Today on The Atlantic's World Calendar ...
Back on January 6 in our Gregorian calendar Epiphany post we promised to return with Russian Orthodox Epiphany photos. Many Orthodox churches, including those in Russia, Serbia, and the Ukraine, remain on the Julian calendar, thus celebrating Epiphany on January 19.
It's hard to beat the January 6 pictures of Nicolas Sarkozy eating a frangipane cake or a porcelain model of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Nevertheless, the Julian calendar celebrations do exactly that, proving once and for all that the Badass Christianity Prize probably belongs in Eastern Europe, despite the strong showing of the Catholic Church with its papal smoke signals.
Epiphany celebrations in these lands are characterized in part by a series of traditions that put college "polar bear plunges" to shame. In one, an Orthodox priest hurls a wooden cross into the river. Men dive after it and struggle to retrieve the cross. The one who gets the cross is supposedly blessed with good health in the coming year. A ritual in Russia recalls Jesus' baptism in the river Jordan by John the Baptist by having believers plunge into freezing water on the eve of Epiphany on January 18, the water having been blessed by an Orthodox priest. In some villages, ice holes are used for the rite, workers cutting through the ice of a frozen lake or river to form a pool in the shape of a cross. Below are some pictures of January 18-19 Epiphany celebrations in the past few years.
Love the illuminated water. The Tsnyanskoye reservoir in Minsk, January 2012. (Vladimir Nikolsky/Reuters)