The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople celebrated Epiphany much as it usually does, with a cross thrown into the waters of the Bosphorus and a young man diving down to the bottom of the sea to retrieve it.
However, the liturgy and ceremonies celebrated by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of all the Greek Orthodox in the world, differed markedly from Epiphany celebrations in the rest of the world, especially in Greece, where the blessing of the waters was nixed by the Greek government due to the lockdown there.
Contrary to what it had announced just a day before, all outdoor blessings of the waters in Greece were called off this year and the holy water was blessed instead by priests in churches and cathedrals.
In certain areas, including Thessaloniki, parishioners took matters into their own hands, tossing crosses into the water and retrieving them themselves, in order to celebrate the day that Christ was baptized, according to Orthodox tradition.
Police have been dispatched to the waterfront of the city to try to stop people from congregating at the water’s edge, as they normally do every Epiphany.
The day was celebrated with all it usual magnificence and splendor at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, however, as Bartholomew officiated at the liturgy for Epiphany at the Phanar.
He was assisted by the Revs. Melitonos and Nektariou, Commissioner of the Holy Sepulcher in Polis Myron Chrysostomou, Madytos Stefanos, and Kydonion Athenagoras.
The Bishop of Halikarnassos, Adrianos, the Ambassador of Ukraine in Ankara, Andrii Sybiha with their relatives, the Consul of Greece Danae Vasilaki, and what reports referred to as “a large number of believers” from Istanbul took part in the services. All were compliant with the coronavirus protection measures which are in place in Turkey.
Just as always, Patriarch Bartholomew, accompanied by the High Priests, officials and the faithful processed to the waterfront of the Phanar, where His Holiness blessed the waters and threw a Cross into them, to be retrieved by one of only two divers this year.
In past years, as many as thirty divers — most of them coming from Greece — had assembled at the Phanar to vie for the honor of retrieving the cross. This year, the number was drastically scaled down to only two, and Vassilios Kiourktsou, an employee of the Patriarchate, was the first to find it on the sea floor.
Bartholomew blessed both divers with the cross. Last year, Nicolaos Solis, from Agrinio, western Greece, was the fortunate man who retrieved the ornate cross from the bottom of the sea.
Istanbul's small Greek Orthodox community celebrated #Epiphany today tinged by #COVID19 restrictions, with only two swimmers vying to retrieve a cross thrown into the Golden Horn by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. (Last year had 30, many of whom had traveled from Greece.) pic.twitter.com/FwQkuPkkmu
— Jennifer Hattam (@TheTurkishLife) January 6, 2021