6 Days Ago
6 Days Ago
4 Months Ago
Emanuel Hatzie keeps nine birds in his back yard. But only one of them has been blessed by God.
His name is Theodoros, a Greek word meaning "the gift of God." He's a 3-year-old white rock dove, a type of domestic pigeon, who plays a big role in the city's annual Epiphany celebration.
Unlike the dove bearer and cross retriever, who are limited to once-in-a-lifetime roles, Theodoros comes back annually to fly across Spring Bayou.
For the past three years, since the owner of the former Epiphany dove moved away, Theodoros has been the dove said to represent the Holy Spirit of the Holy Trinity of God.
This year, after being released by dove bearer Maria Chagaris, he made a few showy loops over the thousands of people cheering from the banks. Then, he flew off and disappeared.
But Hatzie and his wife of 50 years, Elli, didn't have to move from their spots on the banks of the bayou to find him — the bird knows his way home.
Before the retired couple pulled into their drive that afternoon, Theodoros was sitting in one of two dark green coops that sit next to the beige house they built atop a hill near Fred Howard Park nearly 30 years ago.
"He always gets here before we do — every year," Elli said. "It is kind of naturally in their instinct, but we still trained him a little."
She says she and her husband started by taking the bird halfway down their street, letting him go and seeing if he could find the coop. When Theodoros mastered that, they moved to the end of the street.
"We kept going further and further until he got his bearings," she said. "Now, he's got it down."
Emanuel, who has kept birds since he was a young boy living in Greece, says rock doves like Theodoros are able to remember trips up to 50 miles long. It has been their claim to fame for years, historically giving them nicknames like "carrier pigeons" or "homing pigeons." The same type of birds were formerly used during wartime to carry messages.
Directional skills aren't why the Hatzies keep them, though.
"They are just beautiful," Emanuel said, "that's all."
The Hatzies, Greek Orthodox Christians who moved to the United States from Kavala, Greece, many years ago, have spent years watching the traditional celebration since moving to Tarpon Springs in the early 1970s. They say seeing Theodoros fly in the ceremony is "a true honor" they are thankful to have.
"It is something only we are able to do," Emanuel said while standing outside his home, the birds circling overhead. "We are very excited to have the opportunity."
And God willing, Theodoros will be back next year for a repeat performance.
Contact Megan Reeves at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153. Follow @mareevs.
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