JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- As chants of "Axios!" -- worthy -- filled Christ the Saviour Cathedral, a former research scientist who had become a Greek Orthodox priest and monk was ordained to lead the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA.
"I pray that God will grant me the faith, wisdom and love to lead the flock entrusted to me all the way to Paradise," newly consecrated Bishop Gregory of Nyssa, 55, told the packed cathedral. "I have come to this diocese to serve you the people, not to have you serve me."
But he also came to challenge them, listing five priorities that he said the church must focus on.
The first was the spiritual care and retention of its youth, which he said might require change at the parish level. Statistically "6 out of 10 Orthodox young people will abandon Orthodoxy," he told them. "We must address this or we will disappear."
The North Carolina native was ordained in 2007 and has spent much of his ministry as a traveling preacher, confessor, retreat leader and youth coordinator in the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta, which covers the Southeast. He promised to spend the next two years visiting all 81 Carpatho-Russian parishes across 13 states and Canada.
He was consecrated by Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America with Greek Orthodox Metropolitans Alexios of Atlanta and Savas of Pittsburgh and two Ukrainian Orthodox bishops. Orthodox bishops don't use last names.
Carpatho-Russians trace their roots to the Carpathian mountains, spanning several nations in Central and Eastern Europe. Bishop Gregory was recruited across ethnic boundaries because the Carpatho-Russians didn't have an unmarried priest willing to be considered.
Married men can be Orthodox priests, but not bishops.
As the three-hour, 40-minute service began, a memorial to his beloved predecessor Metropolitan Nicholas, who died in March 2011, was reverently removed from near the cathedral's throne.
After his death the seven priests of the Carpatho-Russian consistory began searching for a successor among their 100 clergy. The few celibates asked not to be considered, said the Rev. Frank Miloro, chancellor of the diocese. "For some it was simply by virtue of age, others had a feeling of inability to rise to that office," he said.
They then asked Archbishop Demetrios, who was overseeing the diocese, for a recommendation. He called their attention to then-Father Gregory Tatsis, dean of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New Orleans. The Carpatho-Russians invited him to a series of get-acquainted sessions with clergy and parishioners. Then, with his permission, they sent his nomination to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople -- modern Istanbul -- whose bishops elected him.
"He is a people person with a high degree of administrative skills and an expert homilist," Father Miloro said.
"Every bishop who has led this diocese has been the right bishop at the right time. We feel that is this is the working of the Holy Spirit and we firmly believe that now with this new bishop."
Bishop Gregory was born George Tatsis in Charlotte, N.C. He felt a call to the priesthood in his teens, but pursued medicine instead. After earning his pre-med degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he was rejected by medical schools. He embarked on a research career in cardiovascular medicine at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, becoming director of his department.
He remained active in church, teaching Sunday school, serving as a lay leader and helping to found a new parish in Charlotte. He was in his early 40s when he went on a mission trip to Alaska and again felt the call to priesthood.
"It was almost undeniable this time. I had to do what God was asking me to do," he said.
He studied at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, where he found strong parallels to his earlier research.
"For 20 years I was working on the physical aspects of the heart, and now I'm working on the spiritual aspects of the heart. There is a strong connection there."
He took monastic vows in Greece on January 17, 2007, and was ordained a priest 11 days later in Atlanta. Metropolitan Alexios made him a traveling preacher and confessor, also overseeing youth ministry.
In December 2010 he became a parish priest in Raleigh, N.C. Just six months later he was appointed to the cathedral in New Orleans.
Bishop Gregory said he has the disadvantage of not previously knowing the people of his new diocese, but he doesn't expect ethnicity to be a barrier.
"We are Americans, and we are Orthodox. Our faith is the same," he said. "Cultural differences are part of the beauty of who we are as people."nation - state - lifestyle
Ann Rodgers: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416.