On this great feast of Theophany, we celebrate Christ’s baptism, when the voice of the Father identified Him as the Son of God and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove. Epiphany reveals that the Savior Who appears from the waters of the Jordan to illumine our world of darkness is the God-Man, a Person of the Holy Trinity. He is baptized to restore us, and the creation itself, to the ancient glory for which we were created.
Tragically, our first parents turned away from their high calling and ushered in the realm of corruption that we know all too well. God gave Adam and Eve garments of skin when they left paradise after disregarding Him. Through their disobedience, they had become aware that they were naked and were cast into the world as we know it. Their nakedness showed that they had repudiated their vocation to become like God in holiness. Having stripped themselves of their original glory, they were reduced to mortal flesh and destined for slavery to their passions and the grave. Because of them, the creation itself was “subjected to futility…” (Rom. 8:20).
Epiphany, observed on January 6th, celebrates the baptism of Jesus Christ and the historic manifestation of the Holy Trinity. Liturgically, the Church commemorates the Feast day with a Blessing of the Waters service at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy. For many communities, this service transitions from the church to a nearby open body of water. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of parishes across the globe add an additional, semi-liturgical component- a competitive diving for the cross.
Perhaps the most famous of these events in the Western Hemisphere occurs in my home parish in Tarpon Springs, Florida. The city’s first celebration took place in 1903. Today, tens of thousands of spectators gather around Spring Bayou to pray and participate in the festivities. Following the service in St. Nicholas Cathedral, the choir, community organizations, altar boys, priests, and visiting dignitaries process in unity to the water. After hymns, prayers, and a reading of the Gospel, the Bishop tosses a white wooden cross into Spring Bayou, and young divers plunge in to retrieve it.
The Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs is the event of the year. Many divers refer to the experience—whether they win or not—as the blessing of a lifetime. Indeed, many say that simply participating in the dive is an ecstatic experience that enlivens their relationship with God. But this blessing is conferred upon only half of the Orthodox population, because the application for diving on Epiphany in Tarpon Springs explicitly states: must be a male. Continue Reading…