Greek Orthodox Stewards of America - May 25, 1999
1. THE ATTEMPT TO WITHHOLD AND ESCROW FUNDS IS OPPOSED BY THE METROPOLITANS: In a letter dated April 23, 1999, Metropolitan Iakovos instructed a parish priest in Des Moines, Iowa that his parish was not to withhold funds, stating that "no parish council, assembly or priest has the right to even consider withholding the parish's National Ministries contribution to the Archdiocese." At the recent Denver Diocese clergy-laity conference that occurred on April 30-May 2, Metropolitan Isaiah stated he does not support withholding funds. Metropolitan Anthony has taken a similar position. When the parish assembly at the Ascension Cathedral in Oakland voted to escrow funds, he wrote the parish council president and priest stating "your parish must not implement any such escrow account and must promptly hold another parish assembly to rectify this matter."
2. ARCHDIOCESE SUPPORTS USE OF ENGLISH IN LITURGY: In a memorandum dated November 24, 1997 from Father John Heropoulos, Director of the Office of the Archbishop, to the faithful of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, ("Heropoulos Memorandum") the Archdiocese articulated its policy on a number of issues. With respect to language, the Heropoulos Memorandum stated the following:
"Every priest of the Archdiocese is encouraged to minister to the best of his ability to the faithful of his parish community. Each priest is to minister to the faithful entrusted to his care in the language which the faithful understand and to make every effort to speak to all members of his community. The one priority is to preach the Gospel so all can understand, without changing the Greek Orthodox way and tradition of worship."
Archbishop Spyridon has affirmed repeatedly (once in an interview on National Public Radio with Ray Suarez on Talk of the Nation) that English is more than welcome in the liturgical life of our communities and that such decisions be made at the local level, with pastoral considerations for the needs of the individual community. Moreover, the Archbishop has instituted the first-ever initiative in the history of the Archdiocese to create a standardized English translation of the Divine Liturgy for all the parishes. The bottom line is that Archbishop Spyridon has taken an approach to language that is aimed at meeting the needs of each individual community. He values our Greek Orthodox traditions and our Hellenic culture and at the same time he recognizes the realities of modern American life and is willing to adapt to meet those realities.
3. ARCHDIOCESE IS SERVING THE NEEDS OF THOSE WHO MARRY OUTSIDE THE ORTHODOX FAITH: Archbishop Spyridon has established the first ever "Interfaith Marriage Ministry" staffed by a full time priest with a doctorate on Marriage and Family Therapy. The purpose of this ministry is to develop policies, programs and seminars to more effectively serve this segment of the Greek Orthodox faithful. In his enthronement message, Archbishop Spyridon expressed his vision with respect to interfaith marriages:
"I read in a newspaper not too long ago that the greatest problem we face today is that the majority of our people in America marry persons not of the Orthodox Faith. I was shocked, not that they are a majority, but that anyone would regard this solely as a problem."
"It is not so much a problem as it is a promise of things that can be. It is an opportunity. Let us take advantage of it, for a church that is open to all people is a church that grows. Isn't this what happened when the Apostle Paul, the patron saint of the Archdiocese, took the message of Christ to the Gentiles, the Greeks, and the Romans of the Eastern Mediterranean, despite the disapproval of some of his fellow disciples?"
4. ARCHDIOCESE NOT AGAINST CHOIRS: The Heropoulos Memorandum provides that "[a]ll people, men and women, are encouraged to sing in the parish church choirs. No one is to be excluded, and all are invited to add their voice to the worship of God in the Liturgical Services. Youth, or children choirs, are also encouraged to be established throughout the Archdiocese."
5. NO REQUIREMENT THAT CLERGY WEAR CASSOCKS, WEAR BEARDS OR WEAR KALIMAFKI: On this subject, the Heropoulos Memorandum states "[i] must be noted that for a priest to wear a beard and to dress in a cassock is customary for an Orthodox priest. Therefore, it is most certainly not odd to see a priest dressed in this way in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. It must be noted, however, that there is no directives or decree mandating these issues to the priests of this Archdiocese." Indeed, whether a priest chooses to wear a cassock or whether he chooses to trim his beard is a personal choice respected by Archbishop Spyridon. The kalimafki or "tall black hat" has been traditional headgear for Orthodox priests for centuries. Again, there is no requirement that a priest wear such a hat.
6. ARCHDIOCESE HAS IN PLACE BEST FINANCIAL CONTROLS IN ITS HISTORY: The Archdiocese has in place the most stringent financial controls in its history. The controls include the following: (1) Two signatures required on every check irrespective of the amount; (2) A corporate officer (Vice-Chairman, Treasurer, Secretary) of the Archdiocese is required to sign any check of $25,000 or more; (3) Internal Audit Committee comprised of two executive committee members, with ex-officio members consisting of the Director of Finance and General Counsel; (4) Free Access of the Finance Committee and the Audit Committee to the Department of Finance and Outside Auditors, presently BDO Seidman; (5) Audit Committee selects and hires outside auditors and handles any internal irregularities; (6) Fully audited financial statements of the Archdiocese and all affiliated institutions. These financial statements have been widely distributed to the Archdiocesan Council, Clergy-Laity Congress and parishes, and published in the Orthodox Observer; (7) Department of Finance has installed and is using new accounting software that provides monthly reporting of revenues and disbursements, including year to date results, to the Executive Committee and the Archdiocese. Monthly reports are provided within forty-five (45) days; (8) The Department of Finance and General Counsel provide reports at monthly meetings of the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council; and (9) Outside Auditors are provided direct access and review of the investment accounts of the Archdiocese, which accounting firm makes all postings and account entries.
7. THE ATTEMPTED PURCHASE OF A PERMANENT ARCHBISHOP'S RESIDENCE WAS DONE IN GOOD FAITH AND THE ARCHDIOCESE LOST NO MONEY WHEN THE HOUSE PURCHASE DID NOT OCCUR: Living arrangements for Archbishop Spyridon were made and approved by the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council - without his knowledge - before his arrival in September, 1996. The arrangements included the rental of a 1,500 square foot cottage in a state of disrepair at a cost to the Archdiocese of approximately $58,000 a year. The rental expired in September, 1998. Since that time, the Archbishop still resides in rented housing in the greater New York area at a cost to the Archdiocese of over $66,000 a year. The fact is that Archbishops do receive heads of state, high-ranking clergy of many denominations and other dignitaries. It would not be appropriate to have such people calling at a less-than-suitable residence.
With the expiration of the lease on the cottage due in September, 1998, a recommendation regarding the purchase of a permanent Archbishop's residence was made by the Finance Committee of the Archdiocesan Council at their March 7, 1998 meeting. The recommendation was well-received, but not made into a motion. No report made at that meeting was received with a motion. Prior to this recommendation the Archdiocesan Council had never considered the issue of housing for the Archbishop.
Given the realities of the real estate market in New York, action has to be taken immediately when one finds a suitable property with regards to a contract for that property. Keeping this in mind and believing they had the approval of the Archdiocesan Council, the Chancellor, the Very Reverend Father George G. Passias signed a contract as a representative of the Archdiocese; and with the Finance Committee Chairperson, Mr. John Mavroudis, issued a deposit of $139,000 for the purchase. Copies of the signed contract and other pertinent documents on the property were sent to the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council. However, the formal vote taken later by the Executive Committee held on April 30, 1998 was against the purchase. All involved have acknowledged that the Executive Committee should have been called on to vote on the contract prior to its being signed, even though they believed in good faith they had the Committee's support.
This good faith mistake caused no harm to the Archdiocese. A donor who does not want his identity to be known donated $140,500 (the original deposit, plus interest) to the Archdiocese to reimburse it for the forfeited deposit. BDO Seidman, LLP, an outside auditing firm, obtained written confirmation directly from the donor confirming this fact. In a written audit report on this subject, BDO Seidman, LLP stated: "  that the $140,500 donation made on May 7, 1998 was for the express purpose of replacing a $139,500 deposit forfeited by the Archdiocese with regard to the canceled purchase of property at One Plymouth Road, Rye, NY;  that such funds have been donated with no conditions or agreement of repayment; and  that the donors requested that their donation remain anonymous."
8. ARCHDIOCESE HAS INSTITUTED COST SAVING MEASURES: The Archdiocese, under the direction of the Archbishop, has instituted a number of cost saving measures. Examples include the following: (1) three bids are now required for all jobs or contracts costing over $500 (this resulted in over $60,000 of savings with respect to general liability and auto insurance); (2) the semi-annual two day meetings of the Archdiocesan Council has been moved from the traditional venue of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to the Archdiocesan Cathedral Central; and (3) the purchasing of supplies has been centralized (as opposed to each department doing its own purchasing), resulting in savings that accrue from bulk purchases, and purchases over $500 must be approved by the Chancellor's office.
9. NO WRONGDOING OCCURRED WITH RESPECT TO SALARIES: It has been stated that Archbishop Spyridon and the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, Father George Passias, were paid "off the books" in order to avoid tax liability. At the request of George D. Chelpon, acting director of finance, BDO Seidman, LLP prepared a report in which it investigated all bank statements and cancelled checks for all Archdiocese bank accounts. The report concluded that there was no unreported income paid to the Archbishop or to Father Passias and that all reporting requirements were met.
10. FATHER PASSIAS ENGAGED IN NO WRONGDOING WITH RESPECT TO THE AGAPE FUND WHILE AT ST. NICHOLAS: It has been suggested by some that Father Passias engaged in wrongdoing with respect to the Agape Fund, a fund to help people in need, while the priest at St. Nicholas. This is untrue. In a letter dated March 20, 1996, the then director of finance for the Archdiocese wrote the Parish Council of St. Nicholas stating "I have personally reviewed the Agape Fund transactions and have found that the disbursements are all well documented and have been distributed for the philanthropic reasons as was the funds intent."
[ Greek Orthodox Stewards of America
May 25, 1999 ]