Tarpon Springs, FLA (GreekNewsOnline, TBO)
18 year-old Christian Chrysakis from Tarpon Springs was the lucky boy to retrieve to cross from the cold waters of Spring Bayou, in the largest Epiphany celebration in the Western Hemisphere, in Tarpon Springs Florida. 57 boys ages 16 to 18 jumped into the Spring Bayou on Saturday, in the 112th Epiphany Celebration, attended by 14,000, a number much lower than expected due to the cold weather, according to the spokeswoman Johanna Kossifidis.
Temperatures were in the 30s and 40s during the morning hours and many of the spectators came wrapped in blankets.
Due to the mass cancelations of flights from New York, following Thursday’s snowstorm, instead of Archbishop Demetrios American, the holy liturgy at the St Nicholas Cathedral and the ceremony of the blessing of the waters was presided by Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta.
The metropolitan tossed the cross, and the boys were off. They waded in the shallow water and dunked under again and again. One boy shouted a plea to last year’s winner, who stood on a platform overlooking the bayou.
“Where is it?” he yelled.
“It’s right under y’all!” Joseph Cooley, 19, yelled back.
Christian Chrysakis, a Tarpon Springs High School senior, told the reporters after retrieving the cross that this was the best feeling he has ever had in his life.
The experience sent Chrysakis’ adrenaline “through the roof,” he said later as his parents, Haven and Emmanuel, and 14-year-old brother, Michael, beamed beside him. His great-grandfather and cousin were previous cross winners.
“I was apprehensive,” Haven Chrysakis said of the weather, “but it’s a rite of passage.”
The win was extra special to his grandmother, Naomi Chrysakis, 68. For the last decade, her late husband, Chris, bought gold cross necklaces and donated them to the church to give to the winning boy. She continued the tradition after his death, long enough to watch a necklace go to her grandson.
“I told Christian, ‘Your Papou is smiling in heaven,’” she said, using the Greek word for grandfather. “It’s a great honor.”
Kiersten Spanos, a 15-year-old Tarpon Springs High sophomore chosen as the ceremony’s dove bearer, released a dove into the crisp air. Kiersten Spanos is the daughter of Theodore Spanos , the granddaughter of George and Fay Spanos, and the great granddaughter of Skevos and Kaliope Zaharopoulos who proudly served St. Nicholas Orthodox church for twenty years. She was born in Dunedin, Florida on June 14, 2002 and has family origins from Piraeus and Kalymnos, Greece where she spends her summers with family.
It was one of the coldest Epiphany celebrations in years, but nothing would stop the boys from their chance at a year of blessings.
“You only get three opportunities in your life,” diver Frankie Giallourakis, 17, said before the plunge.
Michael Kouskoutis, coordinator for the Epiphany divers, warned the boys in the hours leading up to the plunge.
“If at anytime you feel sick, queasy, unsteady because of the affects of weather, do not be embarrassed if you cannot participate,” he said. “You’re still a diver.”
It was one of the coldest Epiphany celebrations and the young divers had been offered wet suits, but turned them down in the name of tradition. Organizers added more emergency personnel just in case, and thermal blankets were ready to engulf the boys as soon as they came out of the water.
By the time the procession started toward the bayou about noon, temperatures had warmed to the 50s and sunlight filtered out through thin clouds. The water temperature sat at 60 degrees, officials said.
**** Comments taken from Tampaonline (tbo.com)