Nov 21, 2002 03:00 AM EST

New York, NY - EPIPHANY: THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS, a special production of Greek Orthodox Telecommunications (GOTelecom) with the National Council of Churches and the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission, will be available for broadcast throughout the country at the discretion of local affiliates between Christmas and the end of January 2003. Major underwriting for this program is being provided by the Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Endowment Fund.

Epiphany or Theophany (the manifestation of God) commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist. Of all the observances of Epiphany throughout the world, none is more deeply religious in tradition and significance or more colorful, than in the Greek Orthodox Church; and nowhere does the observance take place on the scale witnessed in Tarpon Springs, Florida, the place where Greek Epiphany and its traditions were introduced to America over 100 years ago.

This one-hour production presents the timeless truths of Orthodox Christianity as it tells the story of the celebration of Epiphany in Tarpon Springs, reaches back in time with an overview of Orthodox faith and traditions, and seeks to foster an understanding of the true personal and universal meaning of Epiphany. The program includes contemporary location footage and archival still photos to illustrate and bring to life interviews from several noted Orthodox theologians and scholars led by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.

Program Overview

Entering Tarpon Springs, normally a city of 35,000, is like entering a small part of Greece, especially on January 6 when Epiphany is celebrated with great joy and pageantry. Hundreds of pennants float in the breeze; American and Greek flags fly everywhere. Thousands of people from every faith and denomination, from practically every state in the country come to witness the impressive ceremony, which begins at St. Nicholas Cathedral, an exquisite Byzantine structure.

As the program continues, interview comments present the Orthodox meaning of Epiphany and baptism, including the ecological and social implications of the blessing of the waters. Visuals include historic sites in Israel, the place of the life and ministry of Christ, and iconography related to His baptism. Further comments reflect on these places and events and relate them to the celebration of Epiphany and to Orthodox faith and practice.

Following the Divine Liturgy and blessing of the waters, Archbishop Demetrios, hierarchs, clergy, dignitaries and thousands of people form an impressive procession to Spring Bayou, with school children in traditional costumes, choir members, Greek Folk dance groups from throughout the United States and Canada, civic officials and representatives of Hellenic organizations. There, an invocation is recited, a young lady releases a white dove to fly over the Bayou, and the Archbishop casts a white cross into the water. Some fifty young men dive for the cross, each seeking the honor of retrieving it. The winner then kneels with the cross before the Archbishop for a blessing.

Viewers will see joyful images of the Epiphany celebration, while comments will emphasize that our lives are illuminated by the Light of Christ, a light that leads all of us to offer our faith and our service to others.

By Nikki Stephanopoulos, Press Officer