TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. (WFLA) — A New Port Richey teen retrieved the cross from the chilly waters of Spring Bayou during the annual Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs on Wednesday.
Anderson Combs retrieved the wooden cross which was cast into the water by Archibishop Demetrios during the celebration, which is in its 110th year. Combs is a student at Hudson High School.
As is tradition, his fellow divers hoisted him high on their shoulders. “Happy to be a part of the Orthodox Church and this is such a miracle to have. I’m very blessed,” Combs said. “When I first got in it was a little cold but once I realized that all me brothers were with me it was just a happy moment to be there I instantly warmed up.”
The Epiphany cross dive is part of the Greek Orthodox Church’s commemoration of the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan. The first observance of Epiphany in Tarpon Springs was celebrated in 1903 and was held in an Episcopal Church. The church believes the one who retrieves the cross is blessed with a year of good luck.
More than 50 young men dove into Spring Bayou for the cross this year. Those selected are young Greek Orthodox Christian men between the ages of 16 and 18.
The teenagers swam to board 10 dinghies roped together. At one point, so many participants tried to board a row boat, it capsized.
Thousands of people lined the banks of Spring Bayou to watch. The event attracts people from around the world. ”It’s a tradition that’s been going on for years and years and just to see the kids to keep celebrating to keep the tradition going is great,” Jim Kotsiuras said.
The celebration includes a blessing of the fisherman at the Tarpon Springs sponge docks, Orthos and Divine Liturgy services and a traditional litany procession in which the divers, altar boys, school children in traditional costumes, choir members and Greek Folk dance groups walk in procession to Spring Bayou for the casting of the cross.
A Glendi celebration is held after the cross dive.