On Thursday evening, Russian President Vladimir Putin did perhaps the most Russian thing ever — he entered freezing water, dipping his head in and making the sign of the cross, to celebrate the Russian Orthodox holiday of Epiphany.
A video from Russia Today, the state-funded television network, showed Russian Orthodox priests chanting as Putin removed his fur robe and boots and stepped down into a baptismal pool in freezing temperatures. Putin marched onto the ice of frozen Lake Seliger, about 250 miles north of Moscow.
Reuters reported that air temperatures were around six degrees below zero Celsius (21 degrees Fahrenheit).
Russian Christians celebrate Epiphany on January 19, due to the 13-day difference between the Julian Calendar and the Gregorian Calendar. Western Christians, following the Gregorian Calendar, celebrate Epiphany on January 6, twelve days after Christmas Day (from which the “Twelve Days” of Christmas comes).
Besides celebrating Epiphany on two different dates, Eastern and Western Christians also celebrate different meanings behind the holiday. In the West, Epiphany celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, which was Jesus’ first manifestation to the Gentiles. In the East, Christians commemorate Jesus’ baptism on both sides of the Jordan River, which they celebrate as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God.
Therefore, it was fitting for Putin to essentially commemorate his own baptism — and the baptism of Jesus — on Thursday night.
Putin is a devout Russian Orthodox Christian, a faith position he may have adopted for political purposes. Some have criticized his faith, considering Russia’s harsh actions stifling dissent. Earlier this year, Putin make comments comparing Soviet Communism with Christianity, despite the Communist state’s persecution and murder of Eastern Orthodox Christians.
Whether or not Putin’s faith is personal and genuine, the Russian president certainly takes it seriously — enough to brave freezing temperatures to celebrate a Feast Day.
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