Priest jailed in Greece left church here adrift
Published by the Chicago Tribune, February 20, 2005
Priest jailed in Greece left church here adrift
Scandal follows cleric on run from embezzlement charge
By Russell Working and Dan Mihalopoulos
Tribune staff reporters
Watching satellite TV news reports from the old country at their homes in
Chicago, members of a Greek Orthodox parish on the Northwest Side were
shocked to recognize the young, bearded priest in police custody.
It was their former pastor, Iakovos Giosakis, who disappeared almost four
years ago after they accused him of embezzling tens of thousands of dollars
from the parish.
Before finding himself at the center of a growing scandal involving sex,
drugs, trial-fixing and trafficking in precious icons, Giosakis served Sts.
Athanasios and John Church in Chicago for about two years. He fled the
country days after Chicago police seized a computer, church financial
records and personal documents in a raid of the apartment where he lived as
the guest of an elderly parishioner.
The priest's arrest Feb. 4 in the Athens port of Piraeus rocked a country
where Orthodoxy is the state religion and almost everyone is baptized into
Now jailed in Athens, Giosakis is charged with stealing Byzantine icons
from a monastery on a Greek island. He is also under investigation in a
corruption case in which judges are accused of fixing trials involving drug
dealers and church elections.
The church suspended a high-ranking cleric after a Greek TV station aired a
recording of a phone conversation between him and his male lover, and a
91-year-old bishop allegedly appeared naked with a young woman in a
On Friday, the church's leader in Greece, Metropolitan Christodoulos of
Athens, apologized to the nation for the scandal as senior clerics opened
an emergency conclave to impose reforms.
As the scandals dominate the Greek media, the faithful in Chicago again
regret having trusted Giosakis with offering plates, cash from church
fundraisers and loans for church construction.
"In the beginning, people couldn't even believe it," said Theodoros Mantas,
the lay president of the church. "But after we saw the [bank] statements,
then we started to believe that Father Giosakis wasn't very good."
Born to a pious Orthodox family, Giosakis served as an altar boy in Piraeus
before becoming a priest. He served a string of churches in his
Mediterranean homeland, twice leaving his posts after disputes with
parishioners, according to Vima, a leading newspaper in Athens.
After being accused of stealing icons on the island of Kythera, Giosakis
resurfaced in the United States. Metropolitan Athenagoras, the Greek
Orthodox archbishop for Central America and the Caribbean, agreed to take
responsibility for him in 1999. Athenagoras, who grew up in Chicago, said
he did so "out of the goodness of my heart."
"I made a mistake in judgment to help someone who was not worthy of my
help," Athenagoras said in a telephone interview from Mexico City. "All I
wanted was to do some good."
At that time, Athenagoras said, he did not know the extent of the problems
that plagued Giosakis in Greece.
Those problems also were unknown to the congregation of Sts. Athanasios and
John when he arrived in 1999. Sts. Athanasios and John is a small church
where 50 to 60 people attend the Divine Liturgy every Sunday. The Irving
Park church is separate from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America,
which oversees practically every other parish in the Chicago area, and
instead operates under the oversight of a monastery in New York.
Only Greek is heard in liturgies at the church, unlike many Greek Orthodox
churches in the United States, where English is becoming as common as
Greek. Many of the parishioners are elderly immigrants.
"The church is a very small, humble, modest place of worship," parishioner
Alexander Facklis said. "It's wonderful for those who are seeking a more
personal, spiritual experience."
The arrival of a new priest energized the parish, Facklis said. Bearded,
5-foot-8 and about 250 pounds, he was a charismatic man whose congregation
came to admire him so much that some of them wanted to fly to Istanbul with
him and urge the Patriarch--the church's supreme leader--to promote him to
"He's very intelligent and likable," Facklis said. "We all fell for that
charisma. Clergy in the Greek community are given a large dose of automatic
respect, and he was very eloquent in stating big plans."
But some parishioners quickly became suspicious of their new priest,
according to parishioners, police and the search warrant used to raid the
Giosakis immediately took control of the church. He dismissed the church
officers and appointed his own. And he took possession of the church bank
ledgers, computer and printer, which were used for fundraising and bill
Personal money problems seemed to dog the priest in Chicago. On two
occasions, Mantas said, Giosakis claimed sums of at least $10,000 had been
stolen from him. Parishioners made up for the money.
Another time, a bishop visited from New York, and the church held a
fundraising dinner and dance, selling 300 tickets for $100 apiece. But the
receipts came in somewhere between $4,000-$6,000 short, Mantas said.
Church members accepted Giosakis' explanation that he must have lost the
money. But some began to worry that the priest was in charge of the Sunday
"There were some members of the church that were arguing," Mantas said.
"They had questions: `The priest shouldn't get the money.' But most of us,
including myself, were saying, `Everything's just fine. I trust him. And
when everything gets ready, the money will be there.'"
He also allegedly told church members that he was supposed to be paid $500
a week for his work, although police would later state that he entered the
country as a volunteer on a visa that did not permit him to work for a salary.
In April 2001, Giosakis called for a $240,000 remodeling project at the
church, Mantas said. He proposed using fine oak to refurbish the interior
and extending a fountain out in front. And he wanted to add a Jacuzzi in a
basement under the altar. This struck Mantas as odd, but he shrugged it off.
"I have a Jacuzzi in my house," Mantas said. "I said, `What the hell.'"
Giosakis allegedly talked one elderly parishioner into giving him $57,000,
saying it was needed for the poor, his sick mother and a friend in
financial trouble, according to the search warrant. He wired most of the
money to Greece, the warrant stated.
"Usually they were elderly people who put their trust in him," said Chicago
Police Sgt. Diego Flores, who investigated the case.
In addition, five members of the church agreed to put up $12,000 apiece to
guarantee $60,000 the church borrowed. The money was placed in a
construction checking account at Plaza Bank, said Mantas, who was among the
Two signatures were required in order to move money from church accounts,
but Giosakis allegedly talked a bank official into allowing him to control
the money with his signature alone, according to the warrant. Funds were
transferred to his personal account, and Giosakis allegedly wrote out
several checks for "cash."
Within one week in May he withdrew a total of $18,500 in two transactions,
Officials at Plaza Bank declined to comment, saying disclosure restrictions
prevent them from even confirming that the church or the priest had
But Mantas said he eventually became suspicious, examined the ledgers and
confronted the priest at a meeting in late May.
"When I asked him why the money wasn't there, he told me he took the money
out because his mother was sick," Mantas said. "I asked him when his mother
got sick. He told me his mother got sick on the 22nd of May. And then the
other question for me was, how did he know his mother would be sick on the
22nd, when he got the money out on the 10th and the 16th?"
Congregational leaders reported their suspicions to their church's
supervisors at St. Irene Chrysovalantou monastery, in Astoria, N.Y. The
monastery suspended Giosakis from his duties and told the parishioners to
call the Chicago police.
On June 28, 2001, investigators--tipped off by a church officer that
Giosakis planned to flee the country the next day--raided the apartment
where he lived in the 8500 block of West Rascher Avenue. Police took
computer parts, printers, bank records, raffle tickets, a plane ticket, two
passports and $2,500 in cash.
Although Giosakis was left with no passport, he went to the Greek Consulate
and obtained another, Flores said.
The question of how Giosakis fled and found a new ecclesiastical position
in Greece has become a point of contention in the church. Patriarch
Bartholomew, the supreme leader of all Orthodox Christians, chastised
Athenagoras, the Central American archbishop, for helping Giosakis land his
assignment in Chicago. In a 2002 letter from the patriarch to Athenagoras,
Bartholomew also criticized the archbishop for accepting funds from
Giosakis, defending the cleric before Chicago police and helping him flee
But Athenagoras insists he did not hear from Giosakis until he was in
Greece again. Athenagoras acknowledged traveling to Chicago to discuss the
case with police, but he said he accepted only a single $3,000 donation
from the priest while he was his bishop.
In the wake of the scandal, the monastery has sought to distance itself
"When he was in Chicago he was also on loan to us," said John Kotsaridis,
secretary and administrator of St. Irene Chrysovalantou. "He wasn't a
priest of the monastery."
About a year ago, Sts. Athanasios and John asked the police to drop the
case, Flores said. Members said it was time to move on from the
controversy, he said.
The impact of Giosakis' tenure in Chicago was devastating for believers,
Facklis said. The church was shuttered for a couple months after Giosakis
left, but it revived with the help of a temporary priest from the St. Louis
"I don't want to call it a death blow, but it was close to it," Facklis
said. "He created some serious divisions. Some who supported him have never
set foot in the church again. I don't think that the community deserved it
or could do anything about it."