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Archbishop Iakovos Dies at 93, Ecumenical Leader and Champion of Human Rights and Religious Freedom

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Apr 11, 2005

New York - Archbishop Iakovos, 93, spiritual leader of Greek Orthodox Christians in the Western Hemisphere from 1959 to 1996, passed away April 10, in Stamford Hospital, Stamford, CT, from a pulmonary ailment. Immediately following the passing of Archbishop Iakovos yesterday, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, said:

"I 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."

A Trisagion prayer service was chanted at the Archdiocesan Chapel of St. Paul (10 East 79th St.) and funeral arrangements have been announced by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios.

Archbishop Iakovos will lie in state at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (319 E. 74th Street), Tuesday evening, April 12 from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and Wednesday, April 13 from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Archbishop Demetrios will preside at a Trisagion Prayer Service at 8:00 p.m. Wednesday evening. A Pre-sanctified Liturgy will be held Thursday morning, April 14 at 8:30 a.m. with the funeral to follow at 11:00 a.m. Archbishop Demetrios will preside at the funeral service with the Metropolitans of the Holy Eparchial Synod and Hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Immediately following, Archbishop Iakovos' body will be transferred to Hellenic College/ Holy Cross School, Brookline, MA, accompanied by Archbishop Demetrios and other hierarchs and clergy. Interment will be Friday morning April 15 on the Holy Cross Chapel grounds. (Details will be forthcoming)

Born on the Island of Imvros, Turkey on July 29, 1911 to Maria and Athanasios Coucouzis, Demetrios Coucouzis had two sisters Virginia and Chrysanthi and a brother Panagiotis. Relatives in Montreal and Greece survive him. He enrolled at age 15 in the Ecumenical Patriarchal Theological School at Halki. After graduating with high honors, Demetrios Coucouzis was ordained Deacon in 1934, taking the ecclesiastical name Iakovos. Five years after his ordination, Deacon Iakovos received an invitation to serve as Archdeacon to the late Archbishop Athenagoras, the Primate of North and South America, who later (1949-72) became Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1940 in Lowell, MA, he served at St. George Church, Hartford, CT, while teaching and serving as assistant dean of the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological School, then in Pomfret, CT and now in Brookline, MA. In 1941, he was named Preacher at Holy Trinity Cathedral in New York City and in the summer of 1942 served as temporary Dean of St. Nicholas Church in St. Louis, MO. He was appointed Dean of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Boston in 1942 and remained there until 1954. In 1945 he earned a Master of Sacred Theology Degree from Harvard University.

In 1954, he was ordained Bishop of Melita, by his spiritual father and mentor, Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, for whom he served four years as personal representative of the Patriarchate to the World Council of Churches in Geneva, during which time he was elevated to the rank of Metropolitan. On February 14,1959, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate elected Metropolitan Iakovos as successor to Archbishop Michael, who died July 15,1958, as Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Americas. He was enthroned April 1, 1959 at Holy Trinity Cathedral, assuming responsibility for what has grown to over 550 parishes in the United States

The enthronement of Archbishop Iakovos on April 1, 1959 at Holy Trinity Cathedral in New York City ushered in a new era for Greek Orthodoxy in America. Deeply respected by all religious leaders in the United States when he retired at the age of 85 on July 29,1996, Archbishop Iakovos offered 37 years of service which were distinguished by his leadership in furthering religious unity, revitalizing Christian worship and championing human and civil rights. He had the courage to walk hand in hand with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, AL, a historic moment for America, which was captured on the cover of LIFE Magazine on March 26, 1965. He vigorously supported the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights legislation exclaiming when the first bill was passed, "Glory to the Most High! May this mark the beginning of a new age for all humankind, an era when the Word of God charts and guides our lives"

A dynamic participant in the contemporary ecumenical movement for Christian unity, he served for nine years as president of the World Council of Churches, and piloted Inter-Orthodox, Inter-Christian and Inter-Religious dialogues. In a successful effort to promote closer ties among Orthodox jurisdictions, he founded the Standing conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) in 1960.

"Ecumenism," His Eminence said, "is the hope for international understanding, for humanitarian allegiance, for true peace based on justice and dignity, and for God's continued presence and involvement in modern history."

He was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation's highest civilian honor, bestowed by President Jimmy Carter on June 9, 1980. Friend to nine presidents, and religious and political leaders worldwide, Archbishop Iakovos was the recipient of honorary degrees from some 40 colleges and universities, he was cited in 1979 by both Houses of Congress and paid official tribute in the Congressional Record. In 1986 he was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and was cited by the Academy of Athens, the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Appeal of Conscience, among others.

In the international arena he spoke out forcefully against the violation of human rights and religious freedom and, in 1974, initiated a massive campaign to assist Greek Cypriot refugees following the invasion of Cyprus by Turkish armed forces. He opposed the war in Vietnam, while supporting the right of Israelis for peace and secure boundaries, as well as the rights of the Palestinians for a just and humane resolution of their claims.

A United States citizen since 1950, Archbishop Iakovos was an admirable role model for American Greek Orthodox Christians, thoroughly committed to the vital democracy of his adopted country without forfeiting the ageless values of Greek culture or abandoning Greek Orthodoxy's spiritual and ecclesiastical roots in the Church of Constantinople. Commenting on Orthodoxy in America, he said: "Our Church without ceasing to be ethnically rooted in Greece and religiously in the Ecumenical Patriarchate, must believe that America is the place where God intended it to grow - and that it has an obligation, without compromising in matters of faith, to adapt itself to the existing conditions."

Archbishop Iakovos improved parish organizations, upgraded roles of the Archdiocesan Council, the Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress, the Ladies Philoptochos Society and the Orthodox Observer; introduced new Archdiocesan departments including Church and Society, Youth Ministry and encouraged the expansion of St. Michael's Home for Aged, Saint Basil Academy and St. Photios Shrine. He founded a Major Gifts program for the Archdiocese, today entitled the Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Endowment Fund, which asks Greek Orthodox faithful to commit them to offer $100,000 to the Church over a ten-year period to maintain life-sustaining ministries of the Church.

As a former faculty member and later Dean of Holy Cross School of Theology, His Eminence had a special appreciation for learning both within the family and parish and also at the level of higher education for Greek Orthodox youth and seminarians. The Archbishop guided the reorganization of Holy Cross into an institution fully accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in America. He conceived and brought to fruition Hellenic College, an undergraduate school that functions in connection with Holy Cross.

Most importantly, Archbishop Iakovos was a committed and caring pastor to a whole generation of Greek Americans who's hard work, determination and pride in their religious and cultural heritage he embodied. In the words of St. Paul: He fought a good fight, he finished the course, and he kept the faith.

In lieu of flowers donations may be made to: The Archbishop Iakovos Chair of Orthodox Theology at Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology. 50 Goddard Avenue, Brookline, MA 02445.

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