Photography

Serbians Swam for Jesus in a Freezing River

Last week, hundreds of men and women dove into freezing Serbian waters to snatch a wooden cross.

by Aleksa Vitorovic
24 January 2017, 12:26pm

Photo above: the day's winner, Slaviša Ivanović, holding an icon.

This article originally appeared on VICE Serbia

In the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church, Epiphany is a very important holiday. It celebrates Jesus Christ's baptism in the river Jordan, which is seen as his manifestation as the Son of God. Serbian rivers and lakes during the winter are probably a lot colder than the river Jordan, but that doesn't stop hundreds of Serbian men and women celebrating Epiphany by diving in every year, on the 19th of January.

Every ceremony starts off with a priest blessing the river or lake the dive will take place in, and throwing in a wooden cross. A pack of swimmers dives into the freezing water, and whoever finds the cross first brings it back to shore. The winner and his family receive a special blessing from the priest.

Photographer Aleksa Vitorović attended the celebration of Epiphany in the Zemun municipality of Serbia's capital Belgrade. Zemun sits on the banks of the Danube, Europe's second-longest river, which is currently partly frozen. Slaviša Ivanović, a professional stuntman, was the first to snatch away the wooden cross that day. 

More European traditions on VICE:

Photos of Horses Jumping Through Fire for a Better 2017

The French Custom of Throwing Wooden Spoons at People

The Strange Swiss Custom of Dressing Up as a Bush and Throwing Women in Wells