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Blessing of the Waters ceremony held in the Victorian city of Frankston

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The annual Blessing of the Waters ceremony at Frankston, Victoria typically draws five swimmers plunging for the cross, however on Friday there were 22 contenders outstripping previous years. Despite being a weekday, hundreds gathered to partake in the ceremony following two years of COVID-19 restrictions. 

According to tradition, the person who manages to swim the fastest to fetch the cross will be blessed for the rest of the year. This time, the honour went to Emmanouil Spyroglou, father of three from Templestowe, whose family originally came to Australia from Kefalonia. “I’m here on holidays,” he said.

Emmanouil Spyroglou caught the cross for the fourth time.

“I’ve done this before many years ago in Port Melbourne. I’ve caught it three times in the past. This is my fourth time.” 

The previous archbishop had banned him from swimming for the cross so it had been 15 years since his last attempt. “He had said three times was enough.” 

Other contenders were brothers Athan and Harry Maglas from Mount Waverly, aged 16 and 18 respectively, diving for the first time. “We woke up this morning and we thought, ‘Why not!’” Harry said.

Brothers Athan and Harry Maglas, aged 16 and 18 plunged into the waters for the first time.

Athan said it’s a family tradition to head to Frankston for Theofania. “It hasn’t happened in the last couple of years though,” he said, adding that they like coming for a swim because “the water is good in Frankston”.

“It’s nice and clean because it is an open area,” Harry said.

Swimmer Manolis Arabatzis from Seaford was born in Paradisos, Kavala, but grew up in Germany. 

Looking around, he said, “Today, I’m reminded of Greece. It’s fully Greece with the pier and the people.”

As a Greek, he has found Frankston City to be a hospitable place. “Moving to this area, I was very excited to see the tradition of Theofania being kept. When I lived in Germany we didn’t do this. I have participated around six times,” he said. 

Gina Hristidis from Mr Frank’s Café – named after the man who founded Frankston – was at the ceremony as an onlooker with visiting relatives from New York and Toronto. Her family members were originally from Kalamata and Neapoli in the Peloponnese and the island of Chios. With a heritage from coastal Greece, Gina feels very much at home in Frankston. 

The Hristidis family had a reunion, Gina runs the local cafe and welcomed relatives from New York and Toronto.

 “This event is very important for the Greeks who live in this area,” she said. “We need to make sure our Greek Orthodox faith is kept alive.” 

Her relation, Pantelis Hristidis, expressed admiration for Frankston. “It’s absolutely beautiful! You’ve got sun, sea and beautiful homes… and Mr Frank’s Café which we go to all the time!” 

Ms Zigouras owns a hobby farm in Langwarrin with Mary, Aphrodite and Kyriaki.

Mary, Aphrodite and Kyriaki – three friends from Endeavour Hills and Glen Waverly – said they come to Theofania at Frankston all the time and enjoy the celebration. “It reminds us of Greece. The promenade is just like Kalamata,” they said, adding that it’s a choice beach for swimming which keeps them coming back for more than just spiritual reasons. 

First visit by an Archbishop

Crowds stoically braved the sun and wind, waiting for Archbishop Makarios of Australia. He arrived amid cheers in his first visit to Frankston for Theofania. It is the first time an archbishop has visited the region, and Archbishop Makarios’ last visit to the parish of the Greek Orthodox Church of Holy Epiphany was in August 2022. 

Archbishop Makarios amid cheers in his first visit to Frankston for Theofania

 “With the opportunity of visiting Melbourne again at the start of this year and being there for the cutting of the Vasilopitta it was only proper to visit the Parish on its Feast Day rather serve at another Parish of Melbourne on 6 January,” Archbishop Makarios said, adding that the 2,000-strong parish has “seen further growth under the guidance of Fr Doukas who has seen the new church built these past years.” 

“It is very much a gateway for the many Greek homes along the coast and has for many years conducted the Blessing of the Waters Service on Frankston Pier,” he said.

Father Doukas Georgalas, parish priest for the last 20 years, got his calling to join the clergy when he was aged 65. He could not be happier with the turnout.

“It’s a huge spiritual feast,” he said, “and a great honour for us to welcome all these people to an event of huge theological significance. It’s the Baptism of Jesus, and during the Baptism of the Lord people saw the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove.” 

In Greece, Theofania is a public holiday before children return to school from the winter break. It is celebrated by mass, and children sing Epiphany carols door-to-door before divers plunge into frosty waters to retrieve the cross. 

In Frankston, there’s no public holiday, but the summer weather and inviting Pier make it a special annual ceremony for the region. 

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