Orthodox Patriarch leads US Epiphany celebration
Fri Jan 6, 2006 3:09 PM ET
By Robert Green
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Reuters) - The head of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, on Friday led U.S. celebrations of Epiphany by ritually throwing a cross into the Gulf of Mexico.
The cross was grabbed within seconds by James Vasilaros, one of 53 teenaged boys waiting to retrieve it in the highlight of an annual ritual that draws tens of thousands to the Florida town of Tarpon Springs, a few miles northwest of Tampa.
Epiphany in some eastern churches commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, while in western churches it marks the visit of the three kings to the Christ child.
It was Bartholomew’s first visit to Tarpon Springs, a majority of whose 23,000 residents are descendants of Greek immigrants who came here in the 1880s to start a sponge diving industry.
“Never forget this day,” the Patriarch told the young divers as he blessed them.
Bartholomew had earlier used his visit to the United States to announce that Pope Benedict XVI would officially visit the Patriarchate in Turkey in 2006 as both religious leaders strive to build bridges between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
The Pope missed a liturgy in Istanbul last year marking St. Andrew’s day after Turkish authorities, apparently believing that Bartholomew had overreached himself by inviting the pontiff, said the Pope should visit in 2006 instead.
“We are going to restart our dialogue on an international level with the Roman Catholic Church,” the Patriarch told reporters on Thursday in Greek. “We are also glad to announce that Pope Benedict will officially visit the Patriarchate in 2006,” he said.
The Vatican had previously accepted Ankara’s invitation but Bartholomew’s comments indicated more certainty that a visit would occur this year.
The above photo is from today’s Epiphany celebration in Istanbul, which is still home to a small Greek minority. Simon Papas Carlo Tarinas was the winner of the cross dive in Istanbul’s frigid Golden Horn waterway. The Boston Globe reported that a group of Turkish nationalist protesters gathered nearby, calling for Bartholomew’s expulsion from Turkey. I think that’s rather sad, but I know that such radicals are themselves a minority and do not speak for all of Turkey.