Greek communities attend Blessing of the Waters events across Australia

By Andriana Simos, Mary Sinanidis and Martina Simos.

Greek communities turned out in huge numbers over the weekend to attend traditional Blessing of the Waters events across Australia. These ceremonies were held without COVID-19 pandemic restrictions for the first time in two years.

Here is The Greek Herald‘s list of all the winners and events which were held across New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania.

New South Wales:

On Sunday, January 8, the traditional Blessing of the Waters ceremony returned to Yarra Bay in NSW for the first time in two years. The ceremony was presided over by Archbishop Makarios of Australia and clergy from across NSW.

The NSW Labor Leader, Chris Minns, and Consul General of Greece in Sydney, Ioannis Mallikourtis, were some of the distinguished guests in attendance.

Hundreds of people lined the Yarra Bay foreshore to watch as young men, both young and old, jumped into the waters to retrieve the Holy Cross. Ultimately, Dimitri Glastras from St Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in Sydney’s south east won the Holy Cross.

Elsewhere, in the coastal city of Wollongong, people gathered at the local harbour for a historical Blessing of the Waters ceremony.

The event marked the first time local Wollongong churches, St Nectarios Greek Orthodox Church and the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, conducted the Epiphany together. Young dad, Theodoros Papadopoulos, retrieved the Holy Cross from the harbour.

Theodoros Papadopoulos with his family and parish priests. Photos: The Greek Herald / Andriana Simos.

Victoria:

Thousands showed up to the Blessing of the Waters ceremony at Princes Pier in Port Melbourne, Victoria on Sunday, January 8. They chose to celebrate Theofania at the same spot where thousands of Greek migrants walked their first steps in Australia during the mass migration periods of the 1950s and 1960s.

The service was conducted by Bishop Evmenios of Kerasounta and was attended by a number of dignitaries such as Nick Staikos MP and the President of the Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM), Bill Papastergiadis, among many others.

Bishop Evmenios.

Winner, Steve Kikyris from Werribee, told The Greek Herald that his grandparents arrived at this port in the 60s. His mum, Nicky, a single parent for the last 10 years, expressed her pride following the win just 11 years after her other son, Leonidas, had also caught the cross.

The 25-year-old cross-catcher viewed the win as a good omen ahead of his engagement ceremony to Nicky Tzouvanellis this coming March. Catching the cross has spiritual significance for him which goes beyond “bragging rights” at his parish in Yarraville and Jason Real Estate, where he works in commercial property with his brother.

“It’s an important feast, and I’m going to have good luck for the rest of the year,” he said.

Steve Kikyris and his brother, Leonidas, who caught the cross in 2012.

The 30 or so swimmers racing for the cross were all male because, unlike Frankston and Rye, women were banned from taking part in this event. They lined up at the beach and swam at least 100 metres towards the cross.

“We were all swimming towards the priest, however I happened to look up and saw him pointing towards the middle, and I looked to where he was pointing, saw the cross and took a right turn,” Steve said.

Beside him, his brother Leonidas, who won in 2012, said he has not only kept the cross but has it tattooed on his arm. Steve is still contemplating whether he will get a tattoo for this one.

Mr Papastergiadis attended the event as a special guest, however he remembers his own cross-catching win in the late 1980s.

“My brother (Nick Papastergiadis) was then at Cambridge University doing his PhD and had come back for the summer holidays and a short break. He said, ‘you were a great swimmer at school. Why don’t you go to it?’ I had only got home three hours earlier and said, ‘leave me alone’, but he insisted so I got out of bed, put on my togs and came here,” he said.

“Back then, it was Bishop Ezekiel who put the cross around my neck. I have a photo, newspaper article and the cross. I remember it vividly. I haven’t missed any of these ceremonies since then.”

Near him, Nick Staikos MP, said: “I’m not a good swimmer. I’ve never taken part. Others can have the good luck.”

Officials at the event.

At the end of the official proceedings, people enjoyed souvlaki and other treats from the stalls, accompanied by music from the Dyo Patrides Band. Christian Psarakos took a break from playing in the band to dive for the cross and then returned for more music-playing.

“When I dived for the first time a few years ago, I didn’t stand a chance. But it was part of the fun. It has a lot to do with belief and wanting to be part of it,” he said.

There was a petting zoo for children and face painting, as well making the outing especially fun for families.

South Australia:

Greek Orthodox Community of SA (GOCSA), Henley Beach:

The Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia (GOCSA) held its annual Blessing of the Water ceremony at Henley Beach jetty on Sunday, January 8.

Around 28 people, including four young women, braved the hot day and waited for their chance to grab the wooden Holy Cross that was thrown by Archimandrite Markos Papapanagiotou into the waters.

Adelaide cafe owner, Fotis Likouris, won the Holy Cross and told The Greek Herald on the day he felt ‘blessed’ to retrieve it for the third time.

Fotis first retrieved the wooden cross in 2012 and in 2015, but nearly didn’t participate this year because of an injury to his foot. It was two separate incidents that gave him an ‘inkling’ there was a good chance it could be a case of third time lucky, so on the day Fotis decided to take part. He also joked to his wife to keep the engine running because he wouldn’t be very long.

The first incident, he said, was finding a cross that had been lost more than ten years ago, in a soccer bag.

“To be honest I had an inkling, not just this morning but a few months back when I found my baptism cross that I was baptised in,” Fotis said.

“I was wearing the (baptism) cross the first time I retrieved the wooden cross in 2012. I also won the coin in the Vasilopita this year and I said it’s going to be to be a good year.

“I wasn’t intending on going as I snapped my Achilles heel, ten weeks back and I have a limp.”

Fotis said taking part in this event is a feeling that is difficult to explain.

“It’s a really empowering moment,” the father of two young girls said. “When you hold the cross, it feels really good.”

Fotis said he saw the priest release the dove with his left hand and didn’t think the cross would land near him but once the priest swapped and held the wooden cross with his right hand, he felt a feeling of optimism.

“When you see the cross being thrown in the water, you look at it and think –  can it land near me?” he said. “This year I saw the priest come to the end of the jetty and I thought, ‘Yes, he’s going to throw it near me’.”

Official guests at the event included SA Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Zoe Bettison MP, representing the SA Premier, Peter Malinauskas MP.

Minister Bettison said after two years it was great being able to celebrate such a significant intercultural event that brings people together.

GOCSA’s newly elected president, Peter Gardiakos, also thanked the efforts of the volunteers who worked behind the scenes.

“GOCSA has celebrated the Epiphany at the iconic Henley Beach foreshore for more than 90 years,” Mr Gardiakos said.

“It remains an important annual event not just for our Orthodox calendar but the calendar for all South Australians, who come out to enjoy the rich culture, traditions, food and dance.”

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, District of Adelaide Glenelg:

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, District of Adelaide Glenelg also held their Blessing of the Waters ceremony at Glenelg Jetty for the 43rd successive year.

His Grace Bishop Silouan of Sinope, together with Adelaide’s Orthodox Christian clergy, led a procession onto the Glenelg Jetty for the annual event.

In attendance were a number of prominent dignitaries including the Leader of SA Liberals, David Speirs MP; Stephen Patterson MP; the Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Jing Lee MLC; and the President of the Inter-communities Council of SA, Dr Vladimir Devrelis; among many others.

George Kipriz ultimately retrieved the Holy Cross and said the race was “fierce” but it was “really special” to have his two sons next to him. This was the fourth time George had won the cross.

The ceremony was followed by the traditional Glenelg Greek Festival which took place over two days on Saturday, January 7 and Sunday, January 8.

Greek Orthodox Community of the Nativity of Christ Port Adelaide:

The Greek Orthodox Community of the Nativity of Christ also held their annual Blessing of the Waters ceremony at Port Adelaide on Sunday.

People gathered at the port to watch as young boys jumped in to retrieve a Holy Cross thrown into the waters by parish priest Father Ioannis. Elia Hanias was the winner on the day.

Australian Capital Territory:

Canberra’s Greek community gathered together at Casuarina Sands on Sunday, January 8 to celebrate the annual Blessing of the Waters.

The event began with a Matins and Divine Liturgy service at the local St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church presided over by Father Petros Kipouros.

After the service, Father Kipouros and the parishioners travelled to Casuarina Sands to witness as Nikitas Paraschou retrieved the Holy Cross.

Nikitas Paraschou.

Tasmania:

The Greek community of Tasmania held a historic Blessing of the Waters ceremony on Sunday, January 8 in the presence of Bishop Bartholomew of Charioupolis. The event marked the first time a Greek Orthodox Bishop blessed the waters of Tasmania.

Following a Divine Liturgy at The Greek Orthodox Church of St George The Martyr in Hobart, Tasmania, clergy and parishioners moved outdoors for the Epiphany celebration.

Swimmers could be seen diving for the Holy Cross, with Ioannis Anagnostis being named the victor on the day.

Source: greekherald.com.au

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