James Hughes Receives Blessings from Cross Dive

( [email protected] ) Jan 08, 2004 08:51 PM EST

And we have a winner! 16-year-old James Hughes succeeded in obtaining the cross in a diving event, which took place as part of the annual Greek Orthodox celebration of Ephiphany. Hughes was among the 46 cross divers who jumped in the waters of Spring Bayou in Florida in an attempt to retreive a white cross that is promised to give blessings for the year to the lucky diver who reaches it first.

"All 46 of us wanted to get it, and I was the one who got it," Hughes said. "This means so much."

20,000 other people were also present at the bayou for the anuual Epiphany celebration, which commemorates the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River.

After seizing the white cross, Hughes was marched on the shoulders of his fellow cross divers to St. Nicholas Cathedral where he received a gold cross from the Archbishop Demetrios of New York who leads Greek Orthodox Church in America. The cathedral was also the location of that morning's prayer service, presided by Archbiship Demetrios.

Being his fifth time to the annual event, Demetrios notes the significance the event holds.

"This is an important feast that celebrates a central event in the life of Christ," he said. "But it's also something that brings the community together, not just in Florida but all over the world."

Each festival also chooses one person to release a dove to symbolize the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus after his baptism. This year, 13-year-old Kaliope Mott, an eighth-grader at Tarpon Springs Middle School was the dove-bearer.

"It's a blessing," said Kaliope as she cradled the bird. "It's an honor to hold the Holy Spirit in my hands."

The event ended with Glendi, a festival of music, food and dance, and of course, with eyes following Hughes.

The winner of last year's cross dive event, 19-year-old Nioti Koulianos, advised Hughes, "Be careful - because a lot of people will be watching you."