Metropolitan’s Crown Stolen from Car

Author: John Clayton - New Hampshire Union
Date Published: 02/09/2008
Metropolitan Isaiah (Chronopoulos)
Metropolitan Isaiah (Chronopoulos)

It may not rank as the crime of the century, but if the worldwide media is to be believed, a recent smash-and-grab car break in Arlington, Texas, certainly qualifies as a most dastardly deed.

The victim was John Chronopoulos.

That’s what his friends called him when he was growing up in Manchester.

These days, however, John is known by a far more formal title, that being “His Eminence Isaiah, Metropolitan of Proikonisos and Presiding Heirarch of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver.”

He was serving in that ecclesiastical capacity – it’s equivalent to that of a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic faith – during a recent visit to Texas.

That visit took a cruel turn when thieves broke into a rental car containing several of Metropolitan Isaiah’s religious artifacts. A number of items were stolen from the car, and foremost among them was a magnificent gold and silver crown.

It was the loss of that crown that caught the eye of an alert police reporter in Arlington, and somewhat to the amazement of Metropolitan Isaiah, the subsequent news item was picked up by newspapers all over the globe.

He wasn’t surprised to see it in the Salt Lake Tribune, the Los Angeles Times or the Kansas City Star – after all, those communities fall within his sprawling 12-state religious Metropolis – but he didn’t expect the theft to make the Turkish Daily News or the New Zealand Herald, let alone newspapers in Dubai, Belgium and China.

No one could have foreseen that kind of notoriety for John Chronopoulos, least of all the folks who knew him during his formative years here in Manchester.

“I was born in Portsmouth,” he said, “but my father had no business at his little restaurant there during the Depression, so we moved to Manchester. It was in the early ’30s and the mills were still operating, so he went there and got a job making cotton.

“I went to kindergarten and first grade at the Franklin School, but then we moved near Union Street. I went to Maynard then – I understand it’s not a school anymore – and then I went to Central and was graduated in 1949.”

It was easy for a kid with a Greek surname to blend in at Central in that era – well-known classmates included Artemis (Spanos) Paris, Nick Gabardina and Spiros “Spike” Plentzas – and John Chronopoulos was happy to keep a low profile.
“I was in several Mikado presentations at Central – Mr. McAllaster was the music director then – but mostly, I worked part-time jobs after school.

“From the time the war started, I worked at Kennedy’s selling coffee and cheese, I worked at the Cadillac Hotel on Chestnut Street as an elevator operator, I worked at Ferretti’s Market on Elm Street and later on at the A&P on North Elm and at Sundial Shoe.”

Through it all, John was keeping up with his Greek language studies and teaching Sunday School at what was then the St. George Greek Orthodox Church on Pine Street. There was a presumption among his friends that he would enter the seminary, but John had another employer in mind.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps.

Not as a chaplain, mind you.

He was a rank-and-file jarhead.

“They still had the draft back then,” he said, “and I didn’t tell anyone, but I always felt that if I had gone into the seminary then, people would have said I was a draft dodger. I didn’t want that label.

“Nothing against the Army,” he added, “but as a kid, I had always taken a liking to the Marine Corps. A neighbor of ours, George Contraros, had been at Guadalcanal, and I don’t know if he had an effect on me or what, but I was always partial to the Marines, so I joined.”

He did three years of active duty and then five years in the reserves and it was while he was in the reserves that he entered the seminary in Brookline, Mass.

“I felt like I walked from one discipline to another without a lot of variation,” he laughed, “except this time, I didn’t have to report to a sergeant anymore.”

No, it was a higher authority this time.

And oh, the heights he has reached.

After being ordained in San Diego – 10 years after he was there for boot camp – he was an assistant priest in Salt Lake City, then he got his own parish in Youngstown, Ohio. He was a dean at the Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology, then Chancellor of the Diocese of Chicago and, after being consecrated as a Bishop in 1986, he was Chancellor of the Archdiocese of New York before moving on to Denver in 1992.

His career path has always been big news in Manchester’s tight-knit Greek community, but – given his abrupt journey from prelate to criminal prey – Metropolitan Isaiah is still a bit baffled by the recent media attention that’s come his way in the wake of the car break.

“I truly believe that whoever took my crown didn’t know that it was a Bishop’s crown,” he said. “I had removed the cross from the top of the crown and put the crown into a carrying case. The crown fits nicely into that, so I don’t think they knew what was inside when they took the entire case.”

And that’s not all they took.

The thieves also made off with a cellphone, his black, stove-pipe hat, his well-worn copy of the New Testament and a black fabric bag, and other than the cellphone, all had sentimental value.

“The crown may be worth between $6,000 and $10,000,” he said, “but more than the monetary value, it means a great deal to me because it was given to me by my parishioners in Chicago when I was first elected Bishop in 1986.

“As for the Bible, I’ve had that New Testament for more than 30 years,” he added, “and as for the black fabric bag, I would love to have that back. It was given to me by the widow of a Marine who embroidered it with my name, the emblem of the Marine Corps and a large gold cross. I consider that a part of me when I travel.”

While police officials in Texas are still investigating the theft, Metropolitan Isaiah has discovered that he has a much larger group of friends who have every intention of helping him recover his treasured keepsakes.

“People knew about the theft before we left Texas last week,” he said, “and at the end of our liturgies, we pass out bread. As I was giving this piece of bread to one man in Fort Worth, he said ‘Your Eminence, I was in the Marines. Don’t worry. We’ll get your things back for you.'”

He’s waiting for the call.