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    Church, police target holiday bombs

    St. Nicholas cathedral and Tarpon police work together to discourage celebrating Greek Easter with explosives.

    By KATHERINE GAZELLA, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 29, 2002


    TARPON SPRINGS -- With Greek Easter just a week away, the Rev. Tryfon Theophilopoulos has a message for his parishioners: Don't take the quaking-earth portion of the resurrection Scripture too literally.

    Every year, some residents honor the holiest day on the Greek Orthodox calendar by exploding homemade bombs, known locally as "Greek bombs." They ignite the explosives in honor of a Bible passage that refers to the "thunder and quake" at the time of Jesus' resurrection, Theophilopoulos said.

    As they did last year, Theophilopoulos of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral and the Tarpon Springs Police Department are working together before the May 5 holiday to remind people not to set off any explosives.

    "I'm going to tell them strongly the bombs are prohibited," Theophilopoulos said. He said the holiday should be observed "very solemnly."

    He also planned to remind parishioners that if young people are caught setting off the bombs, it will be a felony on their records and could affect their chances of getting into colleges and universities.

    "It is for their own benefit" not to use the bombs, he said.

    The church and Police Department will put out fliers reminding people of the consequences of setting off the devices. It is a third-degree felony to ignite a bomb, and a first-degree felony if it causes property damage or injury, said Tarpon Springs police Capt. Bob Kochen.

    "We will be prepared to arrest anybody who ignites a Greek bomb," he said. "We will have an absolute zero tolerance for any and all Greek bombs."

    There were fewer arrests made last year for Greek bombs than in previous years, partly because the church and the police worked together last year, Kochen said.

    Only one person, a 15-year-old whose name is being withheld because of his age, was charged after police saw him throwing a 5-inch-long bomb wrapped in black tape outside St. Nicholas cathedral. Because he had no previous criminal record, he was allowed to enter juvenile arbitration, said Tarpon Springs police Sgt. Jeff Young. As a result, he has a felony arrest on his record but no conviction, Young said.

    A few other people were arrested during Greek Easter celebrations, but not for igniting a bomb, Kochen said.

    Police will be out in force near the church and around the Sponge Docks, the main areas where bombs are set off, Kochen said.

    The tradition of the bombs came over from the Greek island of Kalymnos and other parts of the country, where explosives are a common part of Easter festivities, Theophilopoulos said.

    "In Kalymnos, forget it. They throw 3,000 dynamites," he said.

    More peaceful traditions also came over from Greece. Eggs are placed in the hollows of tsourekia, the traditional Greek Easter bread. Parishioners light candles at midnight to honor the beginning of Pascha, the Orthodox church's Easter Sunday celebration of Christ's resurrection. The faithful will greet each other with the words Christos anesti, Greek for "Christ is risen."

    Theophilopoulos said he will remind parishioners of the true meaning of the day.

    "It is the life-giving and life-saving celebration for all of us," he said.

    -- Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or gazella@sptimes.com.

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