- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A melee erupted Sunday at a Greek Orthodox church near Salt Lake City after longstanding financial tensions flared toward the end of a service, police say.

Members of Prophet EliasGreek Orthodox Church in Holladay pushed and shoved each other during the service after a former leader announced he would still show up for work even though he was let go in December, some churchgoers said.

“It’s contentious; it’s unfortunate - let’s just put it that way,” said Tykie Skedros, the parish’s second vice president, referring to the months-long dispute and to Sunday’s scuffle. “It’s a sad state of affairs, but hopefully it’ll get corrected. These things do tend to improve with time.”

After the former leader’s announcement, another leader cried out in opposition and began fighting with a member, according to those in favor of reinstating the Rev. Michael Kouremetis. The group, Protect Our Clergy, is raising money to bring him back onboard.

Parishioners took the pushing and shoving into the narphex, a room adjacent to the service space that is seen as a spot to leave behind worldly concerns before entering the temple.

Police were called to the church, but no one was injured or arrested.

Tensions have mounted at the church since parish leaders floated plans in July to cut pay for three priests by 40 percent. The Greek Orthodox authority in Denver, which oversees the Holladay parish, ordered that the priests receive their full salaries.

Prophet Elias members later voted to cut one post and pay the others in full but were evenly split on the issue, for the most part.

After the disturbance Sunday, parish officials in an email to members called the fight an assault and asked parishioners not to throw fists in church, the Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1fbLVr7).

The opposing group that is raising money to bring back Kouremetis said the call to police Sunday was an overreaction.

Council president Dimitrios Tsagaris told the newspaper that church leaders have asked police to attend the next service just in case, but that he doesn’t expect any more spars.

“Everybody is going to come to church,” he said. “It’s not a big deal. There were just some hot tempers, and that’s about it.”

Stavros Papagermanos, a spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, said Friday he had not heard about the fight in Utah. He said it’s usually up to regional authorities, like the one in Denver, to call the shots on hiring and firing leaders.

Police are investigating whether assault charges are warranted.

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