This year’s cross-retriever is 16-year-old, Alexander Makris.By Casey Albritton

Tarpon Springs, Fl. (CW44 News At 10) – The largest Epiphany celebration in Florida returned to Tarpon Springs in full force.

Last year the Greek Orthodox celebration was scaled back because of COVID-19, and this year thousands gathered to honor the baptism of christ.

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“This is a very unique experience, a very special experience,” said Colton Sakadales, last year’s crown-bearer.

Sakadales is talking about The Epiphany: a Christian Orthodox tradition, celebrating the baptism of Christ.

“I’m so glad that we fully get to experience this event where we can take pride in our community and our culture,” said Sakadales.

On Thursday, during the Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs, church members walked to Spring Bayou. One tradition is the Archbishop throws a cross into the water and 65 boys from the church dive in to search for it. The boy who finds the cross is specially blessed. Last year, that was Sakadales.

“I was immediately met with so much spirit and brotherhood,” said Sakadales.

This year’s cross-retriever is 16-year-old, Alexander Makris. Another tradition involves one girl chosen by the church. This year, it’s Katerina Lecurezos. She had the honor of releasing a dove that represents the Spirit of Christ.

“A bunch of emotions and feelings. For the divers and I, it’s all a matter of minutes to have your time to shine, and to take it all in and hold on to it as much as you can,” said Lecurezos.

Last year’s celebration looked very different because of the pandemic.

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“It was a lot more laid back, in terms of audience, there was a lot less people of course, nobody was allowed in the church,” said Sakadales.

But on Thursday, thousands of people showed up and filled the area around the bayou.

“It’s just so heart-warming to see slowly but surely everything coming back,” said said Lecurezos.

With so many people in town from all over the country, church members aren’t the only ones impacted.

“This is larger than say a first Friday, but we could see anywhere between 15 and 30% jump in daily revenue,” said owner of a gift shop in Tarpon Springs, called Sunshine Supply Company, BJ Wolf.

Wolf says his wife lost her job during the pandemic last year and they decided to open their own store… but it’s been difficult adjusting.

“It was a unique experience coming out of the tail end of pandemic piece when the businesses started to reopen,” said Wolf.

Following a rough two years, Wolf says he’s thankful to see everyone come together and to see some help for his small business.

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“Really enjoy the experience and what the epiphany to the community, and we are also hoping to get some sales out of it as well,” said Wolf.