Orthodox Christians from around the world re-enacted Jesus Christ’s baptism this past weekend by taking an icy plunge in rivers to celebrate the Epiphany. Thousands of Orthodox Christians across Europe, Russia and North America plunged into the freezing water to commemorate this pivotal moment in Christ’s ministry.
More than 10,000 Christians from all over the world converged on the Jordan River in the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria on Sunday to take part in the annual “Epiphany” events. According to the Jerusalem Post, Qasar Al-Yahud, the traditional Christ baptism spot on the Jordan River which is run under the auspices of the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority, is also the place where the Israelites, led by Joshua, crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land 3,200 years ago. Worshipers from Israel, the disputed territories and around the world commemorated this crossing and the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist by submerging themselves in the cold river water.
Ethiopian monks in colorful traditional costumes sang and danced to the sound of drums as they proceeded towards the river, followed by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and others playing instruments. Once they finally reached the river bank, they dipped under water three times in the style of a traditional baptism.
Issa Elias, spokesperson for the Jerusalem Orthodox patriarchate, spoke to the crowds at the ceremony site, encouraging them to proudly celebrate their traditions and remain resilient in the face of the extreme persecution Christians in the Middle East are facing today.
“My message, especially to the Christian world, is: you need to remain in your holy places, in your houses, in your churches,” Elias said. “I call on the entire world to make pilgrimage to those holy places.”
In the U.S., a group of about a dozen Orthodox Christians braved the relatively cold weather to take a dip in the Willamette River, near Eugene, Oregon, to retrieve a wooden cross floating about 30 feet away reports the Register Guard.
The St. George Greek Orthodox Church and St. John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church hosted the event to celebrate Theophany, an annual feast on January 19 to honor Jesus Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River.
Christ’s baptism blessed all of the Earth, first by blessing the water and then everything that came into contact with that water, said Rev. Daniel Mackay, who was dressed in ornate yellow and gold garb and a square black hat called a skufia.
The St. John church has celebrated the baptism for at least 14 years, Mackay said. The church joined with the St. George parish, located in northeast Eugene, last year and again this year because “it didn’t make sense to bless the water separately,” Mackay said.
“We’re coming out of the church and into the world to bless our local water, the Willamette, which will then bless all of the Earth and all of creation,” he said. “We’re called to be caretakers and stewards of the world and that starts with the blessing.”
[Images via Palm Beach Post and Kyiv Post]