By Menios Papadimitriou
Part of the work of the Archdiocesan Archive Director, Archimandrite Bartholomew Mercado, is to conduct research on a variety of historical aspects of the Archdiocese and bring that research into conversation with the present. This year, he has been doing important work on Archbishop Iakovos’ efforts in the Black civil rights movement.
Data that Father Bartholomew has uncovered demonstrates mixed responses from American Parishes to Iakovos’s support for civil rights leaders, like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Some were proud and wrote letters in praise of the Archbishop. But there were also a large number of voices that decried Archbishop Iakovos for his association with the Civil Rights leaders and their movement for equality and justice. Some occasional excerpts were even expressly racist in their language and opinions. “I highlight these specific negative quotes not to make anyone feel shameful, but to remind us that although confronting injustice and doing that which is right can draw the ire of some, history redeems righteousness,” Father Bartholomew said.
In this shared post, he shines the light on just a small fraction of the material contained within the GOARCH Archives. This content, Fr. Bartholomew explains, was sourced “from letters sent shortly after the Selma, [Alabama] march by people who identified themselves as Orthodox Christians.”
As Orthodox Christians persevere through the fast and approach the crucified and resurrected Christ, reflection on stories like the histories Fr. Bartholomew shares offer a moment for examination of mind, heart, and deeds. And this kind of reflection occasions an opportunity for renewal–of mind, heart, and deeds–to conform them to Christ and his teachings.
Oftentimes, actions of the past are not something to be proud of. But the gift of the present allows a return to the great commandment of Love–for God and our neighbors. The present is now, and it provides the ideal time; a time of renewed devotion, a time of repentance.
“We have come a long way,” Fr. Bartholomew says optimistically, but cautioning, “we still have a long way to go.”