Congregation left wondering after priest disappears

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church is once again searching for a religious leader after Father Anastasios Gounaris abruptly left last week.

The 900-member congregation received an email from Fr. Taso, as he's known, that said in part, "After much soul-searching, this led to my decision to relinquish my parish duties and leave the active priesthood. I am convinced that no one benefits when a priest has been stretched beyond his human limits."

What that means is still a bit of a mystery.

Fr. Taso had been a priest for more than 33 years, and became dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral in June 2014.

Parish Council President Nikitas Manias received the shocking email like the rest of the congregation.

"We did not have a clue," Manias said. "Very astonished, we were very astonished, and saddened because he was doing a great job."

Fr. Taso also left his wife behind. Some congregation members think he's now in Greece, but officially the church isn't sure.

"Families have different things, and behind closed doors, who know what was going on," Manias said.

Since Fr. Taso took over at St. Nicholas, the church reduced a considerable amount of debt and developed big future plans.

Manias said those plans continue regardless of who's leading them.

"The chapter on Father Taso is closed and the new chapter begins. It's all about our religion, the orthodox religion, and Jesus Christ, and one man doesn't matter as far as the community falling apart," Manias said.

A retired priest will fill the void until the Greek Orthodox Church can find a permanent replacement.