Archbishop Iakovos is known in the U.S. as the committed and caring pastor who put the Greek Orthodox Faith on the map for Americans and beyond. He is also known as the first Greek Archbishop in 350 years to officially confer with a pope, leaving behind a tremendous body of work as the primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in North and South America for 37 years.
However, Iakovos was also a champion of civil and human rights who showed his support to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. not only with his words, but also with his actions. He was one of the first powerful people to embrace the ideas of Dr. King and march hand in hand with him in 1965 in Selma, Ala.
“He had received threats if he would dare to walk with Dr. King, but he never thought twice of his decision,” says a close aid and friend of the Archbishop.
This historic moment for America was captured on the cover of LIFE Magazine on March 26, 1965. (The entire magazine is online and can be read here.)
The New York Times reported, “The striking cover of Time magazine that showed Dr. King side by side with the black-garbed Archbishop Iakovos marked a new presence of Greek Americans and the Greek Orthodox church in American life.”
Iakovos 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.”
Known throughout the world as a dynamic participant in the contemporary ecumenical movement for Christian Unity, Archbishop Iakovos served for nine years as president of the World Council of Churches, established dialogues with Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Southern Baptists and Black Church leaders and initiated Orthodox Dialogue with Judaism. 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. 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.
Iakovos’ decision to support Dr. King, and the publicity his action received, brought Greek-Americans and African-Americans much closer, resulting in a friendship that the two communities celebrate until this day!
The enthronement of Archbishop Iakovos took place on April 1, 1959 at Holy Trinity Cathedral in New York City. He served as Archbishop until 1996 and passed away on April 10, 2005 (at age 93).