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Warm weather may prevent some Russian believers from bathing in icy waters on Epiphany

January 15, 2014, 19:12 updated at: January 15, 2014, 19:20 UTC+3 15
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MOSCOW, January 15 (Itar-Tass) - Russian residents are getting ready to celebrate Epiphany, one of the Orthodox Christianity’s Great Feasts, but unusually warm weather may prevent some of them from diving into icy waters as ice on some rivers, lakes and ponds is too thin yet, which rules out mass events.

Epiphany, also called Theophany, celebrates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River and the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. The Russian Orthodox Church marks the feast in line with the Julian calendar, on January 19.

Cross-shaped holes are cut in ice over Russian lakes and rivers, in line with an old-time tradition. The holes are called “iordans” (named after the Jordan River). The waters are blessed by priests and after that believers plunge into the iordans three times, in honor of the Holy Trinity, before midnight on January 18 and throughout the next day, January 19.

More than 50 Epiphany bathing sites were set up across Moscow last year, with tens of thousands of people diving in icy cold water to mark the feast.

However, due to unusually warm weather with temperatures well above zero in early January 2014 until Monday, which brought below-zero temperatures and a glimpse of a real winter, the ice is still too thin, especially in the city center.

It is unclear how many sites will be open for Epiphany bathing across the Russian capital this year, but the authorities said believers will not be allowed to immerse themselves into icy waters in ponds in downtown Moscow.

In the Moscow Region, some 600 bathing sites with baptismal fonts for believers will be set up, a top regional technical supervision official, Tatyana Vitusheva, said, adding that the final decision on each specific site will be made January 18.

On Epiphany, the Russian Orthodox Church performs the rite of the Great Blessing of Water - first, on January 18, on the eve of the feast, and then on Epiphany proper, after the Divine Liturgy.

Believers then come to take holy water, which is poured into bottles and other containers, and then keep it for long periods, using the water to cure diseases, bless themselves as well as things and premises around them. Some people believe that any water, even running from taps, which is poured or bottled on January 19, becomes holy.

The authorities of the Krasnodar Territory in Russia’s Southern Federal District reported that six Epiphany bathing sites had been prepared in the regional capital, Krasnodar, and one site in the town of Yeisk.

Organizers advise those wishing to dip into icy waters to observe certain rules: not to drink alcohol before diving and not to immerse themselves for over 30 seconds. Rescuers will be on duty to help believers at mass bathing sites.

In the republic of Komi in northwestern Russia, there will be 55 crucifix-shaped iordans, 17 more than last year, for Epiphany. Temperatures are low enough for safe ice diving.

The authorities of the republic of Buryatia in East Siberia said ten iordans will be organized for Epiphany bathing. The ice on the Uda River is 40-centimeter-thick, which is safe for people.

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