SOFIA, Bulgaria — The Latest on celebrations of Epiphany (all times local):
Dozens of Orthodox men dove into Istanbul’s cold waters to retrieve a cross to mark the baptism of Jesus Christ.
On Sunday, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I led worshippers in the Epiphany, throwing a blessed wooden cross into the Golden Horn inlet.
Michalis Voznakidis from Greece took the cross and 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 Patriarchate in Istanbul is considered the heart of the Orthodox world and dates back to the Byzantine Empire, which collapsed when the Muslim Ottomans conquered the city in 1453.
Pope Francis has marked the Epiphany feast day by urging people to follow the path of “humble love” and care for those who can give nothing back.
For the Catholic Church, Jan. 6 recalls the journey of the three Magi, also known as kings or wise men, to find Jesus in a humble abode in Bethlehem.
In his homily in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, Francis encouraged getting up “from our sedentary lives” to care for those who are suffering or vulnerable and “those left behind.”
Since becoming pontiff in 2013, Francis has stressed helping those on the margins of society, including the homeless, migrants and the poor.
Francis described as “precious in the eyes of God” mercy shown to those “who have nothing to give back.”
Thousands of Orthodox Christian worshippers have plunged into icy rivers and lakes across Bulgaria to recover crucifixes cast by priests in ceremonies commemorating the baptism of Jesus Christ.
Tradition holds that the person who retrieves the wooden cross will be freed from evil spirits and will be healthy throughout the year. After the cross is fished out, the priest sprinkles believers with water using a bunch of basil.
Epiphany is held every year on Jan. 6 and marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas.
In the central mountain city of Kalofer, dozens of men dressed in white embroidered shirts waded into the Tundzha River waving national flags and singing folk songs Sunday. They danced for nearly half an hour, up to their waists in the freezing water, pushing away ice chunks.