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Statue of Epiphany diver at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Statue of young Epiphany diver in courtyard of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church Photo: Eric Dusenbery

Epiphany - Tarpon Springs

In Tarpon Springs, Epiphany on January 6 is truly a celebration of life in this unique community on the Gulf of Mexico. Schools close so that students can join family, friends, and as many as 25,000 visitors at an array of events. This day-long Greek Orthodox celebration includes a morning service at St. Nicholas Cathedral, the release of a white dove of peace, the ritual dive in Spring Bayou for a cross, followed by Greek foods, music, and dancing.

Greek men, primarily from the Dodecanese Islands, have been diving for sponges in the waters near Tarpon Springs since 1905. The men were recruited to continue this traditional occupation when it was discovered that Florida's waters provided the only U.S. habitat for natural sponges. The divers gradually brought their families and their strong religious beliefs to Florida. The sponge industry has endured, and Tarpon Springs preserves its strong Greek heritage.

Greek-American male youths have braved the chilly January waters of Spring Bayou since 1920 in hopes of capturing the coveted Epiphany Cross. Although there are similar events in Greece, Epiphany observances in Tarpon Springs have exceeded the fame of all others. One reason is the fortuitous location of the church near Spring Bayou. Epiphany commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, when the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove. The day begins with a Divine Liturgy, then a liturgy procession makes its way to the bayou. After the archbishop blesses the waters, praying for calm seas and the safety of sailors, he casts a white cross into the waters, and a young woman releases a dove. The dive for the cross is the highlight of the Epiphany events. Locals believe that retrieving the cross will ensure a year of good luck and blessing. About fifty boys, between ages 16 and 18, dive. Each Epiphany cross is made from a single piece of wood. Local teacher Bill Paskalaks has made the crosses for decades. When a young man finds the cross, he is greeted with wild cheers of delight and the procession carries him back to the church, where a short service is held to bless the diver. A celebration is then held in the park nearby.

Documentation includes a text report, slides, and articles.

Originally submitted by: Michael Bilirakis, Representative (9th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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