Greek Orthodox Christians celebrated the end of the Christmas season in Turkey with a spectacular display, retrieving a wooden cross from the frigid waters of the Golden Horn.
The Epiphany signals the official end of the 12-day Christmas season. In Western Christianity, it is the day the Three Wise Men visited the baby Jesus Christ. In the East, though, they celebrate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.
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After a four-hour ceremony, Patriarch Bartholomew I threw a wooden cross into the Golden Horn. Men and women then dived into the frigid water to retrieve the cross. The person who grabs the cross receives a blessing on his or her household.
Vasil Ksenopoulos, 72, used to participate in the ceremony. “I swam three times – in 1958, 1959 and 1960. I have never had the chance to get the cross, though,” he stated.
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Nickos Solis, a personal trainer, recovered the cross. “I wish happy and bright days to everyone, Muslims and Orthodox,” he claimed after the event.
Solis said the water was not too cold, but Fotini Nikoltsoudi, the only female swimmer, said it was “very cold.” But to her, the blessing “is more important than the temperature.”
Over 300 people witnessed the annual tradition.
“I enjoy watching this traditional Orthodox ceremony. It is very beautiful to witness the Patriarch walking while singing hymns to the cross-throwing ceremony [area],” explained Nilgun Kirman, an Istanbul tour guide.
The countries that adapted the Julian calendar celebrate the Epiphany on January 6. Other Orthodox churches, such as in Russia, follow the Gregorian calendar, and their Epiphany falls on January 18.
This tradition is also held in America. In Tarpon Springs, FL, 52 young men dove into the Spring Bayou to capture a wooden cross. Anderson Combs, 17, was the lucky young man to hoist the cross. “When I first got in, it was a little cold, but once I realized all my brothers were with me, it was a happy moment to be there and I instantly warmed up,” he described. He added:
I was caught off guard because the boat jumped back. Once he actually ended up throwing the cross in, I was in the water by the time it hit the water. As I swam over, I could see where the wrinkles were coming from.”
“Then after that, I dove down and nobody found it, and I came up and made sure nobody found it, took a deep breath, went under some people, kicked around and I saw a little bit of white and I grabbed it and I came up with the cross.