Severed Head Discovered in Icy Water

APPeople swimming Monday in the Vologda River's ice-cold water after an Orthodox priest blessed it for Epiphany.
Workers cutting an ice hole in preparation for the Orthodox holiday of Epiphany, when believers plunge into freezing water, discovered a woman's severed head trapped under the ice in the Volga River, Saratov region investigators said Monday.

The workers from the Emergency Situations Ministry were clearing the area of the river where the believers were to dive when they discovered a plastic bag containing the head and a brick, the regional Investigative Committee branch said in a statement.

The unidentified woman appeared to have been 45 to 50 years old, though the head was sent to forensics experts for a closer examination, the statement said.

Investigators have opened a murder investigation in connection with the grisly find.

To the Orthodox faithful, water blessed by a priest on Epiphany has miraculous powers, a belief that goes back to the baptism of Christ.

Unlike in Western Christianity, where Epiphany commemorates mainly the appearance of the infant Jesus to the visiting Magi, in the East it focuses on the appearance of the Holy Trinity during Christ's baptism in the River Jordan.

Hence Epiphany's traditional Russian name, Kreshcheniye, or Baptism, and the theologically more correct Theophany (Bogoyavleniye), or Appearance of God.

Orthodox tradition holds that any water blessed on this day -- whether it comes from a river, pond or simply a tap or a shower -- becomes Christ's baptismal water. This water is said to stay fresh for years, wash away all sins, protect from evil and heal.

More than 27,000 people plunged into icy water in Moscow in celebration of the holiday, twice the number compared to last year, Interfax reported.

In the Tver region, meanwhile, around 70 people fell into the Volga when a 50-meter hole cracked in the ice, Interfax reported. Rescue workers fished out 20 people, while the rest climbed out of the water themselves.