Last Sunday's controversial vote at Prophet Elias in Holladay leaves Salt Lake City's Greek Orthodox community facing a murky future.---
Almost 600 people packed into a 300-person gym to vote on whether to accept new regulations. Over 340 parishioners voted against accepting the new regs, while around 230 voted for, a 60/40 split that left the parish defying the will of its ecclesiastical leaders—not over theology, it might be added, but over the lack of transparency in how the church's affairs are run. That issue was explored in a recent news story, Greek Tragedy, and subsequent blog exploring the events running up to the vote.
Those ballot numbers, however, do not provide a sense of that afternoon's drama.
The line to enter the church and be informed whether you were eligible or not to vote stretched around the building. While there were police officers in plain clothing present, it was a member of the parish council who physically barred the way to the six parish members Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver had decreed were excommunicated because they had sued the church.
One member in good standing, Vasilios Priskos, noted the tragic irony of seeing leading parishioner Nick Bapis not being allowed into the church, while in the same hall a plaque celebrated the monies the Bapis family had donated to build the entrance to the gym. [Editor's note: Bapis manages City Weekly's 401K]
Parishioner Tony Gianoulis says tensions were so high that an elderly woman among the six banned members was only allowed to enter the church to use the restroom if she was escorted there by police officers.
Despite being packed to over capacity, leading some to question whether the gym was a fire trap, requests that the 2 p.m. meeting be moved to a larger nearby gym were denied. This was because, parishioners realized, the Metropolitan had a lengthy PowerPoint presentation on large screens he wanted to see go ahead.
The presenter, apparently a Houston attorney, went through the regulations in some detail, presenting only one side of the story, according to several who attended. That side involved, among other things, criticizing those the Metropolitan had banned. An elderly woman with a thick Greek accent tried to remonstrate with the presenter.%uFFFD
His lengthy pitch to approve the new regulations generated a lot of negative feeling, Gianoulis argues, among members who had been sitting on the fence. They realized, he argues, "Nobody is listening to us at all about wanting to determine our own future."
After the 90-minute-plus presentation and several other briefer talks, parishioners were allowed to speak for three minutes each during a period of less than an hour. Those who tried to address the wider issues behind the vote were told to stick to questions relating to the regulations. "They wouldn't let them go off base and pursue the unfairness that has existed in the community," Gianoulis says.
Along with questions as to why the ballots were numbered, allowing the possible identification of each voting parishioner, perhaps the darkest moment of the afternoon was the statement by a church authority that the parish's choice was stark: either two-thirds voted yes to accept the new regulations and the parish would proceed to a Dec. 4 general assembly and election of new council members, or, if the regulations were voted down, then the parish members were told, Gianoulis recalls, that "the bishop will declare the parish is in canonical disorder and he will take over the parish."%uFFFD %uFFFD
That threat spoke to the biggest fear that has long motivated many in the parish to speak out against Metropolitan Isaiah's efforts to get the Salt Lake parish into line with the rest of the country. According to the 2007 regulations, if the parish were declared by the Metropolitan in disorder, he could ultimately take possession of its assets.
Given the level of mistrust and anger that saw some parishioners in tears and many others in heated arguments, quite how the parish can continue under the Archdiocese, the Metropolitan and his appointed priests—Father Michael Kouremetis and Father Matthew Gilbert—seems unclear.
Gianoulis arguably speaks for many when he says, "Everybody wants us to heal, to be united again." Whether others, however, share his belief that the parish can emerge from the vote stronger, "have our own due process and direct the non-ecclesiastical part of our business of the parish," is a matter for debate.