VOLOGDA, January 17, 23:48 /ITAR-TASS/. Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said Friday it would ensure the safety of mass bathing events on Epiphany, one of the Orthodox Christianity’s Great Feasts, throughout the country.
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.
“We are taking an active part in preparation of events, inspection of venues and protection of life and health of people,” Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov told journalists during a working visit to the northwestern city of Vologda. “Professional rescuers will be on duty, professional doctors and of course divers will work at all sites.”
Puchkov said he would personally “check the water condition in one of the Russian regions.” However, it was unclear whether he would dive into icy water himself.
Some 30 bathing sites will be organized in the Vologda Region on Epiphany. Safety measures are being taken as Ice in some places is too thin for mass events, the Emergencies Ministry said.
Ice is not thick enough for mass events on Epiphany in other regions as well, for example, in the Russian capital Moscow, due to unusually warm weather in early January.
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.
Organizers of Epiphany bathing events 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.