Monday, March 13, 2006

Give Me That Really Old-Time Religion

Here I am standing in line in Moscow's Red Square, waiting for that old guy to finish his dive, so I can plunge head-first into ice-cold water. The air temperature in Moscow was about -22F/-30C.

Many Russians take a plunge on the feast of the Epiphany primarily because it's traditional -- and in spite of the fact that holes have to be cut in thick ice in order for them to take the dunk.

Members of the Orthodox Churches, however, hit the freezing fluid as a matter of faith -- they celebrate the Epiphany, the12th day of Christmas, as the day of the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan. Orthodox Christians believe that water from any river, pond, tap, or shower becomes Christ's Baptismal water on the Epiphany. Sometimes, a crucifix is thrown into a river or lake, and swimmers race to reach it (first photo below). Other times, a cross-shaped hole is cut in the ice and a Baptismal ritual takes place (second photo below).

You can see another example of the Baptismal ritual by clicking on the photo of the Russian paratrooper with the pained expression (third photo below), taken by Konstantin Zavrazhin, a photojournalism based in Moscow. On his site there are some amazing photos of Russian paratroopers being Baptized. Keep in mind that jumping into water that cold is usually described as like being "hit by a thousand knives." Oh, and you're right, that's not me in that line in Red Square. It is surprising, however, that my exact body double would live in Moscow.

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