Istanbul’s small Orthodox Christian community celebrated Christmas with services at different locations across Istanbul. The main one was led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeov I in Golden Horn inlet and the other one by Metropolitan Bishop Derkon Apostol in Hagia Stephanos Church in the city’s Yesilkoy district on Sunday.
Dozens of Orthodox men dove into Istanbul’s cold waters to recover a cross from the sea as part of the annual ritual and to mark the baptism of Jesus Christ.
Michalis Voznakidis from Greece took the cross in Epiphany ceremony held in Golden Horn inlet. The men kissed it before coming ashore. He said “we are here for everyone, for our religion.”
The ceremony took place after Bartholomew granted independence to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, in a historic move that has angered Russia.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Metropolitan Epiphanius I of the new church joined the Epiphany in Istanbul.
The same time another ceremony took place in Yesilkoy district of Istanbul. Participants in the service arrived at the church in the early hours of the day. After the 3-hour long service, the congregation and the religious leaders left the church reciting prayers and arrived at the seaside.
Metropolitan Bishop Derkon Apostol presided over the ritual of recovering the cross from the sea.
After the Bishop dropped the cross into the sea, participants competed in recovering it from the sea floor.
Among the rest of the participants taking part in the ritual, Nikola Aslaner managed to reach the cross first.
“It was my first time, and I’m proud,” he said. Aslaner expressed his feelings regarding his participation in the ritual. “I’m freezing right now. It’s my first time, I’m very excited. I had expected to make it first. The sea was very cold, I was breathless in the last 5 meters. I was not feeling the cold in the end, but I swam and reached the cross. I feel proud for me and my family. I cannot feel much else at the moment, I feel like freezing.”
The Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Istanbul Metropolitan mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, who took part in the ceremony, said: “Istanbul is a rich tapestry and each district has its own traditions. We took part here in the retrieval of the cross ritual of our fellow citizens. One must experience every special moment of Istanbul. Then every Istanbulite will be able to feel how beautiful it is to live in this beautiful city. We will make sure that I will be with everyone, at every occasion, at every part of the city when I become mayor. We are actually practicing for this.”
Due to a difference in calendars, many Orthodox churches mark Christmas Eve on January 6 and Christmas is celebrated on January 7 and not December 25.
Several countries including Russia, Georgia, and Armenia celebrate Christmas in January.
The majority of Orthodox churches worldwide use the Julian calendar, created under the reign of Julius Caesar in 45 BC, and have not adopted the commonly used Gregorian calendar, proposed by Latin Pope Gregory of Rome in 1582.
The former calendar runs 13 days behind.