By Mehmet Kara
ISTANBUL (AA) - Plunging into the icy waters of Istanbul’s Golden Horn, Orthodox Christians on Thursday marked the anniversary of the birth and baptism of Jesus of Nazareth, the man they know as the messiah.
The marking of the Epiphany began with a ceremony held by the Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in the Turkish metropolis, followed by swimmers diving in the water to retrieve a symbolic cross.
Patriarch Bartholomew himself led the morning ceremony held at St. George's Cathedral, also known as Aya Yorgi Church, as participants chanted prayers and lit candles for the ritual.
The Epiphany day marks the beginning of Orthodox Christmas celebrations, later than Dec. 25 – the date for many other Christians – due to different traditional calendars. It is one of the Orthodox Church’s most important holidays, commemorating Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan.
The ritual lasted for four hours, and the participants then walked to the beach of the Golden Horn, a part of the Bosphorus, where Patriarch Bartholomew threw a cross into the sea and 10 swimmers dove in to retrieve it. Galip Yavuz was the lucky one to bring the cross back this year.
"I’m so happy and wish a year full of fellowship and love to you all," Yavuz said, adding that he has taken part in the ritual for the past five years. The popular event known as the blessing of the waters was watched by a group of spectators.
COVID-19 measures were maintained during the ritual at the church and the Golden Horn. Sea police units on boats also took security measures along the sea as swimmers were diving for the cross.
Several other diving rituals were also held in other districts of the famed Turkish city, including Kuzguncuk, Buyukada, and Yesilkoy.
Turkiye, a land that embraces many faiths, has a long-established Christian population, especially in such bigger cities as Istanbul.
*Writing by Ali Murat Alhas