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April 6th, 2010
12:37 PM ET

A Patriarch's Visit

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Courtesy Dimitris Panagos"]

By: Despina Damianides
CNN Audio Engineer

On a typical news day at CNN, I am mostly behind the scenes in the control rooms working the audio board to bring the sound of the news to your television sets. Last October, 29 2009 I found myself in a unique and unexpected role as a journalist. Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians, was visiting the United States for his eighth Religion, Science, and Environment (RSE) symposium.

He found the time on his very busy schedule to visit the tightly knit orthodox community at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Atlanta, GA. Patriarch Bartholomew led the “Ecumenical Gathering of Peace”- a special prayer service to connect people from different Christian denominations. Three choirs provided hymns for the service. The Cathedral’s Greek choir, a Catholic choir, and a Baptist choir participated. As a member of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral’s choir, I had the privilege of singing for the Patriarch. This experience of seeing the Patriarch for a second time in my life was spiritually and personally uplifting.

In a world of news, we witness the loss of life due to crimes against humanity and eroding of our environment. The Patriarch has tried to raise awareness about these issues. He has earned himself the title of “The Green Patriarch,” given to him by former United States Vice President Al Gore. Patriarch Bartholomew continuously works to protect and save our environment for future generations. The Patriarch is known to build connections between business professionals, scientists, governmental officials, religious leaders, media representatives, and ordinary people through his symposiums.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Courtesy Dimitris Panagos"]I saw the Patriarch for the first time when I was sixteen years old. My St. Demetrios Greek school class attended the special liturgy service that He officiated at Navy Pier in Chicago. I remember all of my classmates sitting together waiting to see the Patriarch. It is not everyday that the leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church comes for a visit! I remember speeches were made, hymns were chanted, and as a token of environmental awareness, the Patriarch’s staff gave pine trees to all the families. Although I appreciated the gift to teach us about environmental conservation, I regret my failure to fully comprehend and appreciate the Patriarch’s impact on the world. I was just excited to see him for the first time.

Little did I know then that I would have a special opportunity to see the Patriarch a second time more than a decade later in Atlanta. Stepping outside my audio booth I found myself as a journalist covering the Patriarch’s visit to my community. At the same time I was serving my church as a choir member in my role as a Greek Orthodox Christian. Unlike my first experience with the Patriarch, I took the time to educate myself about him. I came to fully appreciate what the Patriarch was doing to benefit the whole world. I also came to understand that our second paths in life aren’t by chance but are for a reason.

Filed under: CNN Newsroom • In the Field
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