Epiphany (ἐπιφάνεια, meaning “manifestation”) or Theophany (Θεοφάνεια, meaning “vision of God”) is an Orthodox feast day that commemorates Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan River, which is seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God.
In Greece the feast is colloquially called the Phōta (Φώτα, meaning “lights”), and customs revolve around the Great Blessing of the Waters. This ceremony marks the end of the annual ban on sailing, with the cleansing of the rough winter seas of the mischievious kalikántzaroi, goblins that try to torment Christians through the festive season. A cross is thrown into the harbor, and young men dive in, competing to retrieve it and win good luck.
On the eve of Epiphany, Hydra’s housewives go to church for the liturgy and return home with a pitcher of holy water, with which they sanctify every corner of the home, as well as any cisterns and wells. They store the rest of the holy water in an icon for the rest of the year. On the same evening, parish priests bless parishoners homes, shops, and boats.
On day of the Epiphany, a great procession forms, with hymns and prayers, and travels through Hydra’s old neighborhoods(Kiafas-Gkourmadas) to Kala Pigadia, where island priests bless the two wells. At around noon, the procession passes down the town’s main street of Andrea Maiouli and ends at the northern breakwater of the harbor. The bishop tosses a cross tied with ribbon into the sea to sanctify the waters. And Hydra’s youngsters (typically male) dive in to retrieve it, and he who does wins good luck for the year. At this point everyone returns to the Church to pray for a good year and for good health.
The parishioners of the Church of St. John the Baptist have also consecrated the waters in Kamini Harbor since 1963.
The photo at the top of the page was taken by Inez McDermott on January 6, 2012, and posted on her blog Stendhal’s Syndrome. The following spectacular images were captured by Sophia Mores and posted at Ύδρα η πατρίδα της ψυχής μου.