TARPON SPRINGS — As an alto in her church choir, Effe Mia Maria Coburn is used to being among 34 other voices that blend together to create one lovely tone.
But next week, all eyes will be on her as she leads a procession through the streets of Tarpon Springs with a symbol of purity in her hands.
Coburn, 18, has been selected as the dove bearer for the 104th Epiphany ceremony on Jan. 6.
"It's a huge honor," she said. "I feel like I have a lot to live up to. In the Bible, the Epiphany was the only time that the Trinity was (mentioned) together."
The religious celebration will bring thousands of Greek Orthodox Christians to Tarpon Springs to watch 65 boys ages 16 to 18 dive for a white cross thrown into Spring Bayou.
The teenager who retrieves the cross, a symbol of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River, is guaranteed blessings and favor from the Lord.
Before the dive, Coburn, wearing a purple choir robe covered with a white smock with lace around the neck and bell-shaped sleeves, will release the white dove. The dove represents the presence of the Holy Spirit.
"It's a huge role for a female," Coburn said.
Understanding the importance of being the dove bearer is one of the reasons Coburn was selected, said Katie Faklis, the choir director at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
Faklis has selected the dove bearer for more than 30 years.
"She's a very knowledgeable young woman and she takes things very seriously," Faklis said. "Her religion means a lot to her. It's not that 'I want to be in the choir because I want to carry the dove' type of thing. She is serious about her relationship with Christ."
By tradition, dove bearers must be faithful members of the choir and cannot be married.
Coburn's great-grandfather, Emmanuel Klimis, came to the United States in 1910 at the age of 10 from the island of Kalymnos, Greece. He worked as a sponger with his brothers and later purchased his own sponge boat. Klimis' tithes from his sponge fishing trips help build St. Nicholas Cathedral.
Coburn is a lifelong resident of Tarpon Springs and like her mother, Mary, graduated from Tarpon Springs High. Her father, Kyle, will be watching his daughter as she takes on the role while her 16-year-old brother, Henry, takes part in the procession. He will dive for the cross for the first time.
"This is every girl's dream," said Mary Coburn, a Tarpon Springs lawyer. "I never got the chance, so it's a great thing to see my daughter do it."
Coburn is currently a freshman at St. Petersburg College and plans to pursue a career in nursing or pharmacy.
She attended St. Nicholas Greek School and St. Nicholas Sunday School and, at the age of 8, became a choir member.
In 2007, Coburn's best friend since age 3 was the dove bearer. They are now both students at the college.
Kalliope Cortessis, 19, has given her friend some advice.
"Don't be nervous because it's a big responsibility," said Cortessis, whose mother was also a dove bearer. "Everybody is watching you. When holding the dove, don't hold on too tight but good enough so it doesn't get away. You will be a little nervous but once you get out there, you get used to it."
The dove bearer often wears a ring with a ribbon tied to it and the dove. That connection ensures that the dove doesn't fly away before it's time. Coburn will wear the ring that her grandmother gave her on her 16th birthday — the grandmother, Effe Klimis, she was named after.
"This is so special," Coburn said. "It means a lot to my family."