The religious leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, making his first visit to the United States, drew more than 20,000 worshipers to a service Sunday in Madison Square Garden.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I is making a 16-city U.S. trip to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in this country. The 57-year-old patriarch is based in Istanbul, Turkey, the latter-day Constantinople.
“This is like the pope came here, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Demetria Karagounis said of the spiritual spokesman for about 250 million Orthodox Christians.
“This is a union of faith, of our togetherness,” said Karagounis, a 25-year-old New Yorker who served as an usher at the service.
The event in the garden, normally a venue for hockey and basketball games, brought together members of most Greek Orthodox churches in New York City, replacing their Sunday liturgies.
An ornate altar of icons and carved arches was constructed at the center of the garden.
A choir of hundreds of people from churches along the East Coast filled bleachers just above the altar, where Bartholomew led the service dressed in red and gold vestments and chanting in liturgical Greek.