Greece celebrates Epiphany in the traditional fashion, despite the icy cold

Defying the bitter cold prevailing in most parts of the country on Monday, dozens of divers turned up to celebrate the feast of Epiphany in the traditional fashion by diving into the icy waters of rivers, lakes and seas to retrieve the Holy Cross during the blessing of the waters.

Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos, along with the Metropolitan of Piraeus and Faliro Serapheim, conducted the service and the blessing of the waters in the port of Piraeus. These were attended by President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopios Pavlopoulos, who released three white doves symbolising the Holy Trinity during the ceremony.

Three Hellenic Navy ships were anchored nearby during the blessing of the waters and carried out a salute during the ceremony, while members of the Association of Greek Underwater Demolitions Divers, both retired and in active service, dove into the sea to retrieve the cross.

Among those attending were Shipping Minister Yiannis Plakiotakis, Movement for Change (KINAL) party leader Fofi Gennimata, the head of the Hellenic Navy General Staff Vice-Admiral Nikolaos Tsounis, the head of the Coast Guard Vice Admiral Theodoros Kliaris and a number of MPs and local government officials.

In the ceremony held in the old port in the town of Corfu, a 27-year-old Dutch national braved the cold and beat another 20 swimmers, including two women, to retrieve the cross. He told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) that he has been living on the island of Corfu for the last year, working at the Geopolitics Institute, and that this was his first time diving for the cross.

“From now on, I will do it every year in spite of the unbearable cold,” he added.

An especially touching ceremony was held at the historic single-arch bridge of Plaka in Epirus, which had been swept away by torrential rains in 2015 and is now undergoing restoration work.

The main ceremony in the city of Thessaloniki, conducted by Archmandrite Iakovos Athanasiou, was held in the waters of the Thermaic Gulf with 20 divers, in the presence of Interior Minister for Macedonia-Thrace Theodoros Karaoglou, local government officials and MPs. The cross was retrieved by 36-year-old Michail Apostolidis, who has dived 22 times and retrieved the cross on 16 occasions.

Elsewhere in the city, the ceremony was held mostly in municipal pools with dozens of divers participating.