SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew intervened in the ongoing conflicts at the Holy Trinity parish in Salt lake City, UT by directing Archbishop Demetrios of America to solve the problem immediately.
Bartholomew became concerned after reading TNH’s article about the violence which was erupted at the Prophet Elias Church on January 19 during the Divine Liturgy, between supporters of Rev. Michael Kouremetis and Parish Council members, including President Demetrios Tsagaris. The following Sunday, services there and at the Holy Trinity were celebrated with plainclothes police officers on hand.
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 parishioners.
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 Demetrios or Bartholomew.
On February 5 Demetrios summoned Isaiah to the Archdiocesan headquarters in New York telling him of the patriarch’s disappointment. The message was clear that the Patriarchate will not tolerate the dissolvent of any parish in the United States.
Demetrios is responsible for the entire Archdiocese and is accountable to the patriarch.
Problems have also arisen in Lynn and in Lowell, MA where the century-old Day Greek-American School has withered over the last three years.
On February 6, Tsagaris gave Demetrios a detailed account of the Salt Lake events. Archdiocesan Council VP Michael Jaharis and Chancellor Bishop Andonios of Phasiane were also present.
Upon his return to Salt Lake City, Tsagaris sent a letter to the parishioners dated February 8, informing them that “Patriarch Bartholomew is aware of our difficulties and has instructed the Archbishop to personally intercede. Our current dysfunctional arrangement between laity and clergy cannot continue.” Tsagaris also wrote that “our Parish Council president, Dimitrios Tsagaris, has just returned from New York City where he was the guest of Archbishop Demetrios. Many concerns regarding our community were discussed. We are anticipating further direction from the Archbishop in the next few weeks. In the meantime we expect all services and ministries of the Parish to continue.
“We as your Parish Council have been vigorously pursuing a solution to the many issues we have before our hierarchs. We currently are functioning with the same Parish Council that was ratified by Metropolitan Isaiah 20 months ago. The newly elected but unratified Parish Council members are participating in our discussions. We currently have an appeal before Archbishop Demetrios and the Holy Synod in regards to the status of these elected council members and the Parish Assembly that elected them. Although the day to day functions of our churches are being attended to by our office staff and director George Kournianos, we no longer have open communication with our clergy. The Parish Council has received numerous complaints from parishioners about the clergy not answering their phones and the lack of specified clergy office hours. All priests are apparently under direction from Metropolitan Isaiah to not participate in matters concerning the administration of the Parish. Despite multiple attempts, in person, via phone and E-mail, to engage Father Matthew to participate in Community matters and Parish Council meetings he has elected not to attend. (See attached requests and response below). Attempts to communicate directly with Metropolitan Isaiah have also been unsuccessful. We have been reassured from the Archdiocese that this problem will soon be corrected.
“Metropolitan Isaiah stated to many of our parishioners attending the Metropolis
basketball tournament in Dallas that he is no longer involved in facilitating a
resolution of the current difficulties facing our Parish. Despite these statements
he has established a fund through the Metropolis to raise money to maintain
Father Michael’s position. He has continued to encourage separation of our
parish The ‘de facto’ separation is now being promoted by a separate account in Denver which is diverting stewardship monies to a Metropolis account. This account is not sanctioned by the Archdiocese. Many parishioners are being solicited to contribute to this account. We remind you that monies donated to this fund are not stewardship contributions and do not contribute to maintaining our ministries and facilities. Our churches and facilities have monetary demands beyond just clergy salaries which are not being met at this time through stewardship. Your Parish Council is in weekly communication with the Archdiocese. Metropolitan Isaiah has removed himself as our spiritual leader and we now await further intervention from the Archdiocese.”
Tsagaris declined TNH’s request for comment, saying that “the discussions will remain confidential for now. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios will visit the Metropolis of Denver immediately after his return from Constantinople where he will participate in the meeting of the Holy Synod there. We are going to have another meeting in Denver and then we will inform the parish in detail and certainly I will be most happy to talk to The National Herald.”
Demetrios did not respond to TNH’s request for comment.
TNH has learned that from sources close to the Chancery that Metropolitan Methodios of Boston indents to appoint Rev. Mike Kouremetis to the St. Methodios Camp and Retreat Center in Contoocook, NH.
Methodios had assigned Kouremetis as presiding priest at St. George parish in Manchester, NH where he served for a brief period of time.
Kouremetis’ attempts to be appointed to the St. Nicholas parish in Tarpon Springs, FL and also in parishes in New Jersey weren’t successful because there was resistance by the parishioners.
Despite the fact that many parishioners at Salt Lake feel that the other priest Fr. Mathew Gilbert should depart from the parish, his newly-ordained son Chrysostomos has intervened and stopped his transfer, for now. Chrysostomos worked at the Archdiocese and he is a close associate and friend of Bishop Andonios. He was recently appointed priests at the Annunciation parish in Manhattan succeeding Archimandrite Nathaniel Symenonides, who replaced Fr. Mark Arey at the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs if the Archdiocese.