Wednesday, October 17, 2018
News Roundup

Epiphany cross winner: ‘Best feeling I’ve ever had’

TARPON SPRINGS

The boys leaned forward in their boats on Spring Bayou, poised to leap as soon as the white cross flipped into the air. • Some wrapped their arms around their shivering chests. Some rubbed their hands together. Others clenched their fists, muscles taut, ready to spring.

It was one of the coldest Epiphany celebrations in years, but nothing would stop the boys from their chance at a year of blessings.

"You only get three opportunities in your life," diver Frankie Giallourakis, 17, said before the plunge.

From the thrashing of limbs and waves would emerge 18-year-old Christian Chrysakis, slack-jawed as he thrust the white cross above his head.

"This is the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life," the Tarpon Springs High senior said afterward.

Chrysakis was one of 57 boys to jump into the bayou Saturday in the 112th Epiphany Celebration to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. The boys, ages 16 to 18, are all members of Greek Orthodox churches. Tradition says the boy to retrieve the cross receives a year of blessings from God.

The event in Tarpon Springs, hosted by St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, is said to be the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. It drew about 14,000 people on Saturday, a few thousand fewer than expected due to the cold weather, said spokeswoman Johanna Kossifidis.

Temperatures hovered in the 30s and 40s through the morning. Spectators came wrapped in blankets, pockets stuffed with hand warmers, holding coffee cups with gloved hands. Some doubted they could stick it out until the dive.

"We’re trying to see if we’re going to make it," said Tarpon Springs resident Rosa Ferrera, sporting gloves and a long coat sitting at the edge of the bayou.

Michael Kouskoutis, coordinator for the Epiphany divers, warned the boys in the hours leading up to the plunge.

"If at anytime you feel sick, queasy, unsteady because of the affects of weather, do not be embarrassed if you cannot participate," he said. "You’re still a diver."

They had been offered wet suits but turned them down in the name of tradition. Organizers added more emergency personnel just in case, and thermal blankets were ready to engulf the boys as soon as they came out of the water.

By the time the procession started toward the bayou about noon, temperatures had warmed to the 50s and sunlight filtered out through thin clouds. The water temperature sat at 60 degrees, officials said.

Kiersten Spanos, the 15-year-old Tarpon Springs High sophomore chosen as the ceremony’s dove bearer, released a dove into the crisp air. Metropolitan Alexios Panagiotopoulos of Atlanta blessed Tarpon Springs as the boys waited in the boats. He took over the duty from Archbishop Demetrios, who couldn’t make it from his home in New York due to weather.

The metropolitan tossed the cross, and the boys were off. They waded in the shallow water and dunked under again and again. One boy shouted a plea to last year’s winner, who stood on a platform overlooking the bayou.

"Where is it?" he yelled.

"It’s right under y’all!" Joseph Cooley, 19, yelled back.

The experience sent Chrysakis’ adrenaline "through the roof," he said later as his parents, Haven and Emmanuel, and 14-year-old brother, Michael, beamed beside him. His great-grandfather and cousin were previous cross winners.

"I was apprehensive," Haven Chrysakis said of the weather, "but it’s a rite of passage."

The win was extra special to his grandmother, Naomi Chrysakis, 68. For the last decade, her late husband, Chris, bought gold cross necklaces and donated them to the church to give to the winning boy. She continued the tradition after his death, long enough to watch a necklace go to her grandson.

"I told Christian, ‘Your papou is smiling in heaven,’" she said, using the Greek word for grandfather. "It’s a great honor."

Staff writer Piper Castillo contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at kvarn@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.

     
   
Comments
Dr. BBQ opens to the public today. Here’s a look.

Dr. BBQ opens to the public today. Here’s a look.

ST. PETERSBURGDr. BBQ needed a beer. Mission accomplished: A sip of Green Bench’s Dr. BBQ Pale Lager dispatched, he was ready to start the tour. See that teal tufted couch against that wall? It’s like something from Girl & the Goat in Chicago. The wo...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
Report: Tampa drivers pay different insurance rates based on ZIP code

Report: Tampa drivers pay different insurance rates based on ZIP code

It can be tough to figure out why insurance companies charge some more than others for auto coverage. But a recent analysis by the Consumer Federation of America suggests that a driver’s neighborhood could be a factor. The analysis, released Monday, ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: Pasco welcomes Hurricane Michael evacuees; how long will the Panhandle be without power?; long-awaited debut of Dr. BBQ is today

The Daystarter: Pasco welcomes Hurricane Michael evacuees; how long will the Panhandle be without power?; long-awaited debut of Dr. BBQ is today

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• Highs in the low 90s, though a tad cooler along the coast. No chance of rain, so expect a dry afternoon as well, according to the National Weather Service. The temperatures will start...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Michael’s most vulnerable evacuees make Pasco shelter their new home (w/video)

Michael’s most vulnerable evacuees make Pasco shelter their new home (w/video)

HUDSON — Linda Wood lay on a metal cot, closed her eyes and tried to get some sleep Monday night. Pictures of her Panama City apartment some 300 miles away kept flashing through her mind.The nearly blind 71-year-old envisioned her chocolate-colored ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
What I learned about food by eating a 27-course meal at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns

What I learned about food by eating a 27-course meal at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns

A recent trip to upstate New York provided the perfect excuse to try the renowned chef’s restaurant, and a once-in-a-lifetime meal.
Updated: 9 hours ago
Liberals are dreaming when it comes to holding on to Florida’s Supreme Court

Liberals are dreaming when it comes to holding on to Florida’s Supreme Court

This was a smackdown, no doubt about it.The state Supreme Court just rendered the judicial equivalent of a loud guffaw regarding Gov. Rick Scott’s claim he is entitled to replace three retiring Supreme Court justices before he leaves office.And yet, ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Mum’s the word but Murman’s a player in departure of Glazer Children’s Museum leader

Mum’s the word but Murman’s a player in departure of Glazer Children’s Museum leader

TAMPA — Jennifer Stancil was looking forward to Halloween and the role she would play in a new downtown event celebrating the spooky holiday."WE ARE SO EXCITED to be a partner with the Riverwalk for Halloween," Stancil, president and chief executive ...
Published: 10/17/18
Emergency rooms and jails the focus as Hillsborough task force takes on opioid epidemic

Emergency rooms and jails the focus as Hillsborough task force takes on opioid epidemic

TAMPA — The opioid addiction epidemic is expected to claim the lives of almost 300 people in Hillsborough County this year.Those who don’t overdose face an increased risk of addiction to drugs like heroin and fentanyl.Now, the county’s Opioid Task Fo...
Published: 10/17/18
Democrat Jennifer Webb and Republican Raymond Blacklidge pick up the pace as they battle for State House District 69 seat

Democrat Jennifer Webb and Republican Raymond Blacklidge pick up the pace as they battle for State House District 69 seat

Democrat Jennifer Webb and Republican Raymond Blacklidge are pulling in campaign donations from a wide swath of supporters as they try to capture the State House District 69 seat
Published: 10/17/18
'The killing has to stop,' Midtown residents say after bodies found in alley

'The killing has to stop,' Midtown residents say after bodies found in alley

Midtown residents say it's hard to find someone in the neighborhood who hasn't been affected by violence.
Updated: 1 hour ago