Suspension with removal: why the Synod of Phanar penanced two US hierarchs

Archbishop Elpidophoros concentrated all power in the United States. Photo: UOJ

At the last Holy Synod, the Phanar suspended Metropolitan Methodios of Boston and removed Metropolitan Evangelos of NJ from his position. What is the bishops’ fault?

On October 8, 2020, on the third day of its work in this current month, the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople took several not only controversial but also scandalous decisions.

In particular, it placed into abeyance the force of the Charter of the Holy Archdiocese of America, placed His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of Boston under a penance of suspension and transferred His Eminence Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey to the Holy Metropolis of Sardes, Turkey.

The suspension of Metropolitan Methodios, as well as the actual exile of Metropolitan Evangelos, caused serious discontent among the Greek diaspora in the United States. Among those who did not like these decisions very much, there are even representatives of the Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called (also called the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate). For example, George Siamboulis, former President of the “Pan Gregorian Enterprises”, a Greek restaurant chain of New Jersey, said he had been contacted by about 50 people who were also unhappy with the removal of Metropolitan Evangelos.

Of course, neither Siamboulis nor those who contacted him are among the most influential members of the Order. However, these people are certainly able to cause quite a lot of problems to the Phanar since they represent the voices of many ordinary Greek laymen. Siamboulis, in particular, said that "the entire Greek community of New Jersey shares my feelings about the expulsion of our worthy Metropolitan". Moreover, the Greeks were outraged not only by the very fact of "exile", but also by the reasons why it happened. Rather, their complete absence since neither Metropolitan Evangelos nor Metropolitan Methodios was informed of what kind of "canonical transgressions" (as said in the Communiqué of the Synod) they were accused of. This fact allows Siamboulis to conclude that the Patriarch and Archbishop Elpidophoros "rebelled against the hierarchs". Is it so?

Boston story

Metropolitan Methodios of Boston (right)

It is no coincidence that before deciding to sustain the Charter of the Archdiocese of America, which had been in effect since 2003, the Phanar Synod actually removed two very influential hierarchs in the United States – Metropolitan Methodios and Metropolitan Evangelos. According to the official version, the former paid for "canonical transgressions", and the only thing known about the latter is that he was transferred to the Holy Metropolis of Sardes, Turkey (which, although it is listed as active, is not so in practice). Later, the Greek-American press reported that both bishops came under fire for their position regarding the practice of Holy Communion.

The fact is that with the onset of the pandemic, Archbishop Elpidophoros articulated the instruction to use disposable plastic spoons for communion. He also called on the US hierarchs for this practice. However, Metropolitan Methodios was one of the first to openly oppose such "innovation" in general and Archbishop Elpidophoros in particular.

It was reported that the Metropolitan of Boston arranged an Internet conference with the hierarchs of the Archdiocese, to which the head of the structure was not invited. At it, some American bishops expressed their dissatisfaction with the head of the Archdiocese of America, and the Metropolitan of Boston directly raised the question of his actual removal. Naturally, such a move could not please Patriarch Bartholomew, whose protege is considered Elpidophoros. And even though in 1999 Patriarch Bartholomew committed a similar act (when he initiated the collection of signatures against the then head of the Archdiocese Spiridon), Metropolitan Methodios was placed under a penance of suspension.

It should be mentioned that such strict measures against the head of the Boston Diocese were taken at the suggestion of Fr. Alex Karloutsos, well-known in the United States, who in certain circles is called "a money bag of the Ecumenical Patriarchate". It was Karloutsos who wrote a letter in which he demanded the compulsory resignation of Metropolitan Methodios.

Fr. Alex Karloutsos with Joe Biden

It should be noted here that Fr. Alex Karloutsos has been in strained (if not to say hostile) relations with Metropolitan Methodios since at least 2017 when the Boston Metropolitanate dismissed Archpriest Nicholas Castanas from the St. Athanasios parish in Arlington. The reason is financial fraud. The scandal then sparked All-American media coverage (Castanas filed a lawsuit against the Metropolitanate, the Metropolitanate initiated a counterclaim), which caused a sharp discontent with Fr. Alex Karloutsos. Now, according to journalists, Karloutsos has finally found a way to settle scores with Metropolitan Methodios.

The personality of Fr. Alex Karloutsos, and especially the measure of his influence on the affairs of the Archdiocese, is a topic for a separate article. Suffice it to say here that this priest is "the Vicar General (!) of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America" and special assistant to Archbishop Elpidophoros, a confessor of the Order of St. Andrew the First-Called and the Foundation of Orthodoxy and Hellenism. He is also a spokesperson for the Archdiocese to the White House, Congress, state and local governments, Greek-American organizations, political parties, and religious freedom and human rights groups. In a word, without exaggeration, he can be called the “grey eminence” of the Archdiocese of America.

It is not hard to guess that Karloutsos is on excellent terms with Archbishop Elpidophoros, and his letter demanding the suspension of Metropolitan Methodios could not be ignored. By the way, already on October 12, 2020 (that is, a few days after the Phanar Synod), Alex Karloutsos’s nephew Nicholas became the Rector and Dean of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in New York. Of course, a very young pastor may possess outstanding spiritual merits, but in the general context, this situation looks more like a manifestation of corruption. It is hard to believe that there was no more experienced priest for such a prestigious position in the Archdiocese.

New Jersey story

Metropolitan Evangelos

At the same time, the story of the transfer of Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey to the Holy Metropolis of Sardes, Turkey, is rather unclear. As in the case of the Metropolitan of Boston, the head of the Diocese of New Jersey was removed without giving reasons. Moreover, Metropolitan Evangelos learned about his move from the media (!), which testifies to the specific environment of the Archdiocese at the moment.

However, according to journalists, the reasons for the removal of Metropolitan Evangelos may be due to the fact that "at the early stage of the coronavirus pandemic, he called the actions of Archbishop Elpidophoros (who issued a nationwide directive to use disposable spoons at Communion – Ed.) "wrongful and uncanonical". Moreover, it was reported in the media that Metropolitan Evangelos was on bad personal terms with Archbishop Elpidophoros.

In the end, it must be recalled that not only in Boston and New Jersey but also in Chicago the directive to use disposable spoons did not find support. However, Metropolitan Nathanael of Chicago (a well-known liberal and ecumenist), speaking out against disposable spoons, did not touch the personality of Archbishop Elpidophoros, and perhaps that is why the decisions of the Holy Synod did not affect him in any way. Thus, we may assume that the most likely reason for the removal of the head of the New Jersey Diocese from the administration of the metropolis was not so much canonical violations but his harsh criticism of Archbishop Elpidophoros’s actions.

Of course, the question may arise: if Metropolitan Evangelos undermined the authority of the head of the Archdiocese, then why was he placed under a relatively minor penance – sent into exile but not suspended like Metropolitan Methodios?

The thing is that in 2018, in fact, only Metropolitan Evangelos stood up to protect Patriarch Bartholomew. Then the head of the Phanar was opposed by the billionaire and banker Efstathios Valiotis, who is on the list of the richest expatriates in the United States, whose personal fortune is estimated at about $ 2 billion. Valiotis accused Bartholomew of corruption and other unseemly acts. Then only the head of the NJ Metropolis decided to openly defend the head of the Phanar. Therefore, “only” removal from office is a certain “gratitude” from Patriarch Bartholomew. Nevertheless, nothing good awaits Metropolitan Evangelos.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has a separate pension fund. In addition to the contributions that the hierarchs make to the clergy's pension fund (the same one that priests pay), after retirement they can count on 80% of the salary they received during the administration of the metropolis. An additional pension contribution (guaranteeing a decent pension to the hierarchs) is paid directly by the Archdiocese. And this is tens of thousands of dollars a year.

However, by transferring Metropolitan Evangelos to Sardes and not giving him the opportunity to resign as a "former" Metropolitan of New Jersey, the Phanar Synod deprived him of the right to receive an additional contribution from the Archdiocese to his pension. Thus, Elpidophoros saved a large amount, and Metropolitan Evangelos will be able to receive only that part of his pension, which he contributed to the clergy pension fund like all his priests. And he will receive it as long as there is money in the fund.

The Greek-American media outlets give another reason for the exile of Metropolitan Evangelos to Sardes – the desire of the head of the American Archdiocese to see his vicar, Bishop Apostolos (Koufalakis), at the New Jersey See. In fact, it was he who should fulfil the functions of the assistant to the bishop, but, as we remember, such, for the most part, can be called the Fr. Alex Karloutsos. Perhaps, it is precisely for this reason that Archbishop Elpidophorus is trying to attract Bishop Apostolos to the Metropolis of New Jersey to eliminate this "discrepancy".

Eventually, Metropolitan Evangelos, as far as is known at the moment, refuses to go to Sardes and simply resigns. For the hierarch, who is only to blame for the fact that he cannot come to terms with the style of governance of Archbishop Elpidophoros, everything that happened is rather cruel.

How was the Phanar Synod going?

We have already mentioned that Vladyka Evangelos learned about his transfer to the Metropolis of Sardes from the media. You must admit this is an unusual attitude towards the bishop. However, in order to feel even more the atmosphere prevailing in the Patriarchate of Constantinople, we will briefly tell you exactly how the sessions of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople took place, which made decisions on the penance of the two disgraced bishops. Moreover, Phanar representatives are trying to look liberal and democratic and very often refer to the canons.

The session began on October 6 at 12 pm. It was opened by Archbishop Elpidophoros, who presented a detailed report on everything that is happening in the United States (read – he complained about Metropolitans Methodios and Evangelos).

Following Elpidophoros, Patriarch Bartholomew addressed the Holy Synod and “spoke at length about Metropolitan Methodios of Boston”, suggesting that he be reprimanded. At the same time, the head of the Phanar recalled that this reprimand would be the second for the head of the Metropolis of Boston (the first was made last year).

However, in response to Patriarch Bartholomew's remark, one of the Synod members noted that Metropolitan Methodios is already 74 years old and there was no point in reprimanding him for the second time, since “when will he be corrected, at 90, or what?”, and suggested a suspension ... But, according to him, "since the Mother Church is humane and loves Her children, let us make a concession and instead of dismissal transfer him to another metropolis".

Then another high priest advocated the view of the previous hierarch to remove Met. Methodios from Boston. Another high priest disagreed and suggested that Evangelos and Methodios be called to Phanar and given an opportunity to justify themselves (which would correspond to the canons of the Church – Ed.), but the other members of the Synod “unanimously declared that we had just heard them from the read reports of the Archbishop of America."

It is already obvious that the head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Archbishop Elpidophoros, is taking a key position in the Patriarchate of Constantinople. It is he who is likely to play a decisive role in this Church in the near future.

Ultimately, the decisions that we spoke about above were adopted by the majority of votes (with one abstention).

Whatever the reason, in both cases, the reprisal against the Greek hierarchs of America had nothing to do with the canons of the Church. The Phanar once again showed that for it canon law is a relative concept and personal grievances, preferences and desires are of much greater importance. It is under their influence that decisions are taken, even if these decisions are harmful to the Church.

On the other hand, it is already obvious that the head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Archbishop Elpidophoros, is taking a key position in the Patriarchate of Constantinople. It is he who is likely to play a decisive role in this Church in the near future. By the way, both the Boston and New Jersey Dioceses are currently under his direct control.

Therefore, Archbishop Elpidophoros should be looked at more closely, especially considering the change in the Charter of the Archdiocese, which, in our opinion, will be drafted exclusively for him.

Read more on this here.

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