Long Island nuns push for change amid growing ‘#ChurchToo’ movement

Author: Melissa Klein
Date Published: 12/08/2018
 Two nuns began posting photos as the Rev. Gerasimos Makris was reinstated at Brooklyn's Holy Cross. (Instagram)
Two nuns began posting photos as the Rev. Gerasimos Makris was reinstated at Brooklyn's Holy Cross. (Instagram)
The Rev. Gerasimos Makris (TNH/Kostas Bej)
The Rev. Gerasimos Makris (TNH/Kostas Bej)
 Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Brooklyn (Angel Chevrestt)
Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Brooklyn (Angel Chevrestt)

Two Long Island nuns have become defiant “#ChurchToo” activists, posting public messages to end abuse in “faith communities” at the same time their convent supervisor, a priest accused of sexual misconduct, was allowed to return to his Brooklyn church.

The Greek Orthodox sisters, shown in their habits, began their Instagram and Facebook campaigns in October as Rev. Gerasimos Makris was reinstated to the pulpit at Holy Cross Church in Bay Ridge.

Makris — an imperious figure who insists on his parishioners kissing his hand — confessed to “inappropriate interactions with two adult women” and an archdiocese “spiritual court” recommended he be banned. But church higher-ups put him back anyway.

The scandal is the latest black eye for the Greek Orthodox church and the Holy Cross parish, whose former leader, the Rev. George Passias, was defrocked after The Post revealed his affair with the married parochial school principal, whom he impregnated, and their kinky “cake crushing” fetish.

On Oct. 10, just as Makris was returning, the nuns began advocating for change, posting powerful photos of themselves holding signs with messages that read: “believe survivors,” “silence isn’t spiritual,” “end rape culture” and “take a stand.”

In a November post, they wrote “Sexual abuse is real. It happens in our families, our local communities + even our faith communities, in every Christian denomination including the Orthodox Church.”

They work with female victims of human trafficking and sell soap and candles to fund their efforts through an enterprise called White Field Farm Soap. Co. The two nuns, whose names are being withheld by The Post, declined to comment.

Makris, 51, who took over at Holy Cross on Ridge Boulevard in 2007, was the former dean of students at Hellenic College Holy Cross in Brookline, Mass. The college’s graduate school of theology trains men and women “for service to the church” including future priests and nuns.

The allegations against Makris surfaced in the fall of 2017, from a woman who was “made to feel unnecessarily uncomfortable with interactions” with the priest including “hugs lasting too long etc. but nothing overtly sexual,” Bishop Andonios Paropoulos, the chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, told The Post.

He said Makris was told to have no contact with the woman. During a meeting in January, the priest revealed he had relations with two other women “and while they were not of the usual sexual interactions one thinks of, they were inappropriate,” he [sic] bishop said.

“Father was immediately suspended,” he said. He added the women had not contacted the Archdiocese.

The bishop, in a Feb. 2 letter to the Holy Cross community, said Makris would not return to the parish and that the prelate had admitted to “inappropriate relations” with two women — one in Massachusetts and one in Brooklyn. He did not mention the third woman.

Makris was sent for treatment but, surprisingly, his parishioners wanted him back, the bishop claimed.

Priests who attended a retreat last winter said that Makris was of “impeccable character and ethos, and that he lives an ascetic life to the extent that he doesn’t sleep on a bed but on the floor, and he is always accompanied by his mother everywhere he goes,” according to a report in The National Herald, a newspaper that covers the Greek community.

Makris’ musings on church etiquette posted on the Holy Cross web site show he wanted some old-school respect from his flock.

“I have noticed many times that parents tell their children to kiss the hand of the priest yet they themselves don’t do so. What kind of example is that?” he wrote.

He bears the title Archimandrite because he is not married which means he could become a bishop. He also has ties to Archdiocese leaders and is a “spiritual father” to one of them.

By summer, a therapist told the bishop that Makris “could return to active ministry.” At that point, a council of three other priests known as a spiritual court met to evaluate the matter.

“They did recommend that he not go back to his previous assignment,” Bishop Andonios said.

Nevertheless, Andonios said he decided to reinstate Makris because parishioners demanded it.

“We were informed that the parishioners felt so strongly that they would protest in front of the Archdiocese for the return of their priest,” he said.

“I would not have returned a clergyman to his former parish after what transpired but out of pastoral sensitivity to the desires of the overwhelming numbers of parishioners who sought his return,” he said.

The bishop said he had not seen the nuns’ social-media campaign.

Makris did not respond to a request seeking comment. He was scheduled to lead mass at the church Sunday.

The Greek Archdiocese of America, which is based on the Upper East Side, has also faced financial scandal recently. Its signature cathedral, the St. Nicholas Shrine project at Ground Zero, is half built and construction stalled a year ago when the archdiocese ran out of money amid investigations into church spending.

“They keep supporting their own despite the worst stories, the worst circumstances,” said one church insider. “Whether it’s the embarrassment of an incomplete St. Nicholas or this Makris story, the leadership of our church whether on 79th street or Istanbul are tone deaf and out of touch.

“It’s embarrassing and heartbreaking and must change.