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Diver carries on his family's Epiphany tradition

TARPON SPRINGS

John Kontodiakos made a wish when he retrieved the Epiphany cross in 1979.

"The wish was that if I ever had a son that he'd get to have that same experience and now, it's so much more incredible," said Kontodiakos, 50. "Words can't explain it. It's just a very special feeling."

On Tuesday, Kontodiakos' youngest son, Pantelis J. "Pete" Kontodiakos, 17, became the fifth member of his family to find the cross. He did it on the 30th anniversary of his father's accomplishment.

"It's unbelievable, the best feeling of my life," said the younger Kontodiakos.

Three of John's brothers also retrieved the Epiphany cross: Manuel in 1976, Nick in 1973 and Pantelis in 1969.

"I got it 40 years ago today. He's my namesake," said the elder Pantelis Kontodiakos, 58, with pride.

The dive was the highlight of the daylong celebration of the Epiphany, an Orthodox Christian holiday that commemorates the manifestation of God through Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River.

Tuesday marked the 103rd Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs, one of the largest in the world. An estimated 15,000 people attended this year, according to Tarpon Springs police.

The morning started with an Orthros and Divine Liturgy officiated by Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Overflow from the standing-room-only crowd at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral found space at the parish hall next door, where the services were aired on a large-screen television.

Around noon, divers and clergy began the procession from the cathedral through downtown to Spring Bayou.

"Slow down. It's your last walk, enjoy it," co-dive coordinator Michael Kouskoutis told the older boys who were lined up in front.

Kouskoutis said the 62 divers were his largest group in at least a decade.

After they reached the bayou and receiving a blessing from the archbishop, the divers ran and jumped into the 66-degree water. They scrambled onto boats linked in a semicircle around the observation platform.

After a blessing of the water and the release of a white dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit, Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta threw the cross into the water.

"Right dead center. It was a nice throw," said Emanouel Frangos, 32, of Campbell, Ohio, who was attending his fifth Epiphany in Tarpon Springs.

After 50 seconds — a bit longer than it usually takes for the cross to be found — Kontodiakos rose from the water clutching the white cross.

His fellow divers hoisted him onto their shoulders and carried him back to the cathedral, where well-wishers and fellow divers kissed the cross.

Kontodiakos and the other divers were honored afterward at a glendi, or party, at the cathedral's community center.

The archbishop acknowledged the youth for their "spontaneous, loving gesture" of carrying Kontodiakos on their shoulders after the dive.

"I told them ... keep the good spirit of being in a good competition, but also, keep the strong fellowship," said Archbishop Demetrios.

Father Michael Eaccarino, the cathedral's spiritual leader, said Kontodiakos was a "well-rounded" young man worthy of the honor.

"That kind of wholesome character, that I think so many young men have lost today because of families dissolving, this young man has it," he said.

Kontodiakos is the son of John and Argie Kontodiakos of Tarpon Springs. He is a senior at Countryside High School, where he is a punter on the football team. He was a 2008 first-team selection on the USA Today All-America team.

Tradition says the young man who retrieves the Epiphany cross will enjoy a year of good fortune.

But John Kontodiakos said he expects his son's blessings will only multiply over the years.

"I've been very fortunate," he said. "He will have a lot of that and it's not just for the year, it's for life."

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4162.

Fast facts

On the Web

For videos and a photo
gallery, or to buy photos from this Epiphany or past years, point your browser to links.tampabay.com.

By the numbers

62 Divers

50 Seconds for the cross to be retrieved

11 Dinghies

15,000 Estimated number of spectators

66 Water temperature in Spring Bayou

Diver carries on his family's Epiphany tradition 01/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 8, 2009 11:25pm]
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