Epiphany draws thousands to Tarpon Springs

Posted at 4:57 PM, Jan 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-06 17:53:20-05

Thousands came out Wednesday for the highly anticipated cross dive in Tarpon Springs. 

The Epiphany is one of the largest religious celebrations in the world, and this is its 110th year.

This year’s winner, Anderson Combs, 17, says he dove for his grandmother. She died three years ago and he says while this is a spiritual accomplishment, it’s also a promise he had to keep for her.

"My yiayia always told me she wanted me to dive for the cross. When she passed away I always wanted to do it in her memory,' he said.

The Hudson High senior was the first to grab the cross for this year's epiphany. The Greek Orthodox celebration represents the baptism of Christ with a bishop throwing a cross into the water, and the town's men ages 16 through 18 dive for it.

“Once he ended up actually throwing the cross in, I was in the water by the time it hit the water,"  he said.

The all-day celebration begins at St. Nicholas’s Cathedral. From there, a procession takes place to Spring Bayou, where the divers rush to get a good position on the boats. Moments later the bishop blesses the teens and throws the cross.

Combs said he followed the ripples in the water.

"I dove down and no one found it. I came up and looked around to make sure no one found it, and then I took a deep breath, went under. I saw a couple people kick around, and I saw a little bit of white. I grabbed it and came up with the cross," he said.

Comb’s mom, Anna, was overwhelmed with joy.

"My mom is up in heaven watching down on him, knowing she helped in some way for him to get this cross,” she said.

Whoever gets the cross is said to have good luck for a year.

Combs is just glad he was able to do this for his grandmother.

"It's just great to retrieve it and have her in my mind," he said.