The Very Rev. Constantine Moralis, the longtime dean and parish priest of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, will move on soon from the post he has held for two decades at the historic parish in Midtown Baltimore.
Moralis, known to parishioners as Father Dean, has been selected as assistant bishop of the Metropolis of Denver — a jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America that includes all or part of 14 states in the West, Midwest and South. That means he’ll leave his current position in his hometown of Baltimore sometime in October.
He has served as leader of Annunciation, the oldest Greek Orthodox parish in Maryland and one of the largest Greek Orthodox churches in a major American city, since 2002.
Reached as he traveled between Baltimore and Denver, Moralis said Tuesday he is profoundly grateful for the honor of being elevated, but can’t deny having mixed emotions.
“Baltimore will always be my home, no matter where God takes me,” he wrote in an email to The Baltimore Sun. “Every good memory of my life is from that parish. Leaving the city is unbelievably painful for me, but it is tempered by the support and love of the faithful parishioners.”
Moralis said his successor will be Theophilus Tomczewski, archdeacon of the Metropolis of New Jersey, who has served that jurisdiction for 14 years. Like Moralis, he’s a Baltimore native who was baptized at Annunciation.
One parish leader said members of Moralis’ congregation are confident he will excel in his new assignment.
“While we are saddened to lose Father Dean, we are proud of him and excited for this next chapter in his spiritual journey,” said Evangelos Iaonnou, the president of the cathedral’s parish council. “He is a man of strong faith who serves the faithful with humility and compassion. He will be an exceptional bishop.”
Moralis called serving at Annunciation for 26 years, including 20 as dean — second in longevity only to his mentor and predecessor, the late Very Rev. Constantine Monios, who served 27 years — “one of the most singular honors of my life.”
The reassignment was set in motion after the leader of the Denver metropolis requested that the primate of the church in America, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, consider the new appointment for the 55-year-old Moralis.
The metropolis encompasses about 1.3 million square miles in Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Texas and 10 other states, including the western portions of Louisiana and Missouri.
Elpidophoros convened a teleconference last week with members of the Holy Eparchial Synod, a governing body of the worldwide Greek Orthodox Church, to consider the recommendation. It approved the choice of Moralis, and the American archdiocese announced Monday that the global leader of the faith, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, reached out to Elpidophoros to accept the recommendation.
Moralis will assume the title of Bishop of Sassima.
One expert on the Greek Orthodox Church classified his appointment as major news.
“This is a big deal,” wrote George Demacopolous, a professor of Orthodox Christian Studies at Fordham University, in an email to The Baltimore Sun. “Episcopal office is rare. Even though he [will] only be an assistant bishop, it is still a mark of distinction. Using rough figures, there are probably 500-600 priests in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the United States, there are about 15 bishops, including assistant bishops.”
Moralis’ work for the past two decades has been that of a parish priest, which means he had “an active ministry” to the roughly 1,000 families who belong to Annunciation, Demacopolous said, performing sacraments such as baptisms, marriages and funerals, while serving as a face of the church.
As an assistant bishop, the professor added, Moralis will be more of an administrator. He will oversee diocese initiatives and travel from parish to parish every week, Demacopolous said.
Annunciation was founded in 1906. It is one of the 18 Greek Orthodox parishes in Maryland and is the largest of the four Baltimore-area parishes. It is part of the Metropolis of New Jersey, which encompasses New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and parts of Virginia.
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Annunciation has long been an important center of life in Baltimore’s Greek-American community. Its annual Greek Festival has drawn thousands of visitors nearly every year since the early 1970s. Moralis grew up a member of the cathedral’s community and started as an altar server at age 9.
He graduated from the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1994.
“It’s a wonderful and unique occurrence when a parish has a young man who serves as an altar boy, goes off to Holy Cross seminary and returns to his home church and serves as its parish priest,” Ioannou, the parish council president, said. “Father Dean was raised in the Annunciation and returned to serve as our spiritual Father.”
Among the bishop-elect’s accomplishments at Annunciation are starting an array of youth programs, establishing a senior center and developing ministries that serve Baltimoreans outside the church. Those include programs in support of homeless children who need meals outside of school and collecting goods for a residential treatment program for vulnerable adults.
“Offering assistance to folks we will never know is an honor, and helping so many voiceless people will continue to be part of the mission of the parish,” Moralis said.
Last year marked the 25th anniversary of Moralis’ service to the cathedral, but the parish postponed its celebration of the milestone due to the coronavirus pandemic. A sellout crowd of 700 attended the delayed ceremony at a banquet hall in Cockeysville last month.
The Greek Orthodox Church is part of the larger Eastern Orthodox church, or Eastern Orthodoxy, the second-largest Christian communion in the world with about 220 million adherents. About 1 million live in the United States.