Plunging into holy water: Russians celebrate the baptism of Christ
Orthodox Christians are celebrating one of the main religious holidays of the year – the Epiphany, or the baptism of Christ. It is believed that on this day water becomes holy and is able to wash away sins and diseases.
Thousands of Russians who share this belief queue up at special open-air spas.
The “growling spring,” located near Sergiev Posad, in the Moscow region, is one of the most popular springs in Russia. It is thought to be the site where Sergey of Radonezh – an Orthodox saint – spent months praying.
Over the last seven centuries the spring has become a place of pilgrimage for those wanting to celebrate the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan.
“We come here every year,” says one of the spring’s patrons. “We believe that the “growling spring” is holy, especially on the night of the Epiphany. I come here to heal my joints.”
Water even changes its chemical composition and it is believed that water from the “growling spring” blessed on the Epiphany night can be stored for up to 50 years and won’t spoil.
One of the holiday’s beliefs is that the more sins you have committed, the colder is the spring’s water. There is also the option to make a confession prior to bathing. Father Vladimir, whose parish is located nearby, is available for that purpose.
“At midnight, the time our Lord was baptized in Jordan, the world water regains the qualities it had at the time of the Creation, when God made the Earth, the sky, rivers and other water sources, flowers, grass, everything around us, and water in particular was pure, without sin, and had the power to heal people. So at the Epiphany the water gets this quality back,” Father Vladimir explains.
He says that unlike in Soviet times, when mostly elderly people came to the spring, now the majority of pilgrims are in their 30s. Their stories make up the book of local legends.
“A young woman visited us, an actress,” Father Vladimir recalls. “After a serious car accident she needed a wheelchair. She had ten months of medication. Nothing helped. She confessed to me she even considered suicide. But after just two plunges in the holy pool, she recovered completely. No more wheelchair, no more pills.”
The Parish where Father Vladimir serves is small. There are three people altogether, including Father Vladimir’s son Pavel. He recently started learning bell-ringing and is helping his father on the sacred night, which has begun on the evening of January 18.
On this night Patriarch Kirill has held a holy liturgy in the capital’s Epiphany Cathedral, followed by a traditional procession with a cross.
And the Greek Orthodox community living in the Middle East has also been holding ceremonies to mark the Epiphany.
Pilgrims from Israel and the Palestinian territories make an annual trip to the River Jordan for ritual Baptisms.
They renew their faith before immersing themselves in the river.
After the ceremony, many spend the remainder of the day visiting the olive grove where Jesus is believed to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount.