Turkey, Culture

Istanbul: Greek Orthodox take deep dive for cross

Swimmers brave Golden Horn’s icy waters to retrieve wooden cross to mark Epiphany, key observance for Orthodox Church

Handan Kazanci   | 06.01.2020
Istanbul: Greek Orthodox take deep dive for cross Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomeos throws wooden crucifix into icy waters of Bosphorus during the Orthodox Epiphany Day marking the anniversary of Jesus's baptism and birth, in Istanbul, Turkey on January 6, 2020. Orthodox faithfuls take part in an annual race to retrieve a wooden crucifix thrown into the Bosphorus waters at the Golden Horn. ( Ahmet Bolat - Anadolu Agency )


Dozens of Greek Orthodox Christians swam frantically to retrieve a wooden cross thrown into Istanbul’s Golden Horn on Monday as today marks the beginning of Orthodox Christmas celebrations.

The Greek community in Istanbul was celebrating Epiphany, one of the Orthodox Church’s most important feasts, commemorating Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan, as for some believers Christmas falls in January, due to calendar differences.

Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Istanbul-based leader of many of the world’s Orthodox Christians, threw a wooden cross into the icy waters of the Golden Horn after an almost five-hour religious ceremony at the nearby Patriarchate.

Over 30 swimmers dived into the bitterly cold waters of the Golden Horn under heavy rain while hundreds of onlookers, including tourists and locals, watched one of Istanbul’s oldest religious traditions, the cross-throwing ceremony from the shores of the Golden Horn.

Nicolaos Solis from Agrinio, western Greece was the first to retrieve the religious icon.

When one of the swimmers showed distress due to the cold water, he was taken to the hospital. The patriarchate’s press office did not give the name of the swimmer, but said he was in good condition.

'Blessed' dive

One of the swimmers was Yannis Casilliadis, from Thessaloniki, a Greek port city. The 45-year-old told Anadolu Agency that it was very important for him to come to Istanbul for “blessing.”

“Whenever I dive, I want to catch the cross, but that’s not important for us,” he said.

“We’re a team made up of many people. And the most important thing is to catch the cross together,” he added.

Chrysa Klimantsouda, 45, also from Thessaloniki, was among the hundreds of spectators at the ceremony.

She said that it was her second time in Istanbul and first time seeing the celebrations.

“Until today, I never thought about diving but now I’m here and you feel more spiritual. Maybe next year I’ll come here to dive,” she added.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency before the dive, Stellos Athinaios from the Greek capital Athens said that he has been coming to Istanbul to dive for the last 10 years.

The 42-year-old said he came to Istanbul “to get the blessing from the Patriarchate and keep the tradition alive.”

Athinaios said that in 2009 his wife had a serious stomach problem and had surgery: “When she had surgery, I prayed and said if my wife gets well, I would come to dive if my health allows me [and] I will come here every year,” he added.

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