TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. - The annual Epiphany dive for the cross in Tarpon Springs has been a staple in the Greek community for generations, but 50 years ago, there was a plot twist that led to a double cross dive that many believe was a sign of what led a Tampa teen down a path to becoming a world leader in the Greek Orthodox Church.
FOX 13 recently discovered and restored a WTVT news film that tells an amazing story of the annual Epiphany celebration from January 1974.
FOX 13’s Lloyd Sowers recently watched the WTVT’s archival film with Father Jim Paris of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Clearwater.
In the video you can hear former WTVT reporter Ray Blush say, "It looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day for the celebration, quite unusual because it’s normally cold and wet," as former chief photographer Jule McGee filmed on the edge of Spring Bayou.
File: 1974 Epiphany dive
The video shows the archbishop moments before he threw a cross into the bayou as a group of young boys waited in small boats to see who could retrieve it.
The generations-old tradition says the boy who comes away with the cross will enjoy a year of good luck.
File: 1974 Epiphany
Unknown to Blush and McGee at the time, and unknown to Sowers 50 years later, the film would reveal a tale of two archbishops. There’s the one who threw the cross and the one who caught the cross, as the old film explains.
Something unusual happened at that 1974 Epiphany. When the archbishop threw the cross into the bayou, it disappeared. The boys couldn’t find it. So, the archbishop threw a second cross.
Moments later, two boys held crosses above their heads. The second cross was caught in the air.
Teens come up with the crosses.
In the video you can hear Blush ask that boy, "Was it in the water when you caught it?"
"It was just above the water," he answered. "Because I have marks on my hands. You can see the marks on my hands."
Father Paris looked closely at the 50-year-old film.
"That’s him," he said. "It’s Nakitas Loulias."
Two boys caught two crosses tossed in 1974.
Loulias was a local boy who was a student at the University of Florida in 1974. As Sowers watched the interview with Nakitas, Father Paris revealed the plot twist.
"He’s now an archbishop," Paris shared.
"The boy who caught the cross tossed by the archbishop became an archbishop?" Sowers asked.
"He’s the Archbishop of Great Britain, Nikitas Loulias," Father Paris said with a smile.
Archbishop of Great Britain, Nikitas Loulias
It was an amazing treasure found on a forgotten piece of film. It was the only known film of the boy who caught the unusual second cross. Soon after that, he began a journey to one of the highest positions in the Greek Orthodox Church.
There was something else unusual captured by the WTVT news camera on that day.
Just before the archbishop tossed the two crosses into the bayou, a dove landed on the archbishop’s crown. No one had seen it happen before.
File: 1974 Epiphany
Sowers asked Father Paris, "Was it a sign?"
"It was a very historical day, and this is a very historical piece of film," he chuckled.
As everyone walked out of the church, they had an appreciation of what new things we can learn from old film.
Two archbishops were connected by the toss of a cross at Spring Bayou in Tarpon Springs.