Orthodox Christians in Russia and across eastern Europe and central Asia have braved sub-zero temperatures as they plunged into icy water to celebrate the Epiphany. As the air temperatures dropped as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit), believers immersed themselves in special cross-shaped holes cut into thick ice covering rivers and lakes to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River.

Orthodox Epiphany 2018
A young man takes a dip in the freezing waters of Lake Buzim near the village of Sukhobuzimskoye north of Krasnoyarsk, Russia Ilya Naymushin/Reuters

Orthodox Christians who use the Julian Calendar [including Russians, Ukrainians, Serbians, Georgians, Copts, Ethiopians and Palestinians] celebrate Epiphany on 19 January, nearly two weeks after it is celebrated by Christians in the rest of the world.

Many Russian Orthodox Christians believe that bathing on the Epiphany symbolically washes away their sins. In Orthodox tradition, water blessed by a priest during Epiphany week is considered holy and pure, and believers attribute healing powers to it. However, others take the plunge simply because they believe a dip in the cold water is good for their health.

Putin takes icy plunge to celebrate epiphany Reuters Russia In RSA Twitter

Russian President Vladimir Putin stripped down to his bathing trunks and immersed himself in the frozen Lake Seliger, about 400 km (250 miles) north of Moscow. Air temperatures at the time were around six degrees Celsius below zero (21 degrees Fahrenheit). Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the president had dipped in icy waters on the Epiphany before, but this was the first time he's done so in public.