Russian president Vladimir Putin joined millions of Orthodox Christians in celebrating the Feast of Epiphany by diving topless into an ice-cold lake.
The ritual took place at in the waters of Lake Seliger, around 220 miles north-west of Moscow, overseen by some of the Orthodox church’s most prominent figures.
Footage on state television showed Putin approaching the lake wearing a wearing a cream sheepskin coat and knee-high felt boots while priests waved incense and chanted a religious passage.
Stripping down to just swimming trunks, the 65-year-old lowered himself into the lake wearing a crucifix and fully submerged himself before quickly making his way out. The reported outside temperature was -6C.
Asked whether the water was too cold, Putin replied, “No, it’s great.”
It was the first time that Putin had participated in the ritual, although his spokesperson Dmitry Peskov later claimed that he had been “plunging into an ice hole for a number of years now.”
The ritual was to mark by the Russian Orthodox Church’s annual Feast of Epiphany, where millions of members immerse themselves in rivers and lakes to celebrate the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan, believing the water briefly becomes purified and heals internal wounds.
In some areas of Russia, such as the Siberian city of Norilsk, experiencing extreme temperatures as low as -68C, authorities banned the plunges “to avoid frostbite and emergency situations.”
The state news agency TASS noted that the Church “looks favorably” on the ritual, but only “if a person treats the plunge into the ice hole with reverence, and his health allows it.”
Putin’s open embrace of the Orthodox Church represents a shift in Russia’s overall political ideology, given that he grew up under communist rule, where they routinely suppressed freedom of religion. The church has approximately 150 million members worldwide, making it one of the world’s largest religious sects.
The ritual is not the first time that Putin has shown off his torso or engaged in physical activity, having previously been photographed topless riding a horse, while last year he was pictured fishing without a shirt in a mountain lake in Siberia.