More than 6,000 people have signed a petition in support of Father Eleftherios of Australia’s Red Hill Church who resigned on Sunday following a spat with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.
Father Eleftherios, a hugely popular Greek Orthodox priest, commonly known as Papa Lefteris, announced his resignation after his last service at Panagia Kamariani on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
A statement by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia accused him of “a series of canonical offenses,” including “publicly attacking both the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Makarios of Australia”.
Father Eleftherios read on Sunday the letter of his resignation addressed to Archbishop Makarios of Australia in which he accuses the Archbishop of using the canon laws for his benefit.
“I don’t want to take up much of your time but would like to inform you that the canon laws you are charging me of breaking and the punishments you are putting on me are of your standards,” an excerpt of the letter reads, according to Neos Kosmos.
Although Father Eleftherios warned that he intends to remain vocal, he has since refrained from making any further statements.
A wave of support for ‘Papa Lefteris’ in Australia
The spat which led to the resignation of the priest has met with dismay by many members of the Greek community in Victoria.
With the hashtag #westandbypapalefteri a petition calling to save Papa Lefteris’ position has been signed and commented upon by more than 6,200 people by Tuesday evening.
“Being a priest for over 50 years now he is being attacked because he speaks his mind and stands strong to his beliefs…He is one of the most iconic and popular priests in Australia who is loved and supported by many people around the world. Like many others this news will outrage thousands of families around Australia, Greece and around the world, the petition reads and adds:
“What is happening behind the scenes is a disgrace to the Greek community and for the Greek Orthodox in Australia.” The petition warns that “If the movement against him is followed through it will cause a great schism and distrust towards the higher ranks within the Australian Greek Orthodox community.”
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia responds
In its statement late on Monday, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia said that Father Eleftherios was relieved of his duties because of a series of canonical offenses, including publicly attacking both the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Archbishop.
The statement claims that for a long time Father Eleftherios “behaved and acted as a foreign body to the Orthodox Church, having consciously chosen the path of autonomy.”
“Our Reverend Archbishop [Makarios], reflecting precisely on the many years of ministry of Father Eleftherios in the local Church showed from the beginning a sincere disposition to understand in defense of the unity of the Church,” the statement reads.
“However, this disposition collided with the constantly escalating aggressive behavior on the part of Father Eleftherios,” it adds.
The statement accused Father Eleftherios of sending a letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch in which he denounced his ecclesiastical authority. “The specific letter was returned by the Patriarch to Father Eleftherios as unacceptable, contrary to the normal order of the Church.”
The Patriarch ruled to remove Father Eleftherios from the office of Steward of the Ecumenical Throne, the Archdiocese says.
“Father Eleftherios with his behavior caused the developments that led to the punishment imposed on him by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, while our Holy Archdiocese showed calmness and waited for his repentance and return.
“To the disappointment of all of us, the brother cleric who is under investigation for his misdeeds, through his letter to the Archbishop and through the sermon he delivered irregularly on Sunday, October 2, 2022, not only did not respond to the substance of the issues for which he was called to apologize, but he persisted in the tactic of self-praise and self-deification, of slandering the Archbishop, as well as us Bishops and clergy,” the Archdiocese said.
Father Eleftherios caused controversy in the past
The Greek Orthodox priest has been serving the Panagia Kamariani parish for many years and has been a favorite among the Greek-Australians of Melbourne.
However, being outspoken he has expressed controversial views and has been accused of hate speech regarding marriage equality. In 2017 he was forced to apologize for any inadvertent comment he may have made during a sermon.
He was accused of saying that he would shoot any gay people that wanted to marry. Papa-Lefteris, as he is widely known in Melbourne, claimed that he did not remember uttering those words.
In 2021 he was blamed for breaching the coronavirus restrictions by holding a funeral service with dozens of people attending. He denied the allegations aired by an ABC report and told SBS news that the service was conducted “in compliance with all required measures”.
Dozens of mourners had reportedly gathered for the occasion, but not within the perimeter of the church. “We asked them to leave[…] unfortunately there was nothing more we could do to stop it.”