The Russian term is Крещенские, and on this date Eastern Christians commemorate the baptism of Christ in the Jordan River, reenacting that event with a plunge into the ice.
Temperatures in Moscow dropped on Epiphany Eve to minus 20 degrees Celsius. The Epiphany is celebrated on this date in the Eastern world and that includes dunking yourself in ice water. Our baptist friends would be surprised to learn that we Eastern Orthodox Catholic Christians really do “follow the Lord in baptism” in a very literal way.
At the beginning of the commemoration priests pray and perform the great blessing of water so that participants can take the plunge. Epiphany Water is believed to acquire miraculous healing properties.
Special square holes are cut out in frozen ponds, rivers and lakes across Russia with 383 Orthodox churches and monasteries in Moscow alone offering the rites according to Voice of Russia radio. Local fire departments cut holes in the ice and bring engines with generators for light as churches begin the process early, as around 3 or 4 am and it will go on and on into the afternoon in large population centers.
The Voice of Russia news service reported that over 6,000 policemen, interior force servicemen, and members of voluntary public order units were involved in maintaining public safety during the observance.
RIA Novosti news reported that bathers in Yakutia, in Russia’s Far East, had to perform the traditional triple plunge in exceptionally chilly temperatures of – 45 C (-49 F).