A group of swimmers go after the cross in the Spring Bayou in the 2013 Epiphany celebration.
TARPON SPRINGS – On Jan. 6, dozens of teenage boys aged 16 to 18 will dive into the frigid waters of the Spring Bayou for the 108th Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs, one of the largest in the western hemisphere. The annual event commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by John the Baptist and is highlighted by the cross dive.
An expected 25,000 to 30,000 people will gather to watch the teenagers dive to the bottom of the bayou – the retriever of the cross is said to be blessed for a full year until the next Epiphany.
In the 2013 celebration, first-time diver Vassilios Harding, a 16-year-old Tarpon Springs High School junior at the time, retrieved the cross within seconds. But 2011’s dive was far less simple. When no one could find the cross, Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, threw a second cross into the bayou. Louis Mailisand retrieved that cross, and his cousin, Miros Petru, later found the original cross. Dive organizers then decided that Mailisand had grabbed the cross away from Jared Alissandratos. Three days later, through social networks and media sites, church officials announced that the second cross had also been taken from Alexi Lake. Mailisand, Petru, Alissandratos and Lake were all declared winners, four blessed teenagers instead of the usual single winner.
This year, Rev. Father James Rousakis has taken over Epiphany duties as the acting dean of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, a job he only started on Nov. 1.
“I just had to jump right in,” said Rousakis, who had previously worked with the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Clearwater.
Rousakis has been involved with Epiphany for 22 years, and also serves as the representative for western Florida, a title he refers to as district manager. When Archbishop Demetrios traveled to Tarpon Springs from New York, Rousakis’ church would host a lunch in his honor before the Epiphany celebration.
Even with so little time for preparation, Rousakis said he has high hopes for the 2014 celebration, especially because he knows how much it means to the people of Tarpon Springs, and the Greek community across the country.
‘I think it invigorates the community. The city of Tarpon gets rejuvenated at this time and feels a great pride for their city that it hosts this event,” he said. “Not just the Cathedral of St. Nicholas. It takes cooperation and synergy from the entire city.”
8 a.m.: Orthos and followed by the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at 10 a.m. at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 36 N. Pinellas Ave. If you plan to enter the church, arrive early and dress appropriately in long slacks and long-sleeved shirts.
Noon: Blessing of the waters
12:30 p.m.: Traditional litany procession to Spring Bayou for the release of the white dove and dive for the cross. This year 48 male teens are expected to participate.
1:30 to 6 p.m.: Ephphany Glendi with food, drink, live music and dancing at St. Nicholas Community Center, 348 N. Pinellas Ave. Admission is free.
Blessing of the Fleet
Around noon, visiting bishop, Metropolitan Nikitas Lulias, blesses the fishermen, their vessels, the water and wishes safe and prosperous journeys. the event happens on Dodecanese Boulevard.