Staff photo by Joshua Curry
Avery Saffo holds the cross after retrieving it from the water during the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church’s cross dive on Saturday, Sept. 28.
On Saturday, Sept. 28, members of the local Greek Orthodox Christian community gathered on the shore of Banks Channel in front of the Blockade Runner Beach Resort for their annual cross dive. The event, which is an old tradition that takes place in lakes, rivers or coasts across the world where Orthodox churches are present, involves a blessing of the waters by the local clergy followed by the retrieval of a cross, thrown into the water by a priest, by the youth of the community. The youth who retrieves the cross is said to be blessed for a year.
“The cross dive commemorates Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan.” said Father Regis Alexoudis of Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox church in Winterville, N.C.
The ceremony began at 11 a.m. Members of the clergy, clad in traditional Orthodox vestments and flanked by altar servers, lead those in attendance in Gregorian-style hymns and chanting. The 23 divers, mostly of middle and high school-age, waited anxiously on the small strip of beach at the water’s edge while the clergy walked out to the dock parallel to the shore. After a couple of fake throws for good measure, the cross was tossed and the divers charged into the water.
In a matter of seconds the cross was seen emerging from the water, grasped tightly by 17-year-old Avery Saffo of Wilmington. Cheers erupted from the crowd as Saffo made his way back to shore, amassed by the other divers offering their own congratulations.
All the divers lined up to receive a blessing from the clergy before making their way to their families. Congratulations were offered to all the divers and the gathering soon made its way to Wrightsville Beach Park for a celebratory fellowship and picnic.