Holladay • After death threats, litigation and a church meeting supervised by police, members of the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake voted Sunday against adopting the bylaws of its national hierarchy.
The seemingly technical issue has thrown the church into an ongoing emotional dispute that culminated at Sunday’s general assembly. Hundreds of people turned out, and some were not allowed in the doors of the Diamond Z. Miles Multi-Purpose Center.
“It’s very heated. People are getting upset,” said church member Mary Kontgis. “My mom [is] 90 years old. She’s just beside herself. It’s dividing the community.”
“I’ve never seen so many Greeks in my life,” said Bob Baliban. “Honest to God, they must have come from Idaho and Wyoming, too. I think the Mormons must be getting a kick out of this.”
Members of the local parish, which includes both the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Salt Lake City and the Prophet Elias Church in Holladay, have clashed over whether to bring local church bylaws in line with Greek Orthodox Uniform Parish Regulations. Opponents fear the move would take control of the local finances away from local members.
Parish council members dispute those claims, saying adopting the bylaws would only codify the way the church already makes decisions.
Church member voted on two resolutions that would have adopted the new bylaws, rejecting them approximately 60 percent to 40 percent, parish council president Jim Mylonakis said.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Mylonakis said। “We will see what directives we’re going to receive.”
Mylonakis said the council arranged for Sunday’s vote after the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, headquartered in New York City, told the council that the parish was out of compliance with the larger church. But a group of members filed suit, alleging that the parish council had “frozen out” voting members and “effectively hijacked” the church’s affairs.
Mylonakis said he and the parish priest have received death threats over the bylaws vote, one as recently as Sunday afternoon. The Unified Police Department had 10 officers on site and “others that are staged if needed,” said Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal.
“We understand that there’s a volatile situation here, so we have officers that are here solely to keep the peace,” he said.
The police presence stayed mostly in the background.
Church leadership mandated that only members in “good standing” — those not involved with the lawsuit and who are up-to-date on their annual financial pledges — were admitted to the general assembly. Mylonakis said the parish was following instruction from the church’s regional authorities in Denver not to admit members who filed suit.
A line stretched around the building as people entered with little incident other than “arguing in line waiting to get in,” said Baliban. He was not admitted because he fell behind on his pledges.
But, at the tail end of that line, a group of about a dozen dissidents confronted church leadership when they were prevented from entering. The media were kept away from the church itself, but voices could be heard shouting, “It’s OUR church!” “That’s what it is! You are afraid of the truth!”
And, in response, “I cannot let you in! I cannot let you in!”
Officers did not intervene during the argument, which never escalated beyond raised voices.
Jim Kastanis, one of those who filed suit, said that while the voting members ultimately shared his opposition to the new bylaws, excluding members meant the meeting was not legitimate. “It was all rigged up,” Kastanis said. “It’s 2011; we live in America. What is going on?”
He said the church should now hold council elections.
“I’m happy with the fact that now we can go ahead, elect 15 board members, elect officers and go from there,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with my church. I have a problem with the current administration of the church.”
Mylonakis said he is confident the congregation can reunite.
“These people are friends of mine that I grew up with and have known all my life,” he said. “I just hope everybody puts certain things aside and goes on. We have such a good community.”