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Archbishop Iakovos: The Greek Orthodox Leader Who Marched With MLK

On January 16, the American people, and those who believe in liberty and justice all across the world, again commemorated the life, legacy, and values of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the legendary leader of the civil rights movement.

One of the religious leaders who courageously supported Dr. King’s cause was Archbishop Iakovos, born Demetrios Coucouzis. Iakovos was not only a spiritual leader of Greek Orthodox Christians, but also a dedicated human rights activist and a staunch defender of religious freedom.

According to the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, he initiated a massive campaign to assist Greek Cypriot refugees following the invasion of Cyprus by Turkish armed forces in 1974. He also opposed the war in Vietnam, and supported a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Israel and Palestinian Arabs. He once said:

Ecumenism 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.

Wrote journalist Anastasios Papapostolou:

Iakovos was a champion of civil and human rights who showed his support for 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, Alabama.

"He had received threats if he would dare to walk with Dr. King, but he never thought twice of his decision," says a close aide 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 can be read here.)

Iakovos was born in Turkey in 1911. At age 15, he enrolled in the Theological School of Halki in Istanbul. He graduated with high honors and was ordained a deacon in 1934, taking the ecclesiastical name Iakovos. From 1959 to 1996, he served as the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

The Theological School of Halki, the main school of theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church's Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, was founded in 1844. It prepared hundreds of graduates from around the world -- including patriarchs, archbishops, scholars, priests, and bishops. The Halki Seminary was closed down by the Turkish government in 1971.

Constantinople, where the Halki seminary is located, was the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire from 330 AD to 1453.

According to the St. Nicholas Center:

For a thousand years Constantinople was the Queen of Cities. Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire in AD 330 from Rome to the new city he ordered built on the site of Greek Byzantium.

Constantinople's political, cultural, and intellectual life was active, and endowed with a high level of literacy among men and women at various levels of society.

Greeks had founded Byzantium around 600 BC; its strategic location guaranteed a continual history of siege and conquest. Constantine named his city, Nova Roma (New Rome), though the name never caught on. In time, it was named Constantinople in his honor.