Thousands head to Tarpon Springs for Epiphany celebrations

The annual Epiphany celebrations returned to Tarpon Springs Bayou for its 114th year Monday, symbolizing the baptism of Jesus Christ.

For the Greek Orthodox Church in Tarpon Springs, it’s a day when dozens of young men dive into Spring Bayou, hoping to find the white cross. Whoever retrieves it is blessed by the Archbishop and is rewarded with a year of blessings. 

This year, that person was 18-year-old Hunter Sakadales.

18-year-old Hunter Sakadales with the Epiphany cross

“Extremely overwhelmed! I’m blessed! It just, it just feels amazing!” Sakadales said after the dive. “A lot of responsibility but it feels right, I feel prepared to do it.”

There are residents in Tarpon Springs who have been celebrating Epiphany for about 50 years. They said the tradition has pretty much remained the same. This year though, it will be a little more special. Two dignitaries will be attending Monday's celebrations: the Archbishop Elpidophoros of America and the Prime Minister of Greece. 

For 114 years, many head to Tarpon Springs for Epiphany celebrations. It marks the baptism of Jesus Christ. It's also a day when dozens of young men dive into the Spring Bayou in hopes of finding a special cross. (FOX 13 News)

Every year, teenage boys jump into the chilly waters of Spring Bayou, hoping to be the first to find the symbolic wooden cross. Ilias Skandaliaris, an 18-year-old, said it’s been a year of blessings since he retrieved the cross at the annual Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs.

“The cross brings many blessings and happiness to you and your family, and all of the community around you. It was an adrenaline-rushing moment,” Skandaliaris said about last year’s event. “It was just the most joyful moment of my life.”

Nearly 60 young men, all between the ages of 16 and 18, took part in the cross dive.

The Divine Liturgy began at 8 a.m. at the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, followed by a four-hour service and a procession to the Bayou where the cross dive took place. Events at Craig Park lasted until sunset.