Chilly Epiphany in New York

ASTORIA – The forecasts for the following day called for bitter cold, but it was cold enough by the East River for the celebration of the festival of  Epiphany to be modified this year on January 5. More than 50 brave souls made it to the river’s edge, but the traditional procession of the entire congregation through Astoria did not take place.

The combination of the Polar Vortex that overtook the Northeast and inconveniences due to construction at the traditional site of the Blessing of the Water service of St. Nicholas at Ground Zero caused the cancellation of that event, but 12 Bronx Boys did take the plunge for the Church of the Zoodohos Peghe.

The Very Rev. Fr. Nektarios Papazafiropoulos , the pastor of the unique parish with two sanctuaries, the Cathedral of St. Demetrios and the church of St. Catherine and St. George in Astoria, assisted by Fr. Vasilios Louros and Arch chanter Andonios Kehagias, was exuberant despite the weather.

“Today’s message is about joy and the renewal of nature,” which cannot be dampened by drizzle and cold.

He noted that the immersion of the “Holy Cross imparts holiness to all the water on Earth, so that in turn we can be made Holy. The purpose of our life is to become holy, by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit, which makes our souls holy.”

He expressed the hope that his fellow human beings will transcend their human nature, with its imperfections, and will become holy “through the Grace of the Holy Spirit in our lives and our hearts.”

The ancient celebration commemoration of  the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River is called Epiphany in the West, which corresponds to Theophaneia – The Manifestation of God – one of two Orthodox Christian characterizations of the holiday.

Greeks also refer to the feast as “Ta Fota – The Lights.” Combined with the Blessing of the Waters, the day is replete with rich spiritual metaphors

The Greek Consul Manos Koumbarakis represented Consul General George Iliopoulos. He said chronia polla and a happy new year to the community and expressed his wish that it be “filled with health and happiness for its families, and love and peace for all mankind.

He noted Epiphany “is the holiday of light and conveys a message of hope, optimism and strength. I also hope that 2014 with be a year of development, prosperity and national recovery for Greece.” He also wished progress and success for the community and that they “continue to make us proud.”

Fotis Papiris, a seminarian attending Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, MA, returned home to Astoria to also participate in the service.

Rene Markakis, whose son Jim is an altar boy, told TNH, “Despite the bad weather we came here to continue the tradition and to send the cross into the river.” She wished God’s blessings on the community and a Happy new year to its members.

Parish councilor Emmanuel Dritsas echoed Markakis’ thoughts and good wishes and was pleased that people turned out to continue the tradition. He thanked Fr. Nektarios for a “beautiful service” and already looked forward  to returning in 2015 –  “kai tou chronou – and again next year,”  he said.

More to come.