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After the Iakovos earthquake

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  • Fr John Brian
    From: tmatt@tmatt.net To: tmattingly-weekly@lists.gospelcom.net This column was syndicated by Scripps Howard News Service on 04/27/2005 When Archbishop Iakovos
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2005
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      From: tmatt@...
      To: tmattingly-weekly@...

      This column was syndicated by Scripps Howard News Service on 04/27/2005

      When Archbishop Iakovos first became America's Greek Orthodox shepherd, he
      spent most of his time helping immigrants follow a familiar faith in a
      strange land.

      That was in 1959. By the time he finished his 37-year reign, the
      Turkish-born archbishop faced a different challenge -- helping American
      converts find their place in the unfamiliar sanctuaries of Eastern

      Iakovos knew that America would change the Greeks, challenging their faith
      and traditions. He also knew that Americans would change his church, in
      ways that would help an ancient faith reach modern America. He spent the
      final decades of his long life wrestling with both sides of that equation.

      "I cannot visualize what an American Orthodoxy would look like. ... But I
      believe that it will exist. I know that it must be born," said Iakovos,
      while visiting Denver's Assumption Greek Orthodox Cathedral in 1992.

      "I do know this for sure. The essential elements of the Orthodox tradition
      will have to remain at the heart of whatever grows in this land. The heart
      has to remain the same, or it will not touch peoples' souls. It will not
      be truly Orthodox. I know that this will happen here, but I do not know
      when it will happen or how."

      The 93-year-old archbishop died on April 10 without fanfare, although he
      was an almost mythic figure among Greek Americans and mainline ecumenical

      Soon after becoming archbishop, Iakovos met with Pope John XXIII, the
      first formal meeting between an Orthodox leader and a pope in 350 years.
      This opened a door for later reconciliation efforts between the ancient
      churches of east and west.

      The archbishop marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma,
      Ala., and then appeared -- in his flowing black robes -- with King and
      other civil rights activists on the cover of Time magazine. It was an
      early glimpse of Orthodoxy on the main stage of American public life.

      Iakovos met with presidents, earned a Harvard Divinity School degree, led
      interfaith dialogues, asked Arab Christians to seek peace, lobbied for
      human rights and, in 1980, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

      The official church obituary hailed him as a "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."

      Nevertheless, it was a showdown with the hierarchy in Turkey that forced
      his exit.

      In 1960, Iakovos pushed to create the Standing Conference of Canonical
      Orthodox Bishops in the Americas to promote cooperation between Greeks,
      Arabs, Russians, Romanians, Serbians and other Orthodox believers.

      Then in 1994, he dared to chair a summit for bishops committed to
      "bringing our household into order" and seeking a plan for Orthodox unity
      in America.

      The document released after that Ligonier, Pa., meeting boldly said: "We
      commit ourselves to avoiding the creation of parallel and competitive
      Orthodox parishes, missions, and mission programs. We commit ourselves to
      common efforts and programs to do mission, leaving behind piecemeal,
      independent, and spontaneous efforts, ... moving forward towards a
      concerted, formal, and united mission program in order to make a real
      impact on North America through Orthodox mission and evangelism."

      Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was furious, seeing this as an effort to
      weaken ecclesiastical and financial ties with Istanbul. Then Iakovos
      retired, stunning Orthodox leaders in America. His exit was an earthquake
      and the aftershocks have not stopped.

      Today, Orthodox unity here remains a dream. But it's impossible to study
      the media, education and missions work that Orthodox churches are now
      doing together without seeing signs of the changes that Iakovos believed
      were coming. The problem is finding a way to express centuries of Orthodox
      tradition in such a pluralistic, intensely Protestant land.

      "Orthodoxy still has not found its niche yet in American life," said
      Father Christopher Metropulos, executive director of the multi-ethnic,
      convert-friendly Orthodox Christian Network based in Ford Lauderdale, Fla.
      "It hasn't found its unique voice for speaking to this culture. I think the
      archbishop knew that. ...

      "But it is too late to stop the changes. We are working together. We are
      starting to do mission work together. We are Orthodox and we are in
      America. That's the reality."

      * * *
      Terry Mattingly (www.tmatt.net) teaches at Palm Beach Atlantic University
      and is senior fellow for journalism at the Council for Christian Colleges
      & Universities. He writes this weekly column for the Scripps Howard News
      * * *

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