Theophany in Serbia

Photo Report

In Serbia the Theophany is also beloved feast day. As in other Orthodox countries, Southern Slavs have their own traditions that may seem extraordinary to those in northern climes.


The festal doxology has not ceased to resound beneath the domes of the St. Alexander Nevsky Church when out on the streets people are already preparing for the Great Blessing of the Waters. The cross is immersed thrice. Using a brush made of dried grasses the clergy sprinkles the assembly as they crowd around the holy water—the peace-loving Serbs have a culture that sets them apart from Western Europeans, and they show an impatience more resembling the Russians’—all push their way to the water that has such special qualities, and draw from it…




Every year on January 19, a multitude of people from all over Belgrade participate in the festivities, which are the central events in the Serbian capital on that day.

In the churchyard, the final preparations are ending. The clergy with the bishop at the fore lead the procession. The young men impatiently rattle their chain mail and armor like that worn by Serbian warriors of a bygone age. They look quite natural in this church dedicated to the memory of the Russian soldiers who defended their Serbian brothers in the war against the Turks, 1877–1878.









Just one more moment, and all this magnificent, multitudinous procession will move with crosses and banners toward St. Sava Lake—the site where the people’s festival culminates. Little bells ring tenderly in the hands of a young acolyte at the head of the procession; the military step forward in measures paces, carefully bearing the wooden crucifix; the Serbian banners flutter loudly in the wind.

At the sight of the crosses and banners, joyful shouts carry from the risers filled with people. The bishop and clergy, the mayor and governmental representatives, the military and the police occupy the places of honor. Three soldiers marking their steps triumphantly carry the cross made from frozen last year’s holy water and decorated with tri-colored ribbons and flowers. This will be the main reward to the strongest, whose name we will learn in just a few minutes.

On the day of the Theophany, after the Divine Liturgy and the rite of the water blessing, in certain cities and villages of Serbia a cross is cast into a body of water and swimmers race to fetch it. According to tradition, it is thrown by a priest or bishop. This custom is also practiced in other Balkan countries: Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria. The meaning of this competition is symbolic. Before swimming the participants are sprinkled with holy water, and the winner is given a metal or wooden crucifix.





The competitors wear white clothing with “Theophany” written on them. The swimmers—all fine young Serbs—are preparing themselves for the swim: they must cover a thirty-three meter distance in ice-cold water. The muscular ranks are frozen in expectation of the start. The bishop casts the cross into the water—the first to reach it will be the hero of the day. The signal is given, and the water’s surface breaks in one explosion as the swimmers all dive into it together. The water is roiling from the intense movement of arms and legs. Multi-colored rings undulate away from the daring fellows—many of them have covered themselves with oil in order to shield themselves from the cold.

A triumphant call carries through the risers—the winner, still in the water, raises the frozen cross over his head.









They say that the tradition of everyone immersing themselves into the water on Theophany is forgotten in Serbia. Only rarely will someone enter the water in a place where no one can see him, cross himself and saying the prayer, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” immersing himself three times in the icy water…

The celebrations culminate with the boisterous congratulations of the recent competitors. The bishop hands the winner a metal crucifix, while the icy one gradually melts, blessing with its own melted water the waters of St. Sava Lake.

Christ is appeared,” Belgrade pronounces the traditional Serbian greeting, and it echoes throughout the country. “Truly He is appeared,” answers the Serbian land of Kosovo and Metochia, where at this same time unhurried prayer pours out behind the high walls of the monastery, and the Great Blessing of the Waters in served. There are no large cross processions here, no swimming for the cross or rewards to the winner—the new Hagarenes who have taken over this cradle of Serbianism dictate their own laws.






The courtyard is deserted in the monastery of the Patriarchate of Pec—the child of St. Sava and throne of the Patriarch of Serbia. Several people have arrived from the nearby villages, and from central Serbia as well. Shivering from the bone-chilling wind that rips from the ravine, nuns sing the festal hymns and the troparion to the Theophany. The water is blessed. The priest sprinkles the smiling people—the beloved, faithful children of the much-suffering Serbian nation…

Natalia Batraeva
Translated and adapted by


See also
The Discourse on the Holy Theophany The Discourse on the Holy Theophany
St. Hippolytus
The Discourse on the Holy Theophany The Discourse on the Holy Theophany
St. Hippolytus
But give me now your best attention, I pray you, for I wish to go back to the fountain of life, and to view the fountain that gushes with healing. The Father of immortality sent the immortal Son and Word into the world, who came to man in order to wash him with water and the Spirit; and He, begetting us again to incorruption of soul and body, breathed into us the breath (spirit) of life, and endued us with an incorruptible panoply. If, therefore, man has become immortal, he will also be God. And if he is made God by water and the Holy Spirit after the regeneration of the layer he is found to be also joint-heir with Christ after the resurrection from the dead.
The Jordan Reversed Its Flow! The Jordan Reversed Its Flow! The Jordan Reversed Its Flow! The Jordan Reversed Its Flow!
This miraculous occurrence lasted as long as the two Crosses remained in the river. Right after the Crosses were taken out, the Jordan started reverting to its original course (to the right) until the change was complete.
Epiphany: The Celebration of Life Epiphany: The Celebration of Life
Archpriest Antony Gabriel
Epiphany: The Celebration of Life Epiphany: The Celebration of Life
Archpriest Antony Gabriel
The task of theology today I believe is to "quicken" the convergence of Traditions; to recover its lost Catholicity; its wholeness in which man fulfills the Biblical injunction by offering himself, the stuff of this world, as its Priest and King. Our "hosanna" to God must ultimately be the restoration of faith, of ultimate values as we stand face to face to a hostile world. Whether we admit it or not, Christianity is in a similar position as the first Christian era.
Serbs In KiM Are Not Forgotten – SPC Patriarch Irinej Serbs In KiM Are Not Forgotten – SPC Patriarch Irinej Serbs In KiM Are Not Forgotten – SPC Patriarch Irinej Serbs In KiM Are Not Forgotten – SPC Patriarch Irinej
Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) Irinej addressed his traditional Christmas epistle to Orthodox believers in Serbia who celebrate the holiday according to the Julian calendar, with special emphasis on the position of Serbs in Kosovo-Metohija (KiM) where suffering and injustice persist.
Epiphany Epiphany Epiphany Epiphany
The sixth of January is the feast of the Epiphany. Originally it was the one Christian feast of the “shining forth” of God to the world in the human form of Jesus of Nazareth. It included the celebration of Christ’s birth, the adoration of the Wisemen, and all of the childhood events of Christ such as his circumcision and presentation to the temple as well as his baptism by John in the Jordan.
Nikola1/21/2014 2:05 am
My heart is filled with joy when I see my people in one place, I would like to turn all Serbs to Serbs and to win all the problems that had come upon them even better I would like all Slavs that are together again and to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. СЛАВА БОГУ
X1/20/2014 10:07 pm
Diogen, start with 'turning to the traditions and faith once again, with sincerity and contrition' YouSelf, then, your local community, or return to the Homeland, Do Not Judge Your People from the Foreign Land...
Diogen1/20/2014 7:56 pm
Thank you for this beautiful article. As a Serbian Canadian, I am very pleased to see such large numbers of people in the courtyard of St. Aleksandar's Church… I only wish my people would turn to their traditions and faith once again, with sincerity and contrition.
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