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Healing underway in Greek Orthodox community

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS – Metropolitan Isaiah Chronopoulos said he is leaving the past in the past.

“I say this honestly, and as God as my witness, I have nothing against anyone in Holy Trinity and Prophet Elias who may have said anything against me,” he said.

“And they said a lot of things against me.”

The spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox Christian Metropolis of Denver celebrated the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy Sunday at the Greek Orthodox Mission Parish of Utah.

“I was the ‘big bad guy’ who was ‘responsible’ for all of this, but I wasn’t responsible for all of this,” the bishop, referred to as Metropolitan Isaiah, said. “I have followed the UPR – the Uniform Parish Regulations – from day one. I have no right to go into any parish and tell them what to do.”

In August of 2013, Metropolitan Isaiah told priests assigned to Greek Orthodox Church of Salt Lake – comprised of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Salt Lake City and Prophet Elias Church of Holladay – that they could not celebrate the Divine Liturgy until conflicts in the parishes were resolved.

They included restoring the priests’ salaries even when donations dropped and allegations of mismanagement by the parish council that governs both churches.

“In the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, we know that the owners of a parish are the faithful members – a parish council is the custodian of the membership,” Metropolitan Isaiah said.

“The priest is the spiritual head. And without a priest, you don’t have a church anymore. You have a club.”

The mission organized last year when about 100 members of both parishes wanted a fresh start.

In April, it moved into a rented space at St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church in Cottonwood Heights. Parishioners converted it from a storage room to a chapel that seats about 200 people. It has an overflow room with a video feed of the services.

They built an “iconostasis” which bears pictures of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and other saints toward the front. It rests in front of a wooden altar table donated by St. Thomas More Church.

Down the hallway, the mission has rooms for fellowship meals and a Sunday School, plus a kitchen.

The mission still lacks a full-time priest and a patron saint, but Metropolitan Isaiah hopes to assign both in the near future.

“It’s clearly been the hand of God that’s been with us to see this kind of thing happen in such a short time,” said Dr. Charles Beck, president of the mission’s parish council.

“We are the third parish. There is no sense of impermanence whatsoever,” Beck said. “We’re here to stay.”

Parishioners at the Greek Orthodox Mission still have family and friends at the other two parishes. But they said animosity on all sides is slowly subsiding.

“I think there’s plenty of opportunity for other parishes throughout all of Utah,” said Carolyn Leitko, co-president of the mission’s women’s ministry.

Specifically at the mission, “I feel like everyone has been allowed to participate, and that’s been a breath of fresh air,” Leitko said.