Accused of Relic Ripoff
Even Sold Some of the Pews, St. Demetrios Parishioners Say
By Ali Winston
The Jersey Journal [New Jersey]
November 29, 2006
Parishioners at a Jersey City church are furious with their former priest, who was reassigned more than two months ago - leaving unaccounted for more than a half-million dollars in donations and dozens of religious relics and icons.
In addition, all the records at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church on Summit Avenue maintained during the 131/2-year tenure of the Very Rev. Kyrillos Markopoulos - marriage licenses, baptismal certificates, receipt books for donations, even the church's property deed - are missing.
A police spokesman said no charges have been filed against Markopoulos, but he confirmed a theft complaint was filed by the church council and that an investigation is under way.
"The accusations are very serious," Capt. Hugh Donaghue said. "We're talking about a person in a high-profile position."
Markopoulos could not be reached for comment. An official from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of New Jersey said he had been reassigned to a church in Greece, but would not say why; the doorman at his St. Paul's Avenue building said he hasn't been there in at least a month.
Markopoulos, a native of Greece, was described by members of his former congregation as "a charmer and a bully" who was addicted to "the high life."
Chris Paskalides, president of the St. Demetrios church council, said Markopoulos did not attend the Greek Orthodox seminary, but was ordained under an agreement between his sect, the Old Style Calendarists, and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of New York.
Paskalides said archdiocese officials characterized Markopoulos as "one of those priests who slipped through the cracks."
Parishioners said that Markopoulos seemed "qualified for the ecumenical side of the job." However, in 2001, they said, he took direct control of the church and its funds by disbanding the church council, the church's governing body.
When questioned by members of the congregation about it, Markopoulos reportedly responded, "I'm the leader of this community, I can do whatever I want." They said he repeatedly neglected to pay the church's dues to the New Jersey Archdiocese, along with the phone and public services bills.
Most alarmingly, parishioners said they saw Markopoulos removing valuable relics and artifacts from the church before he left the church in September.
After he left, parishioners performed an inventory of church items and sent a letter to the archdiocese Oct. 28 documenting 72 missing items, plus $500,900 in donations that could not be accounted for.
While visiting St. Demetrios for services during Markopoulos's term, the Rev. Chrysanthos Zois - who is now the church's priest - said he was amazed at the church's large collection of relics and other ornate items. Returning to the church in September, Zois said he was "shocked" at how many items were gone.
Parishioners believe Markopoulos sold the pews from St. Demetrios's balcony and that he allegedly advertised for sale the detailed wooden doors and other items from the church on the Internet auction site eBay in late October, after he had been replaced by Zois. Paskalides and other parishioners then filed a theft report with the Jersey City Police Department.
Paskalides said the archdiocese has taken "a jaundiced look" at the situation and has been unresponsive.
Gus Stavropoulos, chancellor of the New Jersey Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, said he could not comment about Markopoulos because he is no longer an active priest in New Jersey. He then said "we don't have any further information on this" and hung up.
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