NEW YORK – The blessing of the waters that is part of the Orthodox Christian celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany is a beautiful tradition that graces the start of the New Year. While it can be taken for granted in traditional Orthodox communities in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean basin, in the Diaspora it is a highlight of
community calendars and a delightful celebration enjoyed by Greek and non-Greeks alike.
Deep in the American South, where the weather is more welcoming, divers don’t hesitate a bit before taking the plunge as in up north. In Florence, SC, there is no diving, but citizens appreciate the Blessing of Florence ceremony under the gazebo at The Palms course at Oakdale Lake.
This is the first year the Church hosted a public blessing for the entire city of Florence in this way.
The Rev. Athanasios C. Haros, pastor of the Church of the Transfiguration, told the Morning News prior to the service that the first part of the blessing service would include scripture lessons, followed by the blessing of the holy water. “From our vantage point as Orthodox Christians, we think that the grace of God is present in the holy water,” Haros said.
“As part of the Feast of Epiphany, the church extends the blessings of the Jordan River to all creation through water,” he added.
In Ventura, CA, water-based blessings preceded this year’s Epiphany celebration in the form of rainstorms that brought desperately needed drought relief to the area.
The rains dirtied the water at Ventura Harbor so much, however, that the annual dive to retrieve the wooden cross was held instead at the Ventura Dive and Sport pool.
Rev. Gary Kyriacou, pastor of the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Camarillo told the local paper that he was careful to be fair with the tossing of the cross since his son Harrison Kyriacou, 15, was one of the divers.
“I did everything I could to make sure I wasn’t biased when I threw the cross,” the priest told the Ventura County Star.
Barbara Kokkinis, who organizes the annual event for the church, said that while young people who wanted to participate turned out to be ill on the big day, older people were also invited to dive.
This year, last-minute arrival Chris Pulos, of Chatsworth was the first to grab the cross. Ordinarily cross retrievers revel in the joy generated by the tradition that they will have good luck all year, but he said he dove in honor of his grandmother Miki Pulos, who died last Friday.
“It wasn’t until an hour ago that I decided to do this for my grandmother. I think that is what gave me a little push near the end,” he said.
In many part of the world, the celebration of Epiphany is an opportunity for Orthodox parishes from different jurisdictions to gather.
In the Tulsa, OK area, three Orthodox churches blessed the water of the Arkansas River on Sunday afternoon by dropping a large ice cross into the river at the River Park West festival area.
Participating were Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, St. Antony Orthodox Christian Church, and Holy Apostles Orthodox Christian Church.
Fr. Ambrose Arrington, pastor of Holy Apostles, explained to Tulsaworld.com that the Epiphany celebration, also known as Theophany, symbolizes the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Signs of the Father and the Holy Spirit during the baptism made that event in the life of Christ the first public revelation of God as Holy Trinity.
TAKING THE PLUNGE DOWN UNDER
Nick Georgiou, 16, from Mentone, retrieved the wooden cross tossed off the pier in Frankston, Australia on January 6.
He was one youngest participants in the ceremony where Bishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia presided.
Georgiou, who is a Year 11 student at Haileybury College, now looks forward to the 12 months of good luck and prosperity tradition promises. He said he did not appreciate how “big and special” the Blessing of the Waters ceremony was until he saw the large crowd on Wednesday morning.
He told the Frankston Standard Leader, “My friend invited me to come with him because we’re both Greek…I was really nervous before I jumped in.”
The paper reported that “Nick was blessed by Bishop Iakovos after retrieving the wooden cross and was given a wooden cross pedant to wear as a memento… The 16-year-old aims to become a sports physiotherapist after he finishes his schooling.”
The Rev. Athanasios C. Haros, pastor at the Church of the Transfiguration, presides over the inaugural Blessing of Florence, SC ceremony under the gazebo at Lake Oakdale.