January 19th is a fixed date in the Russian Orthodox calendar. On this day we celebrate Epiphany – the moment when Jesus came to be baptised by St John in the waters of the Jordan River.
You have likely seen the reports of people bathing in the cold water on Epiphany. Bearing in mind Russia’s climate and severe wintery frosts this bathing ritual is more of a popular tradition rather than a requirement endorsed by the Church. In other words, if one doesn’t bathe on Epiphany, there will be no negative implications for their soul.
I have never gone to a designated bathing place but I did take a shower at home at midnight on January 19th. Yet this year I chose to skip doing so, and turned out so did President Putin!
What I did do as usual was to go to my local church for the so-called holy water. This is your regular water that was blessed by the priest. There are usually crowds of people standing in long queues, so I tend to go there late in the evening.
This is what my parish church of St Nicholas looked like on the evening of Epiphany. I’ve just caught myself on a thought that, while I was studying the Tudor period, I was quite fascinated by the terms “parish” and “parishioners”. Even though I was quite irreligious in those days I evidently loved the idea of a community where a church was a perfect gathering place, where people sang hymns and attended sermons. And see, two decades later I’m a parishioner myself…