For Eastern Christians, the epiphany celebrates Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River (by St. John the Baptist) marking the moment when all three (God’s voice speaking, the Spirit descending as a dove, and Jesus in the water) were revealed and manifested as ONE . For Western Christians, the epiphany celebrates when the Magi visited baby Jesus. But both, celebrate and proclaim the incarnation!
In Greece, the waters (inside and out) are blessed by the priest and this is now considered blessed water and taken home by all of the faithful. Following the liturgy on the morning of January 6th, everyone gathers to the closest body of water to bless it by throwing a cross into the water three times.
On the third time, the cross is tossed much further out into the water so that the handful of brave volunteers can race to be the one who retrieves the cross for a blessing (for themselves and their household). You can imagine how cold the waters are everywhere, even here in the island the crowds were bundled up in sweaters, winter coats, gloves, and scarves.
It is an honor and blessing to be the one who brings the cross back. So, no matter how cold the water is, there are always volunteers. Officially, you are blessed by the priest, given a cross to remember the occasion, and congratulated by everyone. Unofficially, you are even given gifts and money from your family members for being the one who brought the blessing home. I imagine it is something to be very proud of even if you are one of the few to brave swimming who do not get the cross. It was very exciting to watch, but I am so glad I was taking the pictures and not the one swimming.
This is a time of great blessings by the priest, there are many children baptized, and almost all of the homes are blessed inside/out by the holy water and prayers from the priests. In some remote villages, there still exists many silly superstitions and traditions of goblins and evil spirits that must be “taken” care of by the priest. I simply laugh at some of the foolish things people actually believe, but I am sure growing up with these stories would and practices makes a difference. Here is a cistern of the holy water that people were taking home with them.
It is a really fun celebration for everyone watching and participating. I imagine it will be the talk of the town for the next week or two about how cold the water was and how (insert name of boy who got the cross here) managed to get to the cross first. Plus, it is kinda cool to have such an awesome celebration to remember the baptism of Christ!