Police asked to keep the peace at Greek Orthodox vote

HOLLADAY, Utah (ABC 4 News) - Police officers roamed the grounds of Holladay's Prophet Elias Greek Church on Sunday for a generaly assembly voting session.

The general assembly allows members considered in good standing with the Greek Church to vote. The special meeting comes after months of tense infighting between members of the church. Sunday's ballots asked members to vote on new church bylaws which some members argue are "hijacking" the church's affairs. The issue started when regional Greek leaders wanted to split the Salt Lake parish which includes Prophet Elias Church in Holladay and Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Salt Lake. A majority of the Greek community argued against the split, and since then other issues have come to light.

For the most part Sunday's general assembly went peacefully. Originally, the church planned to pay off-duty officers for their time but Unified Police agreed to provide the community service at no cost. "We've received several calls about tensions here and we realize it's a volatile situation. We just want to do our part to help out and keep the peace," says Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal.

Several members feel new bylaws could give too much power to national and regional authorities in the Greek Orthodox Church, including control of funds. Local committees have helped raise millions of dollars for the Salt Lake parish and now there's questions over who will control the money and where it will be allocated.

According to parishioners, for two years, Salt Lake members in good standing with the church have not been able to vote on who they want for the parish council. Instead, they say the priests of both local churches are appointing their own people. "We have not had elections in two years and that bascially breaks our bylaws," says parishioner George Karahalios.

"I would just like to see free and fair elections and not to see people appointed. That's basically what we're asking for," says parishioner Alethia Chatzis.

Some church members who have filed suit against the parish council were banned from the building during Sunday's vote. The injunction was filed last month by several members of the church in Utah's 3rd District Court. Nick Bapis is a well known member of the Salt Lake Greek community. Bapis feels the fighting is a black eye for the church. "It's very embarrassing. We shouldn't be airing our dirty laundry like we did today. Greece is where democracy began and the Greeks are fairly democracy oriented."

Approximately 600 votes were cast at Sunday's meeting. 59 percent voted no on the bylaws to maintain the Salt Lake parish's independence from regional and national leadership.

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