An estimated two million Russians have plunged into icy waters to celebrate the Orthodox holiday of the Epiphany, as air temperatures dipped below minus 40 degrees Celsius in some places.
The purification ritual, commemorating the baptism of Jesus by John the
Baptist, sees devout Orthodox Russians plunge into cross-shaped holes cut into
frozen ponds and rivers. Devotees believe the water takes on sacred powers during the holiday. In line with custom, men and women clad in long white shirts or bikinis,
emerged themselves three times into the ice-holes in the name of the Father, the
Son and the Holy Spirit.
In Moscow, hundreds of people gathered for their freezing dip at a park pond
in the city centre, where air temperatures fell below minus 10C. Children also took part in the ancient rite that has been passed on through
generations since early tsarist times. The somewhat unusual Orthodox ceremony takes place every year from midnight
to midnight between January 18 and January 19, mainly in Russia.
Bathers believe the annual ice plunge will purify them and the cold water
will strengthen their bodies. Authorities issued warnings ahead of the annual dip in a bid to dissuade
people with heart conditions from participating. The Russian Interior Ministry estimated more than two million people had taken
part in the ceremony.