Epiphany brings special visitor to Fla.

Published: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2006 at 11:51 p.m.
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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople appears in this undated photo.

Special to The Sun
The spiritual leader of more than 250 million Orthodox Christians will be in Tampa and Tarpon Springs to take part in the largest and oldest celebration of Epiphany in the United States.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople arrived in Tampa Wednesday, where he is being joined by Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, along with Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta. They will take part in the Epiphany festivities in Tarpon Springs on Friday.
In the Orthodox church, Epiphany celebrates the baptism of Jesus and when the Holy Trinity was presented to the world. In Tarpon Springs - a town with a long Greek heritage dating back to its days as a fishing and sponge diving village - the celebration includes the blessing of the fleet and the diving of the cross, as young boys plunge into a spring to fetch a cross thrown by a priest.
It will be the first time Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will visit the Tarpon Springs celebration. He'll also be presiding over the Epiphany service at historic St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs.
Patriarch Bartholomew, who is 65, became the 270th elected Archbishop of Constantinople in 1991, making him the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide. His position places him "first among equals" with the church's other archbishops.
His arrival in Tampa is expected to attract Orthodox Christians from across the state. The Rev. Peter Kastaris of Gainesville's St. Elizabeth Greek Orthodox Church said a group from his church will be making the journey to Tarpon Springs to take part in the visit.
"We are very proud to have him and very happy to have him for the first time," said the Rev. Kastaris.
Gary Kirkland can be reached at (352) 338-3104 or kirklag@gvillesun.com

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