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Church

H.E. Elpidophoros: No Intention to Sell Part of Saint Basil Property

December 9, 2023

BOSTON – Archbishop Elpidophoros of America said that he has no intentions of selling part of the property of St. Basil’s Academy in Garrison, NY, reversing himself after a revealing article in The National Herald.

Specifically, on Friday, December 8, the Archbishop, during the annual Christmas party at the Academy after opposition erupted, attempted damage control, explaining his actions by stating the following:

“So, I thank you all my dear of supporters and sponsors of this beautiful ministry. And what the Archdiocese is going to do is what we always have done: support this ministry, love this ministry, protect this ministry and of course offer it a vision, a vision for the future, for expansion, and an even stronger ministry in Saint Basil’s.

“We already have created an advisory Committee, an advisory committee that includes all parties: the Philoptochos Society, the board of Saint Basil’s, Archdiocese members, and people outside our community that are professionals. And the role of this committee is not offering ideas about how we delete, or stop, this ministry. On the contrary, how we can help this ministry to go into the future with a new vision and to expand to include more children, to include more ministries, to develop more ministries, more successful ministries like this one that we have here at some pages [sic] and of course, any sale of this property is absolutely out of the question.

His Beatitude Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria with National Philoptochos President Arlene Siavelis Kehl, and Vice President Anita Kartalopoulos. (Photo: Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society)

“These grounds, these grounds for us are sacred. We have an Archbishop lying on this grounds. Archbishop Michael, who really sanctifies even the soil of this property. How can we even think that we can sell, or we can do something that will desacralize this property? It’s out of question, so I need you to trust the Church, trust the Archdiocese, trust the board of trustees of St. Basil’s, trust the ladies of the Philoptochos society.”

Elpidophoros had reportedly begun the sale of a portion of the land of Saint Basil Academy. The Philoptochos Society of the Archdiocese rose up to stop him since the deed of the Academy belongs to Philoptochos, not the Archdiocese.

The story was first revealed by the Greek Daily Edition of The National Herald, the Ethnikos Kirikas, on Friday morning, December 8 in its electronic edition, www.ekirikas.com, and in the print edition in the afternoon of the same day.

Specifically, it was reported that on Tuesday, December 5, 2023, at 11 AM, a teleconference was held organized by the Archdiocese through its treasurer, Elaine Allen. Among those who participated were Archbishop Elpidophoros, the chancellor, Fr. Nektarios Papazafiropoulos, who will be the president of the committee for the sale project, Michael Psyllos, president of Alma Bank, Fr. Constantine Sitaras, long-time director of Saint Basil Academy, Lou Katsos, George Tsougarakis, general legal counsel for the Archdiocese, and the former president of Philoptochos Maria Logus, who is also a lawyer. Archbishop Elpidophoros praised Father Sitaras with friendly words.

It is emphasized that the Eparchial Synod of the Archdiocese of America has no information or knowledge of the matter, while communities across the metropolises conduct fundraisers, especially through the traditional cutting of the annual Vasilopita, and the collected funds are sent to the Academy for the care of the needy children accommodated there.

Among the plans for using the funds to be received from the sale of the Academy’s real estate is the reconstruction of various buildings, including apartments and others.

Logus is reported to have opposed the plan, stating that the title deed belongs to Philoptochos, not the Archdiocese, which has no right to sell.

The Archdiocese countered with the claim that there is a statement from the late president of Philoptochos Evanthia Kontakis during the tenure of Archbishop Spyridon, with her signature, confirming the co-ownership of the of Saint Basil Academy with the Archdiocese. However, no current or former official of Philoptochos seems to be aware of this.

Logus is reported to have said that, regardless of the plans made, the property belongs to Philoptochos. Sources inside Philoptochos told The National Herald that the issue may reach the Office of the Attorney General of New York.

It is noted that beyond fundraising events and the annual Vasilopita, Philoptochos provides $25,000 per month to the Academy.

Phone messages of The National Herald to Fr. Papazafiropoulos, to the vice president of Philoptochos, Annita Kartalopoulos, and to Logus remained unanswered.

The National Herald had the following phone conversation with the president of Philoptochos Arlene Siavelis-Kehl from Chicago.

TNH: What can you tell us about the meeting the other day at the Archdiocese?

Siavelis: I wasn’t in the meeting.

TNH: You weren’t invited?

Siavellis: I wasn’t in the meeting. The meeting was held. I recommended four people to represent us, and those people were either at the meeting in person or via [electronic] means. I was not at the meeting.

TNH: Can you tell us who were your representatives?

Siavellis: Maria Logus, who is our advisor and also my advisor for the executive committee and also the past president of St. Basil’s, St. Michaels’ as well as my advisor. The other person is Presbytera Anastasia Leontis, Lazaros Kirkos, as well as Nicholas J. Pappas.

TNH: What is your opinion on the whole issue?

Siavellis: The meeting was called to talk about the ministries of St. Basil Academy and that is I want to focus on.

TNH: The meeting was called because they want to sell part of the property.

Siavellis: That wasn’t [why] the meeting was called. That was not [what] I was told. You need to get clarification from the Archbishop himself because that is [not] what the meeting was called [for].

The National Herald also had the following telephone conversation with Fr. Constantine Sitaras:

TNH: Is it possible to tell us how many children you have today at St. Basil Academy?  

Fr. Constantine Sitaras: 23, why are you asking?

TNH: What can you tell us about the meeting on Tuesday morning?

Fr. Sitaras: I cannot say anything.

TNH: Why not?

Fr. Sitaras: I don’t know why not, but I can’t. God bless you sir. Good bye.

Saint Basil Academy was founded on March 30, 1944, and the property was acquired for the amount of fifty-five thousand dollars under Archbishop Athenagoras, who later became the Ecumenical Patriarch. With the financial support and assistance of the Philoptochos sisterhood, a two-hundred-acre estate owned by Colonel Jacob Ruppert, a brigadier general, New York State Assembly member, and owner of the New York Yankees, was purchased.

After World War II, the institution initially functioned as an orphanage, and later housed a school for Greek language teachers. However, the latter was closed by the late Archbishop Iakovos in 1972, citing the strengthening of Hellenic College in Boston as the reason, without it being successful. As a result, the presence of qualified Greek language teachers today is a rare occurrence.

Today, the Academy operates as a closed orphanage for children from divorced, troubled, or other challenging family backgrounds.

On Friday evening December 8, 2023 Archbishop Elpidophoros issued a News Release which verified that the meeting had taken place.

The full text of the Release follows:

New York, NY – The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is pleased to announce the formation of the Advisory Committee on Mission Fulfillment for St. Basil Academy. This newly established committee has been commissioned by His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America with performing a strategic evaluation of the Academy’s mission in order to propose a forward-looking vision that responds more effectively to the ever-evolving needs of contemporary society and the modern-day household.

Since 1944, St. Basil Academy has been a sanctuary for children in need, providing youth and young adults with a safe and nurturing environment that fosters growth and development. Over the years, the Academy has grown to include comprehensive residential programs, such as The Youth Program, The Bridge Program, and The Family Program, all while seeking to expand its mission in support of its residents and the wider Christian community.

The Executive Committee the National Philoptochos of the Archdiocese of America.
(Photo by Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society)

In today’s rapidly developing world, the needs of children, young adults, and families are more complex than ever before. This is why the Advisory Committee on Mission Fulfillment has been entrusted with conducting a thorough examination of the Academy’s programs and resources. This review will analyze the Academy’s existing programs and ministries and utilization of its assets in order to optimize them for service to the community. The Advisory Committee shall also provide its insights to the National Ladies Philoptochos Society on the property’s existing usage and future opportunities.

The committee is composed of dedicated members appointed by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, St. Basil Academy, and the National Ladies Philoptochos Society. Together, these individuals and institutions bring a wealth of experience and a shared commitment to preserving the Academy’s mission. The committee’s aim will focus on enhancing the method with which the Academy addresses present-day societal needs, so that it may apply its ministries in a more impactful and relatable way while remaining true to its original vision.

The Very Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Papazafiropoulos, National Archdiocesan Chancellor, and Mr. Lou Katsos, an esteemed community leader, will serve as the committee’s Chairman and Vice Chairman, respectively. Their recommendations will be purely advisory in nature to the Board of Trustees of St. Basil Academy, which is an affiliated institution of the Archdiocese, and the National Ladies Philoptochos Society, which is the sole landowner of the Academy’s property. Since purchasing the property, the National Ladies Philoptochos Society has consistently supported St. Basil Academy’s mission and provided over $11 million in financial support over the past 20 years.

The Advisory Committee is scheduled to conclude its work by June 30, 2024, at which time a comprehensive report will be presented for review to the three aforementioned institutions. This analysis will outline innovative strategies and recommendations for revitalizing the Academy’s programs and outreach.

The Advisory Committee’s inaugural meeting took place at the Archdiocesan headquarters on December 5, 2023. Following the fruitful and promising deliberations of this first session, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros offered the following remarks:

“I am deeply grateful to the entire family of St. Basil Academy and National Philoptochos for all of their tireless work and dedication over the years to support and upbuild this precious institution of our Sacred Archdiocese. Their service and selfless assistance have been a true cornerstone in spearheading initiatives for the welfare of our children. With the establishment of this Advisory Committee, we enter a new chapter that seeks to reaffirm our collective commitment as a National Church to fostering healthy families and nurturing well-functioning, visionary members of society. I am confident that this joint effort will reinvigorate the ministries offered by the Academy and propel the entire program forward with a renewed spirit, so as to ensure that we continue to meet the challenges of our times with grace and foresight.”

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