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Putin takes traditional Epiphany dip in icy lake

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Putin takes traditional Epiphany dip in icy lake

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Reuters/Kremlin RU
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Millions of Russians have been celebrating Epiphany in the Orthodox Christian calendar.

In Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the Russian Patriarch Kirill led a service to honour the birth and baptism of Jesus.

During the ceremony he blessed water which was distributed among the faithful, a tradition considered holy and pure.

Many others, however, choose a more rigourous test to mark the occasion. In Russia's Sakha Republic traditional celebrations consist of carving crosses and crucifix-shaped structures out of ice and into frozen over lakes and rivers.

Ideal preparation for a extremely cleansing dip but with temperatures down to minus 50 degrees celsius, Evgeniy Roshin, the interim head of Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry says safety is paramount.

"I recommend people don't spend more than three minutes in the water. It's best to do everything in a couple of seconds and not stay in there too long to avoid hypothermia. We also tell people to bring warm clothes, towels, hot tea, hot beverages," said Roshin.

Every year Orthodox believers immerse themselves in rivers and lakes to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan. This year they were joined by President Vladmir Putin who's developed a habit of stripping off in public.

The 65-year-old, who is campaigning for re-election in a March 18 presidential election, grew up under Communist rule where open shows of religion were frowned upon. As president, he has become a frequent attender of Russian Orthodox ceremonies, and has given the church a major voice in society.