I was the rector of the Epiphany Church in the village of Khatanga in 1999. It is the northernmost part of the Krasnoyarsk Territory, the Taimyr Peninsula, now the Diocese of Norilsk. My parishioners and I traditionally used to bless the water on the Khatanga River on Epiphany. Given that the air temperature in this region rarely rises above 40 degrees below zero Celsius in winter, the water freezes down more than two meters even in the large river. We usually sawed an ice-hole in the shape of a cross with a chain saw as deep as the chain length, made a hole in the center, and the water filled the cross like a pool.
It was -47 °C that day. In general, I encourage you to approach the topic of bathing on Epiphany wisely: you need to take into account both weather conditions and the state of your health. Of course, in our case, we were not planning any bathing, we simply wanted to bless the water as required by tradition. However, we learned a lifelong lesson from it.
When I put the Holy Table Cross in the ice-hole, I was very anxious not to drown it. So I grabbed the cross firmly and began to immerse it in icy water to the singing of the festive troparion. It was very cold, but we northerners are used to it, so at first I did not pay attention to it. After the third immersion of the cross into the ice-hole, I realized that something had gone wrong: not only could I not feel my hands because of the cold, but the metal cross itself stuck to my fingers. I tried to unclench my fingers, but to no avail. Together with the cross, they turned into an ice sculpture, which I could not do anything about. The church was not far from the ice-hole, so I rushed there. The first thing that came to my mind was to pour some boiling water on the cross, since there is always some hot water in the altar. I hadn’t been able to feel my hands for several minutes and was thinking that I was going to have a serious frostbite. But, thank God, I managed to pull out the cross quickly, and, once I warmed up my hands, I was surprised to find that they were all right. That Epiphany was unforgettable. It was a miracle for me: people in our region lose their fingers even at warmer temperatures; you always have to be careful. Later, I was transferred to Norilsk, which is 700 kilometers south, but I still remember this event every time I bless water on Epiphany.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds