Source: The National Herald
By Theodoros Kalmoukos
The issue of the salaries and benefits of the clergy comes up very often for discussion in many if not all parishes, and certainly at various gatherings of Greek-Americans through the country.
Something has to be done to review this issue, because the way we are going, fewer and fewer parishes will be able to afford the high salaries and the demands of many of our priests.
Let me say that I have great respect and honor for those faithful, humble, and ethical priests and bishops, no matter in what corner of the world, who serve because they are heavenly men or earthly angels, if you wish. Be assured that there are such priests and bishops, but they are invisible amid the showy lightweight noisemakers.
I do believe that the priests should get decent salaries in order to enjoy a decent quality of life with their families. Like everyone else, they have necessities and obligations. They have children to raise and educate, and of course, those of us with college-age children know first hand the high cost of tuition.
Certainly, the issue here is not about them, but rather about those who make more than CEOs of large corporations. I take issue with those who use “the piety to make money” and exhibit scandalous mercenary-like behavior.
The Archdiocese of America is the Orthodox Church’s golden fish. That is primarily why priests from other jurisdictions such as the Orthodox Church in America, including Russian, Antiochian, and Romanian clerics, go to the Greek Archdiocese, because the Greek communities pay well. Those priests earn $30,000 per year on average and are forced to take on second jobs in order to survive. I don’t think the day is far off that our Greek Orthodox priests will have to do the same, because our communities become smaller and smaller and cannot endure the huge financial demands many priests have and that the bishops impose on the parishes. The generations who used to put their hand into their pocket and gave generously or burned themselves cooking at the grills at Greek festivals, or went around selling lottery tickets to collect money to pay the priests’ and the bishops’ salaries are gone. The new generations have woken up, and they are not willing to continue the pathetic system to finance the lavish lives of the clergy of every rank.
Here are some suggestions:
- It is time the so-called “tihera” (tips) given to priests and bishops when they do sacraments or Vesper Services to stop, because it is a kind of unprejudiced simony. It is unacceptable the moment they have good salaries and benefits. Basically, they are paid to pray, to condescend to accept “tips,” like waiters in restaurants. We laypersons should acknowledge that we are at fault as well for tipping the priests and bishops. Just think for a moment that all those who enter the churches on Sunday morning are volunteers, except the priests and the bishops who actually get paid by the parishioners. They are the “employees” of the Church, meaning the Body of the Laity, as simple as that.
- Celibate priests wrongly serve in parishes, because as monks, they belong in the monasteries. But they have created a separate sect of a careerist Archimandritism. They should receive the smallest possible salary, because they don’t have wives and children to support.
- Priests and bishops shouldn’t scandalize the faithful with their lavish lifestyles: dining at expensive restaurants, driving expensive luxurious cars, and living in multimillion-dollar homes, when there are members of their parishes and metropolises who don’t even have a plate of hot food to eat.
- The chancellors of the metropolises should be abolished. The bishops can do the job by themselves if they manage their time correctly and care only for the Church and no other activities. Two or more million dollars will be saved from salaries, benefits, car expenses, insurances, travel expenses for meetings, and other costs.
- It is time put an end to the out-of-control spending. Our people in the parishes are sick and tired of the continuous begging one day from the Archdiocese, the next from the metropolis, the third from the camp, the fourth day from the Theological School, and the fifth from the Academy of St. Basil. The milk of the big cow called the Greek-American Community is drying up. Luckily, there are those Greek Festivals with the roasted pigs and lambs that keep the doors of many churches open; otherwise God knows how many parishes would be closed by now. It is true that 400 or 500 families are contributing and working at the festivals basically for two things: to pay the priest’s salary, and to pay the Archdiocese.
Your article was very good and point on. It is sad that we must support clergy with money, but that’s the way the system works.
As Mr Kalmoukos says, the system has to change QUICKLY! It is scandalous to have priests in really small Parishes, with a Sunday attendance not more than 45 people receive salaries that very few parishioners enjoy! As for TIHERA, it is no secret that most of our bishops become MILLIONAIRES before retiring on account of their DEMANDS to have the generous check ($500.00 or more) ready when they visit a Parish. How stupid are we to allow these things to happen in America in 2017?
Kudos are appropriate for Kalmoukos for exposing these unOrthodox conditions that plague our church.
I disagree with him, however, on his direct and disrespectful attacks on Archbishop Demetrios and his effort to support the patriarch in ousting him as soon as possible and bring to America the chosen by the Fanari, without any regard for the opinion of a vast majority of American laity. The actions of the patriarchate, especially since Barholomew took over, have been disastrous (and Mr. Kalmoukos knows that!). It is unfortunate that we have only one Greek-American newspaper in this country which influences the majority of the Greek speaking congregations!
Ken–how would you suggest we support clergy with chickens, goats, olive oil, vodka, humus and raisins. I guess they should call the local university and tell them their child’s tuition will paid in chickens.
Ted K identifies jurisdictions other than GOA as other denominations. I doubt this was an accidental mistake. For people like Ted Orthodoxy is Greek and nothing else.
As for Clergy salaries, most salaries are similar to a school teacher with a masters degree who works all year. I don’t know many priests, but cant think of any who have million dollar homes . In fact, I know of priests who do not have the resources to purchase a home.
It is unfortunate that Kalmoukos is not more specific by naming a few parishes which pay their priests with six figure salaries (not counting TIHERA those priests receive).
It would also be interesting to know what the salary of a bishop is. Bishops live in Diocesan homes with all expenses paid by the Diocese, their entire salaries being deposited in their savings accounts. How can we know the truth on this?
The reason Ted K isn’t specific is because there is little support for his assertions. There are probably some priests in the GOA that receive 6 figure salaries. However, many of those priests could not live in the communities they serve without receiving a six figure salary. How can one purchase a home on Long Island with ourt a six figure salary?
As I wrote earlier, a priest makes about the same as a school teacher with a masters degree over a 12 month period rather than the 9 months teachers work.
The reality is that we are not faithful stewards and depend on festivals to support our churches. Priests salaries and outreach ministries could easily be supported if we are faithful stewards.
Teachers do not receive home and automobile allowances. In my parish the priest is given a full size new car with all expenses paid.
Moreover, teachers with MA degrees hold other jobs to make ends meet. They also need to continue to take courses, at their expense, in their field of study to ensure that their teaching credentials are current and valid. Very few make the 6 figure incomes with full benefits that are given to GOA priests and hierarchs. Unlike the clergy, teachers do not insist that their constituents prostate before them and kiss their hand!
Also, in my parish we do have families that live from paycheck to paycheck. It’s a repeated occurrence where the household provider has lost his or her job, or a devastating illness has struck a family member with little to no health insurance coverage to meet the exorbitant expenses or a natural tragedy has struck the family and all of their earthly possessions are lost
Allegedly, when I hear that a metropolitan is salaried at $350,000 a year, there is definitely something wrong with this picture and needs to be addressed.
I don’t know what Metropolitans make, but make sure you know what your are talking about before your gossip and throw around unsubstantiated information. Teachers receive very good health insurance that extends beyond retirement in many states besides pensions– as they should. In addition, teachers do not need a car for their work.
Finally, are you suggesting that since parishioners suffer the priest should also suffer? You sound like a bitter person to me. In my experience, it is often people like you who complain about the salary pf the priest yet don’t support the parish.
This is the most ridiculous post I’ve seen at OCL in a while, and that’s saying something.
Point 1: Generally speaking OK. As a priest, there should be no expectation of any payment for a regularly scheduled service. For those services that require extra time and preparation (weddings, baptisms, house blessings, etc.), we are always grateful for something that recognizes the additional work. Preparing for your wedding often means missing a child’s event or being absent from home yet another evening.
Point 2: Not all celibate clergy are monks. Those serving in parishes should be paid the standard salary for the parish. People get upset if a possible employer were to offer based on the size of THEIR families. Of course, if you kicked all the celibate and monastic clergy out of parishes, that would mean even fewer priests available to serve in parishes, which would likely only increase salary competition. Be careful what you ask for.
Point 3: Where are these priests living in multimillion dollar houses? In areas where EVERY house costs that much? Lavish restaurants? Fancy cars? And name a Greek Orthodox parish where there might actually be a MEMBER going hungry. If anything, these parishes need to do more to feed the non-Orthodox hungry in the community. “Lavish lives of clergy at every rank”? Hah. They’re the exception, not the rule.
Point 4: We are too busy creating conflict in our parishes for our bishops to have time to do anything but mediate those. Maybe it’s time to find a way to live in peace with one another.
Point 5: The begging does need to stop. So hold those responsible accountable.
First off, I’d like to inform you that I am a financial supporter of my parish, however, I am not naive and gullible.
As yourself, I’m free to express my opinion but I do check and verify my sources.
With whom did you check the amount of a Bishop’s salary? I have heard that Bishop’s make 100K but refrain from making that assertion because I am not certain.
The National Herald is absolutely right about clergy salaries. The fact is that the clergy in our Archdiocese are not only the best paid clergy among the Orthodox jurisdictions in this country, but also are among the best paid of all denominations in the US. They also have a very good pension program.
The Archdiocese has remuneration guidelines that the parishes are encouraged to follow. Generally they are based on a priest’s years of service. When Archbishop Demetrios, in the New York area, or the Metropolitans in the rest of the country, appoint a priest to a parish, all of the priest’s remuneration, ie. salary, auto expenses, housing costs, medical insurance, social security taxes, and pension obligations, are the responsibility of the parish. Our priests not paid by the Archdiocese.
So, for all practical purposes, our clergy are employees of the parish. Although , as mentioned, the Metropolitans appoint the priests, and encourage the parish to pay a certain remuneration package, they cannot force the parishes to do so, What they can do,however, is refuse to appoint a priest to a parish, or threaten to transfer a priest if the parish does not . This is the primary reason that clergy are often not appointed to smaller parishes that are financially unable to meet these remuneration guidelines. And priests themselves do not want to go to such parishes either.
On the other hand, parish councils, increasingly made up of professional, and often highly paid individuals, feel that the priest, who is as as educated as they are, and
often more educated, deserves remuneration comparable to theirs.
Additionally, the priests themselves often negotiate with their parish councils for better remuneration, and if the priest is popular , loved, and respected, will receive it (and may ask for a transfer if he doesn’t).
These are the main reasons that a priest remuneration package in medium size parishes is often over $100,000 a year, and in our largest parishes may approach ,or even surpass, $200,000.
And this does not include gratuities that parishioners may wish to conribute. (It is true , however, that where remuneration is high, gratuities are discouraged, or in many instances, the priest will agree to not accept gratuities. And if he does receive them, to contribute them to certain designated parish ministries.
It should be said that in the past our clergy were not paid well. In the Great Depression for example, they often passed collection trays at baptisms and weddings to supplement their meager salaries. And well into the 1980’s priests often received the same remuneration year after year without ever receiving even cost- of- living increases. Fortunately those days are gone forever.
But, it may be that, clergy remuneration has become too high, as some have argued. Perhaps then we in our communities should insist that clergy remuneration should be fair and equitable, based not only on years of clergy service, but also as well on the parish’s resources. And in determining the appropriate remuneration for a priest in our parish, perhaps we should also look at the remuneration that our parish stewards receive. Perhaps the time has come for every parish general assembly to genuinely discuss these issues.
Anthony, are you suggesting in the last paragraph that all parishioners submit their W2 forms to the Parish Council and the priest’s salary be determined based on the W2 forms.
I don’t where you received the information about the GOA being the highest paid among all clergy, but I cant imagine that any of the GOA clergy receive compensation equal to that received in non-denomination congregations. Joel Olstein probably makes what all the bishops together make.
The reality is that parishioners in GOA parishes do not support their parishes as they should. That is why the GOA is in the restaurant business. Several years ago an article was printed in the Wall Street Journal naming Greek-Americans as the least philanthropic of 20 ethnic groups. The resulting practice because of lack of faithful stewardship– cut the priest’s salary.
In the Phoenix area, GOA veteran Priests have annually salaries ranging from approximately $130,000 to $170,000 including all benefits (housing, retirement, insurance, auto, etc.). They get annual cost of living increases regardless of the economy or the financial condition of their parishes. That places our local priests’ incomes in the upper 10% or better of wage earners in America! Some of the said priests have assistants or a second priest and still make the same salary with a lesser workload. If a parish refuses to pay said priests said excessive salaries, then there is the threat of being shut down like what happened in Salt Lake City. Imagine if Peter told Jesus that if his Apostles were not paid a salary on par with the highest earners in their respective countries that his Apostles would abstain from serving the Body and Blood of Christ to their flock? Let’s pray for the Lord to rectify this situation soon and allow our priests not to be of the world, which is a frequent topic in their Sunday sermons…do as I say not as I do.
The reality is that if a parish wants a good priest, then pay him well. Don’t complain if a priest leaves for a secular job because he couldn’t do well for his family.
A priest who traces his lineage to the original 12 is a special person who is motivated not by money or is one who chooses to switch his career to make more money offered by the World. Said Apostles of Christ serve others versus themselves and seek their gain from Heaven and not from their 401k account. The original 12 made sacrifices to serve others and some of the original 12 left lucrative professions to serve Christ. They carried His Cross, which meant a supreme sacrifice. This is the kind of priest that we need in our declining Orthodox Churches. If a church needs to offer more money to retain a “good” priest, said priest is not worth retaining in the eyes of the Almighty!
Evangelos, I wonder how much of the information you present is accurate. Are you privy to the budgets of all the parishes in the Phoenix area? Rumors are often started about clergy compensation that are inaccurate and then negative people promote the lies. Most priests make about the same as a school teacher with a masters, if the teacher worked 12 months. You may need to repent of spreading false rumors. Nevertheless, you are correct that we are not to be of the world. I add that one can be wealthy and not of the world. It is just as easy for a poor person to be of the world.
Our priests claim to be part of the holy lineage of apostolic succession, which can be traced back to the original twelve. The original twelve were not or ever were in the upper 10% of wage earners in their respective countries. In the Western Diocese, our priests incomes place them in the upper 10% of wage earners in America. There are priests in Arizona who make between $135,00 and $165,000 per year excluding tips. The Scriptures say that they should be provided for but not be among the wealthiest of the land. How many lay members of their congregations get annual cost of living increases in pay irregardless of the financial state of their employers. How many CEO’s of small corporations make the same income as CEO’s of large corporations? In our church, one’s salary has no direct relationship to church size, job performance, skill level, etc. Our clergy shows no compassion and provides no mercy to our financially struggling laity. Irony: no mercy shown by leaders of our church? The only way this corruption can end is if we stop feeding this monster by reducing our tithe to the church and increasing our tithe to financially struggling members of our church. This is the way of Jesus and not the way of fallible humans. We must pray for this immoral behavior to end now in order to save our churches.
Evangelos, again you give no facts. How do you know the salaries of priests? Are you privy to the budgets, including the priests salaries, of the parishes you reference or are you listening to gossip? Please, causing division in the church is a serious sin.
Apparently, you don’t believe in apostolic succession. By the way, that succession is through the bishops. Finally, the clergy pay scale is not determined by the parish priest but through the national clergy council which is composed of both clergy and laity. You should attend a conference and present your unsubstantiated grievance.
Go to the website of the Scottsdale Assumption Orthodox Church where unlike most Orthodox churches, they show their annual budget. If you total all of the salaries plus benefits, you will see actual numbers of total compensation , which will shock you for a church of that size (roughly 350 families). Does the senior priest morally deserve a package exceeding $170,000/year while a typical Orthodox priest in America makes under $75,000 per year? If the congregation feels that this is okay , than let them be. Only Christ will be their judge as He is my judge.
The absence of signatures from GOA clergy on the Declaration sends a very loud and clear message:
That fear (including change) is wielding more power than the canons of our church.
As the biggest Orthodox jurisdiction in America, the GOA has had a golden opportunity to lead the pack and end phyletism once and for all. If we lead, other jurisdictions will take notice and hopefully follow our example. Yet, we continue to drag our feet.
As Orthodox Christians, we must remember that phyletism was condemned as heretical and schismatic in 1872. Why don’t we practice what we preach?
The canons were divinely inspired; God knows us better than we know ourselves.
You’ve hit the nail on the head. The GOA Clergy are programmed to fear the bishops who exercise total control over them. Bishops reward them for their acquiescence and punish them for straying from the approved narrative. They don’t even need to be told. They self-censor out of habit.
It gets worse.
Bishops themselves are programmed to fear the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Istanbul Synod that appoints them, demands unconditional loyalty, rewards them for their acquiescence and punishes them for straying from the the approved narrative. GOA Bishops have only to look at what happened to +Iakovos, +Spyridon, +Demetrios and +Evangelos of New Jersey to be forewarned.
The dearth of GOA Clergy and Hierarchs’ signatures on the Declaration should elicit our sympathy for those who must live their lives and go through the motions of fulfilling their duties under this type of fear.
It will be interesting to see if the so-far successful push-back by the GOA Metropolitans to their attempted demotion by +Elpidophoros/+Bartholomew will embolden them to stick together and lead the Assembly of Bishops to move to unity and autocephaly. During the +Spyridon debacle, GOA clergy waited until they had over 100 signatures before they spoke up…and it was only after all the Metropolitans acted together that +Bartholomew retreated from his position that: “We do not change Archbishops every day like we change our shirts!”
GOA Hierarchs and clergy must remember the motto: “In unity there is strength”.
In a perfect world, in which “the Holy Spirit, Who bathes the world in wisdom and good order, and Who knows no national, ethnic, or any other boundaries,” a truly Ecumenical (rather than simply a Greek) Patriarch would seize the moment and lead the way.
All he has to do is give the word. Pray that he comes to understand that it is not only the right thing to do but the one thing he can do that would be best for him and for World Orthodoxy.
Evangelos, JK, and Nikolai,
I find it interesting that a thread going back 5 years to a posting in November 2017 should suddenly pop up again on this website. I guess some stories have such staying power because we live in a fallen world.
So here goes:
The Scottsdale parish must be right up there with the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church of the Hamptons, NY which apparently has richly rewarded its parish priest (and Archdiocesan Vicar General). This priest has, over the years also moonlighted as Spiritual Advisor to Leadership 100, FAITH, (the Millionaires and Billionaires Foundation for Hellenism and Orthodoxy), Friends of St. Nicholas Shrine, de facto Archbishop, and more recently Biden Buddy recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Talk about multitasking!
Apparently, this priest and high-profile keeper of the Archdiocese’s Rolodex of influencers lives in a very nice home in the Hamptons and may be looking to decamp, at least part-time to Palm Beach, Florida. He is reportedly trying to force the longtime and well-liked priest out so he can replace him with a nephew to continue the family business. Makes sense. Florida is a more tax-friendly State than New York.
Clearly, it’s time for Bidenopoulos to mandate equity instead of equality of opportunity in clergy compensation for all the Orthodox jurisdictions in America. Income inequality, the biggest problem in America, has finally been exposed in the Greek Archdiocese! Church leaders have failed to address this. It is time for the government to step in. If the government can tell the Little Sisters of the Poor what to do, it should surely be able to level the playing field among Hierarchs with villas, clergy with six-figure incomes with benefits, and struggling priests in mission parishes.
If the separation of Church and State prevents this redistribution of wealth, Church teachings should take care of it. Isn’t it true that once married Orthodox clergy stop having kids, they should, along with retired Bishops, live like monks and forgo all material things?
Cato, you are off. A priest’s salary is determined by guidelines established by lay people at a clergy-laity congress and the local parish. If the priest is effective and the laity wish to reward him, blessings to both. I don’t know where you get the idea of a priest living like a monk. Do you expect him to abandon his wife?
To verify that Arizona priests have such large compensation packages, just go on their websites or call their offices for a copy of their budgets. I believe that Assumption of ‘Scottsdale discloses said data on its website. I personally reviewed the budget of Assumption on their website and got a copy of Holy Trinity of Phoenix’s budget from one of their members. Also, every GOA priest with similar tenure in Arizona makes the same income regardless of the size of the congregation. For example, the St. Harambalos priest with a membership under 150 makes the same money as priests from much larger congregations. On a good Sunday, their attendance is under 100. It would be hard to find any pastor in Arizona with such a small congregation who has a total compensation package above $150k per year.