The primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Americas says that attacks on Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis’ religious situation are “extremely unjustified” and that he is a steadfast son of the church.
“He is a member of the church, was baptized in it and he has never left it,” Archbishop Iakovos said of the front-running Democratic presidential contender, who was assailed as “an apostate.”
“The attack is wrong in itself,” Iakovos added in an interview. “It came from small people.”
In widely distributed letters, James G. Jatras, a staff member of the Senate Republican Policy Committee and a church layman, called Dukakis a “renegade, an outcast” for his positions and his marriage to a Jew.
Jatras, writing under his Greek name, Dimitrios Iatreidis, said Dukakis’ church membership was “severed by your marriage outside the church.” Iakovos termed that untrue.
The white-haired archbishop, 76, who has maintained relationships with Dukakis and his parents since his boyhood, noted that Dukakis considers him “his spiritual father” and added:
“We are proud that one of our young men has had the courage and determination to run for the highest office in the nation.”
Although making no formal endorsement, avoided under church policy, he said, “I would put it that 99% of us are very proud Dukakis is a front-runner and almost certain nominee.”
Iakovos, recalling the years 1942 to 1954 when he was dean of Boston’s Annunciation Cathedral to which the Dukakis family belonged and where the candidate is a regularly contributing member, said:
“I remember him in his Sunday School pupil days. He was a frequent participant as a teen-ager. The Dukakis family was one of the best families in the church, his father a physician, his mother a teacher of English.”
Iakovos has talked with Dukakis frequently over the years, he said, encouraging his political efforts, sometimes praying with him.
“Michael is a man who does much thinking, who doesn’t react emotionally,” he said. “He has a very good head on his shoulders. He’s very learned. He is moderate, not a man of extremes. He’s very prudent, very careful, very studious.”
Marriage Doesn’t Bar Him
Of Dukakis’ marriage to a non-Christian, which under church rules technically bars him from receiving Communion (as are divorced, remarried Roman Catholics) but does not excommunicate or remove him from membership, Iakovos said:
“He did not leave the church. He is not excluded. He’s not the only one who has married outside the church.”
The archbishop said about 70% of Greek Orthodox marriages are with those of other denominations, an increasing number with Jews.
“It’s happening more and more now,” he said. “I have a pastoral obligation to all our people, to strengthen and encourage them.”
He noted that Dukakis visited archdiocesan headquarters on Manhattan’s East 79th Street on April 14, took part in Vespers services and afterward met with Iakovos.
“We had a brief service in the chapel,” he said. “Then we discussed freely some of the issues.”
Jatras made his charges in an open letter to Dukakis sent to all Orthodox bishops and many others, as well as in letters to the weekly Greek American which termed the attack a “cheap political ploy.”
Jatras claimed Dukakis “excommunicated himself” by marriage to a Jew and is “a traitor” who “defames our church” by upholding legal abortion and opposing aid to Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
The archbishop said, “In this multicultural, multinational society, religion is not one of the criteria for being elected President of the United States.”
Although Greek Orthodoxy opposes abortion, he said Dukakis’ position resembles that of New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, a Roman Catholic, in contending that political leaders must uphold the law and not try to impose their views about it.
“The President is President of all citizens, believers and non-believers as well,” Iakovos said.