Two months after his death, Metropolitan Anthony Gergiannakis, the late spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in California and six other Western states, will be buried Wednesday at a monastery near Fresno, thanks to an act of the state Legislature.
The bishop's burial at the Monastery of the Theotokos, the Life-Giving Spring had been delayed because Fresno County officials could not issue a permit for the interment. They said the church retreat center and monastery, where Anthony had wished to be buried, was not zoned for cemetery use.
Anthony helped found the monastery, which sits atop a small hill on the grounds of the church's St. Nicholas Ranch Camp and Retreat Center, about 45 miles east of downtown Fresno. The church was in the process of obtaining the necessary approvals when Anthony died on Christmas Day.
Jim Pierce, chief building inspector for the county, said Monday that, without the state action, it would have taken three to six months to grant the necessary local approvals. He said it would have been a misdemeanor to issue a burial permit in violation of zoning rules and that the county could not bend the rules even for the spiritual leader of 250,000 church members in the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco, which covers seven states.
The church turned to state Sen. Chuck Poochigian (R-Fresno), who introduced legislation granting an exception. Poochigian's bill quickly passed both houses of the Legislature and on Feb. 2 was signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"The issue was very, very important to the Greek community and to the Orthodox church," Poochigian said.
Anthony was temporarily interred in a mausoleum crypt at Greek Orthodox Memorial Park in Colma, south of San Francisco.
"He had wanted to be buried at the monastery long before we knew his death was imminent," said Father Paul Schroeder, chancellor of the metropolis.
The Very Rev. John Bakas, dean of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Los Angeles, said the monastery and the associated St. Nicholas Ranch Camp and Retreat Center were two of Anthony's key achievements during his 25 years as bishop.
"The monastery and St. Nicholas ranch grounds are really the pivotal elements of his ministry," Bakas said.
On Monday, Pierce said that the Legislature's intervention solved the county's dilemma. "It's fine with us. We don't have a problem with that," he said.
On Wednesday, Anthony will be laid to final rest at the place he loved on what would have been his 70th birthday. Divine Liturgy will be celebrated at 10 a.m., followed by a luncheon. The interment will take place at 1 p.m.
"His interment in this sacred place is, in a sense, his final legacy bequeathed to his spiritual heirs, the gift of his own presence," said Anthony's successor, His Eminence Gerasimos Michaleas. "It is therefore only fitting that he take his rest in this place, where he will be remembered always for his inspired and visionary leadership, where his heritage truly abides forever."