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Preselected 10 swimmers will be retrieving cross, MOC says

The Macedonian Orthodox Church tradition to bless the water on Epiphany, today’s religious holiday in North Macedonia, and lower a cross in the Vardar with believers retrieving it afterward will be held with a preselected ten swimmers who had previously taken part in the event, according to priest Boban Mitevski.

Skopje, 19 January 2022 (MIA) — The Macedonian Orthodox Church tradition to bless the water on Epiphany, today’s religious holiday in North Macedonia, and lower a cross in the Vardar with believers retrieving it afterward will be held with a preselected ten swimmers who had previously taken part in the event, according to priest Boban Mitevski.

Mitevski told MIA church officials decided to hold the event this way so as to limit the number of people attending the ceremony, in line with public health protection guidelines.

He also noted that the usual way of describing the ceremony of “throwing” the cross was not befitting of the event. He said it was better to use the term “placing” or “lowering” the cross into the water as that was more descriptive of the custom.

“Namely,” Mitevski explained, “when a priest blessed the waters, the water levels of the lakes, rivers and seas were high, so the priest couldn’t go down into the water himself.

“So he tied a rope around the cross and in order to bless the water, he immersed it into the water by lowering it and then pulling it back three times.

“Then the faithful attending the act said, ‘Why should you pull out the cross yourself? We can enter the holy waters, we can retrieve the cross and we can return it to the priest!’

“This took place in Constantinople with the Patriarch of Constantinople on the waters of the Bosphorus, and has since been accepted as a custom that expresses piety,” Mitevski said.

The MOC priest also said the people who enter the water should do so only for the sake of being blessed and not in hope for any material reward.

“In returning the cross to the priest, the only thing we can get back is God’s blessing,” he said, discouraging people from being competitive and instead celebrating through prayer and worship.

Epiphany celebrates the baptism of baby Jesus by John the Baptist.

An Epiphany liturgy, led by the Head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia, HH Stefan, was held earlier this morning at the Nativity of Virgin Mary church in downtown Skopje.

Attendees were asked to follow public health protection protocols.

Next, Archbishop Stefan will perform the Great Theophany Blessing of Water, lowering the Holy Cross from the Sloboda Bridge near the Holiday Inn hotel and blessing the water of the Vardar. The ten believers will then jump into the river to retrieve it. mr/

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