NEW LONDON, CT –The Greek-Orthodox parish of St. Sophia in New London, CT is unhinged because of the sudden resignation of its presiding priest Fr. Dean Panagos, who has pastored there since 2005.
The parish is under the Boston Metropolis’ jurisdiction.
On September 13, Fr. Panagos sent an email to his parishioners informing them that he is was departing:
“Dear Parishioners, after deep prayer, discussion with my family and in consultation and with the blessings of His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios I asked for and have been granted a three-month sabbatical for time in prayer and study. I am leaving the parish of St. Sophia effective September 30th. I will celebrate for the last time at the altar on September 24.
“My time serving you has been most fruitful and a blessing as we have accomplished many beautiful things for the glory of our Lord and our Holy Orthodox Church.
May God bless each of you. I will continue to pray for this parish as you strive forward in serving God.”
Fr. Panagos began his sabbatical on October 1 and Fr. George Economou from Rhode Island has replaced him, liturgizing on Sundays.
The St. Sophia parish will pay Fr. Panagos’ salary and benefits during his sabbatical. He was assigned and liturgized at the Three Hierarchs Chapel of the Center of Hellenic Studies at the University of Connecticut.
Sources told TNH that something happened between Panagos and Deacon James Whittaker at Panagos’ home. Whittaker informed parish council members and also spoke with Metropolitan Methodios.
Parish Council President Terry Mitchell and Vice President Pantelis Kehayias went to Methodios and requested Panagos’ removal from the parish.
Mitchell, a prominent businessman and Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate told TNH that “due to the directives of the legal counsels I cannot make any comment.” Kehayias did not respond to TNH’s request for comment.
Methodios called Panagos to the Metropolis in Boston, where they spoke. Afterward, Panagos returned to New London and sent the letter of his resignation.
Deacon Whittaker studied for six weeks in a special program at Holy Cross School of Theology during summers. He was ordained by Metropolitan Methodios on November 29, 2015 at St. Sophia as posted on its website. He is a truck driver who transports construction materials. He did not respond to TNH’s request for comment.
Panagos, however, did speak with TNH:
ΤNH: Why did you leave St. Sophia?
DP: I have been here 11 years and I have never taken a sabbatical and I asked His Eminence (Methodios) for a three-month sabbatical beginning October 1, so now I am on sabbatical.
TNH: Are you going to be reassigned to another parish?
DP: God willing, yes.
TNH: What happened between you and Deacon James Whittaker at your house?
DP: Nothing. The Deacon has been to my house many, many times. Again I am on sabbatical. The parish is paying for it. Anything else is just innuendo and rumor.
TNH: You are telling us the truth, right?
DP: Yes. Again, I am on Sabbatical right now. If [The Deacon] has an accusation against me let him level it to His Eminence (Methodios) and let his Eminence deal with it.
TNH: He went to Metropolitan Methodios and his Eminence called you and asked to take a leave of absence; actually, to resign.
DP: No, I asked His Eminence for a three-month sabbatical and His Eminence granted it to me.
TNH: What did you tell His Eminence? Why do you need a sabbatical?
DP: Because I deserve one. I had been there for eleven years. That is all.
TNH also spoke with Methodios about the matter.
TNH: Why did you ask Fr. Panagos to leave St. Sophia?
MM: He asked to leave and I gave him leave of absence and now the Archdiocese is going to see what is going on down there and elsewhere and it will decide.
TNH: What happened with Deacon James Whittaker? He came and talked to you.
MM: You know that I can’t discuss these things. These are spiritual issues.
TNH: Why didn’t you suspend Fr. Panagos?
MM: I repeat this is a spiritual issue.
TNH: Are you going to send him to the Spiritual Court to decide?
MM: I repeat this is a spiritual issue
TNH: You have received accusations from the parish council and from Deacon Whittaker.
MM: So because someone accuses someone are we going to issue suspensions here and there?
TNH: Are you going to do inquisitions?
MM: I will investigate. At this time the chancellor (Fr. Theodore Barbas) and I will investigate the situation, but I am not going to depend on gossipers who want to hang him. If he deserves the hanging he will be hanged, but I don’t base the administration of the Church on rumors. If they have to say something, let them express their complaint in writing.
TNH: The deacon spoke to you.
MM: You don’t know what the Deacon told me.