Epiphany Cross Dive Tarpon Springs: Second cross thrown into Spring Bayou after first is lost

1:58 PM, Jan 6, 2012   |    comments
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Tarpon Springs, Florida -- Blankets and chairs are being laid down, police divers are checking the water for obstacles, and worshipers are singing hymns as the 2012 Epiphany celebration is under way.

Church services inside St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral started at 8 a.m. with hymns celebrating Epiphany, a very important festival in this Greek Christian tradition.

Photo Gallery: 2012 Epiphany Celebration pictures
More pictures: 2011 Epiphany Celebration

Around that same time, the first folks began setting up chairs around Spring Bayou.

"So far, it's really interesting. I've been admiring the boats," said Caron Morton, who came from Palm Beach County to visit a friend and see the celebration.

"I brought my daughter and her friend over, so we can check out the Greek food. I think they're looking forward to the Greek divers," she chuckled.

Just after noon, this festival celebrating the baptism of Jesus Christ came to a climax here in the broad, natural pool of water.

After a procession of worshipers from the cathedral arrived at the bayou, a priest blessed the waters.

Anna Athanasatos -- a USF student and church volunteer chosen for a place of honor as this year's dove bearer -- released a dove symbolizing the Holy Trinity of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Then around 60 young men from Tarpon Springs' large Greek community jumped into the frigid water to wait in nearby boats. After a blessing, the priest then tossed a white wooden cross into the water.

See Also: The Epiphany Cross tradition

According to tradition, the youths dive back into the water and the one who surfaces holding the cross is said to be blessed for the coming year.

Things took an unusal twist this year, as the cross quickly disappeared into the murky waters. After several minutes of confusion and no cross, a second, back-up cross was thrown into the water.

Finally, one young man jumped up, with the cross firmly in his hand.

10 News photojournalist Tim Burquest was in the water with the divers, capturing the action with an underwater camera. We'll air that video starting on 10 News at 5.

After the cross dive, the community will kick off a Greek festival at 1:30 p.m. that's open to all.

Starting with sponge divers who came to the area from Greece around 1900, the Greek community in Tarpon Springs has remained vibrant, and the city is believed to have a higher percentage of Greek-American residents than any other area in the U.S.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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