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Patriarch Adds To Epiphany Pomp
St. Petersburg Times ^ | January 4, 2006 | By ROBIN STEIN

Posted on 01/04/2006 5:48:26 PM PST by DocRock

TARPON SPRINGS -- Here at the end of a beaten brick road, beneath a canopy of live oaks and date palms is Spring Bayou, the center of the annual Orthodox Christian rite that has earned this small seaside town the name "Epiphany City."

Year after year, tens of thousands of visitors descend upon Tarpon Springs for Epiphany, which begins today.

It's a multiday festival of Greek folk culture and Orthodox ceremonies in honor of the baptism of Jesus Christ and the revelation of the Holy Trinity. Friday morning, onlookers from Tampa, Atlanta, Ontario and New York will funnel into the narrow streets circling the bayou to cheer dozens of young Greek men who will dive into the brackish waters in search of an anointed wooden cross.

Also known as the Twelfth Night and the Feast of the Holy Theophany, Epiphany is celebrated by the 250-million members of the Orthodox Church all over the world.

Robed priests lead processions in the fishing villages of Corfu, Kalymnos, Greece, and Botany Bay in Sydney, Australia, blessing seas, lakes and rivers and sprinkling droplets of holy water to cleanse and give hope to their parishioners. There, too, young Orthodox men retrieve crosses symbolizing Jesus' baptism in the River Jordan.

But nowhere in the world, perhaps, does the ancient ritual take on the pageantry or scale that it does here. The event often doubles Tarpon Springs' population of 23,000.

This year, more than 80,000 people are expected to attend as the city marks its centennial Epiphany with a celebration of unprecedented pomp and spiritual significance.

Among the expected guests are cultural and political leaders from around the United States, Europe and Asia, most notably, the worldwide spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church, His All Holiness Bartholomew. For more than a year, community leaders have been preparing for the Patriarch's first trip from Istanbul to Florida.

"We're excited and humbled that His All Holiness Bartholomew will be commemorating this milestone anniversary with us," said William Planes, chairman of the 2006 Patriarchal Epiphany Visitation committee. "His presence makes this year's celebration a true landmark event."

"That's who I'm nervous to meet," said Dunedin High School senior Christos Argeras, who will be one of the 53 young men diving for the cross this year.

As he prepares for his third and final dive, Argeras, 18, said his approach has changed.

"I used to practice when I first did it," Argeras said.

Now, he said, it doesn't matter to him who catches the cross.

"We believe God gave it to him for a reason," he says of the cross and the young man who retrieves it.

"I let them know it's a liturgy, not a sporting event," said Aleck Alissandratos, has been mentoring the yearly crop of 16- to 18-year-old divers for more than two decades.

"It changed my life as an 18-year old," said Alissandratos, who retrieved the cross himself in 1977. "My sons will be doing it in a few years."

The Alissandratos family has been in Tarpon Springs since Aleck's grandfather came to town in 1905. It is one of the many families in the area that have watched generation after generation of fathers and sons dive for the Epiphany cross.

Greek settlers observed the first Epiphany here in 1906. A decade after the incorporation of the city of Tarpon Springs, the first wave of Greek sponge divers and merchants came to the area, drawn to the rich sponge beds along the Gulf Coast. The ships, docks and packing houses they built along the Anclote River looked like a Mediterranean village and transformed what had been a vacation spot for wealthy industrialists into the sponging capitol of the world.

The men were joined by their wives and children. Within a few years, they founded the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, named for the patron saint of mariners and modeled after St. Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople.

One hundred years later the area has grown and diversified and few still make a living from the sponge trade.

Still, Tarpon Springs remains home to one of the nation's most vibrant and concentrated Greek-American communities. St. Nicholas Orthodox Church is now a Cathedral and host to one of the world's largest Epiphany celebrations.

Before day breaks this Friday, the normally quiet banks of Spring Bayou will teem with Greeks and non-Greeks, Christians and non-Christians alike, all staking out a good view.

About noon, when the procession from the cathedral arrives, the divers will scramble into a flotilla of wooden dinghies and await for the Patriarch to throw the cross. They will plunge into the shallow bayou and scour the rocky bottom. One will emerge with the coveted cross and receive a special prayer, this year, from the Ecumenical Patriarch himself.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; US: Florida
KEYWORDS: epiphany; patriarch
My wife and children were invited to meet the Patriarch at the airport this afternoon in Orlando. They just returned and I could not find this posted after a search and thought I would share it with the rest.
1 posted on 01/04/2006 5:48:26 PM PST by DocRock
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To: Sidebar Moderator

Could you please review with post and see if it could be moved to the religion topic? Thank you.

2 posted on 01/04/2006 5:49:35 PM PST by DocRock
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To: DocRock

As a Latin, I think it's very exciting to have the Ecumenical Patriarch visit the United States. I had no idea he was coming. It would be great to have some national media coverage but I doubt that's going to happen.

3 posted on 01/04/2006 6:05:06 PM PST by siunevada (If we learn nothing from history, what's the point of having one? - Peggy Hill)
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To: siunevada
"It would be great to have some national media coverage but I doubt that's going to happen."

I was searching the Orlando news web sites as that is where he landed today, but I found nothing.
4 posted on 01/04/2006 6:06:51 PM PST by DocRock
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To: DocRock
Tarpon Springs is in the district of my congressman, Mike Bilirakis, a staunch conservative of Greek extraction. The Greek-descent inhabitants of the town have provided a strong base of support for him over the years.

Mike is a great conservative and a longtime friend of Cong. Henry Hyde of Illinois.

Bilirakis swipes the huge senior citizen votes away from the Dems and it just kills 'em. His son is moving up the political ranks statewise, and I hope he turns out to be as conservative as his dad......or I should say I hope the almond doesn't fall far from the baklava.

Tarpon Springs is a great tourist magnet and a short drive from where I live. When I have northern guests, they all want to go to the "sponge docks", see the sights and eat real Greek food. I love to go there myself. It's great fun. The Greek townspeople are friendly, hard-working and many of the Greek young men are handsome dark-eyed, mustachioed dream-boats.


5 posted on 01/07/2006 7:34:17 AM PST by MinuteGal
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