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Priest beaten, not bowed

11-12-2009 Florida:

TARPON SPRINGS - A visiting Greek Orthodox priest who was the victim of a tire iron attack in Tampa two days ago was back at work Wednesday, officiating over a funeral at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

The Rev. Alexios Marakis did not return telephone calls for comment about Monday night's incident, in which the attacker, a Marine reservist who works in a pharmacy in Palm Harbor, said he was acting in self defense. He accused the priest of being a robber, terrorist and molester.

The parish of St. Nicholas is rallying around Marakis, 29.

"The guy is like a saint," said Nicholas Manias, who serves as church council president. "He's a New Testament, turn-the-cheek kind of guy. The first thing he said when they went to see him in the emergency room? He asked if the other guy was OK.

"He's showing us what a good Christian does," Manias said.

Tampa police said that Marakis was in Tampa on Monday to bless a retiring priest in the West Shore part of town and accidentally got lost downtown. At the Seaport Channelside Apartments, he got out of his car, police said, and sought directions from Jasen D. Bruce.

Bruce grabbed a tire iron from the trunk of his car and struck Marakis, police said. He later told police that he couldn't understand Marakis and initially thought he was being robbed. He later told police he thought the robed priest was an Arab terrorist who was going to blow him up.

Police said that Bruce also accused the cleric of trying to molest him.

Bruce chased injured Marakis and pinned him to the ground three blocks away. It was Bruce, 28, who called 911. Police on Wednesday said the tape of that call would not be released for a day or two, if that soon.

Bruce was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and released after posting $7,500 bail. His attorney, Jeffrey Brown, said his client was only trying to protect himself.

Catherine Billiris, a 72-year-old member of St. Nicholas, said that church members are in full support of the priest and are angry about the allegations made by Bruce.

She said she doesn't buy the Marine reservist's story. "I just don't believe it," she said, "I'm sorry that's all I can say."

Marakis is recovering from bruises and cuts, Manias said.

In a letter to the parish sent out this morning, Manias said that, "We should not allow this terrible act to make us angry, hateful or vengeful because those come from the evil one. We will continue to pray for Father Alexios and his recovery. We should also pray for the man who did this to Father Alexios and the man's lawyer."

Marakis is upset about the incident, said Manias, who teaches ethics at St. Petersburg College, "because he doesn't want the ministry to be scandalized." ..Source.. by KEITH MORELLI and MARK DOUGLAS

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