The Epiphany is one of the most highly esteemed holidays in Russia. It commemorates the day when John the Baptist christened the 30 year old Jesus Christ in the Jordan River nearly 2,000 years ago. The sacrament of Baptism is derived from this occasion.
According to the findings of an international group of scholars that undertook archaeological digs in the Holy Land, the event took place on the Eastern Shore of the river, now the Jordanian village of Wadi Harar.
Russians believe that holy water blessed on Epiphany has special healing qualities and administer it to heal spiritual ailments. Many Russians store the water at home as a relic for the year and it is customary to drink a little in the mornings on an empty stomach. Priests recommend that the holy water be sprinkled on food products and other household goods.
In addition to believers, many atheists acknowledge the healing powers of the blessed water, the extremely long lines of people with bottles and jugs that form outside church doors on the eve of Epiphany bear witness to this phenomenon.
Russia has traditionally celebrated Epiphany solemnly and extensively. It was customary to carve a hole in the ice and to call it "Jordania" in memory of the river in which Christ was baptized. On the feast day, clergy lead a procession to these holes or to wells and bless the water, even in the biting cold. Some courageous people immerse themselves in the icy water. Today this tradition has been revived, many natural springs are once again being blessed, and many people seeking a cure for their ailments are once again bathing in these waters.
Orthodox believers claim that the collected water does not spoil for an entire year and in so doing surmounts the laws of nature. The words of a prayer, "Laws of nature are conquered" are said repeatedly throughout the holiday service. On the day after the holiday all water sources lose their special quality.
Orthodox faithful believe that the physical characteristics of the holy water cannot be explained scientifically. They hold that the characteristics of the water cannot be explained rationally. Christians believe that the holy water of Epiphany bears witness to the unworldly nature of the Church, even in this world it is a part of the Heavenly Kingdom.
The feast day of the Epiphany was always considered to be the most favorable day for young women to have their fortune revealed to them, in particular the identity of their betrothed. According to folklore, the "heavens open" on the eve of Epiphany and whatsoever one prays for will come to pass.
The famous Epiphany frosts are approaching, in Russia they have been considered the harshest of the year. According to the farmer's almanac there are many signs tied to this day. Russians believe that if it snows on Epiphany then the wheat and honey harvest will be plentiful and if the eve of Epiphany is starlit, then the berry crop will be good.