If you were fortunate enough to have grown up in a town such as Tarpon Springs, Florida, where I attended high school, then you are probably quite familiar with some of the unique cultural celebrations associated with Epiphany. What I remember vividly about this ancient church holiday is skipping school each year on Epiphany to see many of my classmates (young men ages 16-18 of the Greek Orthodox faith) dive into the chilly waters of Spring Bayou to retrieve the cherished cross. The "blessing of waters" and "diving for the cross" ceremonies were famous in our predominately Greek community, and that fame was shared for a year by one special Greek classmate who had the honor of recovering the crucifix and receiving the traditional full-year's blessing.
After more than 100 years of celebrating this tradition, the annual Greek Orthodox festival in Tarpon Springs continues to draw large crowds, yet many observers do not understand the true meaning behind these Epiphany ceremonies.
What is Epiphany?
Epiphany, also known as "Three Kings Day" and "Twelfth Day," is a Christian holiday commemorated on January 6. It falls on the twelfth day after Christmas, and for some denominations signals the conclusion of the twelve days of the Christmas season. Though many different cultural and denominational customs are practiced, in general, the feast celebrates the manifestation of God in the form of human flesh through Jesus Christ, his Son.
The word epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation" and is commonly linked in Western Christianity with the visit of the wise men (Magi) to the Christ child. Through the Magi, Christ revealed himself to the gentiles. In Eastern Christianity, Epiphany puts emphasis on the baptism of Jesus by John, with Christ revealing himself to the world as God's own Son. Likewise, on Epiphany some denominations commemorate Jesus' miracle of turning water into wine, signifying the manifestation of Christ's divinity as well.