TARPON SPRINGS – Forty-seven teenagers will commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ through a traditional “dive for the cross” in the Spring Bayou in Florida, Tuesday, January 06. The teens, aged 16 to 18 will dive into the cold bayou water at about 1 p.m., each with the hope to find the cross that’s believed to bring the bearer special blessings in the coming year.
The dive was part of the annual Greek Orthodox celebration of Epiphany, which was filled with traditional services and activities. The day marked the commemoration of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River some 2,000 years ago.
``We meet with them before the dive and go over what we expect, and the meaning,'' said Mike Kouskoutis, co-chairman of the Epiphany Divers Committee. ``It is a religious event, not a sporting event.''
The dive for the cross is quick and dangerous. The teens are reminded to be careful and not to jump on one another, Kouskoutis said.
Despite it’s popularity, the dive came after hours of prayer and pageantry. Epiphany begins with Orthos, a prayer service, at 8 a.m. at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. At 10 a.m., Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, will preside over the service of Divine Liturgy. It will be followed by the Blessing of the Waters, a service blessing all of nature, at 11:45 a.m.
Then the faithful, including Metropolitan Alexios of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Atlanta, clergy, choirs, the divers, a dove bearer and the Tarpon Springs High School Band will form a solemn procession and make their way to Spring Bayou. The waters will be blessed and a Scripture read.
Next, 13-year-old Kaliope Mott, this year's dove bearer, will release the bird, symbolic of the Holy Spirit's descent onto Christ at his baptism.
``I feel blessed; it's a great honor,'' said Mott, an eighth- grader at Tarpon Springs Middle School. ``It's the best thing that's ever happened to me. I've wanted to do this my whole life.''
Finally, the cross is tossed into the water, and the divers follow, each determined to retrieve it.
The dive is followed by Glendi, an afternoon of Greek food, music and dancing in nearby Craig Park.
Epiphany draws nearly 25,000 spectators each year, doubling the population of the north Pinellas County.