Salt Lake Valley’s Greek Orthodox community patches up rifts
Religion • Plan calls for restructuring parish council and transferring a priest.
Published: March 27, 2014 06:35PM
Updated: March 25, 2014 10:47PM
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Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo Father Michael Kouremetis.

Four years of infighting appear to be over for the Salt Lake Valley’s Greek Orthodox community, thanks to a peace plan that includes losing a priest and gaining a more diverse parish council.

On Tuesday, the council sent every member a copy of a letter from Bishop Andonios of Phasiane, the Greek Orthodox chancellor in New York, spelling out the deal.

New parish council members, elected in November but never seated, were ratified. There will be no further discussion of dividing the parish (which includes two churches, Salt Lake City’s Holy Trinity and Holladay’s Prophet Elias) until sometime in the future — and then, only if parishioners want it.

Since the parish council is dominated by members from Holy Trinity, the Denver-based Metropolitan Isaiah, who oversees the region’s Greek Orthodox churches, will soon appoint five or six “appropriate individuals who primarily church themselves at Prophet Elias,” Andonios wrote. “It must be stressed that this ‘new’ parish council must function as ONE body, with each individual, regardless of which church they attend, accorded the appropriate deference — their opinion, concerns and what they view as the needs, heard.”

Finally, the letter stated, the Rev. Michael Kouremetis “had expressed in the past a desire to be reassigned,” and Isaiah “is now ready to respond to that request and will work with the archdiocese to find, as quickly as possible, a new assignment for Father Michael.”

Until Kouremetis leaves, Andonios wrote, he will continue to receive his priestly pay.

Parish Council President Dimitrios Tsagaris is pleased with the outcome.

“Everything is resolved,” he said Tuesday. “I feel good about it.”

Indeed, he noted, the new parish council members were sworn in Monday night.

Neither Kouremetis nor his main supporters could be reached Tuesday for comment.

In February, the simmering conflict between the parish council and the clergy had reached the faith’s highest authority, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Turkey, who instructed Archbishop Demetrios, the leader of the American Greek Church, “to solve the problem immediately.”

At that time, Tsagaris flew to New York to meet with Demetrios. They met again later in Denver to work out a resolution.

At issue in the conflict was the plan to divide the valley’s parish into two, a move pushed by Isaiah and two priests — Kouremetis at Prophet Elias and the Rev. Matthew Gilbert at Holy Trinity — but which the majority of parishioners opposed.

In December, the parish council voted against funding Kouremetis’ salary. A month later, a scuffle broke out between the priest’s supporters and opponents during services at Prophet Elias.

Now it is time for healing, the letter said.

Tsagaris agreed, saying he was “confident from the beginning that things would work out. All we had to do was put our minds together.”

pstack@sltrib.com Twitter: @religiongal