On Sunday the Rev. Aristotle Damaskos will say farewell to Toledo's Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral. He's about to move away. "I'm going to be pastoring a church, just like I did here," Father Ari, as he's known, said. That pastorate starts Thursday, but he can't say where it is yet, except that it's in the Metropolis of Atlanta—somewhere in the metropolis' or diocese's, eight-state Southern region. But he does say that the weather is warm.
"Believe me, this has been a lesson in obedience, which I am not good at doing," he said about keeping the secret.
Father Ari is leaving his position as dean of the Toledo cathedral after 13 years of service. The new church will be his fourth parish as pastor, after working with congregations in Oakland, Calif., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and Toledo.
He'll carry many memories from his time in Toledo, starting with his first year when "we had a Christmas tree caper," he said. Two trees outside the cathedral were stolen, and it was reported on television. "This girl called from down the street. She said, 'I think I have the stolen tree,'" which she said her husband bought from someone on the street. The woman lived in low-income housing, and "we said, 'Keep the tree.' " Because of her circumstances, "the parish raised about $500, and we gave it to her for Christmas." There were no more stolen trees from the cathedral because "a nursery came and donated a tree and we planted it outside, and we used to decorate it every year on Christmas Eve."
The cathedral is on Superior Street near Cherry Street, and "I'm going to miss the hustle and bustle of downtown when the Walleye and the Mudhens are playing," Father Ari said. "Whenever I see downtown really busy like that, that is such a good feeling. [The Greek Orthodox] chose to stay down here as an anchor because we believe in downtown. I'm just sorry it's taking so long for downtown to develop, and I think that's going to be for me the saddest part, is that I didn't get to see that."
There were a couple of reasons why Father Ari chose to look for a new parish. One is that "I felt that I've done all that I really can do here. I think the parish probably needs a new challenge. I mean, they need steak; they're getting hot dog right now" with his leadership, he said, laughing.
Another reason is that his children, William and Dionna, are growing up. He and his wife, Debbie, "always said that after the kids finished school we were going to move on." Dionna is a senior at Sylvania Southview High School, and William will graduate from Lourdes University in December.
During the interim before a new priest is assigned, Father Ari said, "The metropolitan, the bishop, has told the community that Sundays will be covered. A priest will be here for all of holy week, so probably they won't assign somebody until sometime in the summer or the late spring."
For the transition to a new priest at Holy Trinity, Father Ari said, "The metropolitan will send a few priests to visit, talk to the parish council, see if they're on the same wavelength, but he would ultimately make the final decision. Where I'm going, it's totally different. I am going to meet the members of the parish council on the 27th, and that will be the day that I'm officially assigned to the parish, so it's like, 'This is your priest—ta-dah!'"
He added, "They just have a funny way of doing things" about announcing pastorates in that metropolis.
The move is "a new challenge," Father Ari said. But in his next church, like Toledo's, he'll work on getting people to return to church. "For whatever reason, people leave the church. They get out of the habit of going. In fact, some people said, 'You're the one that brought me back to church,' and I said, 'No, I didn't; God did it.' And then I joke around and say that I'm the one that drove the people away from coming to church, too. ... A lot of times people, when they're having troubles or they're going through an issue and they depend on the church, they want to go back to the church that they knew as a child growing up that gave them that comfort. So in that sense, the traditions of the church are very helpful, the rituals are very helpful because there's that continuity."
"I'm nervous about leaving," Father Ari admitted. "I'm nervous about going to a new position. ... You always wonder, you know. Sometimes you second guess, 'Was this right?' But now it's a moot point, so you just have to go with it."
For many parishioners, he'll be going too soon.