Thousands of Russians brave icy waters for Orthodox holiday
Thousands of Russians plunged into icy waters to celebrate the Orthodox holiday of the Epiphany on Saturday, as air temperatures dipped below minus 40 degrees Celsius (minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit) 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 by Saturday.
Local media reported that millions of people living in the city of Yakutsk, in north-eastern Siberia, had bathed in the Lena River, where outside temperatures below minus 40 C were recorded.
© 2013 AFP