Ice bath for Jesus: Orthodox worshippers celebrate Epiphany

Ice bath for Jesus: Orthodox worshippers celebrate Epiphany
Bulgarians sing and chaindance in the icy waters of the Tundzha river in Kalofer, Bulgaria, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019. Traditionally, an Eastern Orthodox priest throws a wooden cross in the river and it is believed that the one who retrieves it will be healthy through the year. In the mountain city of Kalofer, in central Bulgaria, dozens of men dressed in white embroidered shirts waded into the frigid Tundzha River waving national flags and singing folk songs. (AP Photo)

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Thousands of Orthodox Christian worshippers have plunged into icy rivers and lakes across Bulgaria to recover crucifixes cast by priests in ceremonies commemorating the baptism of Jesus Christ.

Tradition holds that the person who retrieves the wooden cross will be freed from evil spirits and will be healthy throughout the year. After the cross is fished out, the priest sprinkles believers with water using a bunch of basil.

Epiphany is held every year on Jan. 6 and marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas.

In the central mountain city of Kalofer, dozens of men dressed in white embroidered shirts waded into the Tundzha River waving national flags and singing folk songs Sunday. They danced for nearly half an hour, up to their waists in the freezing water, pushing away ice chunks.