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In Epiphany roles, youth connected to their faith

Dove bearer Ioana Bociu, 18, a Palm Harbor University senior, releases the dove during the Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Dove bearer Ioana Bociu, 18, a Palm Harbor University senior, releases the dove during the Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs.

TARPON SPRINGS — Seminole's Justin Kouvaras, an 18-year-old senior at St. Petersburg High, hoped his final year would be his luckiest.

He was right next to the boy who retrieved the cross last year, he said.

He again did the necessary things in order to be a diver for the Epiphany cross. He submitted an application. He wrote an essay and attended classes. This would be Kouvaras' last attempt at the sacred cross. The yearly event is for boys ages 16, 17 and 18.

"By diving, I just feel more connected to my faith," Kouvaras said. "I believe that God has already chosen somebody to get the cross."

In 50 seconds, Pantelis "Pete" Kontodiakos, 17, popped out of the murky Spring Bayou with the cross in hand.

"Even if you don't touch the cross, you still get a blessing," Kouvaras said before the dive. "The water is blessed before you dive for the cross. It's all a blessing."

• • •

After 103 years, it shouldn't be hard for the Epiphany divers to find their way to Spring Bayou.

But a slight change in this year's route from the cathedral to the water left them a little confounded Tuesday.

The group kept going straight on Orange Street and missed their turn onto Safford Avenue.

"Wait! Wait! Come back!" other parade participants shouted.

The boys made a quick U-turn to catch the rest of the procession.

The mistake was an easy one to make, said diver Valantis Kouros, 17.

"It's ingrained because that's how we do it every year," he said.

• • •

Ronal Prodromitis was 11 years old when he and his three younger siblings were adopted from a Guatemalan orphanage and brought to Tarpon Springs.

Now 18, Prodromitis doesn't know much about his biological parents, but he admits that his life has been blessed.

Tuesday, the Tarpon Springs High junior waited eagerly outside of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. He too would be one of the 62 boys to dive for the cross. Because he is 18, it would be his last attempt too.

"It's probably the most nervous dive I've done so far," he said. "There are a lot of emotions and feelings."

Prodromitis participated as an altar boy during the Epiphany service before lending his black robe to someone else. He too would wear shorts and the white T-shirt with a blue cross on the front like the other divers.

It was a last chance for Ronal Prodromitis but a first for brother, Angel, 16. "It's just a blessing that we all get to be here and dive," Ronal Prodromitis said.

• • •

Ioana Bociu nervously stood in middle of the street holding onto a fragile white dove. Her hair would blow in her face and cover an eye but she couldn't let go of the dove. Someone would reach over and pin the hair back for her.

As the dove bearer for Tuesday's Epiphany ceremony, Bociu, 18, walked through the streets of Tarpon Springs with a pleasant smile. But she knew the importance of the task given to her as a result of being a good choir member and her faithfulness to the church.

Bociu was careful not to hurt the dove while at the same time ensuring that the bird, which represented the Holy Spirit's presence, made it to Spring Bayou's edge.

"Right now, it's very nerve-racking," Bociu said, with her hands cupped around the dove. "It's very fidgety and I don't want to squeeze it too tight."

At the appointed time, the Palm Harbor University senior released the dove and watched it sail into the blue sky.

Times staff writer Rita Farlow contributed to this report.

In Epiphany roles, youth connected to their faith 01/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 4:30pm]

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