Priest leaves New London Greek church, questions linger

Father Dean Panagos hands an Easter eggs that he blessed to parishioners as they file past from both sides of the church at the end of the Agape service Easter Sunday on April 16, 2017, at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in New London.  Panagos has resigned and is taken a three-month sabbatical. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Father Dean Panagos hands an Easter eggs that he blessed to parishioners as they file past from both sides of the church at the end of the Agape service Easter Sunday on April 16, 2017, at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in New London. Panagos has resigned and is taken a three-month sabbatical. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

New London — Father Dean Panagos, who led the congregation at St. Sophia Hellenic Orthodox Church in New London for more than a decade, has taken a three-month sabbatical, resigned from the church and fueled speculation among parishioners about the reason for his sudden departure.

Church officials both in New London and the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, which presides over St. Sophia, have declined any comment on the matter.

Panagos, in an open letter to the parish in September, said he was granted a three-month sabbatical. The church allows for a sabbatical every six years of service and Panagos has been in New London for 11 years.

Panagos celebrated his last liturgy on Sept. 24 and was expected to start his sabbatical on Sept. 30.

“As many of you know, after time in prayer, discussion with my family and in consultation and with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios I asked for and have been granted a three month sabbatical,” the letter from Panagos reads.

“To those who I have had the opportunity to offer spiritual help and to reap the amazing spiritual gifts which our Lord bestowed upon me through you, I thank you. To those who I may have hurt over the years, I ask for forgiveness. To each of you, please know that I will be keeping the entire community of St. Sophia in my prayers and ask that you please do the same for me and my family,” the letter reads.

The St. Sophia parish council, in a letter to the parish last month, announced the Metropolis was “investigating and assessing the situation” to address “unanswered questions.”

The letter also encourages anyone with “confidential concerns” or “has had interactions, conversations, emails or texts related to this current situation” to share them with the appropriate people. The phone numbers and emails for Chancellor Father Theodore Barbas and Parish Council President Terry Mitchell are given.

Barbas has not responded to emails and phone calls. Mitchell and other members of the parish council contacted for this report declined comment. Panagos could not be reached.

The parish council letter is dated Oct. 15, one day before The National Herald reported that members of the parish council had requested Panagos’ removal from the parish. The reason, according to the Herald’s unidentified source, was a report from a deacon at the church about something that had happened between him and Panagos at Panagos’ home.

St. Sophia parishioner Dean Antipas said he doesn't know the reason for Panagos' swift exit but said he did know Panagos to be a man with strong opinions who was sometimes undiplomatic and “had always rubbed some people the wrong way.”

“He was prone to telling people (their) ideas about things are incorrect,” Antipas said. “This is a man by nature is going to call people out on stuff. He’s not a placid, passive type guy.”

Antipas recalled an incident in which Panagos, realizing that some people slip out of Sunday service after receiving the Eucharist, walked into the hallway of the church to inform those departing parishioners that church was still going on and "‘You’re invited back into the sanctuary.’”

The parish council, in its letter, calls for moving forward.

“Our hope and prayer during this interim time is that we can come together as a community and unite as a parish. While it can be tempting to take sides in the midst of so much uncertainty and change, it is important to remember this is our community and one of our tasks is to stay united in our faith and live in Christ. We are a strong community, faithful and devoted, with many gifted and wonderful families who contribute to the richness of this spiritual family.”

The church does not yet have a new permanent priest.

g.smith@theday.com

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