Thousands of people attended the annual Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs, Florida on Thursday.
Archbishop Elpidophoros and Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta were the officiants in this year’s liturgy at the city’s St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
Following the Divine Liturgy and Great Blessing of the waters, Archbishop Elpidophoros, hierarchs, clergy, dignitaries, and young men and women proceeded to Tarpon Springs’ Spring Bayou.
There, an invocation was recited and a white dove was released, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, to fly over the Bayou.
Sixteen-year-old Katerina Lecourezos was the 2022 Epiphany dove bearer. Lecourezos is an honor roll junior at Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School. She has trained for voice and acting since she was seven years old, and has been singing in the St. Nicholas Cathedral’s Choir since she was eight.
16-year-old Alexander Makris retrieves the cross
The Archbishop cast a white cross into the water and dozens of young men dove for the cross, each seeking the honor of retrieving it.
A swarm of dripping fellow divers later hoisted Makris onto their shoulders as they chanted the Greek cheer “Axios, axios!”
The 16-year-old New Port Richey native smiled broadly after retrieving the white cross they all had sought during the short but spirited dive into the chilly waters of Spring Bayou.
As he headed from the water to the steps of St. Nicholas cathedral a few blocks away, Alexander shouted, “It’s a dream come true!”
His father, Nicholas Makris, who with wife Andrea is from New Jersey, said he was shocked to see his son emerge with the cross in hand, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
But among a field of 58 competitors, the River Ridge High School student prevailed, bringing glory and blessings home to his family and the church they attend, St. George Orthodox Church in New Port Richey, Nicholas Makris told the paper.
”I don’t even know what to say right now,” he said. “We’re just so proud. I lived up north when I was a teenager and had nothing like this. Him grabbing that cross will forever be one of the greatest moments of my life.”
Fifty-eight teenage boys took part in today’s mid-day cross dive at Spring Bayou, organizers said. The water temperature, like the air temperature, was a chilly 69 degrees.
EPIPHANY CROSS RETRIEVED | Alexander Makris, 16, of New Port Richey, retrieved the cross at the 116th Epiphany Celebrations in Tarpon Springs during his first dive. pic.twitter.com/ujPHyroWbd
— Spectrum Bay News 9 (@BN9) January 6, 2022
Considered the largest Epiphany celebration in the Western Hemisphere, commemorating the baptism of Jesus Christ by his cousin John the Baptist, the Tarpon Springs event traditionally draws thousands of spectators.
Tarpon Springs is a Greek island in Florida
Tarpon Springs, in Pinellas County, Florida, resembles a Greek island, with its blue and white structures, street names, the boats in the harbor, and the Greek-themed shops and restaurants.
The picturesque town has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the US. Many of them still work for the sponge industry which was started by their Greek ancestors.
Chris Alahouzos is the town’s proud mayor. Alahouzos and his family emigrated to the United States from the Greek island of Kalymnos when he was 14. His father was a sponge diver.
What is Epiphany?
The feast day is one of the most important Christian celebrations of the entire year because it marks the commemoration of the revelation of Jesus Christ as the son of God.
Epiphany is also known as Theophany, and both of these terms derive from the Greek words for “revelation” and the “revelation of God,” or ”Επιφάνεια” (epipháneia) and ”Θεοφάνεια” (Theopháneia).
This unique feast is celebrated by both the Eastern and Western Church, and millions of people around the world participate in liturgies, Masses, blessings of the waters, and many other traditional events which take place on this day.