More than 25,000 people, including the prime minister of Greece, are expected to attend the annual Epiphany Celebration in Tarpon Springs on Monday.
Epiphany Celebration is known even outside the Greek Orthodox community due to the traditional cross dive – a ceremony during which young men jump into the waters searching for a wooden cross.
Worshippers believe that it will bring blessing to the person who finds it. But for many, the holiday is much more than just an exciting ceremony.
“We are commemorating the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan by St. John the Baptist,” explained Johanna Gatzoulis, who is on the executive committee for the Epiphany Celebration of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. “And we commemorate this by every year blessing the waters, especially Tampa Bay waters, and throwing a cross into the waters, and having a boy retrieve the cross.”
The cross is thrown by the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. This year, it is Archbishop Elpidophoros, who will be attending his first Epiphany after being appointed in June. At the same time, a girl from the Tarpon Springs community will be releasing a white dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit.
After that, the boys, who range in age from 16 to 18, will dive in. Gatzoulis said this year they expect 57 participants.
She noted that although it is a special honor to be the one who finds the cross, the belief is that everyone who celebrates is blessed.
Last year, more than 20,000 people attended the Epiphany in Tarpon Springs, which has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the country.
Among this year’s attendees will be the prime minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He will be the highest-ranking Greek official to ever attend Tarpon Springs Epiphany Celebration.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the night before the event, Mitsotakis will also be speaking at a dinner at Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor sponsored by the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association.
“He is also Greek Orthodox, and his family and his entourage will be attending with him,” said Gatzoulis. “And for him to come here to celebrate Epiphany…that’s a very big deal for us.”
The day after Epiphany, the prime minister will travel to Washington DC to meet with President Donald Trump.
This year’s Epiphany Celebration will be the 114th in the history of Tarpon Springs. The weather forecast for Monday is for an air temperature of 64 degrees, while the water may be just slightly warmer at 65.
The Celebration begins with an 8 a.m. service at the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The procession to the Spring Bayou is at 11:30 with the cross ceremony scheduled for 1 p.m.
An Epiphany festival called Glendy, featuring traditional Greek dances, music, drinks and food will follow.
All the events are free. You can see a detailed schedule on the Cathedral’s website.