April 16, 2005

Death of a Unity-Minded Patriarch

From the WSJ's OpinionJournal.com:
With the eyes of the world fixed on Rome--upon the death of Pope John Paul II and the gathering of cardinals to pick his successor--many Americans might have missed the quiet passing of another prominent bishop. Earlier this week, His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos died peacefully at the age of 93. Today he will be interred in Brookline, Mass. [. . .]

His two greatest public moments came toward the beginning and end of his leadership. . . . Both moments capture Archbishop Iakovos's lifelong pursuit of a spiritual unity that transcends historic divisions--divisions that are, at best, merely a penultimate stage in the grand scheme of creation.

Archbishop Iakovos literally became the face of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in America when he appeared on the cover of the March 26, 1965, issue of Life magazine--a bearded patriarch bedecked in cassock and the black headdress and veil of Orthodox bishops. He was shown standing alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., labor leader Walter Reuther and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy.

The occasion for the photograph was a historic march for civil rights in Selma, Ala. Archbishop Iakovos was there, alone among his fellow Orthodox bishops--in fact, way out in front of the rest of the Orthodox community on one of the most vital moral issues of the day.

[. . .]

The other key episode in the archbishop's life led to his forced retirement, or so it is widely believed. For three days in late 1994, 29 bishops from the various Orthodox "jurisdictions"--a convenient Latin term that describes the scandalous ethnic fragmentation of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Orthodox church in this country--met in Ligonier, Pa., at the invitation of the archbishop. Their purpose was to contemplate the formation of a united Orthodox community in America.

In a final statement, the bishops spoke glowingly of their commitment to "a common vision of mission," of their conviction that all the Orthodox of North America are "called to plan together and work together" in reaching beyond the ethnic boundaries of the churches. The bishops--with Greek, Russian, Syrian, Lebanese, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian and American roots--pledged to avoid "the creation of parallel and competitive Orthodox parishes."

While many of the Orthodox faithful have long prayed for such an outcome, the meeting apparently triggered alarms in Istanbul, historic seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, "first among equals" in the 300-million-strong Orthodox world. Within 20 months, Archbishop Iakovos retired at the behest of Patriarch Bartholomeos, who reportedly saw in the archbishop's efforts an attempt to detach the Greek Orthodox flock in North America from their mother church.

Patriarch Iakovos appears to have shared the same vision I have for the unity of the church of Jesus Christ. He put his career and reputation on the line for the cause of radical unity within his own "native" expression of Christianity, and he put his life on the line to stand in cooperation with other Christians outside that expression against the sins of the society in which they all found themselves.

I wonder, though, if this piece is the whole story. Any of my occasional Eastern Orthodox readers have more perspective to offer on the life and ministry of Patriarch Iakovos?


At 8:24 PM, Blogger Karl Thienes said...

Patriarch Iakovos was a stunningly holy man and most Orthodox laity understand and agree with his earlier attempts to make the Orthodox Church more administratively united in the Americas. It is something that will happen for sure in the future.

But it is important to realize that the unity he wanted to see happen was not a "radical unity" as such or similiar to the one Protestants seek, but simply to see an end to the overlapping ethnic jurisdictions in North America. Yes, this is a sad situation that came about for many historical reasons but one that will certainly work itself out over time, as these always do in the history of Orthodoxy. But we certainly need to understand that the jurisdictional mess certainly isn't a "fragmentation" of the Church--that would be a little journalistic sensationalism!

All Orthodox Churches (Greek, Russian, Serbian, etc) are already united in matters of faith, life, and teaching--something that is not true within Protestantism.

At 6:58 AM, Blogger Hunter Baker said...

This member of the Christian Missionary Alliance is with you. Common communion for all who can affirm the Apostles Creed. Let the orthodox, catholic, evangelical, etc. share the common cup of both glory and suffering.

At 1:48 PM, Blogger Chera said...

I would have missed it, and I have to admit that I had to sit and think back a moment to remember, but this past Sunday the priest did mention him.


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