tampabay.com

From leap of faith to leader of churches

Nikitas Lulias says that retrieving the cross on Epiphany acted as a "calling" that led him be a metropolitan.

By THERESA BLACKWELL
Published January 2, 2006


He had not slept well the night before, his heart and mind struggling with the challenges in his life.

But on the morning of Epiphany in 1974, Nikitas Lulias, 19, went to church as usual and assisted the clergy at the altar. He prayed and asked for the cross.

He remembers all the people and the way his fellow divers rushed into the water.

At first, the divers couldn't find the wooden cross, so Archbishop Iakovos removed his gold cross and tossed it right into Lulias' hand. Fellow cross diver Manuel Karvounis came up with the wooden one.

"I felt that God had heard my prayer and responded to my pleas," Lulias, now 50, wrote in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times . "The day meant a new chapter. It was a time of affirmation for me, about my faith, myself, my identity and so much more. One feels a calling, if I can use that expression."

Lulias heeded that call and entered the clergy.

In 1997, he was enthroned as the metropolitan, a rank between bishop and archbishop. He is the first metropolitan of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.

Lulias will return to the place where his spiritual journey took a dramatic turn, when he comes back to Tarpon Springs for the 100th Epiphany celebration this week. He will join the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, His All Holiness Bartholomew, the church's ecumenical patriarch.

Lulias said the patriarch's visit is significant for Tarpon Springs and its annual celebration.

"He honors the feast and the celebration in Tarpon and shares in the important anniversary," Lulias wrote in his e-mail. "He comes as a father to see and bless his children.

"As the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, he comes to give emphasis and courage to the celebration and the faithful, to share in an important time in the life of the community and Church. He honors the city of Tarpon Springs, as this is an event celebrated by the whole community, not only the Greek population."

The patriarch also brings a message, Lulias said. "With his visit," he said, "the Patriarch also blesses the people who look to him with open hearts of hope."