Known for its charming Greek-American village atmosphere, sponge docks, and excellent Greek cuisine, Tarpon Springs is a favorite spot for tourists.
However, each year on January 6, the town draws members of the Greek Orthodox faith from all over the country to celebrate Epiphany. The Epiphany celebration commemorates the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by St. John the Baptist.
This year the Greek Orthodox community in the Tampa Bay area celebrated its 107th annual Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs, drawing Greek Americans from across the country and thus tripling the population of Tarpon Springs. The Metropolitan of Atlanta normally presides over the blessings, occasionally assisted by the Archbishop of America. The conclusion of the blessings takes places at Spring Bayou. Boys, ages 16 to 18, dive into the chilly water to recover a wooden cross that is said to provide a year full of blessings. After the ceremony, the celebration relocates to the Sponge Docks for food and music.
This year fifty teenage boys dove into the new year on Sunday, January 6, with the hope of receiving a year full of blessings.
After the unforgettable dive last year with four winners and a long amount of time in the water, this year’s winner swam to the cross in under ten seconds. The cross did not even have time to sink into the frisky water before sixteen-year-old Vassilios Harding retrieved it.
Although only one young man retrieves the cross, the experience of diving for their faith is the ultimate thrill for all of the divers.
Andy Paloumpis, one of the divers, did not feel disappointed at all that he did not reach the cross first. “It was an amazing day, and I left with a glowing feeling of joy even though I did not receive the cross.” said Andy Paloumpis.
The whole day is empowering for Orthodox Christians but especially for the boys who participate in the dive.
Thanasi Halkias, another diver, described his experience as “breathtaking.” “First of all, to be in the presence of the spiritual leaders of our Church is truly an honor. To be able to participate in this celebration with other Greek Orthodox young men is truly awe-inspiring.”