Epiphany celebrations took place for the 114th year in Tarpon Springs, Florida with Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros of America officiating and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis observing.
Thousands of onlookers watched as dozens boys from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral jumped into the bayou to retrieve a cross in a ceremony that commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ, which Orthodox Christians celebrate on January 6th.
Hunter Sakadales, 18, retrieved the cross from the water and, according to tradition, has received a year of blessing.
This year marked Archbishop Elpidophoros’ first year officiating the historic ceremony — the largest in the Western hemisphere — since he became leader of the Church in America in June 2019.
In an interview with local NBC affiliate WFLA, the archbishop said he was excited to take part in the event for the first time.
“I want to express my joy and happiness that I am with you for the first time as archbishop,” he said.
Each year, dozens of young men dive into the water to retrieve the cross after the archbishop throws it into the water.
Greek Orthodox communities throughout the world practice the centuries-old tradition, which celebrates Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.
See below a compilation of 11 photographs which summarize the pomp, circumstances and tradition of the 2020 Epiphany celebrations in Tarpon Springs.
All photos are courtesy of photographer Dimitrios Panagos for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
(1) Archbishop Elpidophoros of America and Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta arrive at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral for the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy of Epiphany.
(2) Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis lights a candle upon his arrival at St. Nicholas Cathedral.
(3) Archbishop Elpidophoros, with bishops and priests of the Church at his sides, presides over an ancient liturgy which includes the blessing of Holy Water which will be used to bless the faithful.
(4) Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos blesses the coveted white cross that will be used in the cross diving ceremony after the liturgy.
(5) Archbishop Elpidophoros greets Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis inside St. Nicholas Cathedral.
(6) Archbishop Elpidophoros, with Metropolitan Alexios and Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos at his sides, blesses the water that will be used for the Epiphany blessing of the congregation.
(7) The archbishop and prime minister lead the procession down Dodecanese Boulevard to the bayou where thousands of faithful await the cross throwing ceremony.
(8) Although the diver role is reserved only for young men in Tarpon Springs, the dove bearer role is reserved for girls. This year Cynthia Tsaousis served as the dove bearer.
(9) Archbishop Elpidophoros tosses the cross into the bayou where dozens of young men await to retrieve it.
(10) The young men of St. Nicholas dive to retrieve the cross for the 114th consecutive year.
(11) And the young man who is believed to bring luck and blessings to his family this year after retrieving the coveted cross is — Hunter Sakadales, 18.
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