By Suzan Fraser, AP
ANKARA, Turkey–Wednesday is Epiphany, a major holiday in much of Orthodox Christianity celebrating the birth and baptism of Jesus. Religious services are held as well as Blessing of Water ceremonies at lakes, rivers and seafronts.
But in Russia, Serbia, Ukraine and other Orthodox countries that observe a different religious calendar, it is Christmas Eve. Roman Catholics and Protestants, meanwhile, celebrate the story of the Wise Men who followed a star to Jesus’ cradle.
Here’s a look at some of the celebrations taking place on Wednesday: Greece Ceremonies were held across the country, with divers jumping from piers, bridges and tug boats. School children and members of the country’s navy special forces also took part.
The main ceremony was held at the country’s largest port of Piraeus, near Athens, but left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras attended a smaller ceremony in the Greek capital following a spat with traditionalists in the Orthodox Church who vehemently opposed a recent law sanctioning same sex-civil partnerships.
Bishop Serapheim of Piraeus described the law an “insult to human identity” and “psychiatric deviation from healthy sexuality.” Turkey Members of Istanbul’s tiny Greek Orthodox community, visitors from neighboring Greece and other faithful attended an Epiphany service led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians in Istanbul, where the Patriarchate is based.
A group of faithful leaped into the frigid waters of the Golden Horn inlet to retrieve a wooden cross thrown by Bartholomew. Nicolaos Silos, a 28-year-old visitor from Greece, was the first to reach it.
A ceremony to bless the waters was also held in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city. It was the first “official” Epiphany ceremony there since the end of a Greek-Turkey war nearly a century ago that triggered a population exchange between Greece and Turkey. Although the Greek Consulate in Izmir had organized a ceremony 2006, it was the first time the Turkish government both approved and helped to organize it.
“It’s a historic day here and we’re grateful to the local authorities and to the Patriarchate … for making this happen,” Tina Samoglu, secretary of the Izmir Orthodox Community told Greek state TV. “I feel very proud and I’m filled with emotion.”
The patriarchate in Istanbul dates from the 1,100-year-old Orthodox Greek Byzantine Empire, which collapsed when the Muslim Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, today’s Istanbul, in 1453. Russia