Jesus Christ Baptism Day, Irkutsk, Siberia, Jan. 19, 2005

Religion the Siberian (Polar Bear Swim) Style

Click here to view 32 full-size pictures in a slide-show
On January 19, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates one of its main holidays - Kreshchenie, or the anniversary of the Jesus Christ baptism in the Jordan River. For this occasion, a site on a river or lake is selected that would be called Jordan for the purpose of this celebration. This "Jordan" is established in a suitable manner prior to the celebration. Here in Siberia it means building some temporary structures from the blocks of crystal-clear ice on the ice cover of the chosen body of water. In Irkutsk, "Jordan" was established on the south-western edge of the huge artificial reservoir created by the Irkutsk dam on the Angara River, near the southern end of this long dam. "Jordan" was delimited by a low fence, inside which three long rectangular slits were cut in the ice, and ice chapels and columns were built facing the ends of these slits. This construction activity started on the preceding Saturday (see the first photo in the slide show).
Then in the morning of January 19, "Jordan" was consecrated (unfortunately, I missed this ceremony). After this, water taken from the slits in the ice on that day was considered Holy, and people were taking it home in containers of all shapes to help them as a cure-all during the whole year. Those courageous enough were also personally repeating the act of baptism by submerging themselves completely into the freezing water in the slits in ice! As it was a working day (Wednesday), people were coming in droves late in the evening and at night (all the January 19 photos were taken in an half-an-hour period around 11:30 pm). Relatively balmy temperature of the air of −15° C even late at night apparently helped in that large numbers of people made the dip in the icy water. Most probably also the availability of cars, as most people seemed to jump out from their vehicles, made a quick dip and then rather quickly retreated back into their warmed-up cars and vans for drying and changing.
The next morning the site was deserted to a large extent, except that some people were still coming to haul "Holy water" home (see a few of the last photos), in spite of that it was not supposed to be Holy any more on the next day. But one could at least hope that it would be already less contaminated of all the viruses that could have been washed from the bodies of the hundreds of people who were there in the water the night before.
All on Siberia