From US Navy pilot to Greek Orthodox priest

Greek American Aris Metrakos talks about his decision to switch career paths and to turn his focus to the Greek Orthodox religion

At the tender age of 17, Greek American Aris Metrakos decided to leave his family home in order to join the US Naval Academy. He graduated in 1978 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering.

Designated a Naval Aviator, Aris flew the P-3C Orion with Patrol Squadron 49.

“I never really thought about going to a Service Academy until West Point sent me some information.
“In retrospect, I probably went to the US Naval Academy because I didn’t know what I really wanted to do in my life,” he says in an exclusive interview with Neos Kosmos.

But life had other plans for young Aris, who after spending seven years in the eastern and central Mediterranean instructing aerobatic and instrument flying, as well as observing Russian submarines (Jacksonville, FL), he decided to switch career paths and turned to the Greek Orthodox religion.

Today, 59-year-old Father Aris P. Metrakos is the 24th presiding priest to serve the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in San Francisco, USA, and is on a mission to change the world.

The progressive priest admits that there was no real defining moment that urged him to make the radical switch from army officer to God’s servant, although he recalls that, throughout his military career, he was always blessed to be near good churches with excellent priests that encouraged him to start attending second Sundays there.

“I also met lots of young men at the academy who quietly said their prayers, read the Bible and went to church.
“I am certain that they had a great, albeit subtle influence on me. After a while it became very obvious that this was the place where my life was heading,” explains the former ‘spy’, who is adamant that he has not looked back since.

Understanding how real and life-changing faith is, the kind-spirited priest from Soustianoi, a little village in the region of Laconia, in the south-eastern Peloponnese, aims for as many people as possible to get to know about the Gospel before he dies.

“After almost three decades of church service and struggling to live as an adult Christian – like so many other Christians my age – I no longer believe in God but know God,” claims father Aris, who has since dedicated his life to preaching the word of God while raising his family.

Father Aris Metrakos at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in San Francisco.

His wife, Presvytera Valerie Decker – who he also met while singing together at the church choir – is an attorney.

His younger son Stefan is finishing university with a BFA in acting and his older son Nicholas is a bio-medical engineer.

About a year ago, Father Aris received the greatest gift of becoming a ‘pappou’ for the first time; as he is approaching his 60th birthday, he dreams of taking his whole family back to his homeland.

He is very fond of picturesque Chania (Crete), which ended up becoming an adopted home for him during his flying missions.

“I also had the privilege of visiting Greece as a Navy pilot in 1981 and stayed in Plaka at the time, which gave me the opportunity to visit many of the archaeological sites in Athens.
“Of course, running the 40km Athens-Marathon, was certainly a real honour for a Greek American like me,” says Father Aris who then revealed that, on a subsequent trip to Athens, he had his first bouzoukia experience “complete with broken dishes and glasses”.

Today, Father Aris serves Holy Trinity church in San Francisco and the Bay Area where no two days are ever the same.

He travels regularly to lead programs and retreats for adults, he is a contributing columnist to Orthodox Today, a talented guitarist and a former martial artist with two black belts in karate.

“The majority of my day is spent meeting different people from all walks of life, who have come to see me for confession and personal matters, or preparing educational programs and materials,” Father Aris says of his action-packed day, while admitting that although he loves what he does, the challenges in the area are many and significant.
“Serving Holy Trinity in SF & the Bay Area comprises the most unchurched region of the US, therefore, all churches (including and especially Orthodox), must be creative and entrepreneurial, while still being true to our tradition.
“This compels churches and their leadership teams to experiment with new programs and to constantly evaluate the efficacy of their actions and structure,” explains the forward-thinking priest, whose determination and discipline provides an enormous boost to his community and parish.

Besides the difficulties, determined Father Aris remains passionate about his work and stands by his unusual career path.

“To anyone who is thinking of becoming a priest, I regard it as one of the greatest privileges and one of the most exciting jobs in the world.”