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Residents of the Black Sea resort of Sochi - the host city of next month's Winter Olympics - celebrated the Orthodox Epiphany on Sunday (January 19) and prayed for the success of Russian athletes at the games.
Cossacks, deployed to Sochi after explosions at the end of last year in Volgograd in southern Russia to help the police to keep law and order, attended a midnight prayer at a small church in the mountains. Outside the church, people dipped in the cold water of a river running from the mountains or in a small pool.
The age-old ritual commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River, or the Epiphany, which the Russian Orthodox Church marks on January 19, in the middle of the Russian winter.
Traditionally, the celebration starts the night before. By bathing on this day, believers symbolically wash off their sins. Many, however, also believe the dip in the cold water is good for their health.