Orthodox priest to sadly hang up collar

Published Mar. 16, 2003|Updated Aug. 31, 2005

The Rev. George Patides is both anguished and angry. In a few weeks he will quit the priesthood of the Greek Orthodox church and begin a new career as a real estate agent.

Patides, 42, wants to marry again someday and cannot under church rules. So he will leave the priesthood after 17 years. Though he emphasizes his love for the church, he is frustrated by policies he describes as outdated and chauvinistic and imposed by a hierarchy that he believes is out of touch with modern-day American life.

Patides, among the 90 percent of Greek Orthodox priests who choose to marry, was divorced two years ago. Though he has no one in mind yet, he wants to remarry. The church, which ordains only men, does not allow them to marry after ordination. That means priests who are divorced or widowed must live the remainder of their lives in celibacy.

Patides says he is unwilling to do so.

"I believe I'm called to be a married man like most men are called to be," he said during an interview Thursday in his spacious office at St. Stefanos Greek Orthodox Church, 3600 76th St. N.

He will celebrate his last liturgy on March 30, about a month before Pascha, or Orthodox Easter. In April, he will begin work as a licensed real estate agent for Keller Williams Gulf Coast Realty in Seminole.

"I'm scared and I'm confident at the same time," he said of his new profession.

Patides, who has a 9-year-old son, said that even if he wanted to remain at St. Stefanos, his bishop, Metropolitan Alexios of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Atlanta, made it clear that he was uncomfortable having a divorced priest as its pastor.

"A few months after I was divorced, he told me about this wonderful opportunity. There's a new community of younger people, more English speaking, professional people. It was a very affluent community and they needed a priest to rally them and to organize them and lead them to building a church, and he asked me if I was interested. And I said, "Sure, where is it?' He said, "Connecticut.' And I said, "No.' "

Patides said he told the bishop that he could not move away from his son.

"His response is, "Well, he can visit you over the holidays and over the summer.' That's a disconnect. That is a profound disconnect."

Metropolitan Alexios, who is in the Tampa Bay area this weekend, could not be reached in time for this story.

Patides, who was ordained in 1986, said he wanted to become a priest since he was 3 years old but put such thoughts away until late in college.

"I won't have characterized my high school and early college years as very priestly," he said.

"And then I just started asking questions. Who is God? Who am I? Who is Jesus? I started going to church and I said, this is it. This is what I want to do."

Patides, a burly man who is fond of telling jokes, has been at St. Stefanos for almost nine years and is the second longest serving priest the church has ever had.

Stavrula Crafa, a member of St. Stefanos' parish council, is upset that he is leaving.

"Frankly, my heart's breaking. I'm distressed under the circumstances that he's leaving and generally not happy about it at all. I support him 100 percent. He's a wonderful priest and it will be a great loss to our community and our church," said Mrs. Crafa, who has been at St. Stefanos for 21 years.

St. Stefanos, she said, has thrived under Patides' leadership.

"Father George has been particularly successful in bringing young families to the church. The number of Sunday school children we have in our program is over 100 children, which is the most it's ever been. We started out with 35 when Father George came," Mrs. Crafa said.

The church's Agape Club, whose members are senior citizens, also is distressed about Patides' departure. The group has sent a petition to the Atlanta diocese asking that he be allowed to remain at least through Easter.

Born in New York and raised in Tarpon Springs, Patides' parents, the late Nicholas Patides and his widow, Kalli Patides, once owned Zorba's Lounge, where he sometimes worked as a drummer during summer vacations.

For a while, Patides appeared to be one of the diocese's rising stars. Several years ago, his bishop appointed him director of the Olympic Village Greek Orthodox Youth Center in Brooksville. He also was appointed diocesan liaison to a committee that started the county's newest Greek Orthodox parish, St. Raphael's, in Palm Harbor. At present he is in his second year as president of the Bay Area Council of Orthodox Christian Clergy.

Though he criticizes certain church policies, Patides said he loves the faith in which he was brought up.

"I believe that the theology and the dogma of the Orthodox Church is perfect. I think it is right on," he said.

"It's the fullness of the Christian religion. While I believe that, I also believe there are policies that are dated and show a disconnect with the reality of who we are as American citizens in the world today."

For one thing, said Patides, he disagrees with the way the church approaches divorce, which is handled by a spiritual court. Questions asked by the panel of priests during the procedure are intrusive, he said.

"The priests don't like this policy either, but the priests don't have much choice," Patides said. "A lot of these policies are set by the hierarchy, who are older men. Most of them are born in Greece and they are all celibate and do not fully understand the realities of marriage and family today."

"I believe I'm called to be a married man," the Rev. George Patides says. He talked to Northside Christian School students visiting St. Stefanos Greek Orthodox Church on Thursday. The group also visited a synagogue and a mosque.