It’s not exactly the Jordan River, but that isn’t stopping Russian Orthodox believers from plunging into the icy Moscow River in their traditional Epiphany celebration.
Braving temperatures of minus 25 degrees Celsius (minus 13 Fahrenheit), hoards queued overnight and into dawn on Tuesday to dunk themselves into a hole in the ice in Moscow and rise again in a ritual symbolizing rebirth.
“After the Epiphany dive, all your illnesses, all your problems just fade away,” film actor and stuntman Alik Gulkhanov told AP Television News as he came out of the water, his hair frozen into little icicles.
The scene, mimicking the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, was repeated from Vladivostok to Volgograd across Russia in a ceremony whose popularity is increasing with that of the Orthodox Church.
Typically a cross is carved out of the ice near the bathing spot, and a wooden dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit is thrown into the water.
Many of the stripped-down swimmers were blase about the frigid weather, and warmed themselves with another spirit - vodka - before submerging. State television showed images of people emerging from the water and saying they felt reborn as they scrambled for towels and coats.
While in western Christian traditions, Epiphany marks the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus, in Eastern Orthodoxy the festival commemorates Christ’s baptism.