CLEARWATER – His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America arrived on Saturday, January 4 at Tampa International Airport in Florida in advance of Monday’s Epiphany celebrations at Tarpon Springs. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis attended the Epiphany celebrations, accompanied by a group of ministers from his government.
The plane carrying the Archbishop took a detour because it couldn’t land at Tampa’s airport due to severe weather conditions – strong wind and rain – despite the courageous attempts by the pilot. The airplane went to Savannah, GA, where it was refueled. It then returned to Tampa, where it landed safely. That incident delayed the Archbishop’s schedule, but everybody was waiting for him patiently and enthusiastically.
The Archbishop was welcomed at the airport by Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta, Metropolitan Maximos of Ioannina, Auxiliary Bishops Demetrios of Mokissos, and Sebastian of Zela, and clergy and laity of the area. He visited the Holy Trinity parish in Clearwater, FL, where he was warmly welcomed by Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Greek school pupils dressed in traditional Greek outfits and holding the flag of Greece in their hands, and the newly elected president of Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology George Cantonis.
The Holy Trinity parish hosted a luncheon in honor of the Archbishop during which in his homily said among other things the following:
“My dear brothers and sisters, I convey to you the love and blessings of His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. He greets you in the joy of the Great Feast of Lights, as he offers prayers for your peace and well-being in the Lord.
For myself, I am very pleased to join you for these special days ahead. The Theophany is one of the great events in the history of salvation; and your celebration of it here is one of the high points in the life of our Archdiocese, year after year. People around the country, and around the world, will be watching as we bless the waters through the Precious and Life-Giving Cross. It is a wonderful way to proclaim our Orthodox Faith and uphold the traditions of our people.
“But our Epiphany Service is something else as well. As you know, His All-Holiness, in his Christmas Encyclical, declared that 2020 should be a ‘year of pastoral renewal and due concern for the youth.’ Could there be a better way to begin the Year of the Youth, than with our blessing of the waters at the Tarpon Springs bayou. The young people are front and center on this holy occasion: the young women who release the dove, and the young men who dive for the Cross. The youth will lead us to the blessings of the Epiphany, just as they must lead us into the future of our Church.”
The Archbishop praised the Metropolis and Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta by saying that “the Metropolis of Atlanta is well-known for the vibrancy of its youth ministries, and in particular, for the Saint Stephen’s Summer Camp. I commend my dear senior and brother hierarch, Metropolitan Alexios, for making the youth a high priority in everything. Your Eminence, you have a great zeal for passing on our traditions to the young people. We pray that the Lord will give you many more years of fruitful ministry to them and to all of us.”
On Sunday, January 5, Archbishop Elpidophoros presided over the archieratical Divine Liturgy at the Church of St. John the Baptist in Tampa. (see related story) Then, he attended the annual luncheon at the Innisbrook Resort – Tarpon Springs.
On Monday, January 6, the Archbishop presided over the Orthros and the Archieratical Divine Liturgy, and the Great Agiasmos (Blessing of the Waters) at the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs. Then, he led the procession to Spring Bayou for the diving for the Holy Cross and the Blessing of Waters. The Archbishop was accompanied in his Florida visits and Services by Archimandrite Athenagoras Ziliaskopoulos, chaplain at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, Archdeacon Elefterios Constantin, and Deacon Gedeon Varitimos.