Archbishop Iakovos: Championing Human Rights


Nicolas Mottas

iakovos_kennedy_white_house“A powerful voice for human rights around the world” and “a man of international stature”. These phrases can describe how U.S. Presidents were considering the personality of the late Archbishop of America Iakovos; the first expression belongs to George Herbert Bush and the second to Jimmy Carter. During his 37 years of service as Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Americas, Archbishop Iakovos was an extraordinary case of a spiritual leader. Along with his religious and pastoral duties, he managed to increase the prestige of the Orthodox Church in the United States, working within the framework of its distinguished mission as an eparchy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. But perhaps the most significant achievement of Iakovos is that he brought the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America at the forefront of American society. How? By creating strong and fruitful relations with the U.S. leadership, being an unwaivering supporter of human, religious and civil rights around the world with an especial interest for the rights of the oppressed minorities without regard to race or color.

It was in 1965 when Archbishop Iakovos was captured along with the leader for the rights of African Americans Dr.Martin Luther King Jr; a moment immortalized in the cover of the LIFE Magazine of March 26th. “At a time when many of the nation’s most prominent clergy were silent, Archbishop Iakovos courageously supported our Freedom Movement“; these words of Coretta Scott King, on the occasion of Archbishop’s death in 2005, consist proof of Iakovos contribution to Civil rights protection in the United States. But it wasn’t only the support on African Americans’ rights – the Archbishop was also a strong voice in favour of the continuous strengthening of religious rights around the world (e.g. Christian and Hebrew minorities in Turkey and the Soviet Union).

In his correspondence with the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, the then U.S. President Bill Clinton refers to Iakovos as “a strong leader” whose voice “is a powerful force stressing human rights and dignity around the world“. Jimmy Carter had contributed to that opinion when he was introducing Archbishop to Clinton, praising Iakovos’ personality. Carter was the President who bestowed upon Archbishop Iakovos the highest decoration a U.S. civilian can receive. That was the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to Iakovos in 1980, being the recognition of his ceaseless humanitarian efforts as the spiritual leader of the Greek Diaspora in the country.

Apart from his interest on the protection of Human Rights, the Archbishop had true concern for the national issues of Greece, including the Cyprus Issue, the Macedonian Question and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In every given opportunity, through his communication with the U.S. leaders, the late Iakovos was expressing the rights of the Greek positions. On that point, I could refer to two indicatory examples: A first, just after the 1974 Turkish military invasion in Cyprus when Archbishop Iakovos had expressed Hellenism’s agony to President Richard Nixon regarding the events: «Your efforts for the establishment of peace all over the world seemed to be undermined by an allied nation, Turkey» (Telegram, 20.7.1974). A second and recent example was the expression of his true disappointment to President Bill Clinton, when the U.S. government had announced the possibility of FYROM’s recognition under the name ’Macedonia’. It was then when Iakovos had demonstrated to Clinton his disappointment on behalf of the Greek American community which, according to the Archbishop, was feeling «betrayed».

The above samples consisted the drive wheel of Archbishop Iakovos’ interest regarding a variety of issues. We could add his interest for other matters as well, such as the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the internal social issues of the United States, the civil war in Yugoslavia and many other. All these are fundamental factors which made his service at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America an exceptional case of leadership; especially of a religious leader who knows when and how to intervene positively on important issues.

A large part of the correspondence (letters and telegrams) of the Archbishop of North and South America, Iakovos, on human rights and Greek national issues, is presented in the publication «The Omnium on panhuman rights and national matters» (Τα άπαντα επί πανανθρωπίνων δικαιωμάτων και εθνικών θεμάτων») by the University Studio Press publishing house; a collective work of the Institute for National and Religious Affairs of Thessaloniki, Greece. The volume contains Archbishop Iakovos’ correspondence with the Presidents of the United States of America (from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton) as well as with Greek Presidents and Prime Ministers, including Georgios Papandreou, Constantine Karamanlis, Andreas Papandreou and Constantinos Mitsotakis.

Δημοσιεύθηκε στο «Phantis» στις 19/11/2008.