Rhett pictured as a boy with his grandfather who spent 40 years handcrafting the Epiphany's white cross.
Tarpon Springs, Florida -- The legacy of a Bay area grandfather who spent 40 years handcrafting the white cross that's used in the Epiphany celebration lives on. Now, his grandsons are proudly carrying on his family's legacy.
Each Epiphany ceremony is special but for 16-year-old Rhett Linton, who is a Tarpon Springs High schooler, that's an understatement.
The ceremony symbolizes the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. Each year, thousands of Greek Orthodox Christians come to Tarpon Springs to witness the blessing of the cross.
As part of the ceremony, the wood, which is weighed-down by boring a hole and filling it with lead, is then tossed into the dark waters of the bayou. For 40 years, Linton's grandfather was the one who created the crosses used in the ceremony.
"It's a blessing to be out there - not just to catch it. Even when I was little he just stressed what an honor it was to be able to be this close to something like that - growing up for me it was just normal," says Rhett Linton.
Dozens of teenage boys dive in to retrieve the cross. Tradition has it that the one who finds it is blessed and this year Linton will be one of a group of more than 40 trying to pull it out of the murky cold water.
Linton's cousin Nicholas now makes the crosses and his cousin Hayden is right in line to one day follow in their footsteps so the pressure is on for Linton.
"You know maybe a little extra pressure...but I'm not too worried about it. If I get it I get it. If I don't it's not the end of the world. I'm just happy to be out there."
His grandfather's memory will be close to him too from the second he jumps into Spring Bayou.
"Yeah, actually this year they did a boat in my grandfather's honor and so I'm definitely going to try to get on that one."
The Dive for the Cross will happen at 1 o'clock in the afternoon on Monday but if you want to see it you will have to get there much earlier than that organizers are expecting 30,000 people.
Here's a schedule of the events:
Epiphany Observances: 8 a.m. at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral located at 36 N. Pinellas Ave.
Hierarchal Divine Liturgy: 10 a.m. at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral located at 36 N. Pinellas Ave.
Blessing of the Waters: 12 p.m. at Spring Bayou
Traditional Litany Procession to Spring Bayou: 12:30 p.m. begins at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral located at 36 N. Pinellas Ave.
Following the Divine Liturgy, Archbishop Demetrios, hierarchs, clergy, dignitaries, school children in costume, choir members and Greek Folk dance groups will form a procession from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral to Spring Bayou for the cross dive.
Dove Release and Dive for the Cross: 1 p.m. at Spring Bayou. The Dove Bearer will release a dove that symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The Archbishop will then cast a white cross in the water. Forty-eight young men who are in row boats on Spring Bayou will dive for the cross. The diver who retrieves the cross will kneel before the Archbishop for a blessing.
Epiphany Glendi Festival: The Glendi Festival will be held at the Spanos-Pappas Community Center located at 348 Pinellas Ave. following the Dive for the Cross.
The free festival includes food, drink, live music and traditional Greek dancing. The Archbishop will honor the Epiphany divers and cross victor who will also attend.
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