Kalmoukos – “Spiritual” Courts: An Unholy Joke

Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos

Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos – Received Thousands from Fr. James Dokos

Source: The National Herald


By Theodore Kalmoukos


I had written about the so-called “Spiritual” Courts some years ago. The reason that I decided to write about the issue once again is the recent case of Rev. James Dokos, who pled guilty to embezzling funds. And entered into a differed agreement with the authorities in order to avoid imprisonment.

There are two types of “Spiritual” Courts. The First Degree, which is convened on the local level at the Metropolis and the Second Degree on Archdiocesan level.

Specifically, the Eparchial Synod itself becomes a “Spiritual” Court. The First Degree Court submits its proposal to the Eparchial Synod, which in turn sends its recommendation to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for the final action and decision.

I am of the opinion that the “Spiritual” Court on the local and Archdiocesan level is in reality a joke, if you know from inside the behind the scenes intrigues, unholy games and influence.

The way the Spiritual Courts are formed and operate is certainly an insolent flout of the intelligence of every dignified, honest, and thinking person. The local metropolitan selects some priests who are usually his friends with blind obedience to him. He appoints one of them as “chief justice” to preside over the “court” rather than presiding personally, because he wants to state hypocritically the he didn’t have any part in the outcome, claiming that the members of the “Court.” his puppets, acted justly and objectively.

Actually before the meeting, he instructs them what to do and what outcome he expects. I write these things based on firsthand inside information. Clerical members of Spiritual Courts had spoken to me many times – off the record of course – because they are petrified of their superiors, the metropolitans and chancellors. In one instance, for example, a metropolitan was so anxious who was communicating during the “court cession” with its members asking them why they were delaying.

The tragicomedy of the whole Spiritual Court issue, which even goes beyond the Dark Ages, is when laypersons are called to the Spiritual Court to be judged by five or six priests for “disobedience” to the Ecclesiastical Authority or for “violation” of the Uniform Parish Regulations, if they dared to ask questions, about a metropolis’ finances, for example.

These shenanigans have made many honest, educated, and faithful parishioners detest the whole process and leave not simply from their involvement in the administration of parishes but from the life of Church altogether. They stop going to church except for Christmas and Easter, and occasionally for funerals, baptisms, and weddings. Their young children see the adult’s reactions to these indescribable “Spiritual” Courts, and they simply laugh and stay away too.

No mention was made in the Statement of Metropolis of Chicago about the outcome decision of its Spiritual Court. It simply stated that “the Spiritual Court convened on Wednesday March 2, 2016, and has submitted its report to the Eparchial Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America for final disposition.”

After Dokos’ guilty plea, the Spiritual Court has just only one option or rather obligation: to propose his defrocking. Anything else it would simply be a travesty of justice.

We shouldn’t forget that the Chancellor Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos and also Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago made unprejudiced efforts to give “cover” to Doko’s. Bishop Demetrios received “honorarium” of thousands of dollars from Dokos. He transferred Dokos from the Milwaukie parish to Glenview Illinois. He attempted to “interfere” with the attorney’s general search. Along with the “company” of Chicago they find no wrong doing by Dokos. Metropolitan Iakovos dared to send a ‘sealed” letter to the US Court in his desperate attempt to “save” Dokos.

The question is what is going to happen at the Eparchial Synod on April 12? Probably the majority of the members will not recommend Doko’s defrocking. They won’t want to hurt Metropolitan Iakovos because he has done favors to them also. Unfortunately this is how the system works, with a “coffee shop mentality”. We are talking here about a completely sick situation. Everything now depends of the position that Archbishop Demetrios will take as the President of the Synod and as the only ruling hierarch of the Archdiocese.

I think this is what needs to be done: 1) Metropolitan Iakovos should retire now with some dignity before the situation gets completely out of control. 2) Bishop Demetrios should be placed on suspension and asked to leave from Chicago and go to New York. Actually, he is auxiliary Bishop to Archbishop Demetrios and he serves in Chicago on loan. The situation not only in Chicago but in many other areas has  rotted, and the stench is unbearable.

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  1. Michael Kinsey says

    You astutely, hit the nail on the head. These crony Christin cleric’s, will only elevate those who have shown the cronies that they will do the will of the cronies, rather than live by the Word of God. The cronies act as dogs in the manger, who will neither eat the straw,( do the Will of God), or let a faithful servant of Jesus Christ in their ranks who will do God’s will. The Perfect Lord Jesus Christ, spoke Words such as white washed tombs, dogs, vipers, ravenous wolves concerning those who hinder those who would enter into a more perfect relationship to the Living God.How unkind, insulting, disrespectful, high handed, impertinent and dis-compassionate was the Victorious Lord Jesus Christ when He discribed these hypocrates? He as not any describtion I just mentioned. He was Rightious, and Justly Inndignante.

    • Irreparable harm has been done to the Diocese of Chicago by the so-called “leaders” in Chicago, who are eager to always appear at parades, festivals, and other community events, in hopes that the community will “forget” what they have done. The Bishop should return the “gifts” or “tips” or whatever he calls them; the Metropolitan should be encouraged to retire. New leadership in Chicago is needed, as the community continues to feel the pain of this travesty and will not be quiet. They are not above the law.

  2. Fr. Philip (Speranza) says

    Having had to undertake the onerous obedience of serving on a spiritual court, I can only say that my experience was not at all as Mr. Kalmoukos describes. Our only concern was to deal with the matter before us in careful conformity to the Orthodox Christian Faith as articulated first and foremost in Scripture, and then in the Sacred Canons, mindful of how the holy Apostle James warns that “judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy” (2:13) and that teachers “shall receive a stricter judgment” (3:1). Quite frankly, if I never have to do that again, it’ll be too soon. While what Mr. Kalmoukos describes MAY be true as a general rule in the Greek Archdiocese, and while certainly in the history of the Church spiritual courts HAVE been misused and abused (e.g., in the case of my heavenly protector, St. Philip of Moscow, who was deposed by a rigged court), nonetheless it is most certainly NOT true everywhere and in every case. Qui nimis probat, nihil probat.

    • Wayne Matthew Syvinski says

      Father Philip,

      You quote Scripture: “[J]udgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13). Presumably, you are thinking of restraint in censure or punishment for one found guilty before a Spiritual Court. What about mercy for the victims of the guilty party? Scripture also says, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” (“Justice, justice you shall pursue”, Deut 16:20a).

      • Fr. Philip (Speranza) says

        Wayne, your point is well-taken. But the scope of a spiritual court is necessarily narrow: is the accused (whether clergy or laity) actually guilty of the offence with which he/she is charged? The question is crucial not only for the accused but also for the accuser, in that according to, e.g., Canon 6 of the 2nd Ecumenical Council, if the accused is found “Not Guilty,” the accuser suffers the penalty that would have been imposed on the accused. It’s called the “lex talionis” and is in place to discourage false and/or frivolous accusations. The spiritual court system does not generally deal with positive justice for the victim, but only with the negative justice of determining guilt and imposing the penalty prescribed.Perhaps it’s an over-simplification, but the parallel to the secular system is that spiritual courts deal with criminal complaints, not civil complaints. Does that leave a gap? Perhaps. But Matthew 18:15-17 does provide a remedy. The problem seems to be that few Christians want to follow the process laid out by the Lord.

        • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

          It’s nice to know there is ONE person who knows canon law in this blog–Fr Philip (Speranza).

          • George Michalopulos says

            Indeed. Fr Philip’s explanation brings up a crucial point that goes to the crux of one of Kalmoukos’ arguments, and that is the kangaroo-type nature of the spiritual court called by a bishop.

            Wouldn’t it be better if there was a sitting body within the Church at large (not merely diocesan) which could hear these charges? Wouldn’t it also be better if the rule of lex talionis was rescinded? To my mind, charges against moral transgression, misfeasance, malfeasance, whatever should proceed if there exists a prima facia case. The accuser should not be punished (unless of course the charge is flimsy, frivolous and derogatory).

            • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

              Thanks for telling us YOUR druthers, George! I never suspected you had such radical differences with our canonical tradition!

              • Michael Bauman says

                George, you cannot legislate out the possibility of having bad bishops and you cannot expect much less demand perfect out comes.

                I know that in my brother’s diocese the bishop picks in advance priests to sit on any spiritual court in case one occurs. My brother was one of those for a couple of years. Even being in that position was onerous for him.

                My parish was blessed last night with the visit of a recently consecrated bishop from Kenya under Alexandria, His Grace Neophytos of Nitria. His demeanor and pastoral commitment is so marked that it made me realize just how twisted we are here in the U.S. How broken. How ungrateful we are.

                In addition to the successful missionary activity he was a part of prior to his elevation to the episcopate, he has to make sure the staff of the children’s home his diocese runs are paid and his priests can get to their parishes to server the Divine Liturgy every Sunday. Right now they have no money for either. He wants to get motorcycles for each of his 42 priests so that they can take care of his spiritual children.

                He had a slide show that depicts some of the work he is doing and the celebrations that occur (like a 5 km procession on Palm Sunday last). He brought one slide to our special attention–him with an older woman, his mother. He was going into the fields with her to bless the corn. When the slide came up he said, “That is my mother, I love her so much”

                He needs to build temples. Our parish will undoubtedly help and God will provide. One of the members of the parish is going to Kenya on a short-term OCMC mission this summer.

                Stop bitching. Build your local parish with God’s grace, live the life of the Church, let God take care of the rest.

                We will always have bad bishops but we have good ones too.

                I give glory to God that we have any at all.

                So, Your Grace Bishop Tikhon, thank you and forgive my acerbity toward you in times past.

                • Gregory Manning says

                  Michael B.
                  Didn’t I read somewhere that some funds were raised to purchase at least some of those bikes?

                  I agree with the overall tenor of your piece. Through every fault of my own I was without the Church for 10 years. If my witness is worth anything I will attest to one thing, namely, that you are unlikely to appreciate how wonderful it is just to have a priest and a store-front church until you experience not having anything at all. Indeed, though I lead myself astray through my arrogance and willfulness, I still came out of it with a genuine gratitude for what I now have.

                  • George Michalopulos says

                    Mr Bauman, your story warms my heart and gives me hope for the future. I am not surprised that this visit took place in Bishop Basil Essy’s cathedral. With the passing of Archbishop Dmitri Royster of thrice-blessed memory, he is the the premier Orthodox missiologist in North America. May God grant him many years.

                  • Michael Bauman says

                    Gregory, I am sure his Grace is here in the U.S. for fund raising purposes.

                    He left St. George needing one less motorcycle for sure and I am equally sure we will fund a temple at least partially.

                    The one we helped build in Ghana a few years ago was only $25,000.

                    He said the motorcycles would run about $1000 a piece.

                    Even as those needs are satisfied, there will be more.

                    Or if you want to contribute closer to home, there is always the Bishop Basil Missions endowment fund.

                    • Monk James says

                      It’s good for us to contribute to ALL mission funds.

                      God bless those who go where we can’t, and God bless us who make it possible for them to go there.

  3. Here is the risk inherent in leadership: The greater the leader’s power, wealth, authority, and influence, the more likely the leader could succumb to ethical lapses and moral failings. The risk increases if the organization has a culture that lacks financial or managerial transparency and accountability, has insufficient checks and balances on executive power, and discourages criticism from subordinates or members. When a leader with a poorly developed ethical or moral sense ends up leading an organization with a culture that prevents ethical self-examination, a slow but perfect storm starts to form that demands compromise from all levels of leadership and eventually leads to catastrophic consequences.


    • Michael Bauman says

      Chris, I would say that in the Church, temptation abounds as one becomes more isolated from the community of the faithful either intentionally or not.

      The more bishops think of themselves as “other” from the faithful they serve, the more prone they will be to the temptations of both their own passions and the inherent ones of the office. The same goes for priests and for we laity as well.

      They have to pastor to survive, not rule. Serve, not expect to be served.

      That can be quite difficult because of the worldly dynamics of hierarchical inter-relationships. The best bishops and the best congregations find a way however.

      Managerial theory has only a limited application to the Church. Life in the Church is not about efficiency, productivity and getting things done. It is about giving and offering. We are decidedly not utilitarian. If we were the first would never be last and God would not have become incarnate. He simply would have started over.

      • M. Stankovich says

        Michael Bauman,

        I would note the irony of how feeling “other,” ironically cuts both ways, as expressed in Chekhov’s classic short story, The Bishop. Further, while on the one hand, St. Chrysostom describes in On the Priesthood the Bishop as the anointed of God for an office “higher in rank than the angels themselves,” he justifies his own fleeing of ordination by citing the predictable & constant barrage of criticism & false accusation – the worst, he writes, from the Bishop’s own colleagues who criticize behind his back & attempt to undermine his authority & credibility – the Bishop endures daily. Who knows what he would have thought of the anonymous internet & the scurrilous commentary & accusation of individuals who do not hold themselves to the standards of the Gospel, yet wish to uphold several verses from 1 Timothy. The Church has never drawn holiness nor sanctity from its clergy, and one need only recall the number of times the celebrant prays, “Do not, because of my sins, withhold the Grace of Your Holy Spirit…”

        I have written on this site previously about a very moving, very dramatic experience I had – moving & dramatic for me, anyway – when I was the Reader at SVS, early to the chapel, when Archbishop Dmitiri, then of New England, arrived, went directly into the altar, and removed everything but his underlying cassock. He came from the altar followed by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, who heard his confession as I read the Psalms. Frs. Schmemann & Meyendorff used the Greek form of “reonciliation” (i.e. not the Slavic, “I, an unworthy priest, by the power given to me…”) that concludes, “grant unto him an image of repentance & reconcile & unite him to Thy Holy Church, through Jesus Christm our Lord…” He looked the “image of repentance,” and as “vulnerable” as anyone of us. It was a valuable lesson.

        • Michael Bauman says

          M. Stankovich, it does cut both ways. We must strive for our own humility and obedience. Recently I had the opportunity during coffee hour to thank His Grace Bishop Basil for his leadership and love. He is always a bit non-plused by such thanks but he quickly and sincerely said, “The people of my diocese make it easy”

          The people of the Diocese of the South (OCA) have an opportunity to make their new bishop the best bishop ever by striving in humility, love and obedience to accept him as their bishop in love and thanksgiving. Such acts will draw the mercy of God through him. At that point he will either be changed or run screaming from the place.

          Continuing to battle him will not help. There are no “sides” to this. God can make a seven course roasted chicken dinner to feed everyone with leftovers out of waste.

  4. Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

    Now here’s a bit of nonsense:
    “The greater the leader’s power, wealth, authority, and influence, the more likely the leader could succumb to ethical lapses and moral failings.”
    Even the most miserable of lonely handicapped beggars “COULD SUCCUMB (sic)” to moral lapses and moral failings. If that nonsensical axiom were true one would expect prostitutes to come mainly from amongst high society ladies! Our jails would be packed with members of the upper crust!
    “COULD SUCCUMB”!!!…What next? Who COULDN’T succumb?
    Later we hear of a “slow but perfect storm” starting to form. I wonder what constitutes a “slow but perfect” storm? Anyone? Is that better or worse than a fast but imperfect storm? Aren’t figures of speech meant to clarify rather than muddy up social interaction?


      • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

        Aw! Talk about a reply with substance!
        (Ooooops. Sorry about the exclamation point. I should……..let the words speak for themselves without caps or exclamation points or question marks, etc. Bad bishop….

  5. Peter A. Papoutsis says

    Pictures Speak a Thousand Words.

    Btw I believe that the actual function is very needed and wonderful, and is a great service to those children who are terminally ill. For those that don’t know that’s Mr. Gregory Pappas of the Pappas Post with my Bishop, Bishop Demetrios of Mokkisos. Do the slideshow and it’s picture 16.