Salt Lake City, UT – Following the violence at the Prophet Elias Church on January 19, Divine Liturgy, services there and at the other Salt Lake City Church, Holy Trinity, are being celebrated with plainclothes police officers on hand.
The January 19 violence was a clash between supporters of Rev. Michael Kouremetis and Parish Council members, including President Demetrios Tsagaris.
When parishioner Steven Zervos and former Parish Council President Jim Mylonakis attacked – both physically and verbally – other Councilmembers, including Tsagaris, the police were called, according to signed statements by eyewitnesses.
The Salt Lake City parish belongs to the Ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Metropolis of Denver, whose hierarch is Metropolitan Isiah.
The dispute, now in its fourth year, began with the plan to divide the Holy Trinity Cathedral parish into two, despite opposition by the majority of the parish.
Fr. Mathew Gilbert is the priest at Holy Trinity, and Kouremetis at Prophet Elias, which became a distinct church. Isaiah supported the split into two parishes.
The American media has written about these issues and disputes periodically and is planning to do so again, sources tell TNH, though not much about this is heard from either Archbishop Demetrios of America or Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.
Athanasios Sakellariou, a member of the Parish Council in his signed testimony to the authorities and to Demetrios wrote about the January 19th verbal and physical attack: “At the end of the services when everyone was exiting the church, Mr. Steven Zervos came up to me and stated that ‘I don’t want you coming here. You are not welcome.’ He grabbed me by the tie and started pulling me toward him and choking me. Seeing that my life was being threatened and not wishing any harm to come to me, my son who is also a member of the Parish Council and who was behind me immediately went behind Mr. Zervos and pulled him away from me until he released his hold. Other parishioners took issue and told me and the other Parish Council members present that we don’t belong at Propher Elias Church and they don’t want us coming there to pray.”
Steve Gambroulias, a Councilmember who is also a police officer, accompanied Sakellariou to his car when the latter left. At that point, some parishioners and the Church administrator called the police who, arrived immediately.
Tsagaris was also attacked verbally and physically. In his signed statement, he wrote among other things that “approximately 9:30 AM a parishioner, Mr. Jim Mylonakis, came up to Church and approached me making the same comments he makes almost every Sunday: ‘You are not welcome at Prophet Elias. You are not recognized, you are illegal.’”
Tsagaris also wrote that “as soon as Fr. Michael (Kouremetis) at the end of the Service and before the antidoro [was disctibuted] started to make remarks about the Parish Council, I took couple of steps and intended to go up front and ask that this discussion not take place in church,[I wanted to] provide some explanation and or present my position during the coffee hour. He became very angry and said to me ‘stop right there!’ His voice became very angry.
At that point I replied that the requested discussion of all those issues should commence. Before I even finished my statement he became more loud and continued with his statements. Jim Mylonakis shouted something like ‘there is nothing to discuss!’
“As soon as I was approaching the back pews parishioner, Steve Zervos grabbed me by my arm and kept telling me, ‘Leave! You have no business here! You do not deserve the antidoro!’ I didn’t respond to him, but it took some effort from my part to unlock his grip from my arm, which is about to be operated on.”
In a January 22 letter to parishioners, Tsagaris wrote: “Your Parish Council is very concerned with the events at Prophet Elias last Sunday, January 19th. For those of you who may not be aware, one of the Parish Councilmembers was assaulted in the narthex by one of our fellow parishioners. This altercation was physical and resulted in the authorities being called to the scene. No one was injured. We have filed a formal report with the local authorities and our Hierarchs. We are taking this event very seriously and will be taking necessary precautions to prevent further violence. At this time, we ask everyone to refrain from altercations in our houses of worship.”
He also sent a letter to Archbishop Demetrios telling him that “The Salt Lake Parish Council is very concerned about the events at Prophet Elias last Sunday,
January 19, 2014. The acts of verbal and physical violence that occurred could very easily escalate as evidenced by the recent threats in the attachments below.
“Please be advised that the Parish Council is taking action to prevent further violence in our churches. We are taking these measures to protect our parishioners so that they may worship in peace. We have patiently waited for a response from the Hierarchs. We received none but now feel that an immediate response is more critical than ever.”
The Council stopped paying Kouremetis due to financial difficulties as of December 31. A group of his supporters have opened an account collecting funds to pay his salary.
Gilbert refuses to meet with the Council to discuss parish issues, telling them that he gets his orders from Isaiah.
Kouremetis, Gilbert and Zervos did not respond to TNH’s request for comment.
Last August, both Churches were closed for a month via Isaiah’s directive, because the Council had reduced the priests’ salaries by 30%. The faithful went to Church, lit a candle, listened some hymns from a tape recorder, and left.