Lucky were those young Greek Australians who made their families proud when emerging from the Australian waters with the Holy Cross in their hands. The Greek Orthodox faithful converged on Australian beaches last Sunday for the Blessing of the Waters celebrations, the Theofania.
In Melbourne, thousands of Greek Australian men and those who came to support them, gathered at Port Melbourne, where the blessing of the water was conducted by His Grace Bishop Ezekiel of Dervis.
Christos Ioannidis was the one to receive a special blessing and a gold cross around his neck from Bishop Ezekiel of Dervis at the Port Melbourne ceremony, after emerging from water with the Holy Cross in his hands.
Attending this important Orthodox ceremony were Victorian Minister for Multiculturalism and Citizenship Nicholas Kotsiras, Her Excellency, the Ambassador Eleni Lianidou, president of Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria Bill Papastergiadis and other distinguished guests from the Greek community.
The important ceremony, held every year on Sunday after the Epiphany day, is to commemorate the Baptism of the Lord in the River Jordan by Saint John the Baptist, was also held in Adelaide, on Glenelg beach.
Present at the ceremony at Glenelg beach were MP Michael O’Brien, representing the Premier of South Australia, leader of the opposition MP Isobel Redman, Mayor Ken Rolland, Consulate-General of Greece in Adelaide, Mr Christos Maniakis-Grivas, Maureen Maclean representing local MP Steve Georganas, local MP Tom Koutsantonis and other guests who have celebrated together with the numerous members of Greek community in Adelaide.
While doves were released by few distinguished guests, young men dived into the water of Glenelg beach to retrieve the cross thrown by Bishop Nikandros. The spectators have witnessed the young Athenian man Vasilios Kasnas emerging from the water as a victor. Australia will certainly be remembered by Kasnas for a long time, as he recently came to Adelaide for a holiday. While the victor Vasilios Kasnas was gifted with the gold cross necklace, dozens of young divers were gifted with a keepsake to remember this day.
All around Australia, the religious ceremony of Theofania was followed by festivities with a paniyiri held featuring traditional music, dances and food.
In Sydney, the ceremony of the Blessing of the Waters was officiated by His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos of Australia, with more than 5000 people present. The lucky one who retrieved the cross was Christos Varouhas.
Celebrations to commemorate the baptism of Jesus were also held at Frankston and at Rye. In Rye, where the waters were blessed by Father Eleftherios Tatsis of the Holy Monastery of Panagia Kamariani in Red Hill, saw the 16-year-old Marcos Le Greca, of Bentleigh, retrieve the cross and receive a special blessing from Father Tatsis.
On Brisbane’s northside, the Blessing of Waters ceremony was conducted at Redcliffe, by the parish of St Paraskevi. After the Divine Liturgy, Father Lavrendios, assisted by deacon Emmanuel, sailed to a point 50 meters from the beach, where about a dozen young men were waiting to swim for the Holy Cross. After a vigorous and spirited race, the victor was 23-year-old George Sotiris, of Cleveland.
Over 350 followers of the Greek Orthodox faith attended the ceremony of Theofania on the Gold Coast. Two groups of divers, of different ages, with devoutness and splendour, dived into the waters of Evandale Lake, to retrieve the Holy Cross. Under the age of 12, this year’s Theofania victor was Chrysoula Paris. It was a second time for a 12-year-old student of Somerset College to hold the Holy Cross in her hands, after retrieving it from the water of Evandale Lake at Theofania celebrations last year.
For the older group of divers, over 12 years of age, the winner was 16-year-old Ziggie Franciscos Zantiotis. Both winners were blessed by Father Romanos Stergiou. After the blessing of the water, the celebration followed on the Redcliffe shoreline with Greek food and sweets, music and dance, attended by a couple of hundred guests.
The Holy Cross retrieved by winners of the race on the day of Blessing of the Waters or Theofania, is believed to bring health, guidance and good fortune to their families for the year ahead.