Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Theophany in Russia.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a bit about Theophany on the date on which the feast is celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar. For Christians who follow the Julian calendar, Theophany falls on January 19th of the civil year. The largest number of believers who follow the 'Old Calendar' are undoubtedly to be found in Russia, where, as New York Times reporter Ellen Barry discovered, the traditional celebration of Theophany is a very big deal:
Monday was Russian Orthodox Epiphany, and roughly 30,000 Muscovites lined up to dunk themselves in icy rivers and ponds, city officials said. The annual ritual baptism, which is believed to wash away sins, is enjoying a boisterous revival after being banished to villages during the Soviet era.

These days, it is a ritual with high production values. Several sites in Moscow were furnished with no-slip carpeting, heated tents and supervisors with megaphones. Politicians have seized on it as a photo opportunity; the theatrical ultranationalist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky took his plunge this year at Bottomless Lake, a Moscow River tributary, flanked by 15-foot tubes of fluorescent light.

“It has become a show — not only that, but a patriotic show,” said Boris F. Dubin, a sociologist with Moscow’s Levada Center. The immersion ritual satisfies a public hunger, he said, for “something that is truly Russian, ancient, real. For what distinguishes us from other people.”
To read the rest, click here. The contention that diving into the water on Theophany is "what distinguishes [Russians] from other people," given that similar rituals may be found in other cultures that possess a strong Orthodox Christian heritage. Nonetheless, I can appreciate the hunger for "something that is truly Russian, ancient, [and] real" that inspires the great enthusiasm with which many Russians greet this feast day. In spite of their patriotic and perhaps even secular character, I pray that these celebrations may lead many to a greater appreciation of the words from the Epistle to the Galatians that are heard during the festal liturgy: As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia! AMDG.


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