TARPON SPRINGS — George Faklis has participated in the Epiphany celebration every January for years, but today will be special.
For the 17-year-old, it's a chance at a year of special blessings.
He will join dozens of other teenage boys and dive into chilly waters in search of the famed Epiphany cross.
Epiphany is a Christian ceremony that celebrates the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.
Thousands of people come to Tarpon Springs for the celebration, which is the largest Epiphany event in the Western Hemisphere.
Every year, a cross is thrown into the city's Spring Bayou. Whoever finds the cross is said to receive a year of blessings. Teenage boys in Tarpon Springs have only three chances at retrieving the cross. The dive is open to Greek Orthodox boys ages 16 to 18.
Both his father and grandfather participated in the dive as teenagers, and his great-uncle retrieved the cross in 1950.
Last year, George shook with nerves and anticipation as he walked to Spring Bayou for his first-ever dive.
"I jumped in, and I really didn't know what to do," he said. "You don't really have any time to plan a strategy. You just jump in and go."
He hasn't practiced swimming for the event, but he's hopeful about today's dive.
Whether he's successful or not, he said, Epiphany is bigger than the cross competition.
The event starts with a church service at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Along with the cross dive, there's food, dancing and music.
"The whole day is not about the dive," he said. "It's all about partaking in the baptism of Jesus Christ."
Contact Ayana Stewart at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153. Follow @AyanaStewart.