Parishioners at St. Athanasius the Great Church in Arlington are angry about a decision by the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston to remove a parish priest who has served them for nearly 28 years.
More than a 1,000 people had signed an online petition Friday night, after receiving a letter stating that Father Nicholas M. Kastanas would be relieved of his duties at St. Athanasius following the Sunday morning church service.
In the letter posted on the parish’s website, the Metropolitan Methodios cited longstanding unrest at the parish.
“For the past few years, the Saint Athanasius Parish has been in a state of turmoil as a result of issues revolving, in large part, around the person of Fr. Kastanas,” the metropolitan wrote.
“The spiritual environment in the Community has been severely damaged by behavior that is wholly contrary to Christian values, which has resulted in, among other things, the distribution of hurtful and destructive communications throughout the Community,” the letter said.
Attempts to reach the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston were unsuccessful Friday evening.
The assistant parish priest at St. Athanasius and several members of the parish council also could not be reached.
Father Kastanas declined to comment on the decision.
He said he will celebrate the Divine Liturgy on Sunday 9:15 a.m. at the parish that he said has about 800 families.
The announcement of his removal immediately sparked a strong reaction from parishioners.
The online petition titled “Bring Back Father Nick!!!” had received more than 1,000 signatures and almost 400 comments as of late Friday night.
“I appreciate the outpouring of love from people,” Kastanas said.
Kastanas said he does not know who will replace him, or if he’ll be reassigned to another parish.
Katherine Spyropoulos, who said her family had been involved with the parish for over 20 years, said parishioners learned of the decision to remove Kastanas in an e-mail Thursday night.
“It was like a punch to the gut to a lot of us . . . We have no idea why this is happening,” she said. “There was nothing included in the letter that provided any information or reasoning.”
Kastanas, she said is “the most spiritual person I’ve come across.”
“He epitomizes Christian values in every way,” she said.
Kastanas had been a source of support for her family after her brother died soon after they joined the parish.
“He didn’t even know our family, and he came to our house and was there for us in a spiritual, meaningful way,” she said.
Along with the online petition, parishioners have been reaching out through Facebook to show support for Kastanas by showing up at Sunday’s service, said Irina Kapetanakis DiMaio, who grew up in St. Athanasius.
Kapetanakis DiMaio now lives in New Jersey, but still drives to Arlington twice a month to attend church , in part because her four-year-old son adores Kastanas.
“Father Nick makes kids want to go to church,” she said.
In the coming weeks, parishioners also plan a protest at the Metropolis’s offices in Brookline, she said.
“I think that there’s going to be buses that will be bringing people there,” Kapetanakis DiMaio said. “We’re looking to organize a huge event.”