Tarpon Springs Celebrates Greek Orthodox Epiphany
The Tarpon Springs Greek Orthodox community held its yearly Epiphany celebration on Saturday.
The event is probably best known for dozens of teenage boys diving into the frigid waters of Tarpon Bayou, searching for a wooden cross. But it is also the largest religious and cultural celebration for Greeks in Tampa Bay.
There was an early morning ceremony at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, followed by a blessing of the boats that sustain the fishing and sponge economy of Tarpon Springs.
Antonio Fountoulakis is a Tampa Bay resident and an immigrant from Greece.
He said the event is a chance for Greeks of all ages to connect with the traditions of the old country.
"In a foreign country, it's difficult to get all together. And, to me, it's important for the kids to understand where they belong," he said.
Ceremonies similar to the one in Tarpon Springs were held in Greece and around the world.
For those of the Greek Orthodox faith, the Epiphany is a remembrance of when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River.
The celebration also provides an economic boost for the Tarpon Springs community. With temperatures barely reaching into the 50s this year, local coffee shops and eateries were not short of customers.
Organizer Johanna Kossifidis helped organize the event. She said an estimated 15,000 people attended this year's Epiphany.
"It's great for the economy, it's great for the businesses and it's great for our faith," she said.
More than 50 boys participated in this year's dive. Officials said the Bayou Spring was around 55 degrees when they plunged into the water.
Eighteen-year-old Christian Chrysakis of Tarpon Springs retrieved the cross. He said he is the third person in his family to do so.
"This is the best feeling I've ever had in my life," he said. "Growing up, watching Epiphany, watching my cousins dive, older siblings, everything, it's like you look forward to it when you're older. It's just amazing."
After arriving back at the church, his fellow divers encircled Chrysakis, chanting "axios" or "worthy."
According to the Greek Orthodox tradition, Chrysakis will now receive a year of blessings.