TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — For the first time in 115 years, the Epiphany Celebration was held with fewer spectators than usual in Tarpon Springs.
The event celebrates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan by St. John the Baptist.
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The 100-plus-year-old tradition is a day-long affair that is highlighted by local teenage boys diving into Spring Bayou to retrieve a cross thrown into the water by an archbishop. The boy who surfaces with the cross is said to have good luck for the following year.
This year, the event, which has been a staple in Tarpon Springs since 1906 and attracts more than 20,000 people to the Greek town every year, looked different on Wednesday, Jan. 6 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Only 55 divers, ages 16-18, took part in the blessing, and the boys were only allowed to each have two family members there to watch.
The divers had to wear a mask leading up to the plunge into the water and were given a new mask to put on immediately after climbing out of the bayou.
16-year-old Colten Sakadales was the lucky teenager to retrieve the cross this year. Colten happens to be the younger brother of the cross retriever from last year, Hunter Sakadales. It's the first time in 115 years that two brothers have retrieved the cross back-to-back.
“My mind just went blank. I was like 'okay I should probably go and get it.' I came up and was like ‘is this real?’ I couldn’t even believe it,” Colten Sakadales said adding that the cross seemed to glow underwater.
His older brother Hunter says he screamed out "That's my brother!" Later, in an interview, he added: “The last blessing of my last year of blessings is that my brother got the cross.”
The ceremonial procession and popular Glendi Celebration after-party were canceled and limited capacity was allowed inside St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
Police officers also closed off Craig Park to the public to keep spectators from gathering.
- 8 a.m. - Archierarchial Liturgy
- 11:30 a.m. - Procession to Spring Bayou
- 1 p.m. - Blessing of Tarpon Springs & Cross Dive
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