About the Epiphany Celebration:
The period between Christmas and Epiphany is called Dodecameron, or the Twelve Days. It is considered one continuous festive period and is where the term “Twelve Days of Christmas” is derived. Epiphany, also called the Theophany (meaning “appearance of God”), celebrates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan by St. John the Baptist. The first account of an Epiphany celebration is attributed to Clement of Alexandria (d. 215 A.D.).
When Jesus Christ was baptized, a voice was heard from the heavens saying, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” This was the voice of God. The Holy Spirit, in the form of the dove, descended upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Thus, all three Persons of the Holy Trinity were revealed, simultaneously, to humankind for the first time.
The most characteristic feature of the Orthodox Epiphany observance is the sanctification of the waters. The waters of the River Jordan were blessed by the presence of Jesus Christ, a source of Divine Grace and blessing. The prayers invoked today appropriate the very same blessings upon the water blessed in the Cathedral and the waters of Spring Bayou. Orthodox Christians receive sanctified water at the end of today’s service and set it aside for the entire year for use as a blessing during times of illness and other personal adversities.
Our community has commemorated the Christ’s Baptism with the ceremonial cross dive for close to a century. The day begins with Orthros and Liturgy services at St. Nicholas Cathedral. Following Liturgy, a procession of clergy and faithful winds its way to Spring Bayou. Once there, the Archbishop of America blesses the waters, as throngs of believers descend upon the water’s edge.
The Gospel of the day is then read and a white dove released to signify the descent of the Holy Spirit. Each year, a member of the community, typically a young woman, is chosen to carry the dove in the procession. For a full list of past dove bearers, click here.
After the dove is released, the Archbishop casts a cross into the bayou and young men dive into the waters. The one diver who retrieves the cross is considered blessed for the entire year.
Retrieval of the Cross is considered to be a source of blessings and grace. The young man who retrieves the Cross is blessed with a great responsibility and becomes a member of an elite brotherhood. As a champion for Christ, he is called to represent the Orthodox faith and follow God’s will.
Those selected to dive for the cross are young Orthodox Christian men between the ages of 16 and 18. Past divers have included many war veterans, doctors, lawyers, and politicians. Among noteworthy past retrievers is Nikitas Lulias. He retrieved the cross in 1974 and today serves as Archbishop of Thyateria and Great Britain. For a full list of past cross retrievers, click here.