Christian Orthodox Epiphany

Epiphany, Christian Orthodox

January 6 (Gregorian calendar) or January 19 (Julian calendar)
Epiphany is a celebration by the Eastern Orthodox Christian churches of the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan and the manifestation of his divinity when a dove descended on him. For Orthodox Christians around the world it is called Blessing of the Waters Day . In honor of the baptism of Christ, the church's baptismal water is blessed, and small bottles of the holy water are given to parishioners to take home. In many American cities, the priest leads the congregation to a local river which he blesses. Many places throughout the world mark the day with a blessing of the waters and immersion of a cross in seas, lakes, and rivers. At the port of Piraeus, Greece, the local priest throws a cross into the sea, and the diver who retrieves it is thought to be blessed with good luck in the coming year.
In pre-revolutionary Russia, priests and church officials led a procession to the banks of streams or rivers, breaking the ice and lowering a crucifix into the water. Those brave enough to jump into the icy waters to recover the crucifix were thought to be especially blessed. In the north, diving for the cross is frequently done on September 14 ( see Exaltation of the Cross), when the water is warmer.
The holy day of the Epiphany is celebrated in colorful fashion in Tarpon Springs, Fla., at one time a sea sponge center with the largest sponge market in the world. The community has a strong Greek influence, going back to the beginning of the 20th century when sponge divers from Greece came here to take part in the growing sponge industry. On Epiphany, up to 100 young men from Greek Orthodox churches compete in diving for a gold cross. The cross has been tossed into the bayou by the chief celebrant from the town's St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, and the person who retrieves it will be specially blessed.
Events of this holiday begin the day before with a blessing of the sponge fleet. The next morning, after the church service and a blessing of the waters, there is a parade of school and civic groups led by ecclesiastical dignitaries in their vestments. Many of the paraders wear Greek costume. After the parade, when the cross has been retrieved, the day becomes festive, with bouzouki music, dancing, and feasting, especially on roast lamb. Epiphany has been observed in this manner at Tarpon Springs since 1904, and now attracts about 30,000 people.
In Greece, Epiphany is one of the country's most important church days, especially in the port towns where diving for the cross takes place. After services, on the eve of Epiphany in Cyprus, priests visit houses to cleanse them from demons known as Kallikantzari . According to Cypriot tradition, these evil spirits appear on earth at Christmas, and for the next 12 days play evil tricks on people. On the eve of their departure, people appease them by throwing pancakes and sausages onto their roofs, which is where the demons dwell.
See also Epiphany, Feast of the
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral
18 Hibiscus St.
Tarpon Springs, FL 34689
Orthodox Church in America
P.O. Box 675
Syosset, NY 11791
516-922-0550; fax: 516-922-0954
Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave. S.E.
Washington, DC 20540
202-707-5000; fax: 202-707-2076
BkFest-1937, pp. 3, 144, 289, 335
DictWrldRel-1989, p. 237
EncyChristmas-2003, p. 217
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 17
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 35
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 15
OxYear-1999, p. 21
RelHolCal-2004, p. 117
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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