Remembering the memory of one of the major Greek Orthodox Church leaders of the 20th century on the anniversary of his passing. Archbishop Iakovos, who led the American church for almost 40 years, died on April 10, 2005 at the age of 93.
During his tenure in the United States, he became an imposing religious figure and a champion of numerous social justice causes. He is also credited with making the Greek Orthodox Church part of the religious mainstream in America.
In an interview in 1995, he said he had accomplished a major goal: “to have the Orthodox Church be accepted by the family of religions in the United States.”
In 1959, shortly after being named archbishop, he met with Pope John XXIII— the first Greek archbishop to meet with a Pope in 350 years.
He also used his office to advance numerous national issues for Greece, Cyprus and Greek Americans and never shied away from the political spotlight, meeting numerous Presidents and world leaders.
In 1980 both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan invited Iakovos to say prayers at the respective national conventions of Republicans and Democrats. Feeling close to both and not wanting to offend anyone, Iakovos went to both conventions.
Iakovos was born on July 29, 1911, as Demetrios A. Coucouzis, on a tiny island under Turkish control in the Aegean Sea called Imbros near the entrance to the Dardanelles. In numerous interviews he referred to being born a slave and remained critical of Turkey throughout his life, including organizing Greek Americans when Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974.
In 1988, he helped kickstart the presidential campaign of Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, a Democrat of Massachusetts, whom he knew from the 1940s when he served parishes near Boston. He threw himself into the campaign when he defended Dukakis from attacks of conservative circles of Greek Americans who opposed Dukakis’ liberal policies and claimed Dukakis had excommunicated himself when he married his wife Kitty, a Jewish woman, outside the church.
“He is a member of the church, was baptized in it and he has never left it,” Archbishop Iakovos said of the then front-running Democratic presidential contender in an interview, who was assailed as “an apostate” in a series of protests.
Perhaps the highlight of his career and ministry came in 1964 when he marched in Selma, Alabama, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., against the racial inequality in America.