The Greek community in the quiet city of Tarpon Springs in Pinellas County, which is 45 minutes away from Tampa, Florida is all agog preparing to celebrate another Epiphany Cross Dive. It is a 107-year old tradition of the members of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Florida.
The Epiphany Cross Dive in Tarpon Springs, held every January 6, is considered to be one of the largest celebrations of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. It is a commemoration of the baptism of Jesus by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan River. It is a huge event for the Greek community in Tarpon Springs, which nearly doubles its population count each year at this time with Greek Americans from all over the U.S. coming to participate in the grand event, which features processions, Greek music, dancing, food fair and sale of Greek specialties.
Tarpon Springs, with a population of nearly 23,500 is home to a large community of Greeks. John Cocoris, born in Leonidio, Greece was sent to Tarpon Springs from New York. He introduced sponge diving in Tarpon Springs in 1905 and recruited sponge divers from the Greek islands in Dodecanese.
The Epiphany Cross Dive: The Celebration
The Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, assisted by the Greek Orthodox clergy presides over the annual ceremony on the water’s edge of Spring Bayou. The Archbishop blesses the boats and the waters. A white dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, said to have descended from the heavens when Jesus Christ was baptized, will be released before a white wooden cross is tossed by the Archbishop into the waters of the bayou.
Greek-American youths aged 16 to 18 that could be as many as 70, stand on a row of fishing boats in the water. When the cross is hurled, the boys dive into the murky waters to search for the it. The one who successfully finds it is said to be lucky and blessed for the whole year. He will join a procession amid cheers from the crowd to the church where a short service will be done in his honor before he receives the Archbishop’s blessing.
The Tarpon Springs Epiphany Cross Dive is the highlight of the celebrations surrounding the occasion. It’s a tradition that was started in 1906, part of the Greek culture brought in by the thousands of Greek immigrants that settled in Tarpon Springs because of the sponge industry. Tarpon Springs is the only place in the United States that provide the ideal environment for natural sponges to thrive.
The Glendi, which means celebration in Greek, which is like a huge carnival with plenty of food, Greek arts and crafts fair, music and dancing, ends the annual Epiphany Cross Dive celebration in Tarpon Springs.