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Monday's Epiphany celebration will be Tarpon's 108th

Bishop Sevastianos of Zela, right, blesses divers who will participate in today’s Epiphany cross dive. The bishop blessed the fleet Sunday at the Sponge Docks using basil dipped in holy water as part of Greek Orthodox traditions.
Bishop Sevastianos of Zela, right, blesses divers who will participate in today’s Epiphany cross dive. The bishop blessed the fleet Sunday at the Sponge Docks using basil dipped in holy water as part of Greek Orthodox traditions.
Published Jan. 6, 2014

TARPON SPRINGS

Today continues a long-held tradition as throngs of Greek Orthodox Christians, townspeople and tourists converge on this coastal city for its 108th Epiphany celebration.

As many as 25,000 spectators from around the world are expected to turn out for the annual festivities, which commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan by John the Baptist.

Tarpon's observance each Jan. 6 is one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere.

The event's centerpiece is the blessing and throwing of a cross into Spring Bayou, where 44 barefoot teen boys will dive to retrieve it in a quest for blessings from the Lord. The dive also is considered a rite of passage into manhood for Greek boys ages 16 to 18.

Celebrants and dignitaries begin the day with solemn religious services inside St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. That is followed shortly after noon by a colorful procession to the nearby bayou, just west of the intersection of Alt. U.S. 19 and Tarpon Avenue.

There, Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, will preside over a ceremony at the water's edge, assisted by other Greek Orthodox clergy.

A white dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit will be released over the bayou. Each year, the cathedral bestows the honor of dove bearer on one young woman who is a member of its choir. This year it's 16-year-old Joi Theophilopoulos, a Tarpon Springs High School junior. She's the granddaughter of the late Father Tryfon Theophilopoulos, who was the cathedral's spiritual leader for three decades.

Once the dove is released, the archbishop will throw a white wooden cross into the bayou. The young men waiting in anchored dinghies will leap into the chilly, murky water in search of the cross.

Following the dive, celebrants will partake of food, music and dancing during the hourslong Glendi, a Greek festival, at the Spanos Pappas Community Center Theophilos Hall, 348 N Pinellas Ave. The party will feature elaborate costumes and traditional Greek dance performances by the Levendia, a national award-winning Greek dance troupe, and other local dance groups.

All Epiphany events are free and open to the public. The events will close parts of Spring Boulevard and Tarpon, Safford and Pinellas avenues from about 10:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.