Yesterday was the Feast of Epiphany in the Russian Orthodox calendar and the temperature in Moscow was an invigorating -15 degrees Celsius or 5 degrees Fahrenheit and it is the traditional day to commemorate the Baptism of Christ with a heart-stopping baptism of your own in a cross-shaped hole in the ice.
It is, maybe, cynical of me to notice that the priests stay well wrapped up against the cold.
They say it is more than invigorating though and the survivors report increased health and well-being after this annual event and, before I tread all over other people’s beliefs, many do find it a powerful and moving spiritual experience too.
In fact these icey baptisms do go back beyond Christianity to pagan times in the frozen North and there is something primevally natural about such an urge for a cold shower.
Those crosses cut in the ice are powerful symbols too of man’s frail place on Earth making the original baptism a much gentler affair when John the Baptist annointed Jesus in the warmth of the River Jordan.
All that snow made me think of Piero della Francesca’s sublimely contemplative painting.
If that is a little too austere for you then maybe Poussin’s sunny summer picnic of a Baptism is more to your taste. I would rather be there I think than in a frozen Moscow pond but well done those Russian brave hearts – rather you than me.
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