Orthodox Epiphany in Comrat
Updated: Apr 15, 2019
"Praise the lord" says the orthodox pope dressed in a silver cape. "May this holy water free you from all your sins" he goes on with his speach, half singing and half preaching. Around him around 100 Gagauzians gathered to be part of the old orthodox tradition known as Epiphany.
The traditional date for the feast is January 6. However, Eastern Churches following the Julian calendar observe the feast on what for most countries is the 19th of January. It marks the baptism of jesus and has been hold for nearly 500 years now.
Altough most Moldovans don´t celebrate this tradition anymore as they follow their Western neighbour Romania which has other celebrations, Gagauzia holds onto this festivity.
Believing that on this day, water becomes holy and is imbued with special powers, Orthodox people all over the world cut holes in the ice of lakes and rivers, often in the shape of the cross, to bathe in the freezing water. This year the Comrat lake´s 5 degrees are too cold so the celebration was moved to the swimmingpool nearby. After a long time of waiting in the snow so the popes and the choir could arrange the table and altar, bread, wine, flour and water is generously spread around it and will be blessed soon. The choir starts singing in old Russian and you can feel the atmosphere getting more and more tense - people are starting to realize that their bathing is near! After wandering around the water, incense in one hand and a silver cross in the other one, the pope takes out a giant brush and starts swiping holy water in the visitor´s faces until they are completly soaking. Soon after that he takes out a cross and dips it into the icy water to show the start of the Bapitising and the canonization of the pool water. One after the other Gagauzians get undressed and start jumping into the water. Men with nothing but underwear and women in small bathing-suits dip into it three times, honoring the Holy Trinity, making hasty crosses after each submerge, symbolically washing away their sins of the past year and to experience a "spiritual rebirth". The bathing is believed to have healing powers and the tradition is considered holy and pure.
The celebration is long not over, after the quick swim, participants are proudly greeted by their family or friends and join each other for some tea and cake to get warm again.