For the 116th consecutive year, the Greek community of Tarpon Springs, Florida, held its historic Epiphany ceremony on Thursday, this time open to the public after being restricted last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A young diver, Alexander Makris, emerged from Spring Bayou with the cross and received cheers from thousands of onlookers including family members, church parishioners and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros of America.
“It’s a dream come true!” Alexander shouted while walking to the steps of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, a centerpiece in the annual Tarpon Springs event.
The 16-year-old from New Port Richey evaded 64 other competitors to retrieve the cross. His father, Nicholas Makris, told the Tampa Bay Times that he was shocked to see his son emerge with the cross in hand.
Spectrum Bay News 9 posted a video on Twitter showing the moment when the young diver retrieved the cross.
”I don’t even know what to say right now,” Nicholas said. “We’re just so proud. I lived up north when I was a teenager and had nothing like this. Him grabbing that cross will forever be one of the greatest moments of my life.”
Tampa Bay Times reporter Anastasia Dawson posted a video on Twitter of Alexander being carried on the shoulders of his fellow divers en route to the church.
The cross dive ceremony takes place throughout Greece and the Eastern Orthodox world to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River.
According to tradition, participants must be 16 to 18, baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church and in “good standing” with the church. The diver who retrieves the cross will be rewarded with a year of blessings.
“Today the sacred and resounding assembly of the Orthodox rejoices,” Archbishop Elpidophoros wrote on Twitter. “Today the Master draws near to baptism, so that humankind may be lifted up on high.”
This year’s event reopened to the public but one element remained missing — the traditional “Glendi” celebration which comes after the cross-diving ceremony. This year’s festival was canceled due to lack of volunteers rather than pandemic restrictions.
The Tarpon Springs Epiphany ceremony normally attracts more than 20,000 spectators in what is the largest celebration of its kind on this side of the Atlantic.
Featured image courtesy of Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R) via Twitter
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