‘The Golden Fish of Orthodoxy’

From the National Herald [Ethnikos Kirikas]:

GOA Priest’s Salaries Reach New Heights

By Theodore Kalmoukos
Special to The National Herald

BOSTON – The salaries of the priests of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America have reached unprecedented heights. Base salaries have been reported at the levels of $150-170,000 and at least one priest receives $200,000 per year. The salaries of priests are among the two largest expenses in the annual budgets of parishes, along with the annual monetary allocation to the Archdiocese.

Over and above their salary, Archdiocesan priests receive generous benefits: housing and car allowances, medical insurance, social security payments, pension plans, conference expenses, including those associated with the biennial Clergy-Laity Congress and the retreats and meetings of the local Metropolis.

It is widely known that the Greek Orthodox clergy in the United States earn the highest salaries in the Orthodox Church worldwide, including the Church of Greece.

According to the official Clergy Compensation Plan for 2009, for priests with service up to:

five years the salary range is $47,232 – $63,960;
from six -10 years, $63,960 – $71,280;
11-15 years, $71,280 – $81,672;
16-20 years, $81,672 – $90,792.
21-25 years, $90,792 – $97,224.
26-30 years, $97,224 – $103,464.
31-35 years, $103,464 – $109,464.
For more than 35 years the range is $109.464 – $115,512.

The Plan also provides that: “a) The annual minimum increase in a clergyman’s remuneration must include an annual cost of living increase beginning January 1 of each year. When using these remuneration ranges, the Parish Council should factor in the relative cost of living for its geographic area,” and “b) In the event a parish provides housing by making available a parish-owned home, then an equitable and reasonable deduction adjustment should be made from the Salary and Housing Allowance figures above, based on the local fair market rental value of the home being provided.”

The plan also provides that “in addition to the above, the parish must provide:

1) An automobile (which the parish purchases or leases) for use by the priest, with all related expenses paid by the parish.

2) Social Security/Medicare taxes (FICA/SECA equal to the maximum self-employment Social Security/15.3 percent of Salary and the Housing Allowance (or rental value of a parish home).

3) The monthly health insurance premium for the Archdiocese sponsored and approved Orthodox Health Plan, either single or family coverage, as appropriate. All clergymen of the Archdiocese are required to participate in the Orthodox Health Plan.

4) A minimum annual vacation of 15 days (2 weeks) to a maximum of five weeks, taking into consideration the clergyman’s cumulative years of service to the Archdiocese.

5) Expenses for attending District/Metropolis Clergy-Laity Assemblies and Retreats, the Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress, Clergy Continuing Education programs and the Archdiocese Presbyters Council Retreat.

6) A three (3) month sabbatical leave for each six (6) years of service with the same parish.” It is stated in the Compensation Plan that “all parishes are obligated to pay the monthly Archdiocese Benefits Contribution, which for the year 2009 is $475 starting on January 1, 2009. This includes parishes without a full-time priest.

Those parishes with more than one clergyman are required to pay $475 for each assigned clergyman. The Archdiocese Benefits Contribution is not a part of a priest’s remuneration package.” All that applies for married priests with wives and children also applies for celibate priests who serve in parishes. The above salary scale is not always observed by the local Metropolises. In many parishes, there are huge differences in salaries and benefits among clergy with equal experience. Some Metropolitans, in order to “take care of their own boys,” allegedly put pressure on parishes to give the priests more money – in some instances, up to double the amount that the Archdiocesan salary scale calls for.

It is widely believed, erroneously, that priests are appointed to the parishes by the Chancellor of each Metropolis. It is actually the Metropolitan who makes the selection. There are many reports that the “unwritten laws of friendship and favoritism” prevail over education, experience and talent. In many instances of injustice, the Metropolitans are believed to “turn their head the other way.”

The National Herald is in a position to know that there are priests with 50 and more years of continuous service in the same parish whose salaries do not exceed the amount of $50,000 annually, while there are cases of newly ordained priests with less than two years in the priesthood who were appointed with starting salaries of $80,000. After less than one year of service in their new parish, they reportedly demanded a $12,000 raise, threatening to leave the parish if their demands weren’t met.

In one such instance, the priest was ultimately forced to leave the parish before completing two years of service, while the actions of the local hierarch caused dissension in, and the subsequent paralysis of, the parish. A priest who was appointed in the past two years to a prominent cathedral reportedly earns a base salary of $200,000, in addition to full benefits, while there are other clergy who live below the poverty line. It is also the case that the salary of many priests is much higher than, in some instances double and triple, the salary of the Metropolitans, which is around $80,000 thousand per year base salary plus all benefits and expenses paid. One of the main reasons so many converts are trying to join the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese as priests is the fact that the Archdiocese is considered the “golden fish of Orthodoxy,” in other words, their parishes pay the highest salaries.

Above and beyond the high salaries and benefits there is, unfortunately, the unwritten custom of gratuities known as (τυχερά) that the faithful give every time family members partake of the sacraments of marriage or baptism, or call for a funeral service. The gratuities are like tips that customers give to waitresses and waiters in restaurants or to the bellmen of hotels. The Herald has in its possession documentation from parishes in New England indicating that there are parishes that send written instructions. There are also many reports about priests asking funeral directors to include their “tip” in the general expenses of the funeral. There are even cases where the relatives of the departed give clergymen a “tip” in cash, which the clergymen took without informing the relatives that they had already been paid through the funeral director.

The unfortunate custom of gratuities also applies to many hierarchs who receive $500 or more when they officiate at church services. They might not ask for it directly, but the priest plays the role of intermediary by recommending to the parish council that they “give something to the Bishop.” By comparison, the salaries of Greek School teachers, who are also devoted professionals and perform a vital role in the community, are substantially lower. Their situation is chaotic and abounds with injustices because there is no formal salary scale.

The average monthly salary of an afternoon Greek School teacher is between $250 and $350, and for the day schools the salary range is $15-25 thousand annually. The teachers do not have health plans, and there are no pension plans. In Greece, the average salary for priests who have a degree in Theology from the Universities of Athens or Thessaloniki is between 850 and 1100 euros ($1210-1560), while a Metropolitan’s salary does not exceed 1500-2000 euros ($2130-2840) monthly.

They also receive “tips” when they perform various services such as funerals, memorials, weddings and baptisms, which can sometimes double than their regular annual salary. The priests and the Bishops in Greece are paid by the government, and are considered state employees.


  1. cynthia curran says

    How Byzantine is this system? Anyway. probably in Greece the separation of church and state is not yet understood. And do other European states where one pays a tax for the church also pay their clergy whether protestant or catholic more money than school teachers.

  2. Roger Bennett says

    This is hard to comment on, as feelings of envy may mingle with reason, but is not the tendency of these high salaries and benefits to attract worldly careerists rather than godly priests?

  3. Just remember in the GOA there isn’t anything like a recession or spending cuts. Real world economics do not apply. Parishoners may have lost their jobs or taken pay cuts. Some may also be facing difficulties with foreclosure and debt. However, the Church keeps on spending and increasing its bureaucracy.

    Real people may have to tighten their belts but Church adminstrations, archdiocesan adminstrators etc are immune from such realities. When was the last time you saw the Church cut spending? How much has the Archdiocesan budget or your local budget increased in the last 10 years? All this talk of minimum salaries but do we dare talk about maximum salaries?

    If people do not watch out their may be a backlash in all of this. The spectacle of a excessively rich clergy class will do nothing but harm the Church.

    Instead of all this crazy salary fixing (which amounts to a fancy form of welfare and I would argure risks corruption) why not simply let the free-market decide what clergy are paid. Of course there should be a minimum standard with sound benefits etc but after that the process should be based on sound free market principles and hard work.

    Why not tie clergy salaries to how a priest performs and grows a parish rather than who the clergy-man knows or is connected to?

  4. This is one I have to comment on. In all honesty, I don’t see why this would be a huge issue. We demand that priests hand over their lives, their time, their energy; most of them have large families and the wife often doesn’t work because she needs to take care of the kids since dad is busy with parish life. The archdiocese is simply compensating the priest with all of this in mind, ensuring that God’s fellow workers are properly cared for so that they in turn can fully care for the Church.

  5. George Michaloupulos says

    I would be very cautious about making any broad generalaztions based on the headline. As they say, “the devil is in the details.” If you read the article carefully, you will see that there is no relation to reality. Some priests get 6 figures even though they’ve only been priests for 2 years, while a lot of other priests with 50+ years get five figures.

    If anything, the total system is capricious. It looks good on paper (5 weeks vacation? I’ve never known a priest to take that), but its probably all hogwash. The only generalization that can be made from this is that if the priest plays by the rules and he’s some bishop’s golden boy, then the remunceration package kicks in. If not, too bad.

    I’ve known too many GOA priests to know that the above package is not operative.

  6. cynthia curran says

    Well, when one thinks about it the GOA Priests mainly live in the expensive Northeast and not the cheap South. So, if a priest has a large family, its not so much money in the Northeast. So, maybe we should give them a break here.

  7. John Couretas says

    I think George’s comment about the apparent “capriciousness” of the way salaries are handled in actual practice is the issue.

    My parish just went through the process of welcoming a new priest. We had been preparing for some time for this, and discussed it in our budget plans at Parish Council. We followed the guidelines given us by the Metropolis without objection.

    Certainly, few people go into the ministry because they are motivated by money. If they do, then I think that calls their priestly vocation into question if not their financial acumen.

    That said, nowhere is it written that a priest must work for a salary that does not allow him to provide for his family, educate his children, and provide for a more or less secure retirement (as much as all that is possible these days). Certainly, any priest living with his family in near poverty is a disgrace to a Church that has been blessed by many material riches in this country.

    If a priest with 11-15 years of demonstrated, commendable experience is earning at the recommended salary guideline above, that’s not what I would call exorbitant. And let’s remember that all of these things are negotiable within the range indicated. There are good priests and there are not so good priests. Reward the good ones.

    The National Herald article also is silent on another issue which should be noted. Priests sometime live a transient life; they can be turned out by their parish or (with a little of that tixera from disgruntled parishioners) yanked around by their bishop. Sometimes this may happen through no fault of the priest. To the extent that these guidelines provide stability and security for good priests and their families, that’s a good thing.

    Anyone expecting a priest to take a vow of poverty before taking a parish job should first take that vow for himself.

  8. George Michalopulos says

    John, excellent points. My own point was not that these salary ranges are out of line (I agree, I think they’re more than fair), it’s just that their implementation is very capricious. I think we all know priests who are spiritual, good pastors and have been ordained for several years (if not decades) but don’t make anywhere near the requisite amounts.

    The actuality is very capricious, it’s the “golden boy” priests who get rewarded by their bishop who tells the parish council “that’s the way it is: 11 years, $80K. Pay him or I’ll yank him.”

  9. George and John, at the risk of de-railing this conversation, you both point to something that seems to be a real problem in our parishes: our priests are often too vulnerable to the worst elements (the bullies) in the group. If you are going to build a strong parish community – or even a competitive sports team for that matter – you must have the ability to deal with “trouble makers.” Every group has them and if they are allowed to run “roughshod” over the community, it is the decent folks who suffer. For too many bishops, it is easier to just move the priest than back them up as they deal with such instigators. (The bishops, who do not control the purse-strings, don’t really seem to have much meaningful authority – or accountability – either.) The unintended consequence is that the priest learns that they are powerless and lives in a perpetual state of vulnerability. Now I hardly want to invest the priesthood with bullies, but it would be unreasonable to expect any reasonably healthy person to invest themselves deeply in a community when they can be “yanked around” in this manner. This also invariably leads to a very tepid community life, which is a blight on our faith. If the Church were just starting out today, I doubt that many parishes possess the kind of vibrant spirit needed to grow as the early Church did, yet this is what we need our leaders to be able to cultivate. The current system seems to have settled for a standoff in which meaningful spiritual formation gives way to the lowest common denominator – avoiding turbulence. To give any leader the ability to form a “winning” team, authority must be matched to accountability. Too little accountability produces tyranny; too little authority produces subservience. (Ironically, when you have a system that is prone to the one defect, you also tend to get its opposite defect as well. The Church has suffered considerably from both.) It seems to me that, beyond being a good liturgist, a priest is in essence a “spiritual coach,” yet most coaches would not sign up for the job under the current terms.

  10. George Michalopulos says

    Chrys, you’ve gotten to the meat of the matter. The bishops themselves are not steadfast because of one of two reasons:

    1. they are in reality auxiliary bishops (GOA, AOCCA, esp), in other words, they can be yanked around themselves by foreign overlords, or

    2. they’re compromised.

    when you look at the crop of the most recent “metropolitans” (i.e. after 2000) in the GOA and some of the up-and-comers, then you can see that the secular elites which control the purse-strings have purposely chosen men that they can manipulate.

  11. Jim Rentas says

    As time goes by it becomes more obvious why St. Seraphim of Sarov once stated that he never had to repent for silence. We Orthodox consume an inordinate amount of precious time bickering and posturing. We demean in so many ways the image and likeness that encompasses our very existence and the source of our creation while we have a plethora of opportunities to enhance and strengthen Orthodoxy within our own being and on behalf of our brothers and sisters. Read about how Christ kind of tells us to tend to our own affairs in Luke 9:49-50 and Mark 9:38-40. And, that’s what we should be doing, minding our own business, being positive, helping and building Orthodoxy on the traditions and truths of Christ’s redemption for mankind….The Church!
    Now, go do something edifying and positive in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

  12. John Couretas says

    Chrys: Good comments, and very much on point.

  13. I would like to know how you obtained a sample. It seems like this is more anecdotal, with examples taken from the high end of the range.

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