ISTANBUL

Coronavirus affected Epiphany day celebrations in Istanbul on Wednesday as only two swimmers from the Greek Orthodox community dived to retrieve the wooden cross thrown into the Golden Horn.

The Epiphany day marks the beginning of Orthodox Christmas celebrations. It is one of the Orthodox Church’s most important feasts, commemorating Jesus’ baptism in River Jordan.

Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Istanbul-based Orthodox Christian leader, threw the religious icon into the icy cold water after an hours-long religious ceremony at the nearby Patriarchate.

A small number of people attended the ceremony while adhering to social distancing.

Vasili Kurkcu, who successfully retrieved the cross, expressed joy and said that although the water was cold, he did not feel much as it was sunny out there.

Last year, over 30 people swam to retrieve the wooden cross, despite heavy rain.

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