There is a proverb in English that says, “be careful what you wish for – you might get it.”
This applies to the case of Archbishop Iakovos, who retired after 37 years on the archbishopric throne of America at the age of 85.
He died 10 years later, on April 10, 2005. 17 years have passed since his death.
Since his retirement, three Archbishops have intervened – Spyridon (1996 to 1999), Demetrios (1999 to 2019) and now Elpidophoros, who was enthroned on June 22, 2019.
Over the years, the Archdiocese of America has changed significantly. It continues to operate thanks to the wind that Iakovos had blown into its sails.
But how long will that effect last?
The passage of time beautifies people and situations. It generates nostalgia. The need to respect the dead reigns.
This is also true in the case of Iakovos. But that’s not the only thing.
It is that Iakovos was Iakovos – and he left a void that, unfortunately, has not yet been filled.
Of course, Elpidophoros will complete three years as Archbishop in June. But three years is not a short period of time.
Every person and every Archbishop is of course different. Each has strengths and weaknesses.
What made Iakovos stand out in the consciousness of most of us was the feeling we had that he was one of us.
That he came ‘from us’ and was ‘for us’. That he felt our pain. That he loved every member of the Community.
And while there were ‘battles’ between us, during turbulent times, on important issues, such as education, the use of the Greek language in the Church, the junta in Greece, marching in demonstration with Martin Luther King, the difficult early years of Andreas Papandreou’s term as prime minister of Greece, the demographic changes in the Hellenic Greek Diaspora, etc., these were ‘family’ differences.
And at the end of the day we could sit down for a cup of coffee and reconcile.
But everyone recognized that Iakovos was the leader of the Greek-American community – there was no doubt about that.
No one is irreplaceable. But some leaders are harder to replace than others.
In the case of Iakovos, it turns out that was not easy at all.
May his memory be eternal!