Saturday, July 13, 2024
Google search engine
HomeUncategorizedTarpon Springs Epiphany cross is recovered under clear skies

Tarpon Springs Epiphany cross is recovered under clear skies


We’re witnessing the 118th Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs. It stands as the most significant commemoration in the Western Hemisphere of Jesus Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River, and last year attracted 20,000 spectators.

The Orthros service commenced at 8 a.m. at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral followed by the Divine Liturgy. By noon, clergy, parishioners in traditional attire, and onlookers will commence the procession to Spring Bayou for the sanctification of Tarpon Springs, the pinnacle of this tradition for many.

That’s the moment when 65 boys from the cathedral will board dinghies waiting in the bayou. An additional boy is taking part but not diving. The Archbishop will consecrate the waters before casting a white cross into the water. The boys will plunge in and attempt to recover the cross, and the one who finds it is believed to receive a year of blessings.

This year, the cathedral is welcoming the return of His Eminence Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and Great Britain, who was born in Tampa and attended Tarpon Springs’ Epiphany as a child. In 1974, he plunged into the bayou and retrieved the cross, making this year’s celebration the 50th anniversary of his retrieval.

The ceremony is anticipated to take place despite stormy weather. Earlier in the week, St. Nicholas spokesperson Johanna Gatzoulis stated that “weather does not halt our religious event.”

1:29 p.m. Back at the church

When asked how he prepared for the dive, John Hittos said, “I prayed.” The 16-year-old is a student at Calvary Christian.

“It holds great significance,” Hittos expressed, while holding the cross in the cathedral, surrounded by peers.

“I didn’t visually track where the cross entered the water. I was unaware of its location. But I had a sensation and just descended. I couldn’t even perceive anything, but it was in my grasp,” he recounted. “It’s a blessing.”

John Hittos holds the cross back at the cathedral. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]

1:05 p.m. As near as they could reach

George Christopoulos came to Tarpon Springs from Toronto with his family to witness the dive. As a boy in Greece, Christopoulos used to participate.

“This is the nearest one in North America, so we drove down,” Christopoulos remarked, as divers splashed in a race for the cross. “I brought my daughters so they could observe it.”

He filmed John Hittos retrieving the cross.

— Lauren Peace, Times staff writer

12:57 p.m. The cross is recovered

John Hittos, 16, emerges from Spring Bayou with the cross.

His Eminence Archbishop Nikitas (Lulias) of Thyateira and Great Britain places a necklace on John Hittos, 16 after retrieving the cross during the 2024 Epiphany at Spring Bayou on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024 in Tarpon Springs.
His Eminence Archbishop Nikitas (Lulias) of Thyateira and Great Britain places a necklace on John Hittos, 16 after recovering the cross during the 2024 Epiphany at Spring Bayou on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024 in Tarpon Springs. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
John Hittos, 16 celebrates after retrieving the cross during the 2024 Epiphany at Spring Bayou on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024 in Tarpon Springs.
John Hittos, 16 celebrates after recovering the cross during the 2024 Epiphany at Spring Bayou on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024 in Tarpon Springs. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Want breaking news in your inbox?

Desire to get the latest news delivered to your inbox?

Sign up for our complimentary News Alerts newsletter

You’ll receive instantaneous updates on major issues and events in Tampa Bay and beyond as they unfold.

You’re all signed up!

Desire more of our complimentary, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

12:35 p.m. On the go

The parade of clergy, Greek dancers, divers, parishioners, and onlookers has reached Spring Bayou to get ready for the cross dive.

Chloe Kotis, 17, leads the procession to Spring Bayou.
Chloe Kotis, 17, leads the procession to Spring Bayou. [ TRACEY MCMANUS | Times ]

12:15 p.m. “It’s about blessings”

The cross dive is undoubtedly the main attraction for many spectators; it drew 20,000 last year. However, Anastasios Damianakis, 18, stated that the cross dive is more of a religious experience. 

“It’s part of the service. It’s not like you’re winning the Super Bowl or anything. It’s about blessings.”

— Tracey McManus, Times staff writer

Anastasios Damianakis, 18, said to him, the dive is about the blessings.
Anastasios Damianakis, 18, said to him, the dive is about the blessings. [ TRACEY MCMANUS | Times ]

similarly, like we won’t require it,” she chuckled, perched on a tarp with family.

Lisa Moerchen, left in white, with family at Spring Bayou in Tarpon Springs. Her grandsons are diving for the cross.
Lisa Moerchen, left in white, with family at Spring Bayou in Tarpon Springs. Her grandsons are plunging for the cross. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]

Today is a particular one for her family. Her grandsons, Athos Karistinos, 16, and Stasi Karistinos, 18, will be plunging for the cross.

The boys’ dad, Anestis Taso, was the cross retriever more than 20 years ago.

“It’s similar to a family reunion,” Moerchen said of the celebration. “We all recognize each other and all of the boys have grown up together.”

Moerchen said her grandsons have been getting ready for the plunge — spiritually and physically — for a long time. But, she jested, they are tight-lipped when it comes to their tactics.

“They won’t disclose their strategy to me,” she said.

— Lauren Peace, Times staff writer

12 p.m. Why don’t girls dive in Tarpon Springs?

If you’re curious why only boys plunge for the cross, Times reporter Tracey McManus wrote in 2019 about why girls are barred from plunging with their male peers. The Tarpon Springs parish is one of the few — if not the only — Greek Orthodox churches in the U.S. that provides the honor only to boys.

11:55 a.m. The Holy Spirit

Chloe Kotis, 17, is getting ready to lead the procession with the white dove she will release over the bayou, a representation of the Holy Spirit.

“I’m jittery but I feel good. I’m happy to clutch something that signifies so much.”

— Tracey McManus, Times staff writer

Chloe Kotis, 17, is preparing to lead the procession with the white dove she will release over the bayou, a representation of the Holy Spirit.
Chloe Kotis, 17, is getting ready to lead the procession with the white dove she will release over the bayou, a representation of the Holy Spirit. [ TRACEY MCMANUS | Times ]

11:50 a.m. All the way from Greece

Theo and Popi Vavlas journeyed with their children from Kalymnos, Greece, to visit family in Tarpon Springs and celebrate Epiphany.

Theo Vavlas said the celebration looks distinct here than it does in his family’s hometown. This celebration is larger, he said. In Kalymnos, there are fewer boats, it’s less of a spectacle.

Theo and Popi Vavlas came from Greece to visit family and celebrate Epiphany in Tarpon Springs.
Theo and Popi Vavlas came from Greece to visit family and celebrate Epiphany in Tarpon Springs. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]

“We are very thrilled,” Theo Vavlas said, while sitting crouched on the sidewalk along the water.

— Lauren Peace, Times staff writer

11:43 a.m. Divers are ready

The divers have gathered, barefoot, outside of the church to prepare for the procession to Spring Bayou.

For two brothers, it is the first plunge for Luc Boillot, 16, and the last for Andreas Boillot, 18.

It is the first dive for Luc Boillot, 16, and the last for Andreas Boillot, 18, brother from Tarpon Springs.
It is the first plunge for Luc Boillot, 16, and the last for Andreas Boillot, 18, brother from Tarpon Springs. [ TRACEY MCMANUS | Times ]

Both express even the opportunity to plunge for the cross is a privilege.

“It’s truly about spreading blessings around the city,” Andreas said.

The tradition also runs deep for their family. The boys’ grandfather is the Rev. Fr. Tryfon Theophilopoulos, the cathedral’s late longtime clergy whose name is on the church hall.

“He’s our grandfather but he’s the pappoús of Tarpon Springs,” Andreas said, expressing the word for grandfather in Greek.

— Tracey McManus, Times staff writer

11:32 a.m. A change to the number of divers

Originally, 69 boys were taking part in the service this morning, with 68 plunging for the cross. Three divers are unwell and cannot attend. There will be 65 boys searching for the cross in Spring Bayou and one more participating.

The area around the bayou is filling in with onlookers now, all eagerly awaiting the plunge.

11:05 a.m. Just like Greece

Laura Layton came to Tarpon Springs from Ocoee with her friend Shirley Parker, who lives in Claremont.

Layton, who grew up in South Africa, is half Greek. After relocating to Florida in 1995, she’s taken trips to the area to visit the Sponge Docks.

“I used to bring my mom here because we’d really feel like we were in Greece here,” Layton said. “I love Tarpon Springs.”

Layton attended an Epiphany celebration here years ago. For Parker, this Saturday will mark the first time she’s seen the plunge.

— Lauren Peace, Times staff writer

Laura Layton, left, and Shirley Parker came to Tarpon Springs to watch the dive with Layton’s two dogs.
Laura Layton, left, and Shirley Parker came to Tarpon Springs to watch the plunge with Layton’s two dogs. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]

11 a.m. A manatee distraction

Dave and Pam Bracken, both 53, moved to Tarpon Springs from Nebraska 16 years ago to escape the cold. Despite residing in town, this is the first Epiphany celebration that Dave has been able to attend.

“It’s thrilling that it’s on a weekend because I don’t work,” Dave Bracken said.

Below, in the water, two manatees in the bayou came up for air.

Pam and Dave Bracken of Tarpon Springs wait for the Epiphany cross dive on Saturday morning at Spring Bayou.
Pam and Dave Bracken of Tarpon Springs wait for the Epiphany cross plunge on Saturday morning at Spring Bayou. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]

“That’s what makes it easy,” Pam Bracken said. “Watching the manatees while we wait.”

— Lauren Peace, Times staff writer

10:50 a.m. Church service at capacity

Parishioners watch His Eminence Archbishop Nikitas (Lulias) of Thyateira and Great Britain walk down the aisle during the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs.
Parishioners watch His Eminence Archbishop Nikitas (Lulias) of Thyateira and Great Britain walk down the aisle during the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Anastasia Giannakouros traveled on a bus with 50 others from The Villages to celebrate Epiphany. When she arrived around 10:30 a.m., she couldn’t attend.unable to participate in the church service as the cathedral was at maximum capacity. Nevertheless, she mentioned that the cross plunge is equally significant as a custom, which she also witnessed in her hometown of Sparta, Greece.

— Tracey McManus, Times staff writer

Anastasia Giannakouros (center) traveled from The Villages but couldn't attend the church service — it was full.
Anastasia Giannakouros (center) journeyed from The Villages but couldn’t attend the church service — it was full. [ TRACEY MCMANUS | TImes ]
The Divine Liturgy takes place during the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs.
The Divine Liturgy happens during the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Maria Megremis, 67, of Chicago, Ill., attends the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs.
Maria Megremis, 67, of Chicago, Ill., joins the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Becky Georgas, 85, of Chicago, Ill., lights a candle during the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs.
Becky Georgas, 85, of Chicago, Ill., ignites a candle during the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Parishioners listen to the Divine Liturgy during the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs.
Parishioners listen to the Divine Liturgy during the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Becky Georgas, 85, of Chicago, Ill., lights a candle during the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs.
Becky Georgas, 85, of Chicago, Ill., ignites a candle during the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, leads the Divine Liturgy during the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs.
His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, leads the Divine Liturgy during the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
His Eminence Archbishop Nikitas (Lulias) of Thyateira and Great Britain arrives and prepares for the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs.
His Eminence Archbishop Nikitas (Lulias) of Thyateira and Great Britain arrives and prepares for the 118th annual celebration of Epiphany at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Tarpon Springs. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

10:30 a.m. Languid morning for business

Traditionally The Bayou Cafe in downtown Tarpon Springs is overflowing on Epiphany morning as onlookers seize coffee or a breakfast scramble before the cross plunge.

But the rain resulted in a sluggish morning.

The Bayou Cafe in downtown Tarpon Springs was empty Saturday morning, with the rain keeping visitors away. It's normally  packed on Epiphany morning.
The Bayou Cafe in downtown Tarpon Springs was deserted Saturday morning, with the rain deterring visitors. It’s usually jam-packed on Epiphany morning. [ TRACEY MCMANUS | Times ]

Server Melissa Wright revealed that they brought in additional personnel in expectation of the yearly rush, but it never occurred. She mentioned that the regulars also chose not to attend assuming the place would be crowded, leaving the cafe without even its most faithful customers today.

“I’ve worked many Epiphanies and this is a peculiar one,” said Wright, a server here for 11 years.

— Tracey McManus, Times staff writer

10:07 a.m. A cold plunge

A Florida Fish and Wildlife officer informed journalist Tracey McManus that the water in Spring Bayou is 65 degrees this morning.

10 a.m. Skies are bluer

The skies over Spring Bayou are bluer now as the rain has cleared up.
The skies over Spring Bayou are bluer now as the rain has cleared up. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]

About a few dozen people in total are assembled on the lawn around Spring Bayou. That’s dwarfed compared to years past when the sun has been out, but as the rain pauses, more people are crawling out of their homes and hotel rooms and strolling the sidewalks toward the water.

Melissa Verboon (L) of Holiday tries to say dry with her daughter Azalea Verboon (R) and her friend Addison Potts as they await Epiphany divers on a rainy morning in Spring Bayou on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024 in Tarpon Springs.
Melissa Verboon (L) of Holiday tries to say dry with her daughter Azalea Verboon (R) and her friend Addison Potts as they await Epiphany divers on a rainy morning in Spring Bayou on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024 in Tarpon Springs. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

— Lauren Peace, Times staff writer

9:40 a.m.: A lifelong celebration

Epiphany is a lifelong celebration for numerous residents.

Andrew Nikiforakis grew up in Tarpon Springs and recovered the cross during the plunge in 1992, when he was 16. Now he volunteers for the church as the dove caretaker.

Typically the supplier, Lakeland’s A Touch Above, delivers the bird to the church on Epiphany morning. But due to the rain, Nikiforfakis picked up the dove yesterday and kept it at his house overnight. He situated the cage on his armoire, out of reach from his dog, fed and watered it, and felt the weight of the responsibility.

When the dove is released over Spring Bayou before the cross plunge, it symbolizes the Holy Spirit. Nikiforfakis will also assist this year’s dove bearer, Chloe Kotis, 17, handle the dove as it moves in the procession with clergy and spectators from the cathedral to the bayou.

“It’s a big responsibility,” Nikiforfakis said. “We’re

“I took responsibility for the Holy Spirit.”

— Tracey McManus, Times staff writer

9:33 a.m. Observers are arriving

Colorful umbrellas are starting to speckle the lawn overlooking Spring Bayou in Tarpon Springs. There’s been a steady drizzle, but — so far — no downpour. Those gathering are in high spirits as many prepare to watch the dive for the first time.
Vivid umbrellas are beginning to dot the lawn overlooking Spring Bayou in Tarpon Springs. There has been a constant drizzle, but — thus far — no downpour. The individuals gathering are in good spirits as many get ready to witness the plunge for the initial time. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]

9:27 a.m. An endpoint

Sister Peggie Martin, left, and Alexandra Harris drove from Alabama on Saturday morning to witness the cross dive in Tarpon Springs.
Sister Peggie Martin, left, and Alexandra Harris drove from Alabama on Saturday morning to witness the cross dive in Tarpon Springs. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]

Peggie Martin and Alexandra Harris huddled together under umbrellas, overlooking the bayou.

The sisters drove hours from Alabama this morning to witness the dive. They left at 5 a.m.

“It just appeared like something you have to see,” Martin said. “We’re content to be here. I’m not made of sugar. I won’t melt in the rain.”

— Lauren Peace, Times staff writer

9:16 a.m. Their primary Epiphany visit

Sisters Nikki and Roni Bailey grew up in Clearwater, but this is their maiden Epiphany.

“It’s a bucket list element,” Nikki Bailey expressed. “We had heard about it, but resolved it was finally time we come witness for ourselves.”

Nikki Bailey of Clearwater came to Tarpon Springs with her sister to watch the cross dive for the first time.
Nikki Bailey of Clearwater came to Tarpon Springs with her sister to watch the cross dive for the first time. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]

The Bailey’s drove out to Tarpon Springs last night to survey a location. They revisited this morning and they’re not allowing the weather to diminish their involvement.

“We examined the significance of the dive and its history. We’ve become really captivated by it,” Roni Bailey remarked. “The divers are thrilled to be here so we are too.”

— Lauren Peace, Times staff writer

9 a.m. “It just looks spotless”

Beyond Copenhagen Cafe, Nick Gombos, 62, stands and gazes out on the cathedral as the rain fluctuates in intensity.

“It doesn’t even appear wet, it just looks clean,” Gombos remarked regarding the cathedral to a passerby. “It’s clearing up. I bet there will be sun by 11:30.”

“What’s a little water gonna do to you?” the man responds.

“As long as the boys plunge! That’s what matters,” Gombos cheers back.

Born and raised in Tarpon Springs, Gombos plunged for the cross from 1975 to 1979. ”It shows you how strong your faith is when you come even when it’s raining,” Gombos remarked. “Nothing will hinder the dive.”

— Lauren Peace, Times staff writer

Nick Gombos, 62, stands and looks at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday morning in Tarpon Springs.
Nick Gombos, 62, stands and looks at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday morning in Tarpon Springs. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]

8:56 a.m. The bird

Prior to the cross dive, a white dove will be released over Spring Bayou to symbolize the Holy Spirit. This year, Chloe Kotis, 17, was chosen to do that honor as the dove bearer. Currently the dove is waiting for its moment in the cathedral office.

The dove waits for its moment at the church in Tarpon Springs on Saturday morning.
The dove waits for its moment at the church in Tarpon Springs on Saturday morning. [ TRACEY MCMANUS | Times ]

— Tracey McManus, Times staff writer

8:48 a.m. Unconcerned by the rain

Nomikos Christoforos ducked into Copenhagen Cafe across the street from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral just after 8:00 a.m. on Saturday. The pitter-patter of rain echoed outside. Christoforos, 22, initially dived for the cross in 2018.

At present, he’s on the Divers Committee, a group of men — mostly former divers — who aid in preparing the boys spiritually for the day. “My first year diving, it rained the whole morning. It was cold. But when we got down to the bayou, the sky cleared and the sun came out,” Christoforos stated.

He’s unworried about the weather today. Seated at a table with Christoforos, Michael Achilleas Hollis and Savas Amorginos nodded in agreement. Amorginos first plunged in 2005. He has been engaged ever since.

“The divers join the brotherhood whether they retrieve the cross or not,” Amorginos remarked. “It’s simply a blessing to be here.”

— Lauren Peace, Times staff writer

Savas Amorginos (left), Michael Achilleas Hollis (middle) and Nomikos Christoforos (right) ducked out of the rain and into the Copenhagen Cafe in Tarpon Springs on Saturday morning.
Savas Amorginos (left), Michael Achilleas Hollis (middle) and Nomikos Christoforos (right) ducked out of the rain and into the Copenhagen Cafe in Tarpon Springs on Saturday morning. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]



Source link

RELATED ARTICLES

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -
Google search engine

Most Popular

Recent Comments