By Peter Tantalos.
On January 7 this year, South Australia’s Greek Orthodox communities celebrated the traditional Blessing of the Waters at Adelaide’s major beaches.
Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia at Henley Beach
The Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia (GOCSA) held its Blessing of the Waters festival at Henley Beach in Adelaide. The ceremony began with clergy, parishioners and spectators leading a procession from the start to the end of the Henley Beach jetty.
A significant highlight was the ceremonial throwing of a cross into the ocean at the end of the jetty. This year, there were 21 competitors to retrieve the cross.
In a display of faith and tradition, the competitors eagerly raced to retrieve the cross after the doves had been released and the priest had thrown the cross into the ocean. It is believed that the swimmer who emerges with the cross is blessed with good fortune for the year ahead.
This year the winner was George Langanis, 29, of Lightsview. Out of three previous attempts, this was the first time George had successfully retrieved the cross.
George told The Greek Herald he feels “very lucky, grateful and blessed to have won.”
“I have been trying for a few years now, so I am very happy,” George added.
Reflecting on the struggle to win the cross, George said that “it landed just behind me, so I had to do a turn around and grab my hand on it. I felt a few other hands near and on it, so it became a bit of a tug of war, but I was lucky to be able to pull it out of the water.”
On the significance of the Theofania and being in the water during the Blessing of the Waters, George explained it was special to celebrate Greek heritage with events like these, and encouraged more people to participate in the hope that it can “continue for many generations.”
The Blessing of the Waters is not exclusively a religious event, but it is also a celebration that brings the entire community together. Once the ceremony was over, all were welcomed back to the Henley Beach foreshore where GOCSA’s hardworking and dedicated volunteers were preparing an array of traditional Greek foods for the immediate festivities.
The President of GOCSA, Peter Gardiakos, addressed the festivities by highlighting the religious significance of the event.
“The Epiphany, or ‘Theofania,’ is an important occasion on the Christian Orthodox calendar, where we commemorate Jesus Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist and is seen as his manifestation to the world of him as the Son of God,” Mr Gardiakos said.
“In His Baptism, Jesus is shown to be the divine Son of God, one of the Holy Trinity, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Today you may have seen several doves being released from the jetty. The dove is a symbol of purity and peace, it also symbolises the Holy Spirit, who appears in the story of Jesus’ baptism.
“The Church, the clergy and the parishioners celebrate today’s events by singing hymns of the Feast of the Epiphany.”
Mr Gardiakos closed by thanking all the volunteers which made the event possible.
Remarking on the festivities, the Hon. Emily Bourke MLC thanked GOCSA for bringing the community together to celebrate faith, culture and religion.
“When you do [these events] we see how strong our community is – we remember that this is a celebration that has gone on for 2,000 years,” Ms Burke said.
Local member Matt Cowdrey OAM MP added, “This is a key event on our local community’s calendar to join the Greek Orthodox community here at the Blessing of the Water.”
Mr Cowdrey also offered his congratulations to George, all the brave swimmers, and the community of volunteers who braved the weather to make the event possible.
Once the formalities concluded, the weather drastically improved giving way to performances by the Pontian Brotherhood of SA Dance Group, SLAVA Ukrainian Cultural Centre and GOCSA Dance Academy – adding a beautiful cultural element to the religiously significant event.
Throughout the evening, live Greek music was provided by KERASMA LIVE band, enabling the perfect incentive for dancing amongst festival goers.
Among the dignitaries present were Ms Bourke, representing the SA Premier Peter Malinauskas MP; Mr Cowdrey, representing the Leader of the Opposition David Speirs MP; Mayor of the City of Charles Sturt, Angela Evans; and Councillor of the City of Charles Sturt and The Lord Mayor of Adelaide, Dr Jane Lomax-Smith AM.
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia (Archdiocesan District of Adelaide):
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia (GOAA) held their festivities at Glenelg, SA celebrating the Theofania in the Archdiocese’s 100th year since its establishment.
Bishop Silouan of Sinope led a procession of Orthodox clergy and faithful onto the Jetty for the Blessing of the Water’s ceremony this year.
Of the approximately 50 competitors for the cross, this year’s victor was first time winner Photi Karagiannis, 26, of the Greek Orthodox Parish of Prophet Elias. This is the first time Photi had participated in the Blessing of the Waters ceremony as a competitor to retrieve the cross.
Photi told The Greek Herald that “winning the cross was a surreal feeling, ultimately I’m left with a feeling of immense gratitude to my father for providing me with a prayer before the ceremony, to all my family for their support, and to the Church for their blessings.”
“I could feel my heart beating through my chest and tried to remind myself to focus on the controllables only, and whatever else will be, will be. When the cross was thrown, I kept my eyes on it as I ran through the water. The waves were choppy and it was difficult to manage the chaos of my fellow competitors, but I jumped for it as soon as I felt it was in arms reach,” Photi added.
“It is truly special to walk together from the shore to the bishop for his blessing, and is an experience I do not take for granted and will never forget.”
Following the ceremony, the Glenelg Greek Festival was held on the Glenelg foreshore over two days, from January 6 – 7. Festivities continued throughout the day with dance performances by the Pontian Brotherhood of SA, Cretan Association of SA, Messinian Greek Dance School of SA, St George College Dance Group and live music by The Zorba Band.
Dignitaries included the Premier of South Australia, the Hon. Peter Malinauskas MP; Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Energy and Mining Tom Koutsantonis MP, representing the Leader of the Opposition; the Hon. Stephen Patterson MP, Member for Morphett; The Hon. Connie Bonaros MLC; Consul General of Greece to South Australia, George Psiachas; Mayor of City of Holdfast Bay, Amanda Wilson; and the President of the Inter-communities Council of SA, Dr Vladimir Devrelis.
*All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Peter Tantalos.