Saint Demetrios High School Visits Tarpon, Springs Florida for Epiphany Celebration

Students from Saint Demetrios High School chaperoned by teachers John Tiliakos and Maria Katehis spent the first week of the new year in beautiful Tarpon Springs, Florida “The Sponge Capital of the World,” which is known throughout the world for its festive celebration of Epiphany. This is the first time that students from the only Greek-American parochial high school outside of Greece visited Tarpon Springs, – “the little Greece of Florida.” Planning for the trip began in early October and included tours of the area, visits to historical and recreational sites including a sponge boat diving excursion, and most importantly spending the Epiphany holiday at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral for service, the procession to the bayou for the Agiasmos, and witnessing the casting of the Holy Cross which was retrieved by a lucky young man- just two years older than most of them. This year Epiphany in Tarpon Springs was extra special; Archbishop Elpidophoros presided over the services as the newly appointed spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis along with the First Lady were also present. The mayor of Tarpon Springs Chris Alahouzos, who traces his ancestry to Kalymnos, Greece along with a highly organized team were friendly and made the students feel welcomed and safe. The students from Saint Demetrios returned to classes on Thursday, January 9, 2020 filled with enthusiasm and grateful for having taken this trip. Most of them called it a “once in a lifetime experience” since they had heard about how Epiphany is celebrated in Greece from their parents or grandparents. The young men and women were also emotional because they heard stories from Greek-Americans living in Tarpon Springs who devote time, money, and effort to keep the traditions alive in Florida! The students dined at several Greek restaurants where the service was superb and the conversations with the owners and staff was lively as they spoke about the beautiful islands of Greece (where many still have family and visit often). Mr. Tiliakos even had the opportunity to become acquainted with distant cousins! The boys on the trip commented that they wished they could one day compete for the retrieval of the cross which they called “more precious than gold.” As it has been documented in numerous newspaper articles, the Greek Orthodox faithful of the area are passionate about their heritage and religion; Epiphany service at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral is followed by a parade to the bayou where the clergy conducts a blessing of the waters and boats (Agiasmos). A dove is released to signify the descent of the Holy Spirit at Christ’s baptism and the Archbishop casts a cross into the bayou as young men dive into the water to retrieve it. The young man who retrieves the Cross is blessed and is called to represent the Orthodox faith. Because of the positive experience that the students of Saint Demetrios had at Tarpon Springs, the school and the community in general hope that this trip becomes a tradition for future classes.