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Police seek clues after Watertown church theft

Police have posted photos of the items stolen from the church.

Police have posted photos of the items stolen from the church.

The street value is low for four gold-plated Bibles and glittery chalices stolen from a Greek Orthodox Church in Watertown this week, but to its parishioners the items are irreplaceable, a frustrated pastor said Friday.

“It’s not like they’re really precious in terms of gold or anything like that. In fact for many of the items, most of the gold plating that’s on them is really thin and has worn off just from use and even just from the air over a period of time,” said the Rev. Demetrios Tonias, pastor of Taxiarchae/Archangels Greek Orthodox Church on Bigelow Avenue.

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“But the true value is in the value associated with the people who donated, because all these items were donated, usually more often than not in memory of a loved one who passed away, and so they have their names inscribed on them,” he said.

Those items often serve as reminders to young parishioners of their great-grandparents or other deceased relatives from decades ago, Tonias said.

A safe containing an undisclosed amount of cash was also taken, ripped from a particle-board cabinet in the church’s office. A musical instrument resembling a violin was also stolen, along with other items.

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“To go into a church during Easter time, ransack the place and steal a safe and Bibles, that is pretty desperate,’’ said Watertown Police Lieutenant Michael Lawn. “In my opinion, this may be drug-related,” possibly committed by someone looking to trade valuable items for cash to buy drugs, he said.

A cleaner arrived at the church at 7 a.m. Wednesday and called police after noticing that the church office was in disarray. The cabinet that enclosed the safe was tipped over, and stacks of paper were strewn on the carpeted floor. The Bibles, chalices, a cross, and other items were taken from the altars, Lawn said.

There was a board meeting Tuesday that ended at 10 p.m., so the theft occurred between that time and the time the cleaner showed up, Lawn said.

The Rev. Demetrios Tonias said some of the stolen items were donated and have sentimental value to parishioners.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The Rev. Demetrios Tonias said some of the stolen items were donated and have sentimental value to parishioners.

Police said the thief or thieves entered the church through a basement door on the Elton Street side of the church. A square vent was removed from the lower portion of the door and the thief crawled through the space, measuring about 4 square feet.

From the basement the perpetrator went upstairs and to the office and altars. Tonias said that several years ago he interrupted a homeless man rifling though cabinets in the office during a service.

“I told him it was about time for him to leave, and he left,” Tonias said. Aside from that incident, the last time the church was robbed was in the 1970s, he said. “Hopefully this is an anomaly, a random occurrence,” he added.

Police have no leads but have distributed photographs of the stolen items to the news media.

The pastor said the Greek Orthodox Church marked the first day of Lent on March 18 and will celebrate Easter on May 5.

Tonias expressed compassion for the person who broke into the church.

“I feel sadness for the individual who did this, because obviously they were brought to a state where they felt the need to come to a house of worship and take those things, and that’s not the place to be,” he said. “So obviously they’re struggling as well, and we pray for them as much as we do for each other.”

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBallou.
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