Thousands of Greek Australians gathered at the Port Melbourne Theofania Festival to see 21-year-old William Toliopoulos retrieve the Holy Cross from the sea.

The Theofania, or the Blessing of the Waters Ceremony saw the first time competitor race against 32 other men for the wooden Cross which was blessed and thrown off Station Pier by the Bishop Ezekiel of Dervis.

“It’s a fantastic feeling; I’m so happy and it’s a great start to the new year,” William said.

“My Yiayia, who passed away about a year and a half ago always used to come down for this event, so part of me was saying to do this for her.”

Toliopoulos’ mother, Maria said that she was a “proud mother” and that her son had wanted to compete for years.

14-year-old Paris Gatsios and her friend, Emma Petrakis, 18 made their way to the end of the pier to have their photo taken with William.

Although it was Petrakis’ first time at the festival, Gatsios said that she had made an effort to attend the Greek Orthodox event every year.

“I love the Greek culture and what we do as a community,” she said.

This week also saw celebrations of the Epiphany at Frankston and at Rye on Wednesday. Kosta Mavroyiannis retrieved the cross at Frankston and Nicholas Petropoulos at Rye.