The Holy Theophany/Epiphany is one of the greatest feast days in the calendar of the Orthodox Church and is an immovable feast. It is always celebrated on January 19th in Russia whereas, in the western Catholic Church the Epiphany is January 6th and The Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the following Sunday.
This year, January 19th is a Thursday.
On this day Russian orthodox christians celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by John the Baptist, in the River Jordan.
At the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven declared,
"This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased"
In remembrance of this great event, Russian orthodox christians have a special ceremony called 'the blessing of the waters'.
Russian winters are very severe and so a cross-shaped hole is cut into the ice over the nearest body of living water. A wooden cross is held by the priest and plunged three times in to water to bless it. Orthodox worshippers come to be blessed by this water and some of the more brave and hardy people go into the freezing water to immerse themselves and to purify and protect themselves for the year ahead.
The practice of immersion is a more recent tradition but the blessing of the water is very ancient and is practised all over the orthodox world.
On Christmas Eve, in order to protect themselves and their homes and properties from the evil in the world, people bless their houses using charcoal or chalk drawing a cross over the doorways.
Families fast during the day to prepare themselves for a meatless feast in the evening. Supper begins with a prayer and then a spoonful of kutya- a cooked wheat or barley kasha, with cabbage, fish, buckwheat pancakes and jelly made from oats and also herbal tea.
The foods range from bitter to sweet to remind believers of life before the coming of Christ and then life afterwards.