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George Gekas

There was an outpouring of emotions following the announcement of the Greek Community of Toronto (GCT) that it is intending to sell one of the four churches it owns (St. Demetrios, St. John, St. Irene, and Virgin Mary-Panagia), due to the financial hardship it is facing.  Many are devastated at the prospect of losing one of our beloved churches and this is fully understandable. 

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Canada issued its own press release stating its opposition to the sale of any church and suggested it could offer to acquire the four GCT churches for about the value of the GCT debt of $4.5 million. Furthermore, proposed creating a new “GCT” out of the church councils of all 16 churches in the GTA area. 

The “offer” by the archdiocese is grossly inadequate, arrogant, and a pure insult to 113 years old GCT. 

 Why? Because:

1.     The GCT has the absolute right to manage the 4 churches it owns including the right to close and/or sell any of them. Certainly, this is not a desirable decision. It is a very painful one for all and a solution of last resort. If it were to happen, it would likely be to secure the operation of the remaining three churches.  It is like agreeing to amputate a leg to keep a person with diabetes alive and functioning.  Purchasing the 4 churches for 4.5 million when their real market value is estimated to be between $50 and $60 million, would mean the Archdiocese would pay only 7.5% to 9% of their real value. This is nothing but pure theft and similar to usury condemned by the Bible. Why would an individual sell his house for the amount of the mortgage it carries and voluntarily give up his equity capital?  The Archbishop is attempting to buy the GCT churches for virtually nothing! 

2.     The GCT has worked over a century as an umbrella organization that among other things includes a number of Ethnocultural associations, Greek schools, the Greek language programs in Universities, the "Greek Language Chair", catechism schools, Theater, Dance, Parades on 25th March and 28th of October in Danforth, Social Services, summer festival at St. John’s etc.  The Archbishop's proposal is in effect to turn the entire GCT organization into a super parish administered by a selected group from members of different parish councils. This is a parody of a truly independent organization. This is a way to put the GCT under the control of the Archdiocese since church councils are all handpicked and approved by the archbishop himself. 

3.Even if the GCT was to handover the churches it owns to the Archdiocese there is no guarantee the Archdiocese will not close them later. The number of people that attend church has been in decline for years.  As Canadian society becomes more secular, church attendance has decreased for most faiths and many churches have been sold. Did we not buy “Metamorphosis”, “All Saints” and the original “Panagia” for example from other defunct churches in years past? The concept of spirituality for many especially the Canadian-born generations is not served exclusively by the GO church in Canada. Is it possible for the Parikia to save all 16 churches? I doubt it! Smaller congregations with weak financial resources will not make it by the end of this decade! Our church needs a desperate reform (like the GCT does). Both are parochial in their approach. Clearly, I am not talking about dogmatic changes but religious practices.  

4. The destruction of the GCT that the archbishop proposes will harm the long-term interests of the Archdiocese and the GO faith. The church is not the appropriate vehicle for many Greek cultural activities. The GO faith is a very important element of the Greek identity but not the only one.  The archbishop will not join the wild crowd to celebrate a Greek team win on Danforth as it happened in Euro 2004. The Religious leader will not have a couple of beers in a restaurant or a Greek pub, it will not go to see a soccer game of a visiting Greek team, it will not go to sing and dance along with a Greek singer from Greece. 

I have read every single comment made publicly on all social media and websites Nobody has come up with any workable realistic win-win for both the Archdiocese and GCT solution. 

First things first. COVID is not the main cause of the GCT debt. It is the straw that broke the camel’s back. The main cause was the about 14 million debt the GCT inherited 11 years ago after the aborted effort to build the Hellenic Cultural Center.

The GCT routinely publishes and post on their website every year the audited by the CPA firm KPMG financial statements. One can read and see there the precise debt, revenue, and expenses for each and every of the 4 GCT churches. Nobody knows the corresponding figures (debt, revenue and expense) of the churches under the Archdiocese authority. Therefore, is a huge difference in transparency between these two organizations. The current administration took over the reins of the GCT under very difficult circumstances 11 years ago with a huge debt of about $ 14 million. With the sale of the unfinished Cultural Center for $ 4.8 and the two houses next to the Virgin Mary for $2.3 million, the debt was reduced by $7.1 million. With further financial measures, they managed to reduce debt further and bring it to $4.5 million consisting of $3.3 mortgage and $1.2 million in other liabilities.

It should be noted that the GCT over all these years continued to offer all its Hellenistic programs and services listed above. The current Administration, admittedly, does not get high marks in public relations. Perhaps it was impossible to win in that arena 11 years ago, after the fiasco of the Hellenic Cultural Center. The climate of lack in confidence and mistrust was big. Yet there were serious well-founded excuses, the main one being that the debt was not their own doing, but that of the previous decade. The besieged administration and board having its back against the wall, with a hostile but largely understandable public outcry, in its defence choose to pay greater attention to its finances, knowing that public relations were difficult to improve] . 

The recent rational and well-thought-out decision that the GCT must sell one of the 4 Churches to save the other three was expected to provoke multiple criticisms. All those criticism from those who served as volunteers and donated to the GCT over the years are welcomed. However, the vulgar and harsh criticisms from fellow Greeks who are neither volunteers nor members of the GCT and in fact they have never been actively interested in the GCT are not. The GCT should listen, and make a record of all that is said but should not be given the same weight as the well-meaning criticism, recommendations, suggestions and the heartfelt disappointment in the recent developments. It should also thank those who genuinely offer potential solutions and actual donations. 

And to be clear, no church, those of the GCT or not, can be maintained and be open 365 days a year only by those who remember their Greek Orthodox roots at Christmas and Easter and go to church as guests at a wedding or baptism. Their presence at the churchyard to hear only το «Χριστός Ανέστη» and partake in the procession of the epitaph does not justify them to throw a hand grenade at all members of the GCT that tried hard but did not always succeed in all of its endeavours. It is rude for these “free riders” to demand that the churches be financed and be kept open at all times when they do not pay their fair share for their maintenance. Also, the nostalgic emotional comments like “I was baptized in that church”, “I got married in that church”, as valid and as real they are may not be enough to resolve the financial impasse.

The issue is now urgently before us. We all have to pay to keep all our churches open.  The number of people who go to church and those who support them are constantly dwindling. The GO churches, not just the GCT churches need members, they need money! Something needs to change, not in the GCT alone but Archdiocese too!

The mobilization fundraiser to help is commendable. Kindly and directly, I do not think will yield the 4.5 million needed. I say this because I know the meagre results in the recent past of the "Legacy campaign". If you make your donation do it with full confidence that every dollar will be counted and will go towards the said goal. I have suggested to the GCT to post the list of donations by name every week, every Wednesday so if the Greek language press desires to publish the list can do so. If we fail to raise the $4.5 million then what?

I cringe to think of the sale of a church that was built by thousands of donations.  Such a sale will be a stain and embarrass not only for the GCT but for the archdiocese and Hellenism in Toronto too. I herein I propose a solution that is a win-win situation for all stakeholders 

1.The GCT should sell one of the four churches (not all four) to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Canada metropolis for $4.5 million (the value of its debt). This will achieve the following:

2.All our GO churches will remain operational and in Greek Parikia hands.

3.All GO people in GTA will be pleased that their past and current contributions were not turned into some profitable housing project by a developer.

4.The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Canada will add another church in their portfolio paying a bargain price of only $4.5 which is a 30% to 45% of the fair market value of about 10-15 million of the church. 

5.The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Canada will score high in the public opinion that is indeed a guardian and savor of GO churches.

6.The Greek Community of Toronto will become debt free and viable entity again.

7.The GCT will have elections soon and a new generation of mostly Canadian-born Greeks will steer it in a new direction.

8.The ongoing legal dispute between the Archdiocese and the GCT will be sealed. Perhaps a binding arbitration task force of three judges and/or lawyers with Greek roots can be formed to adjudicate on all outstanding issues and reach out of court settlement.

It is about time to bring an end to the ongoing chaotic disputes and reach a peaceful coexistence and cooperation between the GCT and the Archdiocese. A continuous fight ending up with a pyrrhic victory for one or the other is not good for the GCT, the Archdiocese, and above all for Hellenism.

February 25, 2021

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