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Archbishop Iakovos; led Greek Orthodox in Americas

STAMFORD, Conn. -- Archbishop Iakovos, who transformed the Greek Orthodox Church in the Americas while championing religious unity and human rights, has died. He was 93.

Archbishop Iakovos died Sunday at Stamford Hospital from a pulmonary ailment, according to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Archbishop Iakovos headed the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, with an estimated 2 million followers, from 1959 until 1996. He retired soon after coming out in support of the idea of uniting the various Eastern Orthodox branches in a single American church.

He met with Pope John XXIII after his 1959 enthronement, becoming the first Greek Orthodox archbishop in 350 years to meet with a Roman Catholic pope, and spent nine years as a president of the World Council of Churches.

Archbishop Iakovos marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., in 1965 and received the Medal of Freedom from President Carter in 1980.

''Ecumenism," he said in 1960, ''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."

During his long tenure as archbishop, Archbishop Iakovos led the Greek Orthodox church out of immigrant isolation and into the mainstream of American religious life, playing a leading role in bringing English into the liturgy.

''It's the end of the golden age of orthodoxy in America," the Rev. George Poulos, who wrote a book on Archbishop Iakovos, said yesterday. ''There's no one on the horizon who can equal his abilities and his character and his faith."

Poulos, who leads a church in Stamford, first met the archbishop in the 1940s when Archbishop Iakovos taught him at a seminary in Massachusetts.

Archbishop Iakovos started a youth movement in the United States and created the Ionian Village in Greece, a summer camp that has been visited by more than 16,000 Greek-American children.

''He was in spiritual perpetual motion," Poulos said.

Born Demetrios Coucouzis in Turkey, he took the name Iakovos, which means James, when he was ordained a deacon in 1934. He spoke several languages and could hold children as well as adults spellbound by his sermons, Poulos said.

One of those children was George Stephanopoulos, an altar boy who would become adviser to President Clinton and then an ABC news commentator.

''What I remember more than anything else is the voice," Stephanopoulos said yesterday. ''To a young child he sounded like the voice of God -- deep, measured, but rounded with gentle tones."

Archbishop Iakovos was instrumental in setting up dialogues between Orthodox churches and Anglicans, Lutherans, Southern Baptists, and other denominations. He met every US president from Eisenhower through Clinton, and was one of the US Christian leaders who met with Pope John Paul II in a historic gathering in South Carolina in 1987.

He sought to maintain Orthodox traditions such as opposing the ordination of women, while at the same time championing human rights and improved race relations.

Archbishop Iakovos came into conflict with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the titular leader of world Orthodoxy, in 1994 after he convened a meeting of 29 bishops from the 10 North American branches of Eastern Orthodoxy.

In an unprecedented move, the bishops recommended placing all of the churches under one administrative umbrella while maintaining ties to their separate mother churches in Greece, Russia, and other countries.

It is widely believed that Bartholomew forced Archbishop Iakovos to resign in 1996 because he had endorsed the idea.

After Archbishop Iakovos's retirement, church officials split the North and South American Greek Orthodox archdiocese into four sections, and Metropolitan Spyridon was appointed as Archbishop of America, serving followers in the United States only. He resigned in 1999 and was replaced by Archbishop Demetrios.

In a statement, Demetrios hailed Archbishop Iakovos as ''a superb archbishop who offered to the church an intense, continuous, multifaceted, and creative pastoral activity."

Archbishop Iakovos was born in 1911 on the island of Imvros, Turkey. He earned a master's degree at the Ecumenical Patriarch's Theological School in Istanbul in 1934.

Arriving in the United States in 1939, he was ordained to the priesthood in Lowell, Mass., in 1940 and earned a second master's degree from Harvard Divinity School in 1945. He became a US citizen in 1950.

Archbishop Iakovos will lie in state in the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York City today and tomorrow. The funeral will be Thursday morning. Interment will be Friday morning on the Holy Cross Chapel grounds in Brookline.

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