ARLINGTON, MA – The St. Athanasius parish in Arlington, MA has fallen into deep crisis due to the sudden dismissal of its popular priest Fr. Nicholas Kastanas by Metropolitan Methodios of Boston.
On July 30, the church congregation booed at Methodios’ name while Fr. Kastanas tried to calm them, saying “it is not nice, it is not fair.” The police presence was visible in front of the church, and there were also law enforcement officers in unmarked cars.
.Methodios, who is vacationing in Greece, told TNH via telephone that “I have no comment other than what is in letter. The decision is aimed for the good of St. Athanasius parish and also Fr. Kastanas.”
Kastanas, Parish Council President Constantinos Ioakimidis and Paul Tsistopoulos also did not comment at the July 30 service. The Metropolis ordered the removal Kastanas’ computer from his office. His keys were taken and the locks were changed.
The parishioners lined up to receive communion from Kastanas one last time – he was a priest there for the last 28 years. They avoided receiving communion from Assistant Priest Fr. Aaron Walker, who also stood there holding a Holy Chalice.
Kastanas’ removal was announced in a letter on July 27 by Methodios, stating that “for the past few years, the Saint Athanasius Parish has been in a state of turmoil as result of issues involving, in large part, Fr. Kastanas.
The spiritual environment in the Community has been severely damaged by behavior that is wholly contrary to Christian values, which has resulted in, among other things, the distribution of hurtful and destructive communications throughout the Community.
While this turmoil is not totally Fr. Kastanas’ fault, nevertheless, he bears the greatest responsibility. It is the parish priest who is expected to preserve the orderly life and unity of the parish, keeping it faithful to its divine purpose… “After much prayer and reflection, I have arrived at the painful decision to relieve Fr. Kastanas of his pastoral responsibilities at St. Athanasius effective immediately following the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, July 30, 2017. Fr. Kastanas has been notified of this decision.
Parishioners on July 30 openly wept over the impending loss of their beloved priest who, over the decades, blessed their weddings, baptized their children, and buried their loved ones. In his final sermon, Kastanas spoke of peace among members and told them not to speak harshly to one another. “It’s important to be passionate but peaceful.”
One member shouted from the back of the church that “there is no parish without Fr. Nick” while the congregation standing was shouting loudly and rhythmically “Fr. Nick, Fr. Nick.” He received three standing ovations during the sermon.
“When a door closes another one will open,” he continued, “and it is my prayer for all of us to move forward united in our parish because St. Athanasius will always be my parish. I want us to please be united, peaceful and be connected with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and with each other. Work diligently for all of us to sustain that peace that Christ talks about being peacemakers.”
Fr. Kastanas thanked all his co-workers, including those at the Greek School, Sunday School, and the choir, the chanters, the youth, the Philoptochos, the Parish Council, and added “everything will continue and just renew and refresh. This is not a wake or a funeral; this is an opportunity to give glory to God and to rededicate and recommit our efforts.”
Boston’s main newspapers, the Globe and the Herald, as well as numerous television stories provided extensive coverage.
The parish youth spread the story widely on social media, circulated a petition in support of Kastanas that at press time had gathered over 1900 signatures, and have started a GoFundMe account. Some told TNH this is “the beginning of the end” for the parish.
The parish consists by more than 800 families and it was considered one of the best parishes not only of New England but in the entire Archdiocese. The parish moved to its current location in 2005 when an entire hill of buildings including the church was purchased from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. The parish has taken a big loan that it repays every month. A year ago, Fr. Aaron Walker was assigned to the parish as assistant priest.