Thousands of Russians jumped into holes cut in ice on Monday night and Tuesday morning on the holiday of the Epiphany, when Russian Orthodox believers take part in a baptism ceremony.
Russians stripped to swimsuits or loose robes to plunge into cross-shaped holes cut in frozen rivers, believing that the water takes on sacred powers on the holiday, which commemorates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, held an all-night service in Moscow's Yelokhovsky cathedral and on Tuesday morning was to bless water, which believers collect in bottles, crediting it with healing powers.
Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida, warned believers only to jump into ice holes after consulting a doctor, the RIA Novosti news agency reported, as temperatures fell below 30 degrees Celsius in Siberia.
In Moscow around 58,000 people gathered to jump in ice holes overnight, far exceeding last year's total of 32,000 people, city police spokesman Viktor Biryukov told RIA Novosti.
Rescue workers at the emergency ministry manned 46 officially sanctioned ice holes in the city, where the temperature was minus 15 degrees Celsius on Tuesday morning.
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