OUR TRADITIONS. VODOCHRESCHSCHA - A FINAL HOLIDAY IN THE CRISTMAS CYCLE
"...and the third feast is the Holy Vodohreschscha," as one of our ancient carols says. The Vodochreshia (Blessing of Water or Epiphany) is a final holiday in the Christmas cycle. The key custom on this day is the rite of blessing of water, which conducted noy only in churches but also in all kind of natural ponds all over Ukraine, whether it is a river, a lake, a spring or a well.
The blessing of waters is carried by the force of the Holy Spirit, who descends upon the Son of God in the voice of God the Father of Heaven. And we say this in the present tense, because we believe in the living God whose grace is always around us, and therefore our holidays are not a remembrance of an event that took place ages ago, but an annual live experience of contact with the Lord's spirit.
In the ancient tradition water is seen as a source from which new life is born (in a sense, it corresponds to human biology). Water is a symbol of primordial chaos, a feminine element. Immersion in water symbolizes the return to the original state of chaos, death; while the coming up to surface is a manifestation of rebirth, renewal, return to the sacred order. That is why the sacrament of baptism (which means the second, spiritual birth) is performed by triple immersion in water.
Tradition of swimming in a pond at the feast of the Epiphany/Vodohreschscha has a similar meaning - to dive into the initial environment for the new birth and purification, to restore order in the bodies and souls. It is no accident that we hold this rite within the Christmas holiday cycle.
Wise Holy Fathers had encouraged youth to swim on this day. St. Athanasius the Great (295 - 373) argued that to perform of this custom is an important duty for every man. Talking about the Epiphany Saint John Chrysostom (347 - 407) said the remarkable words: "The world will be enlightened in all its parts this day. The heavens rejoice, transferring to people the Lord's voice that cometh down from heavenly heights. The air is sanctified by Holy Spirit's flight. The very nature of water becomes sanctified, gaining power to wash souls along with bodies. And every earthly creature rejoices."
The Vodohreschscha's traditions are rooted in the depths of the history of Rus-Ukraine. Thank God, the tradition of festive diving to freezing water still remains popular in all parts of our country.