Parishioners dive for Cross, Blessing

Jumping in Pacific Ocean waters in January for a swim may not seem particularly enticing, but Saturday, January 6, several swimmers will take the chilly plunge for their faith.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church of Long Beach will have its 55th Annual Epiphany Celebration in part by having parishioners dive for a cross. Throwing the cross into the water at Mothers Beach will be His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco Diocese, who presides over 57 parishes in seven western states.

For the Greek Orthodox Church, Epiphany is celebrated every January 6 and commemorates Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. Diving for the cross is a symbolic celebration of the event.

“It’s a blessing to retrieve the cross. Whoever retrieves it gets a special blessing (from Gerasimos) and the luck of the year,” said Bobbie Soupos, church board member and spokeswoman. “It’s beautiful, it’s like a live stage show.”

Approximately six to 12 people are expected to dive from boats for the cross, thrown from shore by Gerasimos. Mostly teens compete for the blessing, but adults sometimes enter too, Soupos said. Registration is open to all Greek Orthodox 14 and older, male and female, who know how to swim.

The day begins with morning prayers, or “Orthros” at 8 a.m. A church service will follow at 9 a.m., and at 11:30 a.m. several church buses depart for the beach. Much of the church including the choir will watch from dry land. The dive will be preceded by a ceremony lead by Gerasimos that includes the release of three doves. The service is scheduled to begin at approximately 12:30 p.m.

Invitations for divers have been sent to all of the Greek Orthodox churches in the area, and hundreds of spectators are expected to attend, Soupos said.

“It’s always been quite big. It’s a big day for the Greek Orthodox, to commemorate the baptism of Christ.” Soupos said. “I think it’s a must-see event. It’s a real, live (celebration) from the heart.”

Following the ceremony a feast, or “Glendi” will take place at the church to continue the Epiphany celebration, with Greek music and parish children dancing dressed in traditional costumes.

Tickets for the lunch are $25 for adults and $10 for children. All other events are free of charge.

Divers must register by Dec. 31. To register, call 650-5763. Mothers Beach is at Appian Way and Attica Drive just east of Bay Shore Avenue. The church is at 5761 E. Colorado St. For more information on the event, call 494-8929.