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Why Do Ukrainians Dive Into Freezing Water Today?

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

According to the Orthodox Church, Jesus Christ was born on January 7, and the Epiphany on January 19 celebrates His Baptism. The Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist on the Jordan River on the ancient pilgrimage of Bethabara, as well as the celebration of the Christmas and New Year cycle, which Orthodox Christians celebrate on January 19 each year.

The baptizing coincides with the Epiphany Feast, though these holidays are distinct. Still, both took place on the same day and location:

An epiphany is an event during the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River, in which Christ reveals himself to men as the Messiah and Savior.

It is celebrated by some Orthodox Churches and Greek Catholics on January 19 every year.

The feast of the Epiphany assimilated many pagan and Christian rituals, the prominent place among which was occupied by practices associated with water.

Todays' Orthodox Ukraine was before pagan; the key event was a mass baptizing in 988 of the inhabitants of Kyiv (and later of other cities of the state) by Prince Volodymyr Sviatoslavych, as a result of which Christianity became the leading religion in Kyiv Rus.

The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ lived 30 years of his life on earth, worked quietly, and never during this time showed his divine essence - that is, lived the life of a simple earthly man.

But one day, Jesus came to the Jordan River to a cousin we know as John the Baptist and asked that John baptize Him. At the moment of Jesus' baptism, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven on earth in the form of a white dove, and the voice of God the Creator Father was heard: "This is my beloved Son, listen to Him!"

We call this day the Epiphany or Holy Water Baptism. In Ukraine, Russia, Greece, and Bulgaria, water is consecrated on this day often carried out directly on the ponds in specially drilled holes, called "Jordan," in memory of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. The water consecration ceremony takes place in the open air, on the banks of rivers, streams, and lakes. The day before, a large cross ("Jordan") is cut out of the ice and placed next to the ice hole.

The cross's sculptural image was installed vertically and often covered with beet kvass, from which it turned red.

(The beetroot fermentation is called "kvass," the same beetroot also used to cook borscht produces a strong red-coloured drink which reinforces the immune system).

Believers line up to collect holy water for the next year and store it. During this time, the water will remain without rotting or gaining any odour. According to the legend, it can heal those present at the celebration of any diseases. On the night of Epiphany, ordinary water receives healing powers through a blessing ceremony.

Ukraine revived it later in the 20th century after the Soviet Union collapsed, Epiphany was revived and became a widespread belief and tradition that diving three times in these waters (no matter its temperature) heals patients and fortifies believers.

Ancestors believed that the water on the night of Epiphany gains healing powers, and until today those who dive these frozen waters claim never to get a cold during the following Winter.

Is this true? Well... seeing, is only necessary to the faithless, and the paradox of faith is that it believes precisely in what you do not see.

But if that is the case, you always can come here in January and give it a try ;-) Why do Ukrainians celebrate Christmas on Jan 7th and not Dec 25th?



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