Supporters of "Father Nick," removed in late July from St. Athanasius the Great Greek Orthodox Church for as-yet-undetailed reasons, plan a rally in Brookline at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13.
The aim: To increase public pressure seeking the return of Nicholas Kastanas, who served at the Arlington church for 27 years. The priest has retained counsel, who seeks to mediate the issue.
The invitation to the event at the Holy Cross Chapel at Hellenic College, 50 Goddard Ave., asks participants to attend vespers "and make your voice heard" peacefully.
In a Sept. 9 letter to the parish council, Methodius, the head of the church in Boston, broke what until then has been his silence on the matter.
"My decision to remove him was only made after many months of thoughtful consideration," he wrote, "and made in what I firmly believe are the best interests of the St. Athanasius Community and the Church at large." He wrote that in his 33 years leading the Boston Metropolis, he has never removed a priest unwillingly from a parish.
'Several years in tumult'
"The decision to relieve Fr. Kastanas of his pastoral responsibilities may have seemed sudden or abrupt to some, but in fact was not," he wrote. "The St. Athanasius Parish has for several years been in a state of tumult as a result of issues revolving, in large part, around Fr. Kastanas. Every effort was made to resolve the turmoil so he could continue to serve the community. Those efforts were not successful.
"This situation reached a crescendo when Fr. Kastanas filed a complaint against the Metropolis in the Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn. This is the first time that the Metropolitan has ever been sued by one of its priests."
Attempts to learn further details to more exactly describe the "turmoil" continue to be blocked and attributed to legal action.
"As the litigation is pending," he wrote, "the Metropolis will not comment further. Nor will it respond to a letter issued by the attorney representing Fr. Kastanas relating his narrative of events, other than to state that I find its tone and content offensive, inaccurate, inappropriate and unprofessional."
Letter from priest's counsel
YourArlington does not have a copy of that letter, but it does have a Sept. 8 letter to the parish council from John Sofis Scheft, an attorney at the Bellotti Law Group, Boston, who represents Father Kastanas. The letter says, in part:
"I feel it is important to respond to comments — made in recent meetings and in a newsletter — about Fr. Nick's so-called 'lawsuit' against the Greek Orthodox Church.
"Normally, I would stay silent, but the deliberate rumors and innuendos about a Priest who has served this community for over 27 years will hopefully stop when all parishioners have the facts."
Before the July 27 meeting when the priest learned of his removal, Scheft's letter says, he was told that he would be meeting with Metropolitan Methodios, but Kastanas "discovered, after he entered the room at the Metropolis, that the Metropolitan was in Greece.
"The Chancellor, Fr. Barbas, and two Metropolis attorneys told him that Sunday, July 30th would be his last service, and he could go to his office the next day to get his possessions. There was little additional discussion."
To the news of Father Nick's removal, "reaction was swift. Over twelve hundred people came to his last Liturgy on July 30th."
After some parishioners expressed feelings on social media, Sheft wrote, Chancellor Barbas "sent an incendiary email at 3:00 AM blaming Fr. Nick for what he called a 'despicable display.'"
Chancellor said to change mind
Promised he could go to his St. Athanasius office and remove personal property, Sheft wrote, "the Chancellor changed his mind. He told Fr. Nick that the locks would be changed, his property confiscated and packaged, and his personal computer (filled with private and confidential communications with parishioners) would be seized and searched."
The attorney added a personal note: "I am not a member of your congregation, so please allow me to be candid with you. In the Greek Orthodox Church, priests accused of sexual misconduct and outright theft have been accorded greater respect than Fr. Nick was.
"I have never heard of a case where a Church authority sought to strip mine a priest’s private and confidential computer as punishment for the love and upset expressed by the congregation he is leaving!
"I have never heard of a case where a Church authority has boxed up a priest’s vestments and books, and held a priest’s blessing cross, sacred volumes and personal cash without allowing him to gather these possessions and bring them to his home!"
He added that parishioners had told him that they had sent cards to Father Nick that he had not received, that the chancellor ordered that mail personally addressed to the priest should be held at the church and reviewed.
He wrote: "I actually had to ask a judge to order the Metropolis have Fr. Nick’s mail delivered to him!
"I had never met Fr. Nick until he came to my office on July 31st at the suggestion of several parishioners. I am a certified mediator and have dealt with religious conflicts before.
"Fr. Nick only came after he learned, in another accusatory email from the Chancellor, that he would not be able to get his possessions from his office; that parishioners were probably going to be locked out of St. Athanasius for the week; and that his personal computer would be searched for any and all communications between Fr. Nick, his family, his parishioners, and all others (some of them relatives of members of the Metropolis and seminary students over the years).
"Fr. Nick told me that he could handle his removal and the false accusations ..., but he could not accept a breach of his confidential relationships, established in his sacred role as a Priest.
"Even so, Fr. Nick counseled me to take the path of least resistance."
Sheft details his numerous attempts to reach Chancellor Barbas and the lack of response.
He added: "That same day, I found out ... that representatives of the Metropolis, along with two of Fr. Nick’s most vocal opponents on the Parish Council, were present with a locksmith at his office and going through his possessions. No one had told the entire Parish Council that this was going to happen, although the Chancellor had notified the Arlington Police by email that he was in control of Fr. Nick’s office and the Church, and no one from the Church would be allowed on the property without his permission. He asked that 'unauthorized people' be removed by armed police officers."
Sheft wrote that he then counseled filing an emergency restraining order in civil court, to preserve the privacy of his communications with parishioners. A judge granted the order.
"It was only at this point ... that Fr. Barbas responded by retaining an attorney from a large Boston firm and sending Fr. Nick a letter, signed by the Metropolitan (who was still in Greece), suspending him from priestly duties," he wrote.
"You should also know that the court recently ordered the Metropolis to return Fr. Nick’s personal property and his personal computer, and established a confidential and fair process to review the contents of his computer ....
"This is all we asked for in the first place.
"I hope that I will not have to write you again about this case, and I hope that we will not have to return to court."
Hopes for healing
In a Sept. 9, letter, Constandinos Ioakimidis, St. Athanasius Parish Council president, wrote to the congregation, in part, seeking healing:
"As we start the new ecclesiastical year, we need to come together as a parish to meet our challenges and move forward in our 53rd year as a parish.
"His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios relieved Fr. Kastanas of his pastoral responsibilities at St. Athanasius on July 27, 2017. Many have been awaiting a more detailed statement from Metropolitan Methodios regarding Fr. Kastanas. However, it our understanding that on Aug. 1 Fr. Kastanas filed a lawsuit against the Metropolis of Boston. The case is ongoing and it is unlikely that the Metropolis will make any type of statement, while this lawsuit is pending.
"We have faced many challenges as a parish over the last half century and always found the fortitude to come together and prevail. As we enter our second half century, we need to concentrate on healing and strengthening our St. Athanasius parish.
"Our church is our sanctuary. It's where we grew up, where we formed our earliest friendships; where we went to Sunday school and Greek school; became altar servers or junior choir members; where we learned about our religion and our culture. It's where we learned how to work together and give back, as GOYA members in our teenage years; learning from our parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and Godparents, the importance of loving our church and working together for a common goal, supporting our beloved st. Athanasius parish.
"We later graduated to positions of greater responsibility, as Parish Council, Philoptochos and PTO members. It's where many of us became examples for our children and the children of our fellow parishioners, as both Sunday School teachers and Greek School teachers. It's where we were baptized, married, baptized our children, and buried our loved ones. For over 50 years, our beloved church, St. Athanasius the Great, is a constant that binds us together."
As of Sept. 12, a petition titled "Bring Back Father Nick" has 2,280 signatures.
The email appeal seeking participants the Sept. 13 rally says: "You are the VOICE OF TRUTH, JUSTICE, LOVE AND RESPECT."
The email is from the Orthodox Stewards for Justice and Reconciliation, which calls itself a self-organized group of parishioners and friends of St. Athanasius the Great.
OPINION: Aug. 2, 2017: To Greek church leaders: Get past social media, come together