but it is also a good faith estimate. The pollution of the Greek Orthodox Church is now firmly in the hands of many of those children as they post pure nonsense.

    Is condemning the victim and her husband the only way to defend your “defendant”? if the same actions were engaged in by a liberal Priest would you cast aspersions on those victims? The Ephraimite movement has created a street gang mentality within the Church. Please continue to post your version of the truth. It only serves to enlighten the fence sitters or those that do not have access to those who are obedient to the Ephraimite doctrine.

    Please continue to post all things in defense of poor Passias as the schismatic nature of the movement gains clarity for those that can hardly believe that it exists. The movement has thousands of converted Ephraimites whose allegiance hangs in the balance. The cost to the movement of his actions are high and the utter hypocrisy of the movement is clear. In my area of the geographic world almost all of our Ephraimite clergy are overweight. Is it a real lack of fasting, or is it a life of lies?

  10. Good grief Basil. I’m not an attorney, but even I know that a PUBLIC trial in front of 12 jurors is entirely different from the private meetings, discussions and defrockment proceedings that took place behind closed doors, and most importantly, beyond public SCRUTINY. I suggest you stop watching “Rosemary’s Baby” (“Did the “evil one” cast the Priest’s sperm into this woman?”), and instead, try to actually examine the meager “evidence” provided so far.

  11. Armodios my friend, I am not the one “drinking the Kool-Aid” here.

    This is not a trial, but an admission against interest, to be (legally) technical. This Priest confessed! No evidenced needed at any level by anyone or anyone in a position of authority. To me and countless others he said he did it, so then he did it. That simple, case closed.

    Why do you continue to go after the quality of the public evidence? He said he did it, case closed. In every civilized nation in the world people that confess their crimes pay the price. Instead you are engaging in a barrage of misinformation which can only be for the single purpose of giving his followers a hope of his innocence in spite of his confession. WHY are you clouding this up, what is your goal, please tell us your agenda?

    He at least went into the office of the chancellor and fell on the sword. He acknowledge his multitude of sins. Why are all those sympathetic to their favorite Ephraimite destroying the foundation of the Church with misinformation? This has become an International story that has placed the Church and this Priest’s behavior in the forefront of the a major scandal. Instead of you showing distain for the guilty, you weave a defense based on a deliberate, yet methodically conceived set of alleged facts that seem to have no basis in reality.

  12. Many Saints of Church took blame for what they did not do so in the history of our Church the innocent are martyred. Finally we need a true council to be called to root out heresy and cleanse schism.

  13. We need a true council to cleanse heresy and heal schisms. In the history of our faith the Innocent many times take the fall for the guilty and are martyred for the truth.

  14. We need a true council to cleanse heresy and heal schisms. In the history of our faith the Innocent take the fall for the guilty and are martyred for truth so not sure about Fr George it is very possible but Saint Nektarios was a clear example and St Niphon another clear example that Fr George can be sanctified in the eyes of our Lord at the end if his life.

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