outside St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Tarpon Springs
Epiphany Day (Των Φώτων - Θεοφάνια) today in the Global Greek World and the Orthodox church celebrates the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan.
The bells rang out this morning in every church in Greece - a beautiful sound calling the people to attend the blessing of the waters, the Agiasmo, commemorating the day that Christ was christened.
Despite the bad weather in Athens, Piraeus and the rest of Greece, the tradition holds strong and people flocked to their local churches to be blessed, to get some of the Holy water to drink and to bless their homes using a sprig of basil or rosemary to sprinkle the water everywhere.
In our local church, Profiti Elia in Halandri, weather permitting, the ceremony takes place in the church grounds, a beautiful pine studded spot right opposite the Rematia Stream. You can watch a little of the ceremony here...excuse the sound, it was the best I could do as the winds were pretty strong and it started raining in the middle of the Agiasmo!
In Greece it is a public holiday, but in our communities around the world, if Epiphany Day doesn't fall on a weekend, it is usually celebrated on the closest Sunday to the actual day.
The exception is of course the most famous Greek Sponge Village outside Greece, Tarpon Springs, in Florida, USA where for more than 100 years Epiphany Day is celebrated as THE most important day in the church calendar and the biggest event of the year. This year is the 106th Epiphany Day celebrated in Tarpon Springs.
The whole community looks forward to the unique Epiphany Day celebrations and the Greek Festival that accompanies them.
The person who is lucky enough to find the white cross which is cast into the waters of the Bayou, gets to keep the cross he retrieved, is given a commemorative trophy cup and a gold cross to wear. Above all, however he is considered blessed for the whole of his life, holding a place of honour in Tarpon Springs for the ensuing year. The Cross Retriever is Tarpon's very own homegrown hero and looked up to by all, young and old alike and especially by the younger ones who make retrieving the cross one of their life-goals.
His name is entered on the honours memorial at the Bayou and leads the celebrations the next year.
There is something very special indeed about this annual tradition which, apart from its religious significance has become a favourite in the local community for Greeks and non-Greeks alike.
Usually the Archbishop of North America comes down from New York to officiate at the ceremony held at St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral and thousands of Greeks flock to the city.
The Spring Bayou is prepared and the small boats are readied for the sixty to seventy young boys between 16 and 18 who prepare to dive for the Cross in the calm waters of the Bayou...
It is wonderful watching so many young men in their Epiphany Day tops led by the previous year's Cross retriever in the procession from the church to the Bayou and into the little boats. A white dove is set free and as soon as the Holy Cross is thrown into the water they dive into the water from the boats watched by the cheering onlookers and thousands of people wait to see who will be the lucky one!
This post is dedicated to one of Tarpon's blessed young men, Andrew Nikiforakis, who having retrieved the Cross from the Bayou in 1992, led the 1993 procession and handed over to his successor, Michael Saroukos. Most of the photos on this post are from the Tarpon Springs Epiphany Day celebrations of that year.
I was thrilled to have been there to see this wonderfully inspiring event in 1993...
1993, a time when the local Greek Community was adding its voice of support to the raging controversy of FYROM - proclaiming loudly and proudly to all that would listen, that MACEDONIA IS GREEK...
We don't have a video from the 1992 Epiphany Day but we did find this one from 1990... the ritual and the tradition entrenched in this most Holy event continue to this day.
Kai tou xronou and to all celebrating namedays today - Xronia polla kai kala!!!