Changes aim to make Tarpon Springs' Epiphany go smoothly
By Kate Bradshaw | Tribune StaffMost of Tarpon Springs' Epiphany celebrations end the same way, with a teenage boy pulling a wooden cross from Spring Bayou.
Published: January 6, 2013
Published: January 6, 2013
But controversy enveloped last year's event when, after the first cross tossed into the bayou was deemed irretrievable, the archbishop threw in a second. Both were eventually found, and four boys were ultimately deemed winners – the only time in the event's history that has happened, and, organizers say, the only time it ever will.
Organizers are hoping to avoid the unexpected at today's event with changes to the design of the cross, which will include less lead, making it more buoyant. And if no one comes up with the cross, so be it.
"This year, there's only one cross," said the Rev. Mike Eaccarino, dean of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
The annual Epiphany celebration, now in its 107th year, brings more than 20,000 visitors to Tarpon Springs each year and celebrates the baptism of Christ in the Jordan River. The focal point of the event is when the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of America casts the cross into the murky waters of Spring Bayou, and dozens of teenaged boys between 16 and 18 jump out of small boats to scour the bayou floor for it. The one who comes up with the cross receives a blessing that's good for a year.
That protocol got muddled last year. After the 61 boys diving for the cross splashed around without finding it for more than six minutes, the archbishop threw in a second cross.
Louis Mailisand retrieved the second cross, and his cousin, Miros Petru, emerged shortly thereafter with the first. Both were recognized as the winners. Hours later, though, video and photo footage revealed that another boy, Jared Alissandratos, actually had his hands on the second cross before Mailisand and was also named as one of the winners. Days later, a fourth winner, Alexi Lake, was recognized after reports surfaced that he was the first to grab the second cross but had been pushed down and lost his grip.
Critics said throwing in a second cross and recognizing multiple victors turned the 2012 Epiphany into a spectacle that promoted an "everyone wins" mentality. Other said the hypercompetitive nature of the event overshadowed its spiritual underpinnings. Eaccarino, though, has a more positive take on what happened.
"Last year, the first cross, due to perseverance, was found," he said. "Isn't that a great lesson in life?"
The annual tradition reflects the deeply spiritual character of the Greek community that has called Tarpon Springs home for generations.
"We believe Tarpon Springs is protected by St. Nicholas, No. 1, and by what we do," said Eaccarino.
The Ephiany ceremony lends divinity to the bayou waters, which carry a blessing with them as they flow into the bay, Eaccarino said. The annual tradition has protected Tarpon Springs from hurricanes for decades, he said.
Epiphany also brings more practical benefits, such as packing local hotels with visitors.
"You can't get a room," said Sue Thomas, president of Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce. "It brings people into town that may have never been here or haven't been here in years."
Tarpon Springs Police Sgt. Ed Miller said he expects a larger-than-normal crowd this year because Epiphany falls on a Sunday this year.
Parking and traffic are likely to be the biggest problems today, with heavy traffic between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. But Miller said there's an easy way to deal with those headaches.
"Get there early," he said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The Greek Epiphany, a daylong celebration of Christ's baptism in the Jordan River
WHEN: Today. Divine Liturgy starts at 8 a.m., the blessing of the waters at 12:30 p.m., the cross dive at 1 p.m., and the celebratory Glendi at 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: Downtown Tarpon Springs
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