BOSTON, MA – Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta, the only hierarch who spoke at the Clergy Laity Congress even as he was booed, even by priests, spoke to The National Herald about multiple serious issues regarding the Church, including the Congress, the Archdiocese Finances, the St. Nicholas National Shrine, Autocephaly, and Archbishop Demetrios. The interview follows:
TNH: Your Eminence, which are your thoughts about the 44th Clergy Laity Congress?
MA: It was a successful Clergy Laity Congress for different reasons. First we had many delegates. Next year for the local Clergy Laity of our metropolis, I am hoping to present a problem in order to attract people, because it seems when there is a problem, many attend.
TNH: Some 357 parishes participated, almost half of them.
MA: Not half, of the 550, two thirds participated. The second success point was that there was an open dialogue. There was not a dialogue that was directed from somewhere. I didn’t see any who wanted to create problems or to impose their own agenda. I saw genuine people. Did they come out of concern, out of care, to make proposals? I don’t know. I think that because of the problem (finances), we had participation.
TNH: Since you spoke about success, I remind you that Archdiocesan Chancellor Bishop Andonios of Phasiane threatened to resign, and Treasurer Michael Psaros did resign.
MA: Yes, that shows that we had success because everyone wanted to express himself as he believed, either from the chair or from the plenary. Thus everyone expressed himself at that moment, at that time since things weren’t going well. If I had a position I would do the same to show to the people that we are sincere, especially we the clergy. We know that the problem was created because we had never a balanced budget.
TNH: Why wasn’t there a balanced budget?
MA: Simply because everyone wanted something, like this year the priests with Pension Plan. I am in favor of the priests and the Pension Program because when you get old, you should collect. But the moment that your family has a problem, should you ask for yourself and forget the others?
THN: How did you feel as a human being and also as a hierarch that you were booed, and unfortunately, even by priests during your intervention about the budgets of the previous years?
MA: That is why I told some of them that they only care about money. If you became priests for the money you are on the wrong path. The disapprobation of their own hierarch because he spoke the truth is proof that we need education and spirituality. Instead of talking about those things as clergy with our wives and children, we care only about money.
TNH: Are you going to say anything to the priests who are under your responsibility?
MA: Of course, of course, I will tell them that I feel ashamed as a person not only as a bishop, and please I want you to write it. Regardless if they agree or disagree, was that appropriate behavior toward a spiritual father?
TNH: Your Eminence I want to assure you that I will write verbatim everything you are saying. Why do you think the archbishop and your fellow hierarchs were siting voiceless and you were the only one who spoke?
MA: I can’t say anything about it because each one expresses himself as he wishes. I spoke not to differentiate myself, but in order to present the situation and to praise the things that Psaros and others are doing, who were not involved in our own mistakes. All the rest of us were involved and those people came and put in some order. Say your opinion, say your thought, but the priests were saying we want money. Is it not a shame to repeat that demand, knowing that the Archdiocese doesn’t have money?
TNH: Why has the Archdiocese gone into this dire financial situation, to the point of taking out a bank loan just to survive?
MA: Simply because Nicholas Bouras and Michael Jaharis died, and they were the ones giving money for the balanced budgets. [Then-Director of Administration] Jerry Dimitrou had expanded and he was taking funds from other accounts and he never asked us. On the contrary, at least once a year we (the Eparchial Synod) had a meeting with him discussing these things. We asked questions and he had answers, but we never asked him did you get money from here and there? These things are shown only when you do an audit. We are not accountants to do audits.
TNH: Dimitriou didn’t tell you holy hierarchs that he transferred money from the St. Nicholas National Shrine account, etc.?
MA: No, never.
TNH: As a Synod you didn’t ask where the money was coming from?
MA: Supposedly we thought there were other Bourases and Jaharises who were giving money, at least that was in my own mind.
TNH: Don’t you think, as you said at the plenary session of the Clergy Laity Congress that all are responsible, the archbishop, the Synodic hierarchs, and the Archdiocesan Council?
MA: And the people. The budget is voted by the people, not from the Synod or the Archdiocesan Council. The Synod is obligated to execute the decisions of the Clergy Laity Congress. The people of the Congress are responsible and I said exactly that. Among the lay people there are individuals who deal with accounting, finances. Businessmen. Why didn’t they ask questions? I studied to be a priest; I didn’t study to be an accountant.
TNH: Would you recommend Archbishop Demetrios obey the ecumenical patriarch and depart in peace and nicely? The patriarch has told him to submit his resignation.
MA: We don’t know that. We haven’t received any letter from the patriarch or the archbishop. There is no announcement from the Synod. The archbishop, like the old hierarchs, has been elected to serve, canonically speaking, until the end of his life.
TNH: Don’t you think that the archbishop as the First also has the main responsibility?
MA: Certainly, and he explained it very well.
TNH: Do you thing that a detailed audit should be done in the metropolises?
MA: I have already started.
TNH: Since when?
MA: Since Christmas. Every year we post our finances on the Internet. We are clean in everything since the first year that I came here. I have found people who are accountants. One of them is from the government. Another one recently retired from the IRS; these are the people who are helping with the finances. Also, every five or six years we hire an accounting firm; this year we are going to pay $28,000 and we are going to have the report by the end of October because the second weekend of November we have a meeting of the Metropolitan Council and I have to present the report.
TNH: Why is Theological School in its current situation.
MA: I don’t want to talk about the Theological School because Christopher [Metropulos, the Hellenic College Holy Cross president] was my first assistant; he was also serving in my metropolis.
TNH: Would you talk about St. Nicholas?
MA: We spoke about St. Nicholas, they got the money. Everyone knows those who were involved, Psaros, etc., that we didn’t know what was going on with Jerry Dimitriou. That is why Psaros paid $140,000 to an independent firm to see what was in there.
TNH: You didn’t know about the Archdiocese; you didn’t know about St. Nicholas, but for God’s sake, as a Synod, what you were discussing in the meetings?
MA: I didn’t say that I don’t know about the Theological School, but I said that I don’t want to say. Regarding St. Nicholas, we know that the money was taken from there but it has been returned, thanks to Mr. Psaros and George [Tsandikos]. I am not responsible about the architect. The archbishop and Jerry Dimitriou are. Dimitriou was the general manager. As far as the design is concerned, I personally don’t like it.
TNH: Please explain why.
MA: Because it is not a Byzantine church. They say it will be for everyone. I understand and I respect that. We have so many Greek and Greek-American architects and byzantinologists and we found someone to whom we paid so many millions?
TNH: As a Synodic hierarch, did you say that in the Synod?
MA: I can’t say what we said in Synod, the meeting is closed doors, but I told you how I feel.
TNH: Did you say these things to the archbishop? Did you voice your disagreement?
MA: Again that is my problem, personal. I am telling you in general how I feel about St. Nicholas. In the Synod everyone can express his opinion, but at the end we have to do what the majority wants.
TNH: How would describe the autocephaly talks: naïve, laughable, foolish, or all of the above?
MA: None of the above, because it is impiety to the office of autocephaly, we degrade it. This issue belongs to the time and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This doesn’t mean that that anyone can’t express himself and say whatever he wishes, always with respect.
TNH: What do you mean by saying it belongs to time?
MA: Like the time for the Church in Russia, it became autocephalous and after many years, many centuries it became Patriarchate. This is the time in the Church.
TNH: Please speak clearly, what do you imply that at some point the Archdiocese here should become autocephalous?
MA: Autocephaly as it became in Greece, as it in every country, but that it will happen in the time and the time is the thing that the Patriarchate works. When the Patriarchate feels that there should be autocephaly, then it will be autocephaly.
TNH: Since everyone is responsible, why don’t you resign all together you, the archbishop, the Synod, and the Archdiocesan Council, in order our Church here to do a new beginning?
MA: Your thought is beyond boundaries. We are hierarchs who have been elected by our Patriarchate; we have been ordained and you as a Theologian believe in the Holy Spirit. You shouldn’t think that at all. Second, the Church belongs to God and not to us. In the Synod and in the Church we need to have the spirit of humbleness and the spirit of wise men. You ask God in a humble spirit and pray God illumine me how to be and for what things. This doesn’t mean that I am worthy or unworthy; slimly the Church elected me and the Church charged me with this job. I am trying to it with the best possible way. I pray, I make mistakes, but in my life I want to make mistakes in order to do something, instead of doing nothing. In conclusion I want to tell you that Archbishop Demetrios saved the Church in America.