He was born James “Jim” Arthur Cozby Jr. and raised a Presbyterian, though his life and name would change decades later.
A voracious reader and researcher, Cozby – a consummate “brain,” as described by those who knew him best – planned for a career in politics and even considered becoming a lawyer.
It was only later, after graduating high school and moving from Texas to Washington, D.C., that Cozby chose to examine the hereafter – and a life in the priesthood.
The Rev. Dr. Dimitri Cozby, 71, died May 30, after suffering a stroke a week earlier. He spent nearly 50 years of his life serving the Orthodox Church, rising to the status of archpriest.
“He started looking for more than what he was getting in the Presbyterian church and he wandered into the Greek church one day,” said Sue Cozby, wife of the late Cozby. “He was taken with it; it was what he was looking for. He was looking for what so many churches are losing touch with, with what it’s all about.”
After months of spiritual examination, Cozby converted to Orthodoxy. He was received into the Orthodox Church in 1968 while attending American University and pursuing a degree in political science.
After completing his undergraduate degree, Cozby forewent his career plans for politics and chose instead to become an Orthodox priest. He was accepted into Holy Cross Greek Seminary in Boston, and soon, he and his new bride were off to begin a new life journey together.
His wife, who was raised Methodist, also converted.
“I didn’t know that much about the life,” she remembered. “My mother was concerned and in my face asking, ‘Why didn’t you tell us?’ But, of course, I didn’t know that’s what he would chose.”
She had known her husband since the pair were in elementary school together. They were friends in high school and performed together in band. They also attended prom together. It was only after they graduated and went off to college, the two realized they shared a deep love for one another.
All those years of friendship before, Sue Cozby trusted his decision-making abilities. If he was serious about becoming a priest, she was determined to support him, she said.
“I never worried too much about it. We had such good and similar backgrounds that I always thought we’d make it work. And I think we did a pretty good job at it.”
They married June 6, 1971, and the day after Christmas the same year, he was ordained a deacon. That was also the year he started growing out his beard, a physical trait he grew famous for as the years passed, especially as it grew long and grayed.
“It started the week after we got married because whenever he would come home from seminary my mother would always make him shave it. It was just a little fuzzy then,” his widow said, giggling.
A few years later, he was ordained a priest in 1973, earning a master’s of divinity and graduating valedictorian from his seminarian class.
Though he had taken the name Dimitri in the Orthodox Church years earlier, his identity and evolution as Father Dimitri was officially underway. He was also experiencing another new title – Dad.
The couple had their eldest son, John, followed by David and Chrysa, and moved from parishes in Illinois and Wisconsin before landing in North Carolina.
At the invitation of an archbishop, the young priest was informed he could lead St. Gregorios Orthodox Church in Raleigh if he could simultaneously complete his doctorate degree.
He was admitted to Duke, and earned a Ph.D. in early Christian literature.
His wife remained at home and raised their three small children.
“He was very proud when he completed his doctorate,” she said. “He taught himself a dozen languages and spoke Greek, Russian, German and some Spanish very well.”
Sue Cozby said he could read Hebrew and Latin, and enjoyed studying the complexities of language as they pertained to biblical theology.
Through the years, Cozby earned a reputation for his intellect and historical recall. He served on several committees not only in the church but also in the communities in which he lived.
But he loved being at home and spending time with his children.
“When the kids were growing up, we did family prayers every night,” his widow said. “And every Wednesday and Saturday night and Sunday morning we were in church.”
Because Orthodoxy is often confused with Catholicism, and its traditions form a minority in the United States, the couple and their children found humor in the religious confusion.
“My favorite was, ‘Oh, you’re Orthodox, you don’t look Jewish,”’ she said, laughing. “You tell someone your husband is a priest, and you can get some funny looks.”
Their son David Cozby also said the confusion was rampant growing up.
“They would say, your dad can’t be a priest, he’s married,” he said. “It happened all the time.”
Remembering his father fondly, David Cozby said his father did an excellent job at balancing being a father with his role as a priestly figure, both at church and inside the home.
“Mostly, I would say he was just Dad. But some times were harder than others,” he said.
The family moved to San Antonio where Cozby served St. Anthony’s Orthodox for 18 years. In 2010, the first Orthodox church building was under construction in Victoria and the Cozby family moved there the following year.
For the past nine years, Cozby has overseen the lone Orthodox community of about 35 members in Victoria at All Saints Mission and did so until his death.
He also served on several boards and was an active community volunteer, including serving with CASA.
As one of the original members of the Victoria Communities of Faith group, the priest was a much-loved leader.
“I found him to be a living encyclopedia of church history of all faiths. If he was typical of all fathers of the Orthodox church, that church is in good hands,” said the Rev. Bill Hassel, founder of Communities of Faith, an interfaith organization in the city. “He had a great sense of humor. He loved his flock and actually grew its membership which is an accomplishment these days.”
Though Cozby’s death was unexpected, his wife is thankful for the 40 years of marriage they celebrated together and life they shared together over many more decades.
Thursday would have been the couple’s 40th anniversary.
“I never would have predicted he would come from a small town in north Texas, a town where we’d never heard of the Orthodox church and grow up to become a priest,” his wife said. “But he loved it. He had a passion for hurting people. And he never missed an opportunity to talk about Orthodoxy.”
Cozby’s funeral was held Tuesday at All Saints Mission. A panikhida service was held Wednesday in San Antonio, and he was buried at Holy Archangels Monastery in Kendalia.