Russia is celebrating Epiphany on Tuesday, with thousands of believers across the country taking dips in icy cold water - a ceremony believed to cleanse them of sin and heal their illnesses.
Epiphany is one of the Great Feasts, marking the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River and the beginning of his ministry, and the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates it on January 19 in line with the Julian calendar.
The feast’s peculiar feature is the rite of the Great Blessing of Water, performed in Russian churches twice - on January 18, on the eve of the feast, and on Epiphany proper, after Divine Liturgy. Holy water is then given to believers, who store it for long periods and use it to cure illnesses and bless themselves or things and premises around them. Some people think any water - even from the taps on the kitchen sink - poured or bottled on Epiphany becomes holy.
Western Christians observe it January 6 in line with the Gregorian calendar, or, in some countries on the Sunday after January 1. On that day Western Christian tradition commemorates the visit of the Magi to the child Jesus.
Epiphany is also known in the Orthodox Church as Theophany, which means the shining forth and manifestation of God.
On that day, according to Gospels, the Holy Trinity manifested itself to mankind: Jesus, the Son of God, dipped himself in the Jordan, the voice of his Father was heard from Heaven, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove.
Honoring an old Russian tradition, believers dive into ice holes, usually made in the form of a cross, in lakes, rivers and other water bodies, as temperatures across Russia vary from zero to minus sixty degrees Celsius, the figures for the Moscow Region ranging these days from -10 to -25.
The bathing, also popular among nonbelievers, can be performed in 37 special places in the Russian capital after waters there are blessed by Orthodox priests. The Emergency Situations Ministry said over 60,000 people are expected to make their ice dives after midnight and during the day on Tuesday, adding that 260 ministry rescuers will monitor the safety of swimming.
The president of Russia’s Cold Treatment and Sports Winter Swimming Federation said it is impossible to fall ill after dipping into icy water on Epiphany.
“Physicists have established that on Epiphany the crystalline structure of water changes on Earth, including in the human organism that consists of 75% water. Water self-purifies, so even an unprepared person won’t catch a cold when swimming in cold water on Epiphany,” Vladimir Grebyonkin said.
MOSCOW, January 19 (RIA Novosti)