On Sunday, 58 Greek teenage boys aged 16 to 18 participated in the Epiphany cross dive in Spring Bayou, Tarpon Springs, with the belief that the person who retrieves the cross will be blessed with good luck for the rest of the year.
The Greek Orthodox celebration of the Epiphany is celebrated each year in Tarpon Springs, Florida and it is the largest celebration in the world. 15-year-old St. Nicholas choir member, Stella Bilirakis, served as the dove bearer and released the bird before the dive, which is symbolic of the Holy Spirit flying over the waters below.
This year, 17-year-old Ilias Skandaliaris dove into the water and victoriously retrieved the cross. It is an emotional occasion, as Greeks believe that the one who retrieves the cross was chosen by God.
Skandaliaris then was blessed by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
The dive commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River and is part of a two-day celebration filled with different religious and cultural events that the Greek Orthodox St. Nicholas Church in Tarpon Springs has organized for the past 113 years.
The day’s events began at St. Nicholas church with a four-hour Mass service and Divine Liturgy.
Following the Mass, thousands walked to the Bayou to witness and celebrate the cross dive.
This year’s crowd is expected to have surpassed last years 14,000 attendees, spokesperson Johanna Kossifidis said according to tampabay.com.