CHICAGO -- An estimated 2,000 people have flocked to a small Eastern Orthodox church to see a painting of the Virgin Mary that reportedly has been weeping for five days.
Bishop Isaiah, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in New York, said Wednesday the phenomenon at St. Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church in Chicago was not rare in orthodox churches.
'It happens with icons, normally the icon of the Virgin Mary,' said the bishop. 'We look upon her as the chief intercessor between Christ and the world.'
Although church officials said they had not been able to count each visitor, the Rev. Philip Koufos said 'thousands' of people have come to the Northwest Side church to see the weeping icon. Another estimate put the throngs of visitors at about 2,000.
'It started early Saturday before services,' said Koufos. 'It was noticed by (myself) and the parishoners.'
Koufos and his parishoners noticed what appeared to be moisture streaming down from the eyes and hands on a painting of Mary. The picture shows Mary holding the infant Jesus but the moisture was seen only on the image of Mary and not on Jesus or any other icons in the church.
Koufos described the reaction of those who have seen the icon as 'awe' and soul-searching. He has not allowed the news media to photograph or videotape the icon. Parishoners are stationed nearby to keep visitors from tampering with it.
Both Koufos and Bishop Isaiah said they hoped the visits would not get out of hand and cause a sensation.
'There will in no way be any effort on our part to make money from this,' said Koufos. 'This parish doesn't need the money. All are welcomed to witness and pray.'
The icon was painted by Constantine Youssis, whose works hang in orthodox churches throughout the country. St. Nicholas Church was built in 1961 and the icon adorns a low wooden wall near the altar.
The parish is comprised of about 250 families, some of whom were serving as volunteers to help coordinate the heavy flow of visitors to the church since Saturday.