Epiphany
 

 

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The most outstanding event of the Hellenic Community of Tarpon Springs, Florida
Tarpon Springs, Florida, is its annual observance of Epiphany Day which takes place on January 6th.
The Greek people of Tarpon Springs introduced the Greek Epiphany and its traditional observance to the American Peo pie. The first observance was on a small scale and interest was confined to the local people. There were only "chairs" in the church, no pews. The entire congregation stood throughout in accord with ancient custom. The only news coverage was a brief paragraph in the Tarpon Springs newspaper.tio, grew.

The growth of interest in the Epiphany celebra . Soon, the Tamps and St. Petersburg papers carried stories of the observance And then, the Associated Press forwarded the news to all sections of the United States.
The Creek Community began to perfect the details of the program. Father Seraphim Stelides introduced the unloosing of the dove. With the return of men from the front, after the First World War, military bodies took their place in the proces sion. It became an impressive patriotic and civic demonstration . The Epiphany was the focus around which the whole spirit of the town gathered. Public banquets attracted out- standing men of state.
With the establishment of the Episcopate in America it was possible to secure the presence of the Archbishop. The most Rev. Alexander was the first prelate to participate and the celebrations under his direction took on great splendor. The fame of the celebration became world-wide. Alert cameramen made the ceremony familiar to newspaper readers movie-goers and television viewers throughout the country. The approach of Epiphany is the signal for the return of the sponge and other boats of the Tarpon Springs fleet. Epiphany Day finds the town in festive attire. Hundreds ofpennants float in the breeze. Creek and American flags fly everywhere. At dawn the bell summons the worshippers to the Greek Church.
As visitors gather from adjacent points the crowd overflows into the yard and street. Thousands upon thousands of people, of every faith and denomination, from practically every state
in the country, come to witness the impressive services, to hear the church music, to see the brilliant procession of priests and potentates, choir boys and girls and members of the Hellenic
organizations. Civic officials and personages ofdistinction par ticipate. Multitudes of people line the banks of Spring Bayou.
There are so many visiting boats you could walk from deck to deck practically from one side of the bayou to the other. Following the Epiphany religious ceremonies a Glendi (Greek festival) usually takes place. The festivities include a
Greek musical entertainment, dancing and Creek food. Nowhere outside Greece does the Epiphany take place on the scale witnessed in Tarpon Springs. Every element is at hand for its due celebration. Nature has provided the proper back ground with lavish hand; the mild, balmy climate, semi- tropical foliage; the picturesque water ofSpring Bayou and the presence of thousands of Greek people.
The Epiphany celebration, the Baptism of Christ, starts at dawn with ringingofthe bell which summons the worshippers to the Creek Church. During the solemn chanting of the Liturgy of these special services, the cadences of the Athenian tragedians reciting the sonorous lines of Aeschylus on the classic stage can be heard. You can hear echoes of the Byzantine music such as filled the dome of Saint Sophia in the days of Constantinople's splendor. After services in church the worshippers form a parade which terminates at Spring Bayou. In the processional are members of the parish in traditional dress. The Choir, garbed in church robes, sing as the procession makes its way through the streets. One member of the Choir walks alone carrying a dove symbolizing the holy spirit which descended upon Christ as he entered the waters to be baptized by John the Baptist. The highest ranking member of the clergy, dressed in rich vesture, carries in his hand a silver staff capped by two serpents, symbol of the serpent Moses lifted up in the wilder ness. There are usually children dressed as Angels, in Fus tenella, Evzone and other colorful traditional Hellenic cos tumes. When the processional reaches their destination the Clergy perform a service ofblessing. The gospel story ofthe baptism of Jesus is recited. When the words, "the Spirit descended like a dove" are read, the dove is set free. Simultaneously, the Holy Cross is tossed into the waters. There is a mighty splash as scores ofyoung Creek boys dive frantically, churning the water into foam, as they attempt to be the one to retrieve it. When finally one boy emerges with the sacred trophy he is acclaimed by the shouting spectators and kneels reverently to be crowned with a special blessing. He is then lifted upon the
shoulders of the other boys and taken into the Church to re ceive a second blessing. It is believed that the retriever will be the recipient of all good things for the coming year.
The tossing of the cross in the restless water represents the gospel message coming into the midst of the troublous world and the men eagerly stretching to retrieve the cross represent the nations reaching after the word of hope and cheer. The entire Epiphany, the service in Church, the processional and activities at Spring Bayou, are beautiful and impressive conveying deep spiritual lessons. As in the sponging Greek Islands, the holiday of Epiphany, Christ's Baptism Day, the spongers established that each year on January 6th, the day of the "Santification of the Waters", "Agiasmos" or Epiphany, be celebrated and consecrated as a
great Holy Day of the spongers. It is at this time that the impressive ceremony of blessing the boats takes place. The priest, in his Byzantine robes, boards each vessel, bear ing in his hand a crucifix which he holds high before him. He also carries st holy water sprinkling dispenser. After saying a prayer, a little ofthe holy water is sprinkled upon the captain, crew, the entire boat and equipment.
Some sponge boats carry a small church altar with an icon of St. Nicholas, the protector and aid of the mariners. Before Christianity, Creek mariners and spongers prayed to the Greek God Poseidon. The hymn chanted during the blessing of the: sponge fleet, as translated from the Greek version, follows: "When O Lord Thou was baptized in the river Jordon, the worship or manifes tation of the HOLY TRINITY was proclaimed. For the voice of the Father bare witness calling thee his beloved Son; and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of that word, 0 Christ our GOD, who has revealed thyself, and has enlightened the world, glory be to thee."
The first Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Tarpon Springs was built in 1907.

It was a wooden frame structure and had a seating capacity of approximately 250 people. As the years passed and the sponge industry grew, so did the town's Greek Orthodox population. In the 1930's the wooden frame church was destroyed by fire. The present Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which was completed in January of 1943, was built through generous contributions. Of the many who offered funds, the most out standing were the Greek sponge fishermen. They donated to the church a percentage of their gross sales at the sponge exchange. To add to these donations, various individuals and organizations contributed all the furniture, murals, icons and sacramental vessels.
The marble in the church was quarried in Greece and was originally part of the Greek Pavilion at the New York World's Fair in 1939. It was obtainedjust for the cost ofshipping it from Athens, Greece to New York and then to Tarpon Springs. The royal Creek government was indeed generous with this con tribution of an estimated fifteen tons of marble. The fountain in the courtyard is symbolic of cleanliness. The inscription carved in Greek reads the same backwards as it does forward and means "Wash your sins, not only your countenance (face)." Before entering the church, the faithful would wash at the fountain in keeping with the inscription.
The church is named after Saint Nicholas, the Patron Saint and protector of all mariners. All his life, he was devoted to children and a friend of the poor, always helping them in secret. Saint Nicholas was a cheerful giver of gifts who ex pected no return. He was born about 275 A.D. in Myra, a town oflycia in Asia Minor. His Uncle was the Bishop ofthat town
and he educated his nephew for a career in the church. In due time, Nicholas was ordained a priest by his Uncle and eventu ally succeeded him as Bishop.
The Saint Nicholas Church has been designed in the Byzan tine style, a replica of Saint Sophia Church in Constantinople, with colorful iconography, centered dome, arches, rich carv ings, chandeliers, vigil lamps and candles. The Byzantine Or thodox Church resembles a jewel box where precious rubies, diamonds and other priceless jewelry are kept. These invisible jewels are the seven sacraments that the church bestows upon
the Orthodox Christians.
The Greek Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church spoken of in the reciting of the Nicene Creed or Symbol ofFaith. It is the Church founded by Christ, received its mission on Pentecost Day, propagated throughout the world by the Holy Apostles, organized by the Great Fathers of the Church, and protected and guarded by the Local and Ecumeni-
cal Councils. The Holy Scripture and Sacred'Ilradition are the source of doctrine for the church.



The Orthodox Church accepts as Saints those who by their active faith and love have attained a state of perfection which is God-like. Sanctity has as many forms as there are individu als. Because we can speak with them easily in our language of human frailty, we address our prayers to them in order for them to mediate for us. We communicate with them not be cause we need any mediators with Christ, but because of our human needs to feel the closeness of those of our own who are saints. Symbolism is used abundantly in Orthodox worship. It is found in the Liturgy, sacraments and various offices and rites.The church itself, in its architectural planning, decorations
and furnishing expresses in symbolism the Orthodox faith. Candles are found at the entrance ofevery Orthodox Church. Christians make offerings and purchase a candle which they light and place on a candle stand next to a Saint. This sym bolizes a private prayer of thanksgiving for prayers that have been answered, continued good health, for the recovery of a 73

sick person, or for the soul of a departed loved one. The burning of candles is symbolic of the warmth of faith in Jesus Christ. The Double Headed Eagle done in mosaics in the center of the church, directly under the dome, symbolizes the Byzantine Empire, in all its glory and splendor. The Eagle is symbolic of power and wisdom. The two heads symbolize the two equal
authorities ofthe Byzantine Empire, the authority ofstate and church both united in one body. The Cross symbolizes that Christ is head of the Empire. The Crown symbolizes that the empire is head of state and will rule in the name of the Chris tian Church. The two heads symbolize the power of the state and the power of the church, each with its own authority, working together for the common good. As a sign ofrespect, the
Double Headed Eagle is never stepped upon unless protected by a covering.
The Chandelier in the center of the ceiling is a reminder of the great love ofGod for his creations and the manifold benefits of divine grace.
The Bishop's Throne symbolizes the Episcopal authority given to the Bishop when he celebrates the Divine Liturgy and is consequently the throne of Ecclesiastical Honor. The Bishop's throne is made ofbeautifully carved marble depicting Various Byzantine carvings of Ecclesiastical artwork, such as
the grape vine which symbolizes Jesus Christ, since he is referred to as the Vine of Life.
The Divine Liturgy for all faithful is the continuatioin ofthe Divine Sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, the sacrament of the Holy Communion of His body and blood. It is the divine drama ofthe life and sacrifice of Christ in which the worshippers take an active part. Both the clergy and laymen have an active role
in worship. The Divine Liturgy is not prayer alone, it is com- munication with God. Incense is used as a symbol of fervent prayers which arise to heaven and descend as divine grace as a result ofthe prayers. The Choir and Chanters represent the congregation, which in the early Church would give the response to the petitions of the priest, and symbolize the angels who offer praise and glory to God. The Chanters assist the priest during the morning
prayers celebrated and also during special services.
The White Candles on the Altar bring to mind the Lord who became the Sacrificial Lamb, the virtues ofFaith, Hope, Char ity and Love and that Jesus is ever ready to grant salvation to those who seek it. The Lamps represent the Saints and the Stars of heaven. The Holy Altar and Sanctuary are the holiest part of the church and are reserved only for the clergy and unless a person has special Episcopal Dispensation, he is forbidden entrance. The Holy Altar is a reminder of the tomb of Jesus and the table upon which Jesus ate the last supper with his disciples. The Altar and Sanctuary are symbolic of heaven, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit; God, the Father; God, the Son; and the Holy Trinity. Icons are pictures representing holy persons and holy ob jects. They are found in all orthodox churches and in all ort hodox homes, in small iconostasies with candles or lamps. Icons are painted by trained artists call called iconoggaphers.
They have many set artistic rules as to colors used, expressions on faces, positions, ofbodies and so forth. After buying an icon, Greek Orthodox people take it to their priest to have it blessed. Sometimes the priest keeps the icon forty days in the Altar.


Greek Orthodox believe the faithful should use images of saints in order to honor them, but not to worship them since only God is worshipped. As visible symbols, the icons help the faithful to communicate with God and the saints. Iconostasies or Icon Screen means "a place where icons holy pictures stand." The Icon Screen with its various saints are symbolic mirrors
through which we see heaven. It is the screen separating the Altar, where the clergy performs the services, from the church proper, where the congregation is seated. It has three doors, the
North and South doors and the Royal Gate in the center. The usual order of the Icons on the Iconostation are:
1- The icon on the royal gate is the icon ofChrist, the high
priest;
2- To the left of the royal gate is the icon of Christ;
3- To the left ofthe icon ofChrist is the icon ofSt. John the Baptist;
4- To the right of the royal gate is the icon of the Virgin
Mary with the Christ child Jesus in her arms;
5- To the right ofthe icon ofthe Virgin Mary is the icon of
the Saint for whom the church is named, here being St.
Nicholas;
6- The icons ofthe north and south doors are those ofthe archangels, Michael and Gabriel;
7- On the second tier above these icons are usually the
icons ofthe 12 apostles or the most important events in the life of Christ;
8- Over the royal gate is usually the icon of the last
supper;
9- The icons on the center dome are the 13 prophets ofthe Old Testament. The Icon Screen of the Saint Nicholas Church is made of beautifully carved marble imported from Greece. Above the Icon Screen, on the right, is a Bible symbolizing both the Old and New Testaments. To the left above the Icon Screen is a rooster, symbolic of the faith one should ,always
have in the Lord and referring to St. Peter who renounced the Lord three times.
The first Greek people to come to Tarpon Springs, to harvest sponges, aside from being bound together by a similarity of ethnic background had an even stronger tie. This was the bond of religion. So, soon after arriving they built a church and named it St. Nicholas, after the Patron Saint, protector of all mariners.
The history of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church re ports that the same icon of St. Nicholas, which caused a great deal of excitement when it started "weeping" in December, 1969, has a record of previous similar experiences. On two previous occasions the "tears" disappeared within hours after the pastors said prayers in front of the image of St. Nicholas. This time the "tears", which lasted a few days before seeming
to disappear around the halo, reappeared beneath a small icon which St. Nicholas wears in the picture and near the bible the Saint holds in his hand. Thousands upon thousands of people, from every walk of life
and from every state in the union and many foreign countries, have come to view the icon and speculate as to its meaning and even as to its authenticity. Some expressed thoughts of the happening as being a "mystery", "fake", "astounding", "miraculous", "bad sign" and "good sign" Church officials term it simply a "phenomenon" and say they can not explain it.
From the early days of the "weeping" icon announcement there have been those who came seeking a cure for illness. Those who believe in the miraculous power ofthe phenomenon come to touch it, kiss it, kneel before it and light candles nearby.
A spotlight installed over the icon months later (to enable people to better see the "tears"), extreme weather changes, moving the icon outdoors and to different locations within the Church had no effect on the moisture droplets. The frame of the icon was not tampered with and remained tightly sealed. The drops which appeared on the painting of the bearded saint did not frost the glass but merely appeared on the canvas, disap pearing beneath the edge of the frame, but without producing mildew. Drops flowed profusely one day and abated the next, becoming barely visible but always present. Church officials believe the phenomenon can not possibly be caused by conden-
sation. In early May, 1970, Father Elias Kalariotes, pastor of the church, expressed the position of church officials. It was that the moisture should be considered "perspiration" rather than tears because the droplets have never appeared to flow from the saint's eyes.
The decision was based upon a statement made months ear lier by one of the young men of the church to Archbishop Iakovos, prelate of the Creek Orthodox Church in North and South America, who had visited Tarpon Springs to conduct the Epiphany Day celebration. The youth believed that St. Nicholas was "sweating as if working for something desperately."
Father Kalariotes compared tears with perspiration saying the tears are generally considered to be a bad omen while perspiration is interpreted as a good omen.
Only time will tell whether the "weeping" of the icon bodes good or evil. We all will have to wait and see.






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