NEW YORK – The crisis that started a year and a half ago at the Holy Trinity Archdiocesan Cathedral in New York continues to deepen due to the strong contentiousness between the Cathedral’s Presiding Priest Anastasios Gounaris and the Parish Council, as it was manifested yet again during the council’s meeting on January 23.
Gounaris dismissed Steve Hantzarides from his position as Administrative Director at the Cathedral, without the knowledge, approval, or even the notification of the Parish Council. The Council members became extremely upset, despite the fact that they also wanted Hantzarides out, but they strongly stated that Gounaris does not have the authority to hire and fire personnel at the Cathedral.
A Council member made the motion to rehire Hantzarides and refire him on the spot just to prove the point that they are the ones who do the hiring and the firing. Thus, eight voted to fire Hantzarides and two abstained.
Gounaris, Parish Council President Dean Poll, and Hantzarides did not respond to TNH’s request for comment.
The Cathedral’s dire financial situation owes discussed at the meeting and it was stated once again that Gounaris spends money for various projects without even asking the Council. The parish decided to make reductions starting with the choir, which is comprised of professional singers, some of whom are not even Orthodox, and it costs $200,000 per year, as TNH had revealed in September. The Cathedral’s annual budget is $1.9 million, not including the School.
It was also discussed that the continuous withering of the numbers of the congregants on Sundays that during the Matins are about 25%, and on an average Sunday between 80 to 100.
The distance that exists between the priest and the Parish Council President was revealed again in an e-mail sent by Gounaris to the Council members that the meeting was scheduled initially for January 21 and it was going to be chaired by Vice President Steve Cherpelis. Gounaris’ e-mail made president Poll angry. The meeting was canceled due to inclement weather and it was rescheduled for January 23. Poll appeared and chaired the meeting, saying that he continues to be the president until his tenure is exhausted or if the archbishop replaces him. At the same time, Cherpelis traveled to Chicago for the Archdiocesan Finance Committee meeting and he was not present at the Cathedral’s meeting.
The Holy Trinity Cathedral is the only parish in the entire Archdiocese in which the Council is not elected by the members of the parish, but handpicked and appointed by the archbishop. This practice was established by the late Archbishop Iakovos and it continues with Archbishop Demetrios.
Gounaris’ ministry at the Cathedral has been problematic since his appointment by Demetrio. The archbishop proceeded with Gounaris’ appointment despite the revelations by TNH about Gounaris at his previous parish, the Holy Trinity of Indianapolis. TNH reported in October that Gounaris sent a scathing e-mail to Poll, wishing him “to lose everything and to end up homeless on the streets of New York.”
Poll is a prominent Greek-American businessman and the owner of the famous Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park.
Gounaris’ email followed Poll’s TNH interview in September, in which he cited problems at the Cathedral, including dwindling attendance for church services, a mounting $250,000 deficit resulting from a $1.9 million annual budget, a large chunk of which is more than $200,000 toward the choir – which includes expenses to hire professional singers, many of which are not Orthodox. He also had spoken about the settlement of a lawsuit that the sexton’s family had brought against the Cathedral for unpaid overtime, but did not disclose the amount. The sexton continues to work at the Cathedral.
Though he did not directly link the low turnout of congregants to problems involving the Cathedral Dean and Gounaris, Poll acknowledged his relationship with Gounaris has been strained at times.
Demetrios became aware of Gounaris’ polemic email to Poll. Sources close to the archbishop’s office told TNH that Demetrios is extremely upset with Gounaris’ behavior generally but he is not doing anything about it because he does not want it to appear as if selecting Gounaris to lead the Cathedral had been a mistake in the first place. Demetrios prefers to see the Cathedral in a disarray condition than to dare and take action as many close to him have advised him to do.
Gounaris was succeeded at the Cathedral Rev. Frank Marangos, whose ministry was also marked by problems. Marangos now works in fundraising area of a Roman Catholic nonprofit organization based in Florida.