CULTURE

Former archbishop ‘a good Greek and a good Christian’

Recognition for the real Iakovos, former archbishop of America, finally came at the age of 91, with his in-depth confession to SKAI radio journalist Giorgos P. Malouchos for the series «Documents.» The broadcast changes the entire image the public had of the former archbishop, and was a response to criticism from those who have slandered him. One noticeable change was in the sound of his familiar, beautiful voice, now softer with the accumulation of wisdom that comes with time and withdrawal from the spotlight. At his home in the archdiocese residence, outside New York, with his memories of 39 intense and eventful years, reviewing issues related to Orthodoxy and Hellenism in general, he received Giorgos P. Malouchos for a brief interview similar to those he gave after his departure from office. «Please be brief and I will answer your questions,» he said. However, as Malouchos told a packed auditorium in the new administrative building of the National Bank of Greece recently, something inside him made him go on the offensive. «Either you’ll tell me everything that has to be said, or else I’ll kiss your hand and leave, never mind that we’ve come from the other side of the world for this meeting,» Malouchos told him. So the wise hierarch decided to talk about everything he had experienced, everything that he had achieved, all of which have already been recorded in the annals of the Orthodox Church. The interview led to the launch of a book by Livanis Publications which was in the spirit of the original interview, a book that quickly reached best-seller status in Greece. At the presentation was Antonis Livanis, who is a parliamentary deputy and former director of the late Andreas Papandreou’s bureau, sitting beside former Prime Minister and honorary New Democracy party President Constantine Mitsotakis and ND’s current president, Costas Karamanlis. The book was presented by Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece and Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni. Nothing can halt the flow of the truth when there are ears to hear it, and when the sirens of petty politics are silent. Iakovos was an archbishop who followed in the footsteps of his predecessor Athinagoras and gave Greek Americans self-confidence, talking on equal terms with presidents and other officials in the USA. Both Christodoulos and Bakoyianni referred to Iakovos’s achievements, and stressed that during his term, Orthodoxy become the fourth-largest religion in that multicultural and populous nation. «Iakovos’s work did not begin and will not end on the sidelines,» observed Christodoulos. Bakoyianni referred both to the interview and the book, saying they were a «golden opportunity» to rehabilitate the truth within the confessions of Iakovos, who struggled for Hellenism in general. «There is one more speaker,» said Malouchos. There was a hush as the lights dimmed and the 91-year-old archbishop appeared on a screen and addressed the auditorium, explaining that he wasn’t going to talk about the book, which was not his own work but «the narration of a simple life, not at all complicated, dramatic or heroic.» «It is also my own story, which is transparent, very transparent, which you will see within the pages of the book,» he said, as the audience listened respectfully to the man who related how, back in 1927, he was sent by his father as a 16-year-old schoolboy to the Halki Seminary «to study» and «to be a good Greek and a good Christian and to stay that way.» «I agreed to this book, ‘I, Iakovos,’ taking responsibility for what is contained in it. In Washington, I shouted, ‘Cyprus is ours,’ and before thousands of people, ‘There is only one Macedonia and it is Greek’,» he said. His voice filled with emotion, he concluded: «I am not presenting a book, I am presenting the history of Hellenism in America from the ethnic and religious viewpoint, which might not perhaps be as well known as it should. I thank you all very much.» The applause which drowned out those final words must have been heard across the Atlantic, a powerful roar of approval for the man who had listened to his father’s advice. First a good Greek and a good Christian. That is how Iakovos will go down in history. We close with his own words that reflect on him so creditably because of the respect they show for the sanctity of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. «For me, the Ecumenical Patriarchate… is not simply the mother of Orthodoxy but the mother of our history, Orthodox history.»