Sacred Epiphany Dip

8 February 09 | Posted in Events, Friends, Spirituality

In the snowy silence of a Moscow park, a 26-year-0ld businessman, Aleksandr Pushkov, stood naked except for his bathing suit, a column of steam rising from his body. His clothes were piled up under a tree, and he had just climbed out of a hole in the ice.

It was the 7th time he took part in an Epiphany ritual: the trance-like preparation, the electric shock of the ice-cold water and and 20 0r 30 second wait for a feeling he described as “nirvana.” As cross-country skiers picked their way through the woods, Mr. Pushkov stood by himself in the snow, barefoot and steaming.

On Russian Orthodox Epiphany, roughly 30,000 Moscovites lined up to dunk themselves in icy rivers and ponds, city officials said. The annual ritual baptism, which is believed to wash away sins, is enjoying a boisterous revival after being banished to villages during the Soviet era, said Boris F. Dubin, a sociologist with Moscow’s Levada Center. The immersion ritual satisfies a public hunger, he said, for “something that is truly Russian, ancient, real. For what distinguishes us from other people.” russian-ritual.jpg

“Each country has something that is instrinsic to it,” said Aleksandr Gorlopan, 43, who was warming himself with a combination of hot tea and Captain Morgan rum. Mr. Gorlopan, who gave his profession as “traveler,” said the tradition dated back to the tiny Slavic tribes that scattered south from Scandinavia–nomads, he said, with “wild souls.” “We are made of water,” he said. “Without water we cannot survive.”

Galina Burasvetova, a 50-year-old hairdresser in a red bikini, said she had first taken part in the ritual during an agonizing period in her life, when she was raising three children on a vanishing income. Afterward, she felt she had the moral strength to go on.

Mr. Dubin, the sociologist, said the practice’s popularity had less to do with religious revival than with enthusiastic coverage by Russian television. By others said it proved that 74 years of Communist rule were unable to stamp out the tradition, which holds that a priest’s blessing temporarily transforms water into the River Jordan, where Jesus was baptised.  Even at the height of state atheism, said Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, “the lines for holy water were longer than the lines at Lenin’s mausoleum.” russian-ritual-2.jpg

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