As happens every year, thousands flocked to Tarpon Springs, Florida to celebrate the Greek Orthodox Epiphany with the traditional diving for the Cross.
Tarpon Springs, which has a large and thriving Greek community, hosts one of the most popular Epiphany celebrations in the country, with over 20,000 people attending last year. This year (2024) Tarpon Springs celebrated the 118th Epiphany.
Με Χιλιάδες Έλληνες στην Μεγάλη Εορτή του Χριστιανισμού στο Τάρπον Σπρίνγκς των ΗΠΑ, τον Μεγάλο Αγιασμό των Θεοφανείων.
— Nikos Theodoropoulos (@ntheodoropoul0s) January 6, 2024
Sixty-five boys were led to the bayou where the cross is thrown by clergy from the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, along with a girl carrying a white dove representing the Holy Spirit.
The priest threw the cross into the water while the girl released the dove to fly over the bayou and the boys dove in the water to retrieve the cross in accord with the tradition.
This year it was 16-year old John Hittos who beat the rest of the contestants in retrieving the Holy Cross first amidst cheers from the crowd.
Epiphany for Greek Orthodoxy
Epiphany is one of the most important Greek Orthodox feasts. It marks the commemoration of the revelation of Jesus Christ as the son of God. It also marks his baptism by John the Baptist, which signifies that he is human as well.
Epiphany is also known as Theophany, and both terms derive from the Greek words for “revelation” and the “revelation of God,” ”Θεοφάνεια” (Theopháneia) in Greek.
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.
Epiphany in Tarpon Springs
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 Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs by the Greek Orthodox community is considered the largest 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.
The picturesque town on the Gulf Coast 30 miles north of Tampa has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the US. According to the 2004 census, an 11.8 percent of the total population were identified as Greeks, while an 8.87 percent said they were speaking Greek at home.
Tarpon Springs mayor is, as expected, a Greek American. Costa Vatikiotis was elected in 2022, following the previous Greek American mayor, Chris Alahouzos, who served two consecutive three-year terms and could not seek a third due to term limits.