Wildwood, NJ – A wreath was flung into the frigid Atlantic ocean in memory of the many lives lost at 9-11. It was followed by its parishioners singing, while spiritual leader, Father Vlahos sprinkled his congregation with holy water. Epiphany day is traditionally observed on the 6th of January by millions of Christians around the world. But here, on Sunday, just a few day’s earlier the seaside community of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox church assembled, from both near and far.
In winter this resort town lies slumbering, awaiting the warmer days of summer, when this town swells from thousands to hundreds of thousands. “We hosted the event a few day’s early, to allow folks to come in from out of town on a Sunday”, said Father Vlahos, a 50 year veteran of Orthodoxy. He’s been this congregation’s spiritual leader for 22 years now, and holds a keen sense of when it’s time to host services and observe feast days.
The symbolic moment was repeated again, but this time a cross tied to a bright yellow string left the hands of an altar boy who beamed a cheerful smile. This observance commemorates Christ’s baptism by John the Forerunner in the River Jordan, and the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry. In mystic commemoration of this event, the Great Blessing of Water is performed on this day, and the holy water so blessed is used by the local priest to bless the homes of the faithful. In this case, it was the congregation and the Atlantic.
The song of prayer was carried by the bay winds as the cross was retrieved by Bill Mitchell, the president of St. Demetrios. For a brief moment, the rain had stopped and the sun appeared during the ceremony. Now the grey skies of winter had returned over the Atlantic as the parishioners paraded across the seawall back into their church. Quiet had returned to the intersection of St. Demetrios and Ahepa Avenues where the church looks out over the ocean. Smiles and lighthearted chatter were shared inside as they sipped coffee over traditional New Years sweet bread.
A tiny congregation stays on here throughout the season and continues to open it’s doors on Sunday. If you ask any of them, they will tell when spring will arrive and when their fellow parishioners will return. It is the day, the church blossoms and fills again.