KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It was a cold rainy day, but the Saint George Greek Orthodox Church didn't hesitate to bring a religious tradition to East Tennessee for the first time. Jan. 7, is the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist.
Tradition has it that after the "theia litourgia," or the morning holy ceremony, the priest takes the cross nearby water and throws it in. Divers have to jump in and catch it.
Whoever brings it to the priest is considered to receive the highest blessing. While there weren't any divers, Archimandrite Dionysios Lampropoulos, threw the cross into the Tennessee River.
“It is a tradition in orthodox countries to go and bless big water bodies like seas, rivers, lakes,” Lampropoulos said.
With a few people surrounding him, the Archimandrite preached right next to the river, tied the cross with a thin rope and then threw it in the water three times.
“It signifies the trinitarian God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” Lampropoulos said.
The church faced some challenges in the last few years. Back in 2015, they had to deal with funding problems due to embezzlement. Then a fire destroyed the main sanctuary.
Protopresbyter Anthony Stratis said they still pushed on and turned the hall into a chapel. For the next four years, they would meet there for their ceremonies.
The Protopresbyter said the church welcomes everyone and the community helped rebuild it with donations.
"Coming here and especially somebody with with Parkinson's coming here. it was like revitalized my ministry because even with Parkinson's, all that people were very understanding with that.”
For some younger generations here in Knoxville, it’s their first time seeing the cross in the water.
“I loved it," Audrey Smith said. "I thought it was really pretty to see how he was like blessing everything.”
A parent who recently moved from California said it’s an experience she wanted to share with her daughter.
"So, it's very important to bring my daughter with me today, to have us experience this wonderful blessing of the waters,” Catherine Burrage said.
For the Greek Orthodox, Jan. 7 marks the official ending of Christmas and holidays. It's also a name day celebration for anyone named John and Joanna.
As for bringing this tradition to Knoxville for the first time, Father Dionysios said he hopes the blessing flows through the river for everyone and for the greater good this year.
“A great saint of the orthodox church said once acquire the spirit of peace and 1,000 people will be saved around you."