NOTE: This article is taken from Metro News, December 4, 2014:
There will be no Christmas service in Peterborough for Greek Orthodox Christians this year.
Former priest of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church Reverend Father Kurt (Kyriakos) Wegner is fighting his archbishop at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, alleging he’s been discriminated against because he is not Greek.
Wegner is an American, raised Catholic, who converted to the Greek Orthodox Faith in 1998.
In 2001, he moved to Toronto with his (now ex) wife, who is Greek Orthodox, and he was ordained as a priest. He served briefly as the priest of The Three Hierarchs Church in Toronto, before moving to Peterborough where he served for almost a decade.
Wegner alleges that Archbishop Sotirios Athanassoulas hired him only because the church was desperate for a new priests, especially one who would take inferior positions and less money than Greek Greek Orthodox priests. He is asking the tribunal to award him $380,000 based on the wages and benefits he was denied over almost ten years due to his ethnic origin, and $25,000 for emotional distress.
Wegner alleges he was treated poorly, subject to racism and refused a transfer away from the small Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox church in Peterborough, where he was paid $30,000 a year. He claims his Greek peers were given choice churches and salaries of $60,000 a year and more.
His alleges the archbishop “deliberately set him apart due to his ethnic dissimilarity in the hopes that (he) would feel inferior and powerless and would therefore accept any duties and responsibilities thrust upon him just so that he could prove to the Greeks that he was committed to the Greek Orthodox faith, despite being an ‘outsider.’”
His lawyer, lawyer, Jean-Alexandre De Bousquet, argues that in Wegner cannot legally be discriminated against for not being Greek in the Greek Orthodox Church, despite an exemption in the Human Rights Code that allows churches to hire only those within their denomination.
“Since they have made him a priest and waived that requirement (that he be Greek), they can’t now say, ‘You’re a priest but you’re not Greek, so we’re only going to pay you half a salary,’” said De Bousquet.
Wegner claims he faced discrimination from a segment of the Greek community in Peterborough who objected to the fact that he was neither Greek, nor fluent in Greek, and passed around a petition asking for him to be removed from the Church. In response, churchgoers passed around another petition, supporting him, said De Bousquet.
When Wegner spoke with Archbishop Athanassoulas about the racism, the Archbishop relied, “I’m sorry, but Greek’s are racist,” implying that this a fact of life he should accept, said De Bousquet.
The Archbishop denies saying that and that the church’s treatment of Wegner was based in racism. In a written submission to the Human Rights Tribunal, the church argues that Wegner was never given a better posting because he was never able to become fluent in Greek, and said the level of his pay was due the financial position of the small Greek Orthodox community in Peterborough.
Wegner, on the other hand, has argued that members of Greek Orthodox faith in Canada speak English, and many speak English only, so Greek need not be a requirement.
The two sides disagree on the context of Wegner’s employment, as well as how popular he was among the parishioners in Peterborough.
“If, as you have said, there are only 12-17 people participating in the Divine Liturgy, how do you expect this community to pay a full salary?” Archbishop Athanassoulas wrote to Wegner, in June.
When Wegner and his wife divorced in 2012, his financial position changed. Where he used to receive financial support from his wife, he eventually had to take a minimum job working for a landscaper to make ends meet. After he was refused a request to be paid more money, he filed the human rights complain.
In July, Wegner was let go and told it was due to the financial situation of Holy Trinity and the church was shuttered.
However, the money was later found to reopen and a different priest, who is from Toronto, was hired but he will be unavailable for the Christmas services, according to De Bousquet
“They have decided not to allow (Wegner) to go to the church to perform the services, and no other priest available,” he said. “There will be no Christmas services at the Greek Orthodox Church in Peterborough.”
 The plaintiff Victoria Ivantchenko (“Sister Ivantchenko”) is a nun who resided in Saint Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery (the “Monastery”), under the direction of the Mother Superior/Abbess Anastasia Voutzali (the “Mother Superior”), until May 2010 when she left.
 Sister Ivantchenko seeks damages for wrongful constructive dismissal, for costs related to her retraining, aggravated damages and an accounting of monies allegedly owed to her for work she did in the past. She seeks this relief against the Monastery, which she identifies as the corporation known as the “Sisters of Saint Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery” Sister Ivantchenko claims that the corporate defendant, the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada) (the “Metropolis”) is her predecessor employer and is also vicariously liable for the actions of the Sisters of Saint Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery. She also alleges breach of fiduciary duty and negligent investigation by the Metropolis. Sister Ivantchenko has included in her action claims for slander and/or defamation, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of mental suffering, injurious falsehood and wrongful interference with membership at the Monastery and claims under the Ontario Human Right Code. Some of these claims are also made on behalf of her mother, Ludmilla Davidenko, her sister, Valerie Rost and her brother in law, Max Rost.
 The defendants move for summary judgment against the plaintiffs largely on the basis that there was and is no employment relationship between Sister Ivantchenko and the Metropolis, the Monastery, or the Sisters of Saint Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery. This motion obliges the court to analyze carefully the actual relationships among the parties.
 Mr. Epstein, counsel for the applicant, has conceived of his case in almost entirely secular terms. However, the authorities cited by counsel, including Mr. Epstein, acknowledge that courts must be sensitive to the interplay between civil law and the internal law of the involved religious organization in determining disputes between the organization and its members. Sister Ivantchenko’s claims bring into play the intersection between civil law and the internal law applicable to members of a religious organization, which I will call “ecclesiastical law” for convenience; this case perforce brings civil law into engagement with religion.
The Court’s Approach to the Intersection of Civil and Ecclesiastical Law
 Courts are reluctant to become involved in the internal affairs of a religious organization. The invitation to do so comes invariably, as in this case, at the instance of a member who feels aggrieved by the actions of the organization. There are good reasons for this diffidence. First, the court recognizes that freedom of religion, a right protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is very much implicated in such disputes and must be fulsomely respected. This may well involve the court accepting, on the evidence, that an individual is not an employee at common law: Hart v. Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of the Diocese of Kingston, 2010 ONSC 4709 (CanLII),  O.J. No. 3747,, 323 D.L.R. (4th) 212 per Beaudoin J.; Brewer v. Anglican Church of Canada,  O.J. No. 634 (C. J. (Gen. Div.)), per Soubliere J.; Lewery v. Governing Council of the Salvation Army in Canada (1993), 1993 CanLII 5290 (NB CA), 135 N.B.R. (2d) 348,104 D.L.R. (4th) 449 (C.A.), per Hoyt C.J.N.B..
 Second, the court recognizes the real risk of misunderstanding the relevant tradition and culture, which could result in getting the decision wrong and saddling the religious organization with a bad decision. In Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer, 1992 CanLII 37 (SCC),  3 S.C.R. 165, Gonthier J. made the following observations:
63 It is only from an external viewpoint that the written documents and the authority which they outline seem primary. Indeed, it is difficult for a court to come to a firm conclusion as to what the tradition and custom are, and correspondingly easier to analyze the formal legal documents. This is especially so when the tradition or custom is in dispute, as it will often be when a court is called on to intervene. Especially in interpreting the tradition and custom of religious societies, the court is in great danger of falling into what Professor Chafee called the “Dismal Swamp of obscure rules and [page191] doctrines” (in “The Internal Affairs of Associations Not for Profit” (1930), 43 Harv. L. Rev. 993, at p. 1024). In this regard, Professor Chafee makes this observation (at pp. 1023-24):
In very many instances the courts have interfered in these [church controversies], and consequently have been obliged to write very long opinions on questions which they could not well understand. The result has often been that the judicial review of the highest tribunal of the church is really an appeal from a learned body to an unlearned body.
64 However, as Professor Chafee also recognizes, the difficulty of understanding tradition and custom is really one reason to avoid assuming jurisdiction in the first place. Once the court assumes jurisdiction, there is no alternative but to come to the best understanding possible of the applicable tradition and custom…
This, of course, obliges the affected religious organizations to place the appropriate materials before the court.
 Third, while the court will enforce the civil incidents of an agreement that originates in a religious context, by enforcing, for example, a contract to grant a religious divorce, as in Bruker v. Marcovitz, 2007 SCC 54 (CanLII),  3 S.C.R. 607 at para. 47, it will take care to avoid involving itself in doctrinal disputes, as McLachlin C.J.C. noted in Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem, 2004 SCC 47 (CanLII),  2 S.C.R. 551:
50 In my view, the State is in no position to be, nor should it become, the arbiter of religious dogma. Accordingly, courts should avoid judicially interpreting and thus determining, either explicitly or implicitly, the content of a subjective understanding of religious requirement, “obligation”, precept, “commandment”, custom or ritual. Secular judicial determinations of theological or religious disputes, or of contentious matters of religious doctrine, unjustifiably entangle the court in the affairs of religion.
This caution must be especially pronounced where the court is not certain, on the state of the evidence, about the presence or ambit of a doctrinal dispute.
 Fourth, the concepts underpinning the relationship between civil law, on the one hand, and religious organizations and their internal laws, on the other hand, have not been fully worked out. There are some exceptions, such as the obligation of a religious organization to follow its own rules including the rules of natural justice: Davis v. United Church of Canada (1991), 1992 CanLII 7731 (ON SC), 8 O.R. (3d) 75; Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer, supra; and Davies v. Presbyterian Church of Wales,  1 All E.R. 705 (H.L.), among others.
 Some relevant unresolved difficulties include the appropriate approach for the court to take when the religious organization is understood primordially as an unincorporated association of individuals sharing a common faith, but which has obtained a civil corporate identity that is not or may not be completely coextensive with it. In Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer, supra, per Gonthier J. at paras. 58-59:
58 The statutory corporation [created under civil law] and the association created by the Constitution [the ecclesiastical document] thus seem neither wholly identical nor wholly distinct. In analyzing the relationship between the Act and the Constitution, it is readily apparent that the Act casts only the top layer of the structure established by the Constitution into legislative form. This is consistent with the view that the purpose of the corporation was to deal with external threats that affected each Hutterite conference equally. To this end, only the top level of the institutional structure needed to be formalized in the statutory corporation. Why it was thought that a statutory corporation was necessary to this end is unclear, but this seems a logical conclusion.
59 The church corporation and the church should therefore be seen as technically distinct entities which in practice have the same members, and are governed by the same managers at the same meetings.
 For an historical analysis and an exploration of the legal complications around the corporate status assumed by an ecclesiastical entity and the proper reach of that status, see J.R.S. v. Glendinning, 2000 CanLII 22641 (ON SC),  O.J. No. 2695, 191 D.L.R. (4th) 750 per Ross J. The complications only increase where the controversy is between ecclesiastical entities that utilize civil corporate entities for certain purposes, as in this case where the Monastery and the Metropolis are both implicated by the plaintiffs’ allegations.
 The typical pattern in court decisions is to carefully explicate the polity of the religious organization based on expert evidence: Davis v. United Church of Canada,supra; Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer, supra; J.R.S. v. Glendinning, supra; Hart v. Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of the Diocese of Kingston, supra; Brewer v. Anglican Church of Canada, supra; Pedersen v. Fulton,  O.J. No. 168. These authorities show that once the ecclesiastical relationships are properly understood, the court will oblige the religious organization and its member to comply with its internal law; this may include, for example, refusing to permit a civil suit to proceed until the internal routes are exhausted and found wanting. None of the parties have tendered expert evidence on this issue.
The Factual Context
 In the words of Mother Superior, Sister Ivantchenko “came to live and serve in the Monastery as a novice nun on or about February 26, 1996.” On May 9, 1999, she “became a “Rassaphore, that is, she reached the second stage of her development as a nun.” In May 2010 she left the Monastery. On August 10, 2010, she started this action.
 The individual defendants are all nuns of the Greek Orthodox religion and reside at the Monastery. The defendant, “Sisters of St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery” was incorporated in 2001, five years after Sister Ivantchenko came to be a nun at the Monastery. According to Mother Superior, it is a charitable corporation set up for the principal purpose of providing receipts for charitable donations made to the Monastery. These defendants assert that the charitable corporation does not own the Monastery and that only three of the nuns living at the Monastery are on the board of directors of the charitable corporation. These defendants submit that Sister Ivantchenko has not named the Monastery itself in this action, although it is plain that she thought she was doing so when she sued the entity known as Sisters of St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery.
 I am especially troubled by the profound ambiguity that permeates the evidence of the Mother Superior in her affidavit dated January 28, 2011, on the nature of the Monastery:
The Monastery was set up under the spiritual guidance of an individual by the name of Elder Ephrem in 1993. I began my relationship with Elder Ephrem when I entered a convent known as Holy Theotokos the Directress in Volos, Greece in 1968.
The Monastery is the only one of its type in Ontario, that is, one dedicated to the works and services of nuns, under the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Canada. There are other monasteries of the Greek Orthodox faith in Ontario, but we are not associated with these monasteries, except by way of common religion. Although Elder Ephrem is the spiritual father of all the Monasteries he has established, he is not involved in the daily supervision of the Monastery. As Mother Superior of the Monastery, I am its spiritual leader.
The Monastery comprises a number of structures including a church, living quarters for the nuns, storage areas, chapels and a parking lot. The land on which the Monastery sits is registered to the Co-Defendant, The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada) (the “Metropolis”). Although the Monastery enjoys a friendly relationship with the Metropolis, the Monastery is not under the direct, daily, spiritual or economic supervision of the Metropolis, nor is it funded by the Metropolis. The Monastery is responsible for all expenses and activity related to the property.
The Monastery is a cenobitic one in which monastics live together and have their possessions in common under my leadership. The communal way of monastic life has existed for almost 2000 years. This is a tradition that the sisters presently hold and pursue. The obligation of a nun in this type of monastery is to strive to keep, for the love of Christ and for spiritual progress, the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Although a nun’s free will never disappears, it is the duty of every monastic to focus her free will on keeping the commandments of Christ within the monastic community. Monastics, in general, have little or no contact with the outside world, especially family. A monastic’s family, whose child decides to enter monasticism, understands that their child will become “dead to the world” and will therefore be unavailable for social visits. Monasticism is a way of life in which the monastics devote their life to God. Monastic work is for God and not for people. It is not a career.
 It is common ground that the Metropolis owns the land and buildings that house the Monastery. James Anas is a director and corporate secretary of the corporate defendant known as the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada). He deposes that:
The Metropolis administers the life of the Greek Orthodox Church in Canada according to the Eastern Orthodox faith and tradition, sanctifying the faithful through the divine liturgy and the holy sacraments and edifying the religious and ethical life of the faithful in accordance with the holy scriptures and in accordance with the principles established by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Metropolis is headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Archbishop Sotirios (the “Metropolitan”).
In 1993, Father Ephraim was given the blessing of the Metropolitan to organize the Monastery. The Metropolis provided the building and property upon which Father Ephraim and the defendant, Anastasia Voutzali (the “Mother Superior”) and one other nun, both of whom were from Greece, organized the Monastery. The Mother Superior is the spiritual leader of the Monastery. Father Ephraim is affiliated with the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco which oversees the western region of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
The Metropolis was and is not involved in the operation of the Monastery. The Monastery is an autonomous entity. The Metropolitan did not appoint or place the Mother Superior in her position. The Metropolis is not involved in any decisions with respect to the Monastery or the sisters. The Metropolitan does not appoint or place individuals to the Monastery, nor monitor or endorse their individual spiritual process or progress. Further, the Metropolis does not fund the Monastery and does not pay any of its expenses. The Monastery is responsible for its own expenses. From time to time, however, the Metropolitan visits the Monastery for liturgical purposes. On these occasions, he is often asked and does provide his blessing to the sisters as a whole, including having dinner with the sisters, beginning and ending same with prayers.
With respect to Ivantchenko specifically, neither the Metropolis nor the Metropolitan appointed or placed Ivantchenko at the Monastery. I am advised by the Metropolitan and do verily believe that Ivantchenko was not known to the Metropolitan or the Metropolis prior to the time he visited the Monastery for liturgical services. The Metropolis never had responsibility for Ivantchenko’s general support or welfare. The Metropolitan did not exercise any discretion with respect to Ivantchenko’s spiritual progression, but was asked to bless the decision of Father Ephraim and Mother Superior for her to be tonsured as a nun.
 The evidence recited in the two preceding paragraphs of these reasons establish that there is a “Monastery.” The word is used variously and therefore ambiguously. It is a description of a physical structure; it is also a form of community or religious organization independent of the physical structure; it has a relationship with the Metropolis but that relationship is not explained; the Monastery is not the same entity as the Sisters of St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery, but precisely what form of entity it is, ecclesiastical or civil, is nowhere described or explained. Is the Monastery, in fact, a legal entity capable of being sued or is the problem one of misnomer?
 In relation to Sister Ivantchenko, Mother Superior asserts:
The sisters in the Monastery sign no contract and receive no salary or pay. There are no pensions and no vacations. This is the circumstance in monastic life the world over. The sisters reside in the Monastery as a family.
Ivantchenko was not hired, or employed, by the Monastery. She entered into the Monastery voluntarily with the awareness that she would not receive any pay or income, or salary of any sort, and would be in the service of God and her fellow sisters. At no point in the 14 years that Ivantchenko was residing at the Monastery did she ask for pay of any sort, or complain at any time that she was not receiving pay.
 Sister Ivantchenko performed tasks that would be seen in the secular world as “work” including sewing religious vestments and doing embroidery, for which the Monastery received compensation. Mother Superior asserts that these tasks fall within the ordinary responsibilities of a nun:
In the secular sense of the word Ivantchenko was not working for anyone, nor was she an employee. At no time was it stated, or implied, that she was working, in any way for pay. Monastery life has, from its inception 2000 years ago, involved voluntary labour for sustaining the common needs of the sisterhood. These labours include daily chores, such as caretaking of the church, church services, chanting, tending to elderly or sick sisters, hospitality and a great variety of artistic and skilful crafts, including iconography and sewing. Some nuns, because of certain talent or ability may begin to dedicate more time to a certain task, but all are willing to help towards the common good, as in a home, where everyone is needed to help with different chores.
 Mr. Epstein relies on these activities, among other things, to assert that Sister Ivantchenko is an employee for civil law purposes and is entitled to sue for wrongful dismissal.
 This review of the underlying facts shows that this motion suffers from infirmities that should cause a court to step back. This is because of the risk that a decision could cast in legal stone a relationship in a religious context that is not fully understood by the court. The parties are obliged to place the appropriate materials before the court, as noted by Gonthier J. in Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer, supra, at paras. 63-64.
 The difficulty in this case is that I have not been provided with evidence concerning ecclesiastical law as it may apply to the relationships among the parties. In her book entitled Religious Institutions and the Law in Canada 3rd ed. (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2010), Professor M.H. Ogilvie makes the following observation in a footnote to her description of Orthodox denominations operating in Canada:
The number of these Orthodox communities, each with its unique polity, history, and a cultural identity, made it impossible to choose one as typical for current purposes. Legal advisers should ensure that they have the appropriate constitutional documents and legislation for the church with which they are dealing.
 Ms. Kotsopolous, counsel for the Metropolis, which is the party in the best position to supply such evidence, asserts in her factum that:
Any relationship that did exist between Ivantchenko and the Metropolis was at all times governed exclusively by the Canons and Rules of the Greek Orthodox Church. Any relationship was purely in a liturgical or spiritual capacity. Accordingly, the Superior Court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the claim.
 The Metropolis did not, however, provide any evidence about the applicable “Canons and Rules of the Greek Orthodox Church.” These have not been produced in the course of this litigation. Ms. Kotsopoulos asserted in oral argument that they are not relevant. During her cross examination, Mother Superior referred to something called the “Rules of the Order” which suggests that there is an ecclesiastical entity known as an “Order,” and that it has “Rules.” She describes this as a “coenobitic tradition” that goes back 2,500 years and implies that the tradition is not in writing.
 Who are the proper defendants? The nature of the involved institutions has not been described adequately in the evidence. Is the civil corporation known as the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada) the same as the ecclesiastical entity known as the Metropolis? Or is it just the civil corporate structure adopted by the ecclesiastical Metropolis to enable it to hold land, collect money for church purposes, issue charitable receipts and employ lay staff, among other activities in the secular world, as in Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer, supra, or J.R.S. v Glendinning, supra?
 The Metropolis describes the Monastery as “an autonomous entity.” That description implies that the Monastery is not only the land and buildings. Perhaps the autonomous entity is not the land and building at all but the people who reside there as a religious community. Or does that autonomy arise from the fact that the Sisters are part of a religious order that possesses and controls the physical Monastery for the time being? What, in ecclesiastical legal terms, is the nature of that entity?
 Do these religious entities operate civil corporations that are implicated in this case but are not properly named? Which are the suable entities in this case?
 Mr. Epstein invokes the concept of “natural justice” but places no evidence before the court describing any relevant ecclesiastical legal process that exists within the “Canons and Rules of the Greek Orthodox Church,” which the defendants may have failed to follow. Nor have the defendants done so.
 I began these reasons with the observation that courts must be sensitive to the interplay between civil law and the internal law of the concerned religious organization in determining disputes between the organization and its members. Sister Ivantchenko’s claims bring into play the intersection between civil law and the internal law applicable to members of a religious organization. The state of the evidence does not permit me to rule with confidence on the main issue of whether Sister Ivantchenko must be understood in civil law terms to be an employee of one or more of the “Monastery,” the Sisters of Saint Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery, the “Order,” the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada), or some combination of them, let alone whether she might have been wrongfully dismissed. In this extremely sensitive area the parties are obliged to place the appropriate materials before the court about the implicated religious traditions, customs and laws, the nature and interrelationship of the various religious entities involved and their status as a matter of civil law. Certainly the parties have not carefully explicated the polity of the religious organization based on expert evidence.
 I am therefore not prepared to grant summary judgment and dismiss the motion based on the materials filed. This is in spite of my view that the precedents cited by the defendants strongly favour the position of whatever entity may ultimately be considered to be Sister Ivantchenko’s putative employer, if any; the matters raised in this decision may well turn out to require the trial of an issue.
 I am not inclined to award costs to either side in connection with this motion since the deficiencies in the evidence fall on both sides, but if the parties wish to pursue costs I will accept written submissions within 10 days, failing which I will assume that the costs issue need not be decided.
A Greek family from Vestal, NY, connected with the Greek Orthodox monasteries in Pennsylvania and New York, which has offered the Greek Church two priests, one hierodeacon and a novice monk so far.
Protopresbyter Father Michael Michalopulos March 1, 1931 – April 4, 2008
Fr. Michael Michalopulos was born in Filia, Kalavrita, Greece on March 1, 1931. As a child he served as a Novice at the Monastery of the Great Cave in Kalavrita, Greece. After graduating from high school, young Michael moved to Argentina where he met Magdalene Prodromidis; they were married in 1956 and have 2 children: Katherine and Alexandros, and five grandchildren. He was ordained Deacon in Buenos Aires in 1956 by Bishop Irinaios Kassimatis, first Greek Orthodox Bishop of South America. In 1959 Deacon Michael left for Boston to study for the priesthood at Holy Cross School of Theology, while serving as Deacon to Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America. In 1961, Fr. Michael, after his ordination to the priesthood by Archbishop Iakovos, he was transferred to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Fr. Michael served there for one year, and then was transferred to Brazil as the parish priest in the city of Florianopolis also serving all the cities of southern Brazil until 1966 when he was transferred to San Paulo as Archdiocesan Vicar for all Brazil.
In June 1970, Fr. Michael returned to Buenos Aires to serve at the parish of The Archangels until August 1, 1981 when he was transferred to Annunciation Church in Vestal, New York. Fr. Michael served there until his retirement in 2003. As a retired priest, Fr. Michael offered his services at the Dormition of the Theotokos Church in Windham, New York every summer and here in Ottawa with his son Fr. Alex Michalopulos.
Fr. Alex Michalopulos was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 6, 1958, to Fr. Michael and Presvytera Magdalene Michalopulos, both of Greek decent. He was raised in a devoted Greek Orthodox household, assisting his father and other clergy at Church services and was very involved in the life of the Church.
As a young adult, Fr. Alex decided to enter the business field and began his post-secondary education with a Three Year Associate Degree in International Affairs at the University of Buenos Aires. He then chose to continue his education in the United States, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Management from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He worked in the retail and fashion industry as a manager and buyer, but soon realized that his calling was to serve the Lord and His Church.
In the early 1980’s Fr. Alex enrolled at Hellenic College-Holy Cross Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline Massachusetts, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and Religion in 1985, and a Master of Divinity degree “with honours” in 1987. While studying at Hellenic College-Holy Cross, Fr. Alex worked at the office of Admissions, becoming the acting Dean of Admissions.
He met his future wife, Maria Hallas, at an Orthodox Youth Conference during his studies at Holy Cross and they were married in 1987.
Fr. Alex was ordained by Bishop Timothy of Detroit: into the Deaconate on September 14, 1987 and into the Priesthood on April 3, 1988.Fr. Alex giving spiritual guidance. He served at Holy Trinity – St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Cincinnati, Ohio from 1987 to 1990, and at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma from 1990 to 1992. Their two eldest daughters Alexia and Nicoletta were born in the United States.
In May of 1992, Fr. Alex, Presvytera Maria and their family moved to Ottawa when he was appointed to serve at the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church, of the Hellenic Community of Ottawa. Their youngest daughter Michaela was born in Ottawa, completing their loving family. The Community continues to progress under Fr. Alex’s spiritual guidance and leadership, accomplished with the loving support and hard work of the many wonderful volunteers and staff. The Light at Easter, 2009 He introduced several new youth and adult programs to enhance the spiritual life of theCommunity: the Hellenic Playgroup (H.O.P.E.), the Junior Orthodox Youth (J.O.Y.), and Bible Study. He has worked closely with all Parish Councils throughout the 90’s and into the new millennium to expand and renovate the church building, the banquet centre and to host: His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I during his first visit to Canada in 1998; the President of the Hellenic Republic Mr. Constantinos Stephanopoulos in 2000; the Clergy/Laity Assembly of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada) in 2003 and upcoming again in 2011.
Devoted to his congregation, Fr. Alex visits the sick in hospitals and their homes, sharing their grief and providing comfort & counseling, and also sharing and delighting in their happiness during the good times. Fr. Alex is honoured to represent the Greek Orthodox Church in Canada’s Capital, serving over 7,000 Greek Orthodox Christians in Ottawa and surrounding areas.
Fr. Alex is the current Vice President of the Clergy Association of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (for all of Canada). He has been bestowed the honour of Kentucky Colonel from the Governor of Kentucky; the offices of Economos and Protopresbyter by His Eminence Archbishop Sotirios of Toronto (Canada); the Queen’s Jubilee Medal; and the Cross of the Ecumenical Patriarchate by His All Holiness Bartholomew I. Fr. Alex speaks 5 languages: English, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, and is learning French. He works tirelessly, together with caring and devoted parishioners, for the betterment of the Hellenic Community of Ottawa, the Greek Orthodox Church and for the glory of God.
Cathy and Harry Gianakouros parents of Deacon Stefanos and Novice Michael
Cathy Gianakouros is Fr. Michael Michalopoulos’ daughter. She and her husband have been spiritual children of Geronda Ephraim for many years. After her second son, Michael, was born, Cathy and harry asked Geronda Ephraim if they should have more children or stop at two? Geronda Ephraim told them to stop at two, no more children. He also informed her that her two sons would later become monks. Thus, from that point on, the Gianakouros couple lived as brother and sister in celibacy and had no more children.
Over the years, Cathy Gianakouros has made a large number of the baked goods that have been sold in the St. Nektarios Monastery Bake Sale section. Both Harry and Cathy are both “Friends of the Metropolis” (Detroit) representing Vestal, NY http://www.detroit.goarch.org/index.php?id=101
Harry Gianakouros use to work as a Director Sales-APL Logistics for New York State Electric at Corporate Dr Binghamton, NY 13904, Tel: (607) 762-7200. The company webpage is http://www.nyseg.com. Currently, he is Principal Engineer at Substation Engineering Company: http://www.subengco.com/
In the mid-2000s, their oldest son Konstantinos (now Deacon Stefanos) went to St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY to become a monk. His younger brother, Michael, followed not long afterwards.
On an interesting note, Fr. Alex Michalopoulos, the uncle of Deacon Stefanos and Novice Michael Gianakouros, is a dedicated ecumenist. Fr. Alex’s nephews are dedicated anti-ecumenists who follow a Kollyvade mindset. Furthermore, Fr. Alex holds a prominent position in the Metropolis run by Metropolitan Sotirios, whom happens to be in direct opposition to Geronda Joseph Voutsas, Abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery (where Fr. Alex’s two nephews live as monks).
Metropolitan Sotirios has gone as far as banning Geronda Joseph from Canada (though Geronda Ephraim has overrode that obedience since it is unjust; i.e. the ban was motivated by personal feelings and not motivated by any ecclesiastical grounds)
As well, Fr. Philotheos Allison, who was a monk at St. Nektarios Monastery and knows the Gianakouros family, is now also a parish priest in the same province and Metropolis as Fr. Alex Michalopoulos; both parish priests being under obedience to Metropolitan Sotirios.
Today is Fr. Germanos T. Pontikas’ name day (i.e. commemoration of St. Herman of Alaska). Born in 1950, he turned 64 last month. Originally from Pennsylvania, he left for Mount Athos in the late 80’s. He started out at Filotheou Monastery on Mount Athos. He was on the same flight as Demetrios Maroulis from Toronto (now Geronda Dositheos, the abbot of Holy Archangels Monastery in Texas), but because they had an obedience not to tell anyone they were off to become monks, neither of them knew the others’ intentions, despite the continual crossing of paths and chatting, until they reached Filotheou. They became best of friends on the Holy Mountain.
While on Mount Athos, a relative would send pornographic magazines in the mail in an attempt to entice him out of the monastery and return home. Geronda Ephraim screened all the mail, or had a monk screen it for him. Incidents such as this is why the abbots/abbesses screen all the mail that comes in (i.e. open all the monks’ incoming mail to examine contents and read the letters) –it potentially “protects” the monastic from “harmful things” that could trip him up spiritually or entice them to leave the monastery. There are many monks and nuns who’ve had a relative send a manipulative, guilt-tripping letter. If the abbess or abbot had not intercepted it and read it but just handed it to the monastic, it could’ve caused “great harm.” Thus, most of those types of letters are thrown in the garbage before the monk or nun can read them. In the monasteries, only the trusted monastic, if not the heads themselves, collect the mail and it is brought directly to the abbess or abbot. In some monasteries, because a nun or monk went through the garbage and examined the contents from the mail, the abbess or abbot will have their cell attendant dispose of their garbage in a special way so it cannot be examined afterwards.
If anyone is familiar with how the prison system works, it’s the same concept: an inmate’s letter will be read, and parts that are “potentially harmful” to the inmate’s mental and emotional well-being are blacked out—same concept in the monasteries (the monastic life is also called “voluntary imprisonment” as opposed to the “involuntary imprisonment” of the correctional system).
In the monasteries, if a “problematic” monk or nun sends mail out, it is usually opened and examined first before it is sent: this is in case anything is being sent that doesn’t have a blessing or if the monastic has written anything that isn’t blessed to write about. The above reasons concerning mail examination are also the reason that all novices—and sometimes tonsured monastics depending on the individual—have their phone calls monitored directly, or with an older monastic standing beside them.
Anyways, back to Fr. Germanos. In 1994, Geronda Ephraim brought Fr. Germanos to Picton, ON (along with Geronda Joseph) to establish the St. John the Theologian Monastery. They have been an inseparable unit ever since, with Geronda as the abbot, and Fr. Germanos as the second in command, though it’s arguable that Fr. Epifanios Kapritsas is second as “he carries half the monastery on his shoulders,” and is Geronda Joseph’s “right-hand.”
While in Picton, Bishop Sotirios was giving the monastery lots of problems. It is said that when they first arrived, a Greek priest from Quebec visited the monastery. He warned them about the bishop because he was “dangerous.” This priest then showed them a binder with photos and articles of a convert, “Monk Martinez,” who “committed suicide.” The priest told them that the RCMP suspected it might not have been suicide and were looking at the Bishop, but didn’t have enough evidence to prove anything.
It is also said that the Bishop gave them a fax machine as a gift but they realized later that it was programmed so that all the faxes going out were also sent to him (people use to do private confessions and get responses for personal matters via fax).
As time went on, and relations became more strained—the Bishop forbade Geronda Joseph to teach people about toll-houses and ordered him to stop giving out the booklets, he knew there were secret baptisms taking place at Picton but couldn’t prove it, things Geronda said about the Bishop were getting back to him, etc.—Geronda Joseph was informed by someone close to the Bishop to be careful because “you don’t know what he is capable of.” This lady also warned him he shouldn’t leave the monastery by himself. In 1984, as a lay person, Geronda Joseph was ambushed in his car while driving his spiritual Father, Geronda Ephraim Xeropotamou to Athens. Geronda Ephraim Xeropotamou was murdered in this incident. Geronda Joseph was said to become more hyper-vigilant and take more precautions when going out afterwards.
Eventually, the Bishop was pressuring them to sign over the property to him or the Metropolis. Both Geronda and Fr. Germanos were debating it until one night, it is said that Fr. Germanos saw Elder Joseph the Hesychast in vision, and the Elder told him not to sign. So they didn’t.
In the Spring of 1997, they left Canada for good and went down to stay at St. Anthony’s Monastery until they could find new property in New York. They first drove to Brooklyn where they put all their stuff in storage, and then proceeded to Arizona. The Bishop was infuriated because he had no idea (though some people say he exiled them and knew) and started making accusations that they stole money, etc. Geronda Joseph made a rebuttal in the Toronto Greek newspapers. Since then, it is said that Bishop Sotirios has banned him from going to Canada, and it is said he also banned the nuns from the monasteries in Canada from visiting the New York monastery.
In 1998, when Geronda Ephraim was giving multiple homilies to the monks in the Gerondia, and Fr. Germanos was up in New York looking to buy property to establish the St. Nektarios Monastery, Geronda would tell the monks a funny joke:
“I wanted to make a monastery in Alaska in honor of St. Herman. I was thinking to send Germanos up there, but then there’d be all these Germanakis [here Geronda Ephraim stretched his arms out indicating fat] following behind him.” Then all the monks laughed, but it wasn’t out of malice.
Also, another funny incident Geronda Ephraim related was the time he sent Fr. Germanos to Holy Archangel Monastery for a little respite. One evening, Geronda Ephraim was driving with Geronda Joseph and decided to call Holy Archangels Monastery. The novice who answered stated Geronda Dositheos was sleeping in his room.* Geronda Ephraim relates that he knew there was no way Geronda Dositheos was asleep with Fr. Germanos in the Monastery. He figured they were out somewhere and called their cellular. He was right, they were out having an ice cream.
In 1999, St. Nektarios Monastery was established, and he has been a pillar and foundation for the functioning of this monastery ever since, despite the severe health problems he has.
*NOTE: This is a common rookie mistake that most novices make. Usually when an abbot or abbess doesn’t feel like speaking to anyone, or they don’t want anyone to know where they are, they instruct the person answering the phones, and in some case, the whole monastery to tell people they’re out, or can’t be disturbed, or “I don’t know where he or she is,” etc. However, the #1 rule when Geronda Ephraim calls one of his monasteries is for the monastic to find the abbot or abbess immediately and give them the phone, or tell Geronda Ephraim they are out so he could call them on their cell, or the monastic calls the head to inform them big Geronda called for them. Geronda Ephraim as first priority over everything. In one of the monasteries, the monk who answered the phone forgot to tell his Geronda that Geronda Ephraim had called and was given 500 prostrations as a kanona, “to help him remember the next time.”
In some cases, “discernment and discretion” is needed when telling an abbess or abbot that Geronda Ephraim was on the phone.
In late 2000, shortly before Geronda Ephraim Dikaios abandoned his position as abbot at Philotheou Monastery, he visited his spiritual father, Geronda Ephraim, in Arizona. Afterwards, he visited St. Nektarios Monastery in New York before returning to Mount Athos. When in New York, the atmosphere amongst the Fathers was very tense since the week leading up to this visit was one of continual yelling, rebukes and chastisements meted out by both Geronda Joseph and Fr. Germanos. Prior to the visit, Geronda Joseph gave the fathers a very stern homily, combined with threats of harsh punishments if any of the monks did or said anything unmonastic in front of Geronda Ephraim Dikaios or the layman he brought along as his personal cook. Geronda Joseph wanted no scandals.
About a week before these two visited St. Nektarios Monastery, Geronda Ephraim called New York seeking to speak to Geronda Joseph. That morning, Geronda Joseph had instructed the fathers, “No one is to knock on my door for any reason whatsoever. If anyone calls for me, tell them I’m out of the monastery doing works for the monastery.” The monk who answered the phone followed this obedience and told Geronda Ephraim that Geronda Joseph was out of the monastery.
At the end of the day, when Geronda Joseph asked the monk for the log book and to explain his phone calls/messages, he exploded when he learnt big Geronda had called, he was not informed immediately, and he missed it. The monk was kicked out of Geronda Joseph’s cell while the elder tried to call Geronda Ephraim, who did not answer the phone. The monk who answered the phones was then told how stupid and mindless he was and and rebuked for not having the discernment to understand that he should’ve disturbed Geronda Joseph immediately for Geronda Ephraim’s call. After this verbal chastisement, all the fathers were called for a homily. The monk was rebuked and ridiculed in front of the fathers for his mindlessness and it was clarified to all that Geronda Joseph was to be informed immediately, no matter what the circumstance, when Geronda Ephraim calls.
A week later, during Geronda Ephraim Dikaios’ visit, big Geronda called the monastery asking to speak Geronda Joseph. At that time, Geronda Joseph was speaking privately to Geronda Ephraim Dikaios in the bookstore. The monk went to Geronda Joseph and informed him that big Geronda was on the phone and Geronda Joseph told Fr. Germanos to take the call.
Immediately afterwards, the monk who answered the phone was severely rebuked and given a huge kanona because he told Geronda Joseph that big Geronda was on the phone in front of a monastic from another monastery. The monk answering the phone was unaware that this visiting Athonite was problematic and not doing proper obedience to big Geronda. He was also unaware that this phone call was a checking up call. This monk was rebuked because Geronda Ephraim Dikaios would now know that big Geronda was checking up on him and that the monks in New York were discussing his personal problems.
The fathers were then instructed that when big Geronda Ephraim called, they were never to reveal it in front of any of Geronda Ephraim’s other monastics because sometimes big Geronda was checking up on these individuals. It could also create jealousy for the other monastic, especially an abbot or abbess, as well as thoughts such as , “Why does Geronda Ephraim call this monastery and not mine,” or “Does he call this monastery more than mine?,” etc.
Fr. Philotheos is a convert from Pentecostalism to Orthodoxy. He was baptized by Geronda Joseph in December 1996 at the St. John the Theologian Monastery in Picton, Ontario. In 1997 he became a novice monk in Arizona with Geronda Joseph, whose brotherhood was seeking refuge there from the persecutions of Bishop Sotirios until they found their own property.
He went with the brotherhood to Roscoe, New York to help establish St. Nektarios Monastery. During Holy Week of 1999, he was tonsured a rassaphore monk by Elder Epraim in the original St. Nektarios Chapel (later converted into a living room and temporary guest quarters) and kept his worldly (baptism) name.
A couple of years later, he went to St. Anthony’s Monastery, then Panagia Vlahernon Monastery, and again back to St. Anthony’s Monastery. He received a blessing from Elder Ephraim to return to the world, received the proper penance from Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco and then left for the world as a layman in 2008.
Academy of College Excellence (ACE)
Fr. Philotheos profile article for the Academy for College Excellence (ACE) at Cabrillo College, reads:
After 11 years in a Greek Orthodox monastery, Philotheos Allison trimmed his long beard, caught the county bus to Cabrillo College and wandered into the Academy of College Excellence (ACE) offices where he promptly signed up for the program.
“I thought, ‘I could use this,’” he said. “’I need to readjust and reincorporate myself into college.’” But, for Philotheos, 34, who attended five different high schools in his native Canada before dropping out at age 17, the lighting-the-fire curriculum in the Foundation Course was a huge surprise.
“It really felt like that,” he said a year later. “[ACE founder Diego Navarro] really lit the fire for the desire for education in all of us in totally different ways than how we learned in high school. It was a lot of outside-the-box education.”
Philotheos had struggled with gang activity as a youth before leaving it behind him to take classes at University of Toronto. A short time later, however, he shifted gears again when he was called to monastic life at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, Arizona. He expected to become a priest but decided instead to leave the monastery. He moved to a friend’s home in Ben Lomond, a small community in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and acclimatized to his newly secular life. He was lost on campus when he stumbled into the ACE office and grew curious. What he didn’t expect was to experience a whole new way of learning.
“Diego put it in our minds in the first two weeks that not only could we be something but we could get to the point where we could make changes to society. We could change the world.”
In the next few quarters, Philotheos gained computer and essay writing skills, but he also learned about his own personal learning style. He learned stress reduction exercises and about neurological research on learning, as well as about four levels of communication, how to work better within a team and be authentic.
“It was awesome to see other students share their stories,” he said. “Just being able to shake people’s hands and look people in the eyes was important. They would force you to just not be shy and look down but really see people.”
ACE instructors created intimate learning communities by sharing their own personal stories and they challenged students to work as a cohesive cohort.
“Every class, from early morning to late in the afternoon, helps you learn more about yourself,” Philotheos said. “You become like a family. You become accountable to each other.”
A career development class with interest and skill testing helped him see what careers might give him joy. For Philotheos, these were careers such as nursing, occupational therapy, farming or the priesthood. He signed up for pre-requisites to the nursing program. He works as a tutor for a teen with autism and as an aide for a senior who has suffered a stroke. He is signed up for emergency medical training courses and, with encouragement, has been considering a master’s degree and in occupational therapy.
“DBA forced you to come outside of your shell and embrace people who were different than you,” he said. “You wouldn’t make it through your class if you weren’t able to come out of your old ways of thinking and get through your fears and prejudices.”
Since that time, Philotheos has been ordained a priest. He was the distinguished Valedictorian at the 2013 Toronto Orthodox Theological Academy (TOTA) Graduation Ceremony, Despite not being of Greek origin, delivered his address in perfect Greek.