Statue of young Epiphany diver in courtyard of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church Photo: Eric Dusenbery
Epiphany - Tarpon Springs
In Tarpon Springs, Epiphany on January 6 is
truly a celebration of life in this unique community on the
Gulf of Mexico. Schools close so that students can join
family, friends, and as many as 25,000 visitors at an array of
events. This day-long Greek Orthodox celebration includes a
morning service at St. Nicholas Cathedral, the release of a
white dove of peace, the ritual dive in Spring Bayou for a
cross, followed by Greek foods, music, and dancing.
Greek men, primarily from the Dodecanese Islands,
have been diving for sponges in the waters near Tarpon Springs
since 1905. The men were recruited to continue this traditional
occupation when it was discovered that Florida's waters provided
the only U.S. habitat for natural sponges. The divers gradually
brought their families and their strong religious beliefs to
Florida. The sponge industry has endured, and Tarpon Springs
preserves its strong Greek heritage.
Greek-American male youths have braved the chilly
January waters of Spring Bayou since 1920 in hopes of capturing the
coveted Epiphany Cross. Although there are similar events in
Greece, Epiphany observances in Tarpon Springs have exceeded the
fame of all others. One reason is the fortuitous location of the
church near Spring Bayou. Epiphany commemorates the baptism of
Jesus in the River Jordan, when the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in the form of a dove. The day begins with a Divine Liturgy, then a
liturgy procession makes its way to the bayou. After the archbishop
blesses the waters, praying for calm seas and the safety of
sailors, he casts a white cross into the waters, and a young woman
releases a dove. The dive for the cross is the highlight of the
Epiphany events. Locals believe that retrieving the cross will
ensure a year of good luck and blessing. About fifty boys, between
ages 16 and 18, dive. Each Epiphany cross is made from a single
piece of wood. Local teacher Bill Paskalaks has made the crosses
for decades. When a young man finds the cross, he is greeted with
wild cheers of delight and the procession carries him back to the
church, where a short service is held to bless the diver. A
celebration is then held in the park nearby.
Documentation includes a text report, slides, and
Originally submitted by: Michael Bilirakis, Representative (9th District).
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