TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. (WFLA) — Thousands of people gathered in Tarpon Springs Friday for the 117th annual Epiphany, the largest Epiphany celebration in the Western Hemisphere.
Epiphany, also called the Theophany (meaning “appearance of God”), is a celebration commemorating the baptism of Jesus Christ. The period between Christmas and Epiphany is called Dodecameron, or the Twelve Days. The term “Twelve Days of Christmas” is derived from this period.
The all-day event began with a church service at the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, followed by a procession leading to the Spring Bayou.
This year, 68 young men lined the bayou and waited for a cross to be thrown into the water.
It was a moment to be remembered as 16-year-old George Stamas grabbed the cross from the bayou, blessing him for the year.
“There’s 67 kids diving and I’m just one person,” he said. “So I’m very blessed.”
Stamas said he was chosen by God. “Nothing was luck, all blessings,” he said.
Stamas’ mother and father said they had a feeling he would retrieve the cross.
“Watching him today and all of the boys together and the comradery and how beautiful the ceremony is,” said George’s mother, Brooke Stamas. “It means something deep to us when you’re Greek Orthodox.”
George said, “I went under and thought I should come back up since I couldn’t breathe, but I kept going and saw it glowing.”
It isn’t the first time someone in his family has retrieved the cross.
“Unbelievable,” George said. “One person catching it in the family is great enough, but two is unbelievable.”
His cousin, Christian Chrysakis, retrieved the cross back in 2018, saying it’s a memory they both now share.
“It’s an indescribable feeling and now he knows it and we can talk about it all the time,” Chrysakis said.
It doesn’t stop there, their great-grandfather retrieved the cross back in 1938.
George’s father, Chris Stamas, says it’s an honor he’s proud got bestowed on his son.
“I’m so happy for him I’m proud of him,” Chris said. “I know he will wear the cross well and be a good steward of our church and the community.”
“I’m super proud of him,” Chris continued.
Now, their eyes are set on George’s little brother, Phoenix.
They hope he’ll be the next in the family to take on this Greek Orthodox tradition.
“Are you going to get the cross one day?”, asked News Channel 8’s Nicole Rogers.
“Yes,” Phoenix replied.
Phoenix will have to wait until he turns 16.
Only orthodox men ages 16 to 18 can participate in the ceremonial dive. Those three years leave memories the divers say are worth a lifetime.
Past divers have included war veterans, doctors, lawyers, and politicians. Among the more noteworthy past retrievers is Nikitas Lulias, who retrieved the cross in 1974 and now serves as Archbishop of Thyatira and Great Britain.