Istanbul Greeks celebrate Orthodox feast with Golden Horn cross-retrieving
ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency
AP photoA bitterly cold Jan. 6 morning saw the return of one of Istanbul’s oldest - and most demanding - religious traditions, as dozens of Greek Orthodox Christians swam frantically to retrieve a cross thrown into the Golden Horn.
The Greek community in Istanbul was celebrating Epiphany, one of the Orthodox Church’s most important feasts that commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan.
Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Istanbul-based leader of many of the world’s Orthodox Christians, threw a wooden cross into the icy waters of the Golden Horn after an almost four-hour religious ceremony at the nearby Patriarchate.
A waiting crowd of brave men and women then dived in, battling to be the first to retrieve the religious symbol from the dark waters.
More than 300 people, including tourists and local Turks, watched the cross-throwing ceremony from the shore of Golden Horn; some rented boats to see get closer to the action.
Fotini Nikaltsoudi, the only female swimmer, told state-run Anadolu Agency that she had been attending the annual Istanbul ceremony for the last five years.
A 30-year-old Greek literature teacher from the northeastern Greek city of Alexandroupoli, Nikaltsoudi said she was not deterred by the cold and she did it for her religion and to “be blessed.”
Nikaltsoudi’s friend, 34-year-old Greek nurse Anna Dimitriadou, said that she came to Istanbul for the first time during Epiphany to pray for her child who has a health problem.
Another visitor was Istanbul-born Greek national Vasil Ksenopoulos, 72, who has lived in Athens since 1964.
Now-retired, Ksenopoulos said he used to jump into the Golden Horn’s cold waters when he was a teenager.
“I swam three times - in 1958, 1959 and 1960. I have never had the chance to get the cross though,” he added.
According to Ksenopoulos, more people attended his childhood ceremonies than today’s event.
A Turkish citizen, Nilgun Kirman, a 44-year-old tour guide from Istanbul, said she had been attending the event for the last four years.
“I enjoy watching this traditional Orthodox ceremony. It is very beautiful to witness the Patriarch walking while singing hymns to the cross-throwing ceremony [area],” Kirman said.
This year, Nicos Solis, a 28-year-old gym teacher from Greece, successfully retrieved the cross from the Golden Horn.
Speaking to reporters, Solis - a first-time visitor to Istanbul - said he would like to come to the city again next year.
“The weather was not really cold and I am so happy that I do not feel it,” he said, smiling.