Archbishop Iakovos Passes Away

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has announced that Archbishop Iakovos, former head of the Greek Orthodox Church, passed away yesterday at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut from a pulmonary ailment at age 93.

Born Demetrios Coucouzis on the island Imvros in Turkey near the Dardanelles, in 1934 he earned a Master's Degree from the Halki theological school in Constantinople. He later emigrated to the U.S., was ordained in 1939 and served parishes in New England. In 1945 he obtained a second Master's Degree in Divinity from Harvard Divinity School and became an American citizen in 1950.

On April 1, 1959 he was enthoned Archbishop Iakovos at Holy Trinity Cathedral in New York City, heralding a new phase for Orthodoxy in America. For 37 years he served as the spiritual head of the New World until his retirement in 1996. During his leadership he brought Orthodoxy into the mainstream of American religious life by forging closer ties with other Christian denominations, including Anglicans, Lutherans, and Southern Baptists, among others. According to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, he was "a dynamic participant in the contemporary ecumenical movement for Christian unity," serving for nine years as the president of the World Council of Churches and piloting "Inter-Orthodox, Inter-Christian, and Inter-Religious dialogues." In 1959 he met with Pope John XXIII after his enthronement, becoming the first Greek Orthodox archbishop in 350 years to meet with a Roman Catholic prelate.

He also was noted for championing human rights, supporting Soviet Jews and marching with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma, Alabama in 1965. It was a historic moment captured for the entire nation on the cover of LIFE Magazine on March 26, 1965. Time and again he supported peace and peaceful efforts, opposing the Vietnam War and encouraging Middle East initiatives. As the spiritual head of more than two million Greek Orthodox Christians in the U.S. and other western countries, His Eminence had met with and befriended every sitting U.S. president during his tenure. President Jimmy Carter awarded him the Medal of Freedom in 1980.

Toward the end of his tenure, he convened a meeting in Ligonier, Pennsylvania of 29 bishops from 10 different Orthodox churches with a goal of merging the different churches administratively. He had envisioned an administrative unity in the U.S. for the separate churches, while maintaining spiritual allegiance to their spiritual mother-churches. The plan never materialized. News media rumored that the tenure of His Eminence came to an end over this issue.

His Eminence loved his adopted country, always reminding faithful that they were American citizens. He will long be remembered for his optimism and inspiration, a moving force for the entire body of Orthodox faithful in America, raising the Church in America from its origins as an immigrant church to its role as a significant Christian denomination.

In announcing the passing of Archbishop Iakovos, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, issued the following statement:

&#xI have had the great honor and joy to know Archbishop Iakovos for more than fifty years. He has been a superb Archbishop who offered to the Church an intense, continuous, multifaceted and creative pastoral activity. He has been a true and whole shepherd to his people trying day and night to teach them, to guide them, to comfort them, to encourage them, to edify them in Christ and to lead them as a loving shepherd to the 'springs of the living waters' (Rev. 7:17) of faith and life with God.”

For more information about the life of Archbishop Iakovos, read a fact sheet compiled by the Archdiocese of America, and view the gallery of official photos. In 1988 His Eminence produced a book with William Proctor, Jr., titled, Faith for a Lifetime: A Spiritual Journey in the Spirit (ISBN: 0385195958 Doubleday & Company, Inc.:1988). Georged Poulos produced a biography of His Eminence: Breath of God--Portrait of a Prelate: Biography of Archbishop Iakovos (ISBN: 0916586987 Holy Cross Orthodox Press: 1984). Presvytera Nikki Stephanopoulos edited another biography of him, titled Iakovos: The Making of an Archbishop (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese: 1996). Portions of his early childhood and youth were documented in another book by a fellow villager from Imvros, Tony Crist (and William Collins, ed.), titled Bread Crumb: A Greek's Odyssey (ISBN: 0972528873 2003: Kristos LLC). See the HCS announcement and brief description of this book.

(Posted April 2005)

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