Russians wash away their sins with ice baths

Moscow, Russia - Thousands of Russians engaged in ritual plunges into freezing water Wednesday, part of celebrations centred around the Russian Orthodox Epiphany, or Three King's Day.

The chill of the Russian winter, down to 25 degrees Celsius below freezing in some places, did not deter the celebrants from jumping into rivers, ponds or specially set up pools.

By submerging themselves in water, believers remember the baptism of Jesus Christ, the main prophet of the Christian faith. Blessed, the ice cold water supposedly cleanses a person's mind and spirit.

The Russian Orthodox church has warned that the celebration must not become a mass spectacle, though it's not clear how seriously Russians were taking that call, with several thousands planning to partake in the ceremony in Moscow alone, according to media reports.

The city of Moscow set aside 70 places for the ice baths.

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox church, also warned that faith must not take a back seat during the day's events.

The ice baths have become a free time activity or even a test of stamina for many young Russians.