(Salt Lake Tribune) - The simmering tensions between the parish council of the Salt Lake Valley’s Greek Orthodox community and its priests erupted again this week.
In a letter dated Dec. 28, the council informed the Rev. Michael Kouremetis that "there are no funds allocated in the 2014 budget to pay your salary or compensation package beyond December 31, 2013."
The letter was signed by council chairman Dimitrios Tsagaris, who declined to comment beyond saying that the council would discuss the matter with the community in the coming weeks.
Kouremetis, though, has no intention of leaving the state, the priest told worshippers Sunday at Holladay’s Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church.
Kouremetis, who did not return a phone call seeking comment, said he is not going anywhere, according to congregants who were there. He serves "the Lord and the hierarchs of the church, not the parish council."
The fundamental problem is that the council "fails to view the priest as the head of the parish," a group of parishioners and past parish council members wrote in a letter to Archbishop Demetrios, head of the church in the United States. "It is obvious that the council wants priests that will be subservient to it."
In late July, the parish council announced 40 percent wage cuts to the Salt Lake Valley’s three Greek Orthodox priests — Kouremetis at Prophet Elias, the Rev. Matthew Gilbert at Salt Lake City’s Holy Trinity and the roving Rev. Elias Koucos — to balance the budget.
In response, Metropolitan Isaiah, the Greek Orthodox regional authority in Denver, ordered the clergy to discontinue Sunday services, baptisms and weddings until the parish restored their priestly pay.
After three weeks, the council called a "special parish assembly" to discuss the issue. By 220-215 vote, attendees opted to restore the full salaries while at the same time asking Isaiah to reduce the number of priests in Utah from three to two.
"We held this [special assembly] to hear what the parishioners wanted and this is what it is," Tsagaris said then of the vote, which attracted so many parishioners to Prophet Elias that cars were parked along Highland Drive for several blocks in both directions. "It was a very orderly assembly. Everyone had the opportunity to speak."