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Queens Greeks mourn death of church head

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"Archbishop was very dear to the whole community of Astoria," said Nick Andriotis, former parish council president of St. Demetrios Church on 30th Drive. "Many, many times he visited the church."Along with the Astoria parish, five other churches comprise the Queens Greek Orthodox community of about 100,000 adherents in Flushing, Whitestone, Jamaica, Jackson Heights and Corona.Iakovos, who died at age 93 of pulmonary ailment in Stamford, Conn., regularly officiated at Holy Week and Easter services at St. Demetrios, which serves 2,000 families. "I've encountered him many times in my life," said state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who is Greek Orthodox. "He was always in touch with the community. He was frequently seen and in contact with members of the (St. Demetrios) parish. He will be sorely missed. I don't think you'll find a single person who's an Orthodox Christian who will tell you otherwise."From 1959 to 1996, Iakovos headed the Archdiocese, which has an estimated 2 million followers. He sat with Pope John XXIII the year he was enthroned, becoming the first Greek Orthodox archbishop in 350 years to meet with a Roman Catholic prelate. A champion of civil rights, Iakovos received the Medal of Freedom from President Carter in 1980 and walked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the legendary 1965 march in Selma, Ala., the only head of a major religious body to do so.He also served as a president of the World Council of Churches in the early 1960s. "The march in Selma, Ala. will continue to pave the way from which we shall never deviate along with the frontiers of unity and social justice," Iakovos said when stepping down from the diocese in 1996. "Ours is a commitment to true Christianity, to true justice, to the liberation of people still oppressed, the one founded upon respect of life and of each other." Community Board 1 District Manager George Delis said the archbishop had close ties with Astoria for decades, noting that he was honorary chairman of the committee that established Athens Square Park.He would often stop in the traditional Greek pastry shop Lefkos Pirgos on 31st Street to connect with the local working people, said shop owner Giouli Pantazis. She said the archbishop was fond of her almond paste cookies and regularly participated in the cafe's holiday parties for children. "He was a great leader of our community. He was a person with great compassion," Pantazis said. "I know him many years. He's my good, good friend." Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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