WASHINGTON (April 13, 2005)--The Chairman of the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs issued a statement on the death of Archbishop Iakovos, the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America from 1959 to 1996.
The text of the statement by Bishop Stephen E. Blaire follows.
Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton
Chairman, Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
With great sadness I have learned of the death on April 10 of His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America from 1959 until his retirement in 1996. Catholics in the United States have lost a dear friend and a devoted champion of the cause of unity between our churches.
On March 17, 1959, very shortly after his election as Archbishop of the Americas, His Eminence met in private audience with Pope John XXIII of blessed memory as an official representative of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. This truly historic event was the first official contact at such a high level between our two churches since the 16th century. In subsequent years, until Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras established a personal relationship of their own, Archbishop Iakovos remained a primary instrument of communication between the two churches.
As Archbishop of the Americas, His Eminence continued to work for reconciliation between us, and played an indispensable role in the foundation of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation in 1965. He would serve as Orthodox co-chairman of the dialogue for almost twenty years, during which time the consultation issued ten agreed statements on a wide variety of theological questions. Archbishop Iakovos' contribution to our dialogue received further recognition in June 1992 when Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew invited him to lead the delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to Rome for the celebration of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. The relationship of friendship and cooperation between Catholics and Orthodox in the United States that the Archbishop promoted during those years also played itself out in other fields, not least in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. In particular we recall the march on Selma, Alabama, in March 1965 when Archbishop Iakovos joined arm in arm with Martin Luther King, Jr., prominent Catholics and other Christian leaders in the fight for racial equality in our land.
When Pope John Paul II received Archbishop Iakovos in audience as the head of the delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1992, the Archbishop encouraged the Holy Father to "become a builder of bridges – pontifex – bridging chasms and uniting the peoples of our churches, never shrinking from the tremendous labor or the obstacles that are presented, both from within and from without, to thwart your progress." In a similar way, when he met with the members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic dialogue in June 2001, he thanked them for not becoming tired with the slow pace of the dialogue. He encouraged patience and fervent prayer that Catholics and Orthodox might receive one day from the same cup, and called for the reanimation of the "old fire in our hearts" that we might become one household again.
I wish to take this opportunity to extend my deepest sympathies to His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, and also to the clergy and faithful of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. All of us have lost a friend, a loving pastor and a fervent advocate of unity. May he rest in peace.