Saturday, January 19, 2013

Patriarch blesses the Waters on the eve of Orthodox Epiphany

With the holy liturgy of the Great Blessing of the Waters, celebrated today by the Patriarch of Moscow and All the Russias Kirill, the Orthodox Church began its traditional celebrations of Epiphany.

According to the Julian calendar, the feast day falls on 19 January, 13 days later than the Gregorian calendar. 

Like Christmas, the eve is a day of fasting until the first star comes out.

On this day, Christians remember the martyrdom of John the Baptist, who baptised Jesus in the Jordan River. 

For the Orthodox Church, 19 January is the day to remember the Lord's baptism, kreshenie in Russian, the moment of Theophany when Christ revealed himself as the Son in the Trinity, together with the Father's voice and the Holy Spirit's dove. 

Following the liturgy, both Epiphany eve and Epiphany day, the faithful bring home some holy water.

In Russia, Epiphany is also the time for one of the country's most important rites, that of the traditional dip in icy waters. Despite polar temperatures, an estimated 800,000 Russians will go tonight and tomorrow into cross-shaped holes in ice-covered lakes and rivers.

According to the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, in Moscow alone 52 sites have been set up to provide the daredevils with medical and rescue services, Interfax reported.

Across the Russian Federation, a total of 2,500 sites have been prepared for the traditional immersion. 

The authorities have warned that drinking is main danger associated with swimming in ice-cold water. 

Would-be swimmers should avoid sites where there is no medical staff.

Tradition says that the waters of rivers and lakes are blessed and sanctified on this day. In the olden days, people made a hole in the ice, called Jordan, and carried a cross in procession around it.

According to folk wisdom, the waters of this 'Jordan' had therapeutic powers against all sorts of illnesses. 

At present, religious and non-religious Russians take a dip in icy waters in remembrance of the waters' curative power before crowds of disbelieving onlookers and journalists.

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