The spirit flies with her

Published January 6, 2007

TARPON SPRINGS - Kalliope Cortessis will be the one wearing purple ribbons on her fingers, holding the holy spirit in her hands.

Kalliope watched girl after girl from her choir become a dove bearer, waiting patiently for her chance.

"I never really cried because I knew would get to do it someday," she said.

That day has arrived for the Tarpon Springs High School sophomore with long auburn ringlets and a shy smile.

All eyes will be on Kalliope, who will release the stark white symbol of the holy spirit up into the sky above Spring Bayou during the 101st Epiphany celebration.

Especially the eyes of the cross divers, who will be quivering out in a ring of dinghies. After the dove - which is actually a homing pigeon - flies from Kalliope's hands, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios will spin the blessed wooden cross toward the murky waters.

Kalliope's brother, Manuel, will be among the dozens of teenage boys plunging from the boats into the Bayou in search of the Epiphany cross. The first one to retrieve the cross is believed to have a year of good fortune.

Kalliope said she is honored to be bearing the dove, happy to stay dry and wear ribbons and has no desire to join the packs of boys vying for the cross.

"I would be so nervous," she said. I'm not really competitive. I let the boys stick to it."

Kalliope has enough she wants to do. A cheerleader, dancer and longtime member of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox choir, she also plays piano, alto saxophone and has tinkered with a guitar.

While she has gotten plenty of advice from former dove bearers, such as her mother, Renee Katsaras, who also grew up in Tarpon Springs, Kalliope said she is already a bit worried about how she and the holy spirit will get along.

"I'm nervous about the bird, that I will hold it too tight," she said. "I'm scared that when I throw it up it will go poop in my face."

What if doesn't fly away or just drops into the water?

Kalliope's family has pet dogs and used to have cats, but never a bird, she said. The introduction will not happen until sometime during this morning's liturgy, when she will slip out of the Cathedral with a former dove bearer, who will help get the two get acquainted.

For the next hour or two, through the procession and the service at the Spring Bayou - it will be just Kalliope and the bird.

Her fears are common among dove bearers, she knows.

JoAnna Hill, the choir director who selects the dove bearer, said can relate to the sentiment.

"The whole day makes me nervous," she said. While Cathedral's regular choir usually has 50 members, at today's Epiphany it will balloon to around 80, Hill explained during a rehearsal on Thursday.

Tarpon Springs is home to one of the world's largest celebrations of Epiphany, an ancient Greek Orthodox ceremony commemorating Christ's baptism. The dove bearer plays one of the most significant roles in the ritual.

Hill retreated back to the empty pews to check how the hymns might sound today.

"It was a very difficult choice," Hill said. But Kalliope is a good Orthodox Christian dedicated to the choir and active in church and school activities.

"Each girl has her moment," she said.