To the Editor:
The article, “The Parish Priest” written by Harry Mark Petrakis in the August 18 edition of your newspaper, has prompted me to write my very first letter to an editor. Like Mr. Petrakis, I am the child of a Greek Orthodox priest.
It is regrettable that Mr. Petrakis’ comments and observations of conflict and challenges that his father faced as a parish priest still exist today.
How sad that the issues Father Petrakis faced within his parish are some of the same issues that my Dad, Rev. Demosthenes J. Mekras, faced in the mid 60’s – Disagreement on matters of church policy, Barring the priest from the pulpit, Parish Councils in conflict with the priest. My Dad was even taken to court by his Parish Council (and won). He received no salary for one year, as he continued to serve the parish.
Yes, as Mr. Petrakis stated, many wealthy parishioners feel a sense of entitlement in their communities. We certainly need their generous donations. However, let us not forget the parishioner who is in church every Sunday making his or her humble donation. I am a great believer in equal sacrifice. Their donation is consistent over the years and given with reverence and devotion to the Church.
Have we not learned anything from past experience? That conflict only hurts the parish and its parishioners? The pettiness and intolerance that Mr. Petrakis refers to only damages a parish.
Father Petrakis was born in Crete, my Dad in Massachusetts. Both were pioneers of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. Fr. Petrakis was brought to America to serve his Church. My Dad graduated from Pomfret in 1944. Fr. Petrakis served many communities. My Dad was assigned to Saint Sophia in Miami, Florida and it was his only parish. He retired in 1987 after being instrumental in the opening of nine other parishes in South Florida. He remained active in church services and sacraments until his death in 2005.
Both our Dads served the Church with no benefits for their young families. No health/medical/dental insurance. No car/gas allowance. No pension/social security. Those “perks” came in their later years of serving.
Mr. Petrakis and I grew up in a home where our Dads were available to their parishioners 24/7. No specific office hours, no specific days off, appointments and meetings any day/ hour of the week, hospital visitations a phone call away.
A parish priest cannot be everything to everyone. He carries the burden of his parishioner’s problems. My Dad was once asked by one of his granddaughters if he could keep a secret. His response was “That is what I have done all my life, keep peoples secrets.” If your priest is a family man, we should not dismiss that he has the same family issues as his parish families.
We need to respect the Spiritual Father leading our parish. Priests are people too. They answered their calling to the Church. This is not to say they do not have human flaws. The difference is the priest chose to dedicate his life to the Church and his flock.
As the daughter of a very progressive and innovative Presbytera who supported her husband in his Church mission, I say that we, the parishioners, have to decide what we expect from our priest’s wife. If she is very active in the community, parishioners may whisper “Who does she think she is?” and if the Presbytera does not take an active role, they may again say, “Who does she think she is?”
I have not travelled to communities as extensively as Mr. Petrakis. However, as a past Metropolis of Atlanta Philoptochos President and as a National Philoptochos 2nd Vice President, I have visited many parishes. It saddens me, as it does Mr. Petrakis, when I see discord in parishes. It encourages me when I see a thriving community.
As a Greek Orthodox faithful and as a Mother and Yiayia, I say let us set a better example for our children and grandchildren by supporting our parish priest. Too often our families hear our negative feelings rather than positive ones.
So many PK’s do not take an active role in parishes because of the issues their Dads faced as a parish priest. And then there are those of us who are active, who continue to be so as a respectful tribute to our Dads and their dedication to the Church.
Years before his passing, my Dad wrote a letter to his family .We later found it in his desk. His plea to us sums it up best:
“Please do not leave the Church.
The Church at its Worst is better than the World at its Best.”
Evangeline Mekras Scurtis