Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ugliness & Beauty

St. Irene Chrysovalantou, Astoria NY
This post as been updated: St. Irene Chrysovalantou is the prettiest Greek Orthodox church in Astoria, but was tainted by allegations of sex abuse.

This church-monastery adhered to the old Julian calendar, unlike the majority of Greek Orthodox and other Christian churches that follow the "new" Gregorian calendar. St. Irene functioned without official blessing or affiliation in the 1980s and 1990s, but was absorbed into the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America in 1998. It now reports directly to the Ecumenical Patriachate in Turkey. 

Someone brought me to St. Irene for a visit in 1998. I had a dark dream afterward that instructed me not to enter the doorway. I visited a decade later, and the sermon contemplated the likelihood humans will be implanted with computer chips. Later, at a summer festival, a priest was shouting about Greek nationalism and women were selling gold jewelry that penetents had left at the icon of St. Irene to exact miracles. Λουκουμάδες to go, please.

As for the scandal: without any U.S. court accountability, a verdict was doled out by the mother church decades after many events allegedly occurred. In April 2012, former St. Irene Chrysovalantou Archbishop Paisios and former Bishop Vikentios were demoted to the status of monk, in Greece, by the Patriarchate, following an investigation of horrible abuses. The sordid allegations, some involving groups, were not confirmed nor denied. Paisios initially fled to Greece, preventing New York cops from talking to him. In the unprescendented private church hearing in New York, in 2011, dozens of St. Irene abuse victims and those with knowledge were videotaped for review by the Patriarch in Istanbul. The defrocking followed. 

Christian forgiveness likely enabled a predatory psychological power game. How many people are responsible? How do victims recover, and what is the collateral damage to others? How does a worship community rebuild? Will lawsuits cripple the church? And what really happened?  

The big leak: a young St. Irene nun gave up her vows, said she suffered sexual travesties at the monastery, and turned over roughly $260,000 in cash, and gold coins, to the NYPD 114th Precinct in Astoria, according to this WSJ/Fox video The woman says she turned over $500,000. (See the National Herald article.) Things came to a head when Vikentios' brother Spyros Malamatenios made shocking sexual allegations about Paisios in "Predators in Our Midst," a National Herald exclusive republished by Monomakhos.com. 

The former nun, now in her late 20s, was a typical story: the daughter of a priest named Fitzpatrick with 12 children, she was brought up in the monastery to believe males and females, tonsured and otherwise, of all ages, living in close proximity, was normal -- TOTALLY contrary to all church rules and common sense. Another very sad story: the confession of a woman who divorced to become a nun at St. Irene Chrysovalantou -- with her 9-year-old daughterThis nun eventually left St. Irene for the nearby, renegade St. Markella Greek Orthodox Church and monastery, and explains how she didn't protect her daughter.

St. Irene Chrysovalantou, Astoria NY

Sadly, there is a website dedicated to survivors of abuse in Orthodox Churches called Pokrov.com. This is a relatively new phenomenon for the U.S. Orthodox. One case that emerged decades after the fact in Chicago and Texas is outlined in court documents here. The story of Fr. George Pyle also is explained in an article.

And then there's a rather grotesque-but-humorous caper about monks in Greece who tried to fly the bones of a dead nun from Athens to an island, but airport officials would have none of it. "It's ok," the monks told security, "She's a saint."

More reading here on the cult mentality that can creep into Orthodox Christian churches steeped in strict tradition and obedience.

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