THE audience on top of Rye pier ducked the splashes as more than a dozen sets of arms and legs flailed around in the water below, scrambling for a piece of timber tossed into their midst by a man wearing an intricately woven cloak and wearing an impressive headpiece.
Reverend Father Eleftherios Tatsis of the Greek Orthodox Church Panagia Kamriani at Red Hill was back on the pier for the annual Epithany, or blessing of the water ceremony.
And the people splashing around in the water were church members eager to be first to seize the wooden cross tossed by the priest and gain his blessing.
That honour went to Matthew Papadimitriou, 18, of Rowville.
Also joining the boys in the race to the cross was 13-year-old Emily Paxevanos, right, daughter of three-time Rye cross retrieval winner, Robert Paxevanos.
In the past, tradition only permitted males to participate in the retrieval of the cross at Rye.
Although she didn’t grab hold of the elusive icon, Emily said: “It was awesome just to have a go”.
The church’s annual ceremony to celebrate the Epiphany, or baptism of Christ, drew an estimated 1500 people to the pier.
On piers at Rye, Frankston and South Melbourne, the cross is thrown into the water in a ritual representing physical and spiritual cleansing.
It is also customary after Epiphany celebrations for the priest to visit parishioners’ homes and bless them with holy water.