Christian world marks Epiphany with series of celebrations

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ROME – Christians around the world celebrated Epiphany on Thursday, known as the Baptism of Christ to Orthodox people, with a series of celebrations.

Pope Francis used a mass at St. Peter’s Basilica to denounce consumerism, parades were held in Spain the night before, and Orthodox believers watched swimmers plunge into icy waters despite the pandemic to retrieve crosses.

Francis encouraged people to get rid of consumerist “tyranny” and crises of faith in lives and societies and instead find the courage to work for justice and brotherhood in societies dominated by what he called the “sinister logic of power”.

The Catholic feast of Epiphany recalls the visit of three wise men, or wise men, to the baby Jesus, and their feeling of wonder at the meeting.

In his homily, Francis urged people to go beyond “the barriers of habit, beyond mundane consumerism, beyond dull and dreary faith, beyond fear of getting involved and serving. others and the common good ”.

He said that “we live in communities that thirst for everything, who have everything, but all too often feel nothing but emptiness in their hearts.”

Describing what he defined as “the tyranny of needs,” Francis said: “Let us not give apathy and resignation the power to lead us to a sad and mundane existence.

In remarks from a window of the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Francis also later noted holiday celebrations by other Christians and praised various Epiphany traditions.

“Today our thoughts are with the brothers and sisters of the Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, who are celebrating the Lord’s birthday tomorrow,” said the pontiff.

In Istanbul, the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians around the world, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, celebrated an Epiphany Mass before leading a traditional water blessing ceremony in which swimmers clashed to retrieve a floating cross jetty to the sea.

Bartholomew, who recently recovered from COVID-19 and had heart surgery in November, threw a wooden cross in the Golden Horn, before 10 men jumped into the waterway to retrieve it. Members of Istanbul’s small Greek Orthodox community, wearing masks, watched.

This year the cross was retrieved by Galip Yavuz, 36, who said it was his fifth attempt to retrieve it.

Bartholomew is considered the first among his peers among the Orthodox patriarchs, although only a few thousand Greeks now live in Turkey. It also directly controls several Greek Orthodox churches around the world, including the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Its patriarchate in Istanbul dates from the Byzantine Greek Orthodox Empire, which collapsed when Muslim Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, present-day Istanbul, in 1453.

Similar water blessing ceremonies have taken place in predominantly Orthodox Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania, with swimmers competing to grab a floating cross thrown into seas, rivers or lakes.

Thousands of Orthodox Christian worshipers in Bulgaria have neglected restrictions on mass gatherings due to the pandemic and have stayed true to their age-old Epiphany traditions, plunging into icy rivers and lakes.

The celebrations have been canceled or reduced in many parts of Greece as the country grapples with a huge rise in COVID-19 infections driven by the omicron variant.

In Cyprus, spectators were kept away from the pier in accordance with coronavirus restrictions as a few dozen warm souls plunged into the cold waters of Larnaca Bay on the island nation’s south coast to recuperate the cross thrown by the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Chrysostomos II. Most people watched the traditional ceremony of blessing the waters from nearby vantage points.

In Spain, a military band played the national anthem in front of the Royal Palace in Madrid, and King Felipe VI watched a 21-gun salute before reviewing the troops on a winter’s day. Inside, in the throne room, the monarch presented medals to 16 members of the armed forces, in a ceremony that dates back to 1782. Participation in the event was limited for the second year in a row due to pandemic restrictions on gatherings. The royals, dignitaries and troops all wore face masks.

The country traditionally organizes parades of “cabalgata” on the eve of Epiphany during which the “Reyes Magos”, or Three Wise Men, ride on floats through the main towns and villages of Spain. Children and adults take off their shoes the day before and receive gifts from the three kings on January 6.

Mehmet Guzel reported from Istanbul. Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria, Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.

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