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Peggy Fletcher Stack
Peggy Fletcher Stack has been producing stories for The Salt Lake Tribune's award-winning Faith section for nearly two decades. Writing about contemporary faith, rituals, and spirituality as well as religion's conflicts and cohesion has always been Stack's passion. Follow her at facebook.com/peggy.fletcherstack, Twitter @religiongal

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Greek Orthodox patriarch orders U.S. leader to solve Salt Lake church dispute

The conflict between the parish council and clergy at the Salt Lake Valley’s two Greek Orthodox churches has reached that faith’s highest authority: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

The patriarch, who lives in Turkey, instructed Archbishop Demetrios, who oversees the American Greek church, "to solve the problem immediately," according to a recent article in The National Herald, a weekly Greek-American publication in New York.

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At issue in the four-year-long battle is the plan to divide the valley’s parish into two, a move that was pushed by the Denver-based Metropolitan Isaiah and two priests — the Rev. Michael Kouremetis at Holladay’s Prophet Elias Church and the Rev. Matthew Gilbert at Salt Lake City’s Holy Trinity — but which the majority of parishioners oppose.

In mid-December, the parish council voted not to fund Kouremetis’ salary. A month later, a scuffle broke out between the priest’s supporters and opponents during services at Prophet Elias.

On Feb. 5, Demetrios, "summoned Isaiah to the Archdiocesan headquarters in New York, telling him of the patriarch’s disappointment," The Herald reported. "The message was clear that the Patriarchate will not tolerate the dissolvent of any parish in the United States."

The next day, Demetrios Tsagaris, the head of Salt Lake Valley’s parish council, explained to the archbishop his perspective on the escalating tensions with the clergy.

"Although the day-to-day functions of our churches are being attended to by our office staff and director George Kournianos, we no longer have open communication with our clergy. … All priests are apparently under direction from Metropolitan Isaiah to not participate in matters concerning the administration of the parish," Tsagaris wrote in a letter to parishioners as quoted in The Herald. "Despite multiple attempts, in person, via phone and email, to engage Father Matthew to participate in community matters and parish council meetings he has elected not to attend."

The newspaper reported that Kouremetis was up for appointments to Greek Orthodox parishes in Florida and New Jersey, but "there was resistance from parishioners" in those states.

And though some Utah Greeks would like to see Gilbert move as well, The Herald said, his newly ordained son Chrysostomos, who works at church headquarters in New York, "has intervened and stopped his transfer, for now."

Tsagaris believes that the impasse is now in good hands, he wrote to the parish.

"Your parish council is in weekly communication with the Archdiocese. Metropolitan Isaiah has removed himself as our spiritual leader and we now await further intervention from the Archdiocese."

Peggy Fletcher Stack

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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