Photos of Serbian Priests, Medieval Knights, and an Eagle Celebrating the Baptism of Jesus

Every January, young men try to retrieve a cross that's thrown into ice-cold water by a priest.

by Marko Grujic
Jan 20 2015, 9:18pm

Photos by Marina and Marko Grujic.

Orthodox Christians in Serbia and several other countries celebrate the Epiphany (the anniversary of Jesus's baptism) on January 19—proudly sticking to an old calendar that puts every significant religious date two weeks after those followed by other Christians.

This year, I also decided to pay my respects by taking part in a traditional "diving for the cross" race in the freezing cold and eternally polluted Tamis river in Pancevo, near the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

For those who have never heard of the Orthodox Christian custom, on Epiphany Day a bunch of young men jump into the usually ice-cold waters of rivers, seas, and puddles to try and retrieve a wooden cross that's thrown in there by a priest. The guy that gets to the cross fastest will supposedly be lucky, or grow good crops or a strong beard—something to that effect—in the coming months.

I am a young man, so this year I thought I too should take my chances at good fortune under the watchful eyes of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Serbian army, assorted faithful, and some members of the White Eagles, a group devoted to preserving traditional Serbian crafts. These are the guys who came to the gig dressed as Medieval knights.

The author

But my dream fell apart when I realized I'd forgotten my doctor's note at home. Having failed to prove I was in a good physical condition, I had to settle for sitting half-naked on the side of the river—just like any common loser. I did come away with these photos, however.

Representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church

The White Eagles

The Serbian Army

The winner

The eagle