Orthodox celebrate Epiphany

By the Associated Press | January 6, 2012 | 7:16 AM EST

Believers sing and dance in the river Tundzha, as they celebrate Epiphany day in the town of Kalofer, Bulgaria Friday, Jan. 6, 2012. Traditionally, an Eastern Orthodox priest throws a cross in the river and it is believed that the one who retrieves it will be healthy through the year. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)

ISTANBUL (AP) — Orthodox worshippers dived into icy cold waters from Istanbul to Bulgaria on Friday to retrieve crucifixes in ceremonies to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ.

Hundreds of members of Istanbul's tiny Greek Orthodox community and tourists from neighboring Greece attended the Epiphany ceremony of the Blessing of the Waters.

The spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, led a procession to the Golden Horn after a morning ceremony at the gold-crusted Cathedral of St. George. More than a dozen Greek Orthodox faithful dived into the wintry waters of the Golden Horn to retrieve a wooden cross thrown by Bartholomew I.

This years' winner was Apostolos Oikonomou, 40, from neighboring Greece.

In Bulgaria, hundreds of young men have also plunged into rivers and lakes across Bulgaria to retrieve crucifixes cast by priests. It is believed that the person who retrieves the cross will be freed from evil spirits that might have troubled him.

Some also believe that if the waters freeze over, there will be an abundant harvest later in the year that might help them survive the economic turmoil.

Catholics also celebrate Epiphany as a holy day.