Skip to content

Epiphany Baptisms

The New York Times had an interesting article recently, describing the Russian Orthodox practice of “Epiphany Baptisms”, which apparently involves cutting a cross-shaped hole in the ice on a river or lake, and then taking a plunge in:

“Monday was Russian Orthodox Epiphany, and roughly 30,000 Muscovites 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.

This seems like an interesting religious/aesetic version of the same impulse behind the swedish sauna and the tradition of “polar bear clubs” in various cold climates. I’m curious about the origins of this practice, and also generally in the idea that this would be an annual recurring practice.

There also seems to be a increasing level of Russian nationalism associated with the icy plunge:

These days, it is a ritual with high production values. Several sites in Moscow were furnished with no-slip carpeting, heated tents and supervisors with megaphones. Politicians have seized on it as a photo opportunity; the theatrical ultranationalist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky took his plunge this year at Bottomless Lake, a Moscow River tributary, flanked by 15-foot tubes of fluorescent light.

‘It has become a show — not only that, but a patriotic show,’ 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.’ “

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *